Latest posts by flipflops_in_the_sun (see all)
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- Travel Indonesia – Discovering The Gili Islands - January 10, 2018
Bali’s neighbouring island Lombok offers a much quieter vibe with coastlines that are equally as stunning, revealing luscious green landscapes, untouched scenic beaches with hardly anyone on them apart from Fishermen.
Most tourists tend to visit Lombok’s North West Gili Islands (Gili Air, Gili Meno and Gili Trawangan) which they often reach by boat from Bali, bypassing the mainland. This is a shame, as the island has many beautiful beaches and another 13 undiscovered smaller Gili Islands that deserve to be explored, especially in the South West off the coast of Sekotong.
We travelled to Lombok from Bali and spent 1 month on this beautiful island. Rather than taking the usual route via boat, we decided to fly from Bali’s Denpasar Airport to Lombok’s International Airport in the capital city of Mataram, as it was cheaper than going by boat (a boat will cost approx. £30 and take at least 4 hrs, whereas a flight cost us £18 and only took 30 mins!)
We wanted to fit everything in, including the Gilis, so we first visited the North West town of Sengiggi, near the Bangsal Harbour. Here is where boats take you to the Gilis, and return you to the mainland to carry on with your travels for the rest of the month.
We are very happy that we gave Lombok a chance and that we didn’t just stick to Bali!
We were surprised by Lombok’s beauty and to see that its infrastructure was so advanced, with most of the main roads on the island being asphalted and much wider than Bali’s smaller congested ones. Apparently they were built before the Bali bombings in the early 2000s, when they were getting ready for an influx of tourists, which sadly never happened.
Locals aren’t scarred by mass tourism yet, so you will still get the smiles and the ‘please can we take a photo with you?’ moments!
The population of Lombok is largely composed of Sasak people, however there is also a mix of other Indonesian cultures. Sasak people are Muslim, but there is a strong animist element to their religion, like in Hindu Bali (a belief that objects, places and creatures all possess a distinct spiritual essence) Whilst Sasak is also their local language, you will find that most locals speak Indonesian Bahasa (Indonesia’s Official Language) as a second tongue.
Because tourisms hasn’t really kicked off yet, the dominant occupation in Lombok is still very much agriculture, with paddy rice, soybeans, peanuts, coconuts, tobacco and vegetables being their main crops.
There are already a handful of expats in Lombok who have opened up coffee shops, guesthouses and shops. Other businesses are very local, which consist of small shacks that are set up as shops, local restaurants, some supermarkets and a few big hotels, but you will notice the lack of proper building structures outside of Mataram.
This underdevelopment in some places still gives the island a tropical paradise feel to it, but construction has started up again with more hotels being built on the coasts and plans getting underway for a Formula 1 racecourse in the southern town of Kuta, which should put Lombok very much on the international radar.
Where to go in Lombok
The most tourist friendly areas are in the North West (main port of entry to the Gili Islands), South West and far South of the Island. The far North and East are still very traditional with many Sasak villages which still haven’t been introduced to tourism, therefore it is harder to find accommodation there.
The areas we visited:
North West Lombok – Sengiggi
Gili Islands off the North West Coast – Gili Air, Gili Meno & Gili Trawangan
South West Lombok – Sekotong & its smaller Gili Islands
South Lombok – Kuta
Getting a taxi to and from the airport:
‘Grab’ and ‘Uber’ taxis do operate in Lombok, but aren’t popular with the many taxi mafias, so it may be harder for them to enter the airport pick up points (you may have to walk out of the airport onto the main road)
Alternatively, if you use these apps then check the price to your destination and negotiate with airport taxi drivers to match this cost or as near as.
Another easier option would be to use the trusted Blue Bird metered taxi company, either by hailing one down if available or via their easy to use app ‘Mybluebird’
Distance from the airport:
North West (i.e; Sengiggi) this can take up to 90 mins
South West (i.e; Sekotong) approx. 60 mins
South (i.e; Kuta) approx. 30 mins
Getting to the Gilis:
If you want to get to the Gili Islands from Lombok, we would recommend travelling from either Bangsal Harbour (near the town of Sengiggi in the North West) or from Lembar Harbour (near Sekotong, South West) Below we offer info on getting there from Bangsal!
Hiring a bike:
Always aim to hire a Scooter from your accommodation, to avoid any possible scams from hiring direct via rental companies (i.e; being charged for scratches that were already there, or running the risk of the bike going missing if they know where your hotel is – this has happened to travellers!)
Your accommodation will sometimes use a 3rd party, but they want to keep their reviews intact so it is less likely to cause you any burden.
