One of the top destinations in Lombok for travelers to visit is definitely Gili Islands, these remote islands offer tourists the opportunity to enjoy the quiet car-free roads and discover an abundance of local marine life. These three islands have acquired their name from the mistranslation of western people Gili, in Sasaak literally means ‘small island’, because of this the majority of small islands around Lombok have Fili in the name, although to avoid confusion for tourists any other islands are now only called by their main name, removing the word Gili.
Gili Islands are located to the northwest of Lombok, in the Lombok Strait, extending outwards from a tiny peninsula called Sire. Sire is located near the village of Tanjung on Lombok. Ideally located for short visits, Gili Trawangan is just 35 km west of Bali. During clear days sightseers can clearly see both Bali and Lombok from Gili Islands, it is also possible to see Indonesia’s second largest volcano Mount Rinjani to the east on Lombok.
Due to their sheltered location between Mount Rinjani on Lombok to the east and to the west on Mount Agung on Bali, Gili Islands benefit from a slightly milder, direr micro-climate than surrounding areas. Located close to the equator, these tropical islands are warm and experience a wet and dry season. Monsoon season is from October to April, while the dry weather lasts from May to September. The average temperature is around 28 degrees centigrade although it can vary between 22 and 34 degrees centigrade.
Visiting Gili Islands offers the unique experience of enjoying life without cars. Travel on the islands is limited to foot, bicycle, or a ride in a Cidomo, a local horse-drawn carriage. Boats are used to get between the islands.
Gilli Islands are a truly fascinating place to visit with plenty to explore, each island has its own unique, small resorts open to tourists. Typically they provide accommodation, generally in huts, a restaurant, and a pool at each. Very popular with divers, Gilli Islands are home to amazing coral formations and there is plenty of marine life waiting to be discovered. The most populated and developed area is Gili Trawangan, the majority of locals live on this island in a township stretching across the east side. The only island of the three to have subterranean fresh water is Fili Air (AH-yer) named after the Indonesian word for water, although this supply is not limitless so resorts still have to rely on water shipped from the mainland.
The History of Gili Islands
Due to their recent settlement, these islands are relatively untouched by human activity and record keeping is sporadic however some history is known about the island’s more recent past.
Until the 1970s except for a brief period during world war two when the Japanese them for a lookout point and POW camp, Gili Islands were an unspoiled area teaming with wildlife. Used only by Bugis fishermen looking for a place to stop off.
In 1971 Waste Kusama, the governor of Lombok decided to establish plantations to grow coconuts and give land rights to private companies with a view to making the islands become profitable. 350 Mataram prisoners were sent to Gili Islands over five years to help with the harvesting, many of whom decided to settle. Due to crop failures, the private companies abandoned their efforts and left the land. Over time the population grew and began to build homes and businesses on privately held land. This has sparked a legal dispute that still carries on today.
During the 1980s Bali experienced a tourism boom, resulting in many backpackers discovering the islands. As the economic benefits of tourism were recognized the islands began to cater to the needs of travelers, beginning with Gili Air due to its infrastructure, however, Gili Trawangan quickly became a more developed and popular island due to the attraction of its abundance of diving locations.
Tourism went from strength to strength throughout the late 1980s and 1990s as the reputation of the islands grew the Government and private investors began to regain interest in the land they had abandoned. During this time many evictions were served and buildings demolished but the locals remained on the land and rebuilt each time as the land remained undeveloped.
As the islands had no police force due to the low population drugs were available freely during the late 1980s and 1990s, this led to Gili Trawangan developing a reputation as a party island, with travelers’ going to dance and take drugs.
Throughout the 1990s, as the diving industry grew the Fili Islands started to build a reputation as having world-class diving opportunities and instruction. This helped tourism throughout the islands grow and funded the development of more accommodations and facilities that were able to cater to a wider range of clients.
Gili Ecotrust was founded in 2000 with the objective of preserving the Gili Islands Coral Reefs and it improves the education on environmental issues faced by the islands. This not-for-profit organization was set up as a joint initiative between the dive shops of Gili Trawangan and influential members of the local community (known as Satgas). Many conservation projects have been carried out by Gili Ecotrust including education, work to preserve and repair coral reefs, waste management improvement, and work due to erosion issues. A lot of work has also been done to help stop unsustainable fishing. In 2012 the Gili Islands remained in land disputes with the locals and tourism continued to grow. As the islands thrived efforts were made to make sure they kept their unique identity and culture distinct from that of Bali.
Reaching Gili Islands From Bali
The easiest and most popular method of reaching Gili Islands from Bali is the fast boat service, there are many different services operating directly between them, also stopping at Lombok and sometimes, Nusa Lembongan along the way. Regular daily services operate within easy reach of Kuta and the main south Bali tourist area, around 25 minutes drive away in southern Bali there are both Benoa and Serangan Harbours, and to the East, there is Padang Bai and Northeast Amed, all offering fast boat services to Gili Islands. Prices vary widely, as do levels of service this depends on locality, length of journey, and level of comfort among other things.
Public Ferries are available hourly to Lembar (Southwest Lombok) taking an average of four to five hours from Padang Bai. Following a two-hour taxi ride, it is possible to get a ride on a local boat in Bangsal Harbour to take you on the rough half-hour sail to the Gili Islands.
It is possible to take a forty-minute flight from Ngurah Rai Airport in Bali to Lombok International Airport. From there it is a two-hour taxi ride to reach Bangsal Harbour where a local boat awaits