5 reasons why The Gilis should be at the top of your holiday wish-list.

Gorgeous beaches

Three tiny droplet-shaped islands off the northwest coast of Lombok offer solitude and unspoiled natural beauty; gorgeous beaches, with powdery sand and sparkling clear blue waters—and not much else. Here you can lounge the day away guilt- and itinerary-free in open-air beachfront huts called berugat, and maybe do a bit of sunbathing, snorkelling or diving.

Or take a stroll around—literally—one of the islands on one of the mostly sandy, sometimes concrete (and sometimes mud) roads that circumnavigate the islands. Gili Air and Gili Meno can be looped in an hour on foot, while Gili Trawangan, slightly larger and the most developed, takes a bit longer. Bicycles for rent are everywhere, cheap and allow for quicker travel—but note that pedalling through sand is way harder than it seems.

Bragging rights

The Gilis aren’t exactly a secret, but they exist in that sweet spot between backpacker paradise and mass tourism. There is still a fair amount of $50 accommodation, but it’s now sharing the space with more upscale resorts, some with roots in Bali (and comparable facilities and prices).What has slowed the pace of “progress” is a complete ban on motorized transport. So, for example, to get to your resort from the “harbor” the lone option for you and your bags is a cidomo, the two-wheeled cart pulled by horses so tiny you can’t help but feel sorry for them. True, the ride is so slow and uncomfortable you might find yourself wishing for a golf cart or a tuk-tuk. But then it hits you how quiet it is. You can hear the breeze and the boats and the waves and not much else. What the Gilis also don’t have: taxis, touts, banana boats, go-go bars, motorcycle rental, tour groups. It’s brilliant. Get there now before tourists mess it up!

Accommodation options

Our first stop was the middle island, Meno. Most of the resorts are small, family run affairs, with a handful of rooms each, often standalone bungalows with sea views. On Gili Meno, we opted for Seri Waters, which had seen better days. We liked the location, though, on the quiet Northeast side of the island, right in front of a reef. If we could do it again we’d try to stay next door at Shack 58, a cottage with a nifty beach-facing open-air gazebo (around 100 Euros/$165 per night). Or, on the other side of Seri Waters, the rooms at Ana Warung (ana.warung@gmail.com, +62 819 1595-5234) don’t face the ocean but they’re Rp500,000 ($50) for an air-conditioned room (Rp300,000 with fan) and the owners’ extended family are onsite and a fun crowd.

Unlike Trawangan, where you’re advised to stay as far away from the harbor as possible, on Meno it’s not necessary to travel far from where you disembark. In fact the Southeast side has the best beaches for swimming. Mallias Villas is a solid choice for beachfront bungalow accommodation or just a place to hang out during the day (good food, cold Bintan and a reliable wifi signal). Rates are around $50-100 on Agoda. Higher-end places include The Reef, with modern lumbungs going for $200-250, while Villa Nautilus offers nice bungalows in garden settings starting at around $100.

Trawangan “town” could easily be in (the worst parts of) Samui or Bali with its concentration of alternating tour desks, dive shops, mini-marts, touristy beach restaurants and budget accommodation. It’s also where you’ll find the closest thing to a “nightlife” area (the occasional parties that pump EDM out into the wind until morning have pretty much moved to Gili Air, though). A bit of a dump, in other words. Fortunately the rest of the island is still beautiful.

Turtles (big ones)!

On Meno there is a turtle sanctuary, where babies are hatched and raised before being released into the ocean, so sightings of the big creatures are common. The guys that take you out for snorkeling “