A scooter in Lombok will cost between 50,000 – 100,000 IDR (Indonesian Rupiah) which is £3-6 per day / US$4-8, depending on where you hire it from (try your accommodation first and compare prices!)
North West Lombok
Sengiggi is a town in the North West of Lombok, 30 mins away from Bangsal Harbour which is the easiest way to get to the 3 Gili Islands.
The town itself is small with an urban area, some restaurants, a few supermarkets and a main road that follows a long coastline. Here you can visit many virtually untouched beaches that lead north to the harbour.
We stayed in a lovely homestay called Sengiggi Inn, which offered clean double rooms, a private bathroom with hot water and a balcony area. This cost us £20 a night with breakfast (prices may vary at different times of year)
Although there are a few restaurants scattered around, we preferred the look of Alberto’s Cafe, which is also a lush hotel with a pool. Owned by an Italian, they serve authentic Italian Pizza and Pasta, as well as Indonesian dishes, which we couldn’t recommend enough! The restaurant is accessible from Sengiggi beach and the main road.
Our favourite Beaches in Sengiggi
Long white sandy beach with tranquil water to swim in. Here you will find a few restaurants and bars, as well as a few hotels including a Sheraton, where you can sit on their seats and buy a drink (if you don’t mind paying slightly more) A small beer will cost you approx. 50,000 Rupiah (£2.77 / US$3.70) Although it seems cheap, anywhere else this usually costs between 25 – 30,000 Rupiah.
Beautiful bay with white sand. Very quiet when we visited. We ended up befriending a Fisherman, who also had a shack on the beach serving coffee, so we stayed for a while speaking to him in broken Indo-English!
There are a few other beaches along the north west coast, so it’s worth exploring. Makes a great day trip on a Scooter!
The 3 Gili Islands
Although the North West Gilis are part of Lombok, they are promoted as a Bali destination, so they get a lot of tourists arriving by boat from there.
As you arrive at the Gilis, whichever you choose out of Gili Air, Gili Meno or Gili Trawangan, you will find they have no motorised vehicles whatsoever! You may find a few electric scooters and bicycles, but the only public transport are horse & carts. It is easy to walk around the islands or hire a bicycle to save money!
There are no dogs on these islands, making it a haven for both cats and tourists that don’t have to worry about packs of beach dogs running around at night. A few years back a Finish lady who lived on Gili T and then on Gili Air, started a Cat Foundation, where she had cats brought over from Lombok to be vaccinated and neutered. These cats have a snipped ear to show they have been treated!
These islands have stunning beaches surrounded by coral reefs. Many of the shores also have rocks, so watch out with your feet and get some of those shoes that are made for going in water, if you can!
We stayed 7 nights on Gili Air and 2 nights on Gili Trawangan. Initially, we intended to stay 4 nights on each, but we didn’t like Gili T as much so shortened our stay and returned to Gili Air. We loved it so much there that we even extended a further night!
How to choose the right Gili Island for you?
If you like to party, head to Gili Trawangan, as it’s famed for its nightlife! You will find a younger vibe here, however there is definitely a mix.
If you like to chill and want a romantic holiday then go to Gili Meno, which is known as the honeymoon island, but you don’t have to be married to enjoy it! Meno is very chilled; despite some hotels, bars and restaurants, there is hardly anything there but beaches to relax on.
If you like a mix of chill but also want to have a little bit of nightlife, even if only a few drinks at sunset on the beach, then head to Gili Air (prettier than Gili T in our opinion!)
It’s easy to travel by boat from one island to the next, as well as booking a Snorkelling trip that covers all 3!
The Gilis deserve a post all to themselves, so you can read more about them on our post Discovering The Gili Islands
South West Lombok
Sekotong is a sleepy coastal area with a few villages dotted around, including Tawun Village where we stayed. There are some hotels there, which are owned mostly by expats.
We stayed at a lovely hotel called Silver Fern Beach Retreat, run by a couple from New Zealand. Prices for the rooms ranged from 400,000 – 750,000 IDR (£22 – 41 / US$29 – 55) We were very lucky to get an upgrade after booking their cheapest room, so we enjoyed the view of the ocean every morning! You can check availability and book via the link above (this is an affiliate link, which won’t cost you any more but will give us a small referral commission)
There wasn’t much choice for eating out in the local area, apart from a new local restaurant called Bale Bamboo Restaurant, which offered authentic Indonesian food at local prices.
As you carry on South from Tawun Village, you can visit Desert Point which is a popular Surfing hangout, and even further south from there you can reach a beautiful bay called Mekaki Beach, which is completely empty. Unfortunately we found out that a Hotel has bought up the land which one day will make this a private beach. Worth a visit before this happens!
