During our visit to Lombok, we admired the little Gili islands – Trawangan, Meno and Air in the horizon but didn’t get around to do the short boat trip across. So when friends visiting KL wanted to go on a tropical island holiday I saw my chance.
With images of deserted paradise islands in our heads we landed on the busy Gili Trawangan in the middle of high season. Instead, we pretty soon figured out that the Gili Islands have been on everyone’s radar for some time and every youthful wanderer from the Northern hemisphere had included Gili Trawangan on their winter break itinerary.
After checking in to our hotel on the quiet side of the island and dipping our toes into the turquoise sea, we quickly recovered from the initial shock and picked up our snorkels.
The beaches on the Western and Northern side of the island are rocky, but snorkelling is fairly good – turtles are regularly spotted here. You do need reef shoes to navigate past the shallow parts. Sandy beaches suitable for swimming can be found in front of the busy main strip, or on the neighbouring islands.
Instead of the trendy tunes of the Strip, the only sound on the quiet side of the island is the jingle bells on the cidomos, horse carts that are the main way of transporting goods – and people – on the island. The kids loved a ride on one of these, and with suitcases they are really your only option, but looking at these little ponies running up and down panting in the heat, a bicycle seems more merciful.
Even if we were surrounded by way more people than ideal, the sunsets are some of the best I’ve seen, with Lombok’s and Bali’s volcanoes as a dramatic backdrop! We cycled down to the prime spots for sunset, Paradise Sunset Bar and Casa Vintage, whiled away the afternoon and joined the crowd taking selfies at sunset.
Eating in Gili Trawangan
As you may have gathered, we were not impressed by the pumping music and the crowds on the main strip anyway – or rather, not the right target audience for it? – and after trying to unsuccessfully find decent food in the beach side restaurants there, stuck to the West coast of the island.
We had lovely meals at Karma Kayak, Wilsons, and the best pizzas within a few hundred miles at Danima. These places cater for demanding international tastes (think tuna steaks and carpaccio) and prices are in line with that. Parents of hungry teenagers in our group preferred the night market in the centre, where tummies were filled with local delicacies for a fraction of the price. All in all the prices on the Gilis were higher than we expected and definitely higher than elsewhere in Indonesia.
What to do in Gili Trawangan with kids?
Sea and sand, that’s pretty much it! We went on a snorkelling trip organised by the hotel, that stopped off at two snorkelling points and finished off with a lunch at Gili Air. With reef shoes even kids can snorkel off the beach on the Western and Northern beaches, but the sealife was better at the spots further out.
Bicycle rental places dot the roads, and we had a great time with bikes with a cushioned back seat perfect for kids. We did not realise that cycling after sunset on those bumpy sand tracks was a bit of an extreme sports – do bring a torch or a head lamp!
The distances are quite long for little feet in the heat, and the horse carts may be difficult to get in to the more remote locations – the bike gives you more freedom to get home for bedtime. We saw quite a few push chairs, but I would only bring one along if it’s suitable for rougher terrains than KL malls.
We visited the small turtle hatchery on the main street, but it’s just a few pools with baby turtles – apparently they do release them into the sea on certain nights.
Getting to the Gilis
From KL the easiest way to get to the Gili Islands is to take an Air Asia flight to Lombok. With kids, we took the easy way from there – an airport pick up to the jetty (about 2 hours drive) and a private speed boat to Gili Trawangan (about 20 minutes) and paid about about RM300. You can also arrange your own transport to Bangsal harbour and either take a public ferry or charter a private speedboat. If you are coming from Bali, you can read about transport options here.
We loved good snorkelling off the beach, stunning sunsets and island vibes thanks to no traffic and eating on the beach with our feet in the sand.
However, the fact that the island was overflowing with people and tourism has obviously been developed without much regard to sustainability (plastic rubbish covered pretty much every inch of the island outside the paths) cast a shadow to our visit.
There seems to be a good selection of private villas with pools – these may be a good option for families. We did not stay long enough on the other Gilis to say much, but it seemed they have better swimming beaches and sand castle building opportunities than the rocky and tidal beaches of the Northern Gili T.
Mushroom trade seems to be flourishing on the island, in case you were wondering.