My sister Brenda tried to get me into diving years ago, but as a broke 20-something I wasn’t able to afford it. Two years ago I finally tried it and, as she predicted, I got hooked. I try not to be one of those divers who only considers a destination if it has good diving, but I do get pretty giddy when I get to go somewhere and dive. The diving off Bali turned out to be a bit underwhelming, so Chris and I were excited to check out the Gili Islands, which feature calmer seas and more marine life.
What we loved about these islands, though, was more than the diving. In fact, if I had to pick one favorite aspect of the Gilis, it would be the fact that motor vehicles aren’t allowed. No cars, no motorbikes, nothing that goes vroom. The only way to get around? Walk, bike or horse carriage.
This was an especially charming feature after spending time in the traffic and noisy chaos of Bali. After a couple hours on a bus, we arrived by boat only half a day after leaving our hotel. For some odd reason Chris had running shoes and socks on (I give him endless grief for not wearing flip-flops in the tropics and forced him to buy some here) so he got a bit of a shock when we had to disembark the boat straight into the water. I was glad we had left our suitcases back in Seminyak and just brought weekend duffel bags – the poor saps who had to heave suitcases over the water and sand seemed to be having a rough go at it.
Of the three Gili Islands – Gili Trawangan, Gili Air and Gili Meno – Trawangan is the largest (3 km long x 2 km wide) and the most developed. Regardless, we still found it to be plenty relaxing and exactly what we were looking for. Right off the ferry we walked up onto a somewhat busy street, but nothing compared to the streets of Seminyak. Farther down the road were a few bars, restaurants and dive shops, and past these, things got a lot more isolated and less developed.
We didn’t want to bike it with our bags, so we caught a horse carriage over to the west side of the island. On the other days we got around by bike, usually a 20-30 minute ride back and forth from our hotel. Over the next 72 hours we spent our days diving and our evenings having dinner next to the beach as the sun faded into the backdrop.
Aside from this hectic schedule, we also made it a point to squeeze in a couple of massages (at around $20/hour a bit more expensive than in Thailand, but still far cheaper than anywhere in the West) and a cooking class. I will absolutely, without a doubt, be cooking up some sticky rice balls, kelopon in Indonesian, when I get back home. We had leftovers for a day or two afterwards and never got sick of them. A couple of the other tasty treats that we cooked were fried noodles with chicken (mie goreng), chicken curry, and a peanut sauce (kacang saus).
I’ll be completely honest – the diving wasn’t the best in the world, but it was definitely worth checking out if you’re in Indonesia. We saw a few very cool creatures, like turtles and an octopus, and the water was a cozy 28°C/82°F. If you’re purely looking for spectacular dive spots, you might not want to come all this way. But if you want the whole package – good diving in a unique atmosphere and perfect weather, I can’t recommend Gili enough. Leave enough time for activities, but also to relax and have nothing to do. The Gilis are a great place for that.