Many people come to Bali anticipating a perfectly-preserved beach paradise, and are disappointed with the level of development they find after arriving in Kuta-Seminyak, the center of Bali’s beach tourism. I can’t say I entirely blame them. Kuta (which turns into Seminyak the further north you go) is a jumble of bars, stores, hotels, hostels and surf shops. The beach itself isn’t bad, especially in the Legian and Seminyak sections, but it’s more of a surfer beach than a swimming beach. So where to go to find the Bali of your dreams? I took the fast boat to the Gili Islands to see if they were the paradise I was searching for.
The Gili Islands are three islands (Gili Meno, Gili Air, and Gili Trawangan) that sit in the channel between Bali and Lombok. They can be reached from Bali in two to three hours via a terrifying fast boat over choppy waters, which occasionally does sink. Gili Trawangan (Gili T for short) is the most developed and Gili Meno the least, but on all of the islands you can enjoy snorkeling, SCUBA diving and spectacular sunsets.
So how do they stack up in the beach paradise department?
The beaches on the Gili islands are perfect. Think white-and-pink sand and turquoise warm waters. They are the perfect place to relax with a bintang beer.
The Gili Islands are also a center for all things underwater, and I can understand why. Over the course of two days, I participated in a $10 all-day snorkel adventure as well as a 12-meter SCUBA dive. Although I’ve snorkeled and dived elsewhere, the huge schools of colorful fish and endless vibrant coral blew me away.
Every tropical paradise also needs a spectacular sunset view, and the Gilis certainly did not disappoint.
But not everything was perfect.
Gili T has a reputation as a party island. Sometimes, I really enjoy a good night out. Other times, I’d rather chill out on the beach with some nice people and beer. I wasn’t in much of a partying mood during my time in the Gilis, and although I was able to ignore the masses of drunk twentysomethings wandering around half-naked, it did sort of get annoying after a bit. I also feel very uncomfortable in conservative countries where foreign, Western tourists are partying, even though it’s not in local culture to do so. The Indonesian population on the Gili Islands is Muslim, as evidenced by the loud call to prayer five times a day, and I couldn’t help but think that the level of drunken revelry was disrespectful to our hosts.
The Gilis are also very remote. Phones don’t work, wifi is slow, and the plumbing is lacking. If your beach fantasies involve luxurious bungalows, you might want to look elsewhere. There are some expensive top-end resorts that I assume have decent amenities, but they are far outside of my budget and seem to be geared towards honeymooners. Also, the ATM machines may swallow your debit card and that will piss you off. This may or may not have happened to me. No comment.
I think I’ll have to keep searching for the tropical paradise of my dreams, but the Gili Islands were still pretty amazing. I’d recommend anyone include them on a trip to Bali.