To most people, the Gili Islands near Bali, Indonesia are either Gili Trawangan, Gili Air or the lesser known Gili Meno, however there are 26 Gili Islands scattered all around the coast of Lombok, Indonesia.
Known as “The Secret Gili Islands” I wanted to know more about them. Some are uninhabited, others are in their infancy with regards to tourism, but are quickly becoming the newest destination for people seeking escape from the crowds. All I know is that I want to see some of the secret Gilis.
So I started with GIli Gede.
Gili Gede means “big island”, but at 4km long and 1.6km wide, it isn’t really that big. Tourism hasn’t quite reached Gili Gede but as the island’s only jetty is outside a boutique resort, I think it will only be a matter of time.
When we visited there was no mainland electricity to the island so only gas-powered generators were used. There was no infrastructure, no proper roads or motorised vehicles although we did see the odd motorbike. There are no supermarkets so it’s a two-hour round boat trip to Lembar on mainland Lombok for locals wishing to buy supplies, gas for their generators or fresh water as there is none on the island.
When we took a stroll around the island, there were very few visitors and we could really feel this was an undiscovered part of the world …. But for how long?
Dotted along the sand shores are small traditional boats which locals use for fishing and pearl farming, their only sources of income. As I am concerned about over-fishing and unsustainable practices, I was happy to see that hand-made weighted nets are used. Buckets of prepared salted fish stood in front of a pot of boiling water ready to be cooked so it appeared that any fish caught is eaten by the families.
The local boats are also used to navigate the waterways from one village to the next or from one island to another, they are the taxis of the waterways.
When chatting to an ex-pat, I learnt that school is for children aged 6-12 but there is no further education as there simply isn’t enough money to pay for it. Children are taught to speak and write in the local Sasak language as well as Bahasa Indonesian which will open more doors for them in the future.
Locals past us on motorbikes and checked that we were OK and weren’t lost, yet another sign of how few tourists visit here and how friendly the locals are.
With no light pollution, the sky is clear and bright so we lay on our balcony and looked up. We stared at the moon, the stars and we swear we saw a comet or shooting star … perhaps it was an alien spaceship which suddenly disappeared … I don’t know, but we had drunk a couple of Bintangs and our imagination may have been in overdrive.
Finding a gorgeous restaurant
We discovered a wonderful restaurant and homestay called Tanjungan Bukit Lodge owned by a French gentleman and his Indonesian wife. To reach this restaurant from our homestay we had two options, one of which was to walk down the beach past the mangrove trees and through a small inlet that was ankle deep during the day/low tide.
Both options didn't pose a problem in daylight, but returning after dinner in the pitch-black night (thankfully we had the torch on our mobile phones) proved more difficult, resulting in the loss of Sy’s left flip flop!
Walking along the beach was the quickest route, but when the tide was high, it came up to my thighs. With a fast-flowing current, when Sy was crossing he managed to lose his left flip-flop. He spent the next few days trying on various washed up left foots searching for a worthy replacement. NB: Yes he did find one, and it was so comfortable, he continued to wear it for months later forgetting that he had odd flip-flops!
On the menu was a mixture of local Sasak/Indonesian dishes and currys and, as well as Bintangs (60,000 IDR) they had small bottles of San Miguel (45,000 IDR) which was a lovely change.
The food was delicious, reasonably priced and good sized portion. We tried a number of dishes but the toast plate appetiser was to die for. I told the owner that it was Sy’s birthday and, as a surprise, he arranged for his wife to bake a chocolate cake. How lovely of him, thank you Neil!
We visited Gili Gede on a budget and were grateful to have found Thamarind Gili Gede through booking.com. The accommodation is built on a meadow about 15 minutes walk from the Ko Ko Mo Resort where the jetty is located, but this meant clambering over rocky boulders which became slippy and precarious when wet. During high tide, it’s not possible to walk this route which does isolate various hotels so we are happy we chose to stay at Thamarind, otherwise we wouldn’t have found Tanjung Bukit restaurant!
Another reason we loved staying at Thamarind Resort was because of the 15 minute walk to Kokomo Resort where Sy wanted to have breakfast on his birthday, because there is the option for bacon! If you know Sy, you know how much he loves his bacon. We ended up eating here twice and it was delicious, plentiful and the relaxing view was second to none. It was definitely worth splashing out and filled us up way past lunchtime.
Take only photographs, leave only footprints!
This is a shocking reminder of how humans are ruining our planet and how littering has a devastating effect on our oceans and beaches. As there is very little tourism here, there is no proper waste management infrastructure, and locals aren’t yet fully educated as to the problem with litter (although some are trying).
As a visiting to Indonesia, you can do your bit.
Refuse single use plastic bags, straws etc and carry your own tote bag and bamboo/alumininum straw.
Reuse any plastics you are given, by refilling your water bottle and keeping the carrier bag with you for the future.
For further information on what you can do, please read our blog post for tips on living and travelling with less plastic.
We enjoyed our visit to Gili Gede with its rugged charm and friendly, welcoming locals. With the new jetty making it an easily accessible destination and plans to introduce electricity on the island, I can see that this secret Gili island won’t be a secret for too much longer
Wondering what to pack for your next trip? Let us help you with the essentials in our Ultimate Packing List for Worldwide Travel (tried and tested!)
- There is no electricity on the island so generators are used.
- Roads are made up of sand tracks, concrete pathways and rubble. Some parts of the island cannot be reached at high tide on foot so you will need to use a local boat.
- No ATM’s on the island so bring plenty of cash, Cash is King. There are credit card machines but a 2% charge is added.
- There are a few restaurants on the island but not all are accessible from all accommodation.
- Water is brackish as there is no fresh water supply to the island.
- Dry season – May until November; wet season is December until April.
How do I get to Gili Gede?
Flights: There are international airports at Lombok and Bali. Your accommodation should be able to help you with a transfer from the airport to the harbour and a boat to Gili Gede, alternatively you can do this yourself.
By boat from Bali: Gili Getaway have fast boats from Bali (about 2.5 hours) and the Northern Gilis (about 1.5 hours)
By boat from Lombok: At the harbour, there are many companies you can use to take you to Gili Gede, the journey takes about 30 minutes.
We suggest checking ferry/bus schedules ahead of time, and booking in advance online with Bookaway. It will save time and hassle, and help you plan your travel itinerary.
Where to stay
Luxury: Kokomo Resort or Vista Villa
Tanjungan Bukit Lodge
Secret Island Resort (south)
Via Vaccare (northwest)
Yut Inn Flower Paradise Inn (east)
Budget: Thamarind Gili Gede or Pelangi Homestay
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