Clustered between Bali and Lombok, the chilled-out Gili Islands are well worth the fast boat trip over. A trio of tiny communities, each has its own distinct atmosphere and appeal. Our favourite is Gili Air; more relaxed than party-mad Gili T (Trawangan) yet livelier than sleepy Gili Meno. If Goldilocks were in search of a desert island paradise, Gili Air would be “just right”.
World-class diving and snorkelling are the name of the game, with the chance to see beautiful corals, tropical fish and graceful turtles swimming just metres from the golden sands.
Better yet, is the lifestyle; forget the frenetic scooter highways of Bali, here bicycles and colourful horse-and-cart taxis rule the ‘roads’, though we were quite happy strolling on foot (you can walk round the whole island in a couple of hours). Beach bars line the sands, offering everything from romantic fresh barbecued fish suppers to cool sunset cocktails and even psychedelic mushroom teas. Like we said, it's a relaxed sort of place.
Many travellers gravitate to the Gili Islands for the world-class diving. Located in the coral triangle, Gili Air's gin clear waters hide the most developed underwater biodiversity in the world. In fact, 50% more species are discovered here than in the Red Sea and it's not uncommon to see 10 turtles during a single dive (if you know where to look). The islands have a wealth of reliable dive companies catering to everyone from total novices to fully certified divers; Slow Gili Air even offer the chance to try a freediving course.
This super-cool west coast beach bar is the place to be at sunset. Get here early, before all the comfy beanbags are taken, and enjoy the spectacular sunsets falling behind Bali’s mountainous silhouette from your front row seat. The food is excellent too: ingredients are top-quality, the breads and pastries are baked in house, and the pizzas are out of this world! Order a G&T and let the Balearic beats wash over you. Bliss.
A day trip to sleepy Gili Meno offers the chance to play Robinson Crusoe, with regular fast boat transfers and outstanding beaches making access easy. Being the smallest of the islands, there’s just a handful of eateries, a rural landscape of coconut plantations to explore and brilliant snorkelling opportunities. We recommend hiring bicycles, visiting the bird park and seeking out the salt-water lake.
It's also possible to day trip to Lombok, Bali's lesser-known and less developed neighbour. Popular with hikers and eco-tourists, the lush landscape is home to dense forests, picturesque tobacco and rice plantations, and stunning powder-white beaches. It's also famed for the breath-takingly beautiful Mount Rinjani, an active volcano who’s summit holds the spectacular Segara Anak Crater Lake.