The Smaller South West Gili Islands
Those that know, come to Sekotong to enjoy the small Gili Islands that lie close to its shores, which can be reached by boat. These less visited and much smaller Gili Islands are amazingly beautiful and great for snorkelling. The Coral is in much better condition than in the other 3 Gilis to the North!
On the boat trip you will see many bamboo houses used by the fishermen, which have huge nets underneath them. Our boat Captain encouraged us to take a peak and explore!
Some of these Gilis, including Nanggu, Layar and Gede, offer accommodation but options are limited and mostly basic.
To get a boat to these islands you can ask your accommodation or go to Lembar Harbour just up the road and arrange a boat from there. We were lucky that Silver Fern had their own boat guy who lives next to the hotel in Tawun village. Prices ranged between 450,000 – 600,000 IDR per boat, depending on the islands visited (approx. £24 – 33 / US$33 – 44) which gets divided between passengers (max 6 people per boat)
Gili Nanggu, Gili Tangkong, Gili Sudak and Gili Kedis
These small islands are close together and can be visited in a one day boat trip (they usually take up to 20mins to reach).
Get a preview of Gili Kedis (pure paradise) through this video below!
Gili Layar, Gili Ringgit and Gili Gede
These islands are further away from the coast, so they take longer to reach by boat (approx. 1 hour or more)
- Best snorkelling for us was in Gili Nanggu and Gili Layar
- Prettiest islands are Gili Nanggu and Gili Kedis (don’t miss these whatever you do!)
- Try to get there as early as you can – many boats arrive after 10.30am
- On Gili Layar and Gili Ringgit watch out at low tide; enter the water by jumping off the boat to avoid the shallow shore off the beach full of pointy Coral
- Gili Gede is a much larger island, so you may need a separate boat trip to explore this one!
Kuta is the tourist hub of the South. It shares the same name with Kuta in Bali, but that’s all they have in common, as they are polar opposites when it comes to being busy. Kuta in Lombok had more tourists than anywhere else on the mainland, however these were in low numbers. It has the best beaches in Lombok, with the most amazing turquoise waters. Perfect for beach lovers!
We stayed at a lovely place called Bule Homestay for 350,000 IDR per night (£19 / US$25) The rooms are huge, clean and tastefully decorated. The only downside is that there’s no pool. However, there are so many beaches around the Kuta area that you don’t really need one! You can check availability and book via the link above (this is an affiliate referral link)
The food here was amazing and reasonably priced, so we didn’t bother eating anywhere else! The owner is an ex Executive Chef from 5 Star hotels in Lombok and Bali, so no wonder their menu and dishes are so good.
Beaches in and around Kuta
If we could give you one word of advice it would be to hire a scooter to get around and explore as many beaches as you can!
Kuta Beach isn’t the prettiest and had a lot of construction going on when we were there due to hotels being built in the area. By all means, take a look but head further west and east to find some of the most stunning beaches we have ever seen!
West of Kuta Beach (left on the map) you will find Selong Belanak Beach, Mawi Beach and Mawun Beach.
East of Kuta Beach (right on the map) you will find Tanjung Aan Beach and Bukit Merese, plus many more we didn’t get to visit as didn’t venture that far east (so make sure you explore further to find Pink Beach which is called so due to its pink sand!)
Selong Belanak Beach
Busiest beach out of the lot. It has all the amenities for tourists; restaurants and water sports, including surfing lessons. It’s a stunning beach with turquoise water, unlike anything we had ever seen before!
Quite hard to get to, as when you turn off the main road it leads you down another unmade and bumpy road for ages (3-4km, so be careful) It is more of a Surfers paradise, as it’s like the Jurassic Park of coastlines!
Another stunning beach. Many restaurant shacks to choose from and you can either place a towel on the sand or hire a sunbed for the day! Our favourite beach after Selong Belanak.
This beach wasn’t as nice to chill on and the water didn’t seem as clean. This was probably due to the tides and possibly all the construction going on around it. Our advice is to ride a scooter and head to the other beaches nearby!
Tanjung Aan Beach
Practically a deserted beach, which didn’t seem geared up for tourists as there wasn’t anything there, but so worth the visit as it’s absolutely stunning! Those hills you see at the far end of the beach are part of Bukit Merese, where you will be able to enjoy an amazing view from the top of the cliff!
Just up from Tanjung Aan; you can either drive there via a road just before you reach Tanjung or walk up the cliff on the side of the beach.
We hope you will make your way to Lombok and its Gili Islands one day soon!
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