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Paradise on a Budget: The Gili Islands

By Marianne Comilang
April 10, 2014
Meno Beach in the Gili Islands
Courtesy <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Gili_Meno_Beach.jpg" target="_blank"> yeowatzup/WikimediaCommons</a>

Imagine a remote tropical island paradise with warm turquoise waters, white sand beaches fringed by coconut palms, and coral reefs teeming with marine life. Three tiny islands off the northwest coast of Lombok, Indonesia, are a veritable lotusland for backpackers, beach lovers, and serenity seekers alike. While not easy to get to (the only way is by boat), once you arrive at the Gili Islands, there's nothing to do but relax and enjoy the scenery.

Of the three islands, Gili Trawangan is the largest and most populated. Known as the "party island," it has a flourishing nightlife while simultaneously maintaining a laidback bohemian vibe. Closest to the mainland and the second smallest of the islands, Gili Air offers a mix of solitude and service. The smallest and most secluded of the islands, Gili Meno, is known as the "honeymoon island," attracting fewer tourists than the other two islands and thus making it the ideal place for those seeking peace and quiet.

Originally a backpacker mecca, the Gili Islands (or simply the Gilis) are gaining notoriety with tourists of all budget levels, with increasingly more luxury options, particularly on Gili Trawangan. However, these remote islands are still an affordable destination, remaining a popular stop on the backpacker circuit. Limited budget? No problem. There's plenty to do (or not do) on the Gili Islands for little or no money.

Do nothing at all
Idyllic beaches, crystal clear water, and no motorized vehicles on any of the islands make it easy to do nothing at all. Relax on the beach, splash around in the water, or spend your days swaying in a hammock with a Bintang beer and a good book.

Walk, bike, or cidomo
As motorized vehicles are not permitted on the island, the only ways to get around are by foot, bicycle, or cidomo (horse and cart). You can easily walk or bike around any of the islands in a few hours or less. However, it might take a little longer if you add beach time, swimming, and snorkeling stops to the agenda. Bicycles can be rented from numerous beachside kiosks and cost around Rp. 20,000 (only $2 USD!). If you're looking to do as little physical activity as possible, a cidomo tour around Gili Trawangan costs around Rp. 150,000 ($13 USD).

Dive and snorkel
Spend the day enjoying the Gilis' impressive marine life. Come face to face with green sea and hawksbill turtles, bumphead parrotfish, manta rays, Napoleon wrasse, and blacktip and whitetip reef sharks. With more than 20 different dive sites around the islands, there is something for every level of diver. For something different, muck dive and explore the islands' macro life, deep dive a Japanese wreck, or freedive without an oxygen tank. There are plenty of dive operators on the islands, and a price agreement across all the islands ensures you will get a fair price. All divers pay a one-off reef tax of Rp 50,000 (about $5) to the Gili Eco Trust, which works to protect the reefs. For those who want to remain closer to the surface, rent some snorkel gear and explore the coral reef straight off the beach. Masks and fins can be rented from numerous places along the beach for about Rp 30,000 ($3 USD). If you'd like to go further afar, contact one of the dive shops to arrange a boat trip to snorkeling spots nearby. The cost ranges from Rp 60,000 ($6 USD) to 150,000 ($13 USD). Be prepared to negotiate.

Enjoy a magical sunset
At the end of a long day enjoying tropical island scenery, head to the west side of your preferred island, pick a comfortable spot on the beach (in the sand or at the bar), sit back, relax, and enjoy the spectacular view of the sun setting on the horizon.

And after the sun goes down...
For night revelers and merrymakers, the fun begins at sunset. Parties abound, especially on Gili Trawangan. After watching a glorious sunset, head to one of the many beachfront bars playing chilled-out live or electronic music. As the night progresses, let your ear guide you to the action. Dance under the stars at Surf Bar's monthly Full Moon parties. Or, if you're lucky, you might even catch a world-renowned DJ playing a free set at one of the island's many venues. And don't worry, it's always free to enter.

This article was written by Marianne Comilang, an adventurer filled with wanderlust. Originally from Toronto, Canada, she traverses across continents and can proudly say she has set foot on every one (except Antarctica). If she isn't writing, editing, and strategizing to make others look good, she is probably teaching yoga or posting on her blog MoveStillFree.com. This article was written on behalf of Tucan Travel, experts in providing off-the-beaten-path travel tours to Indonesia and all over Southeast Asia.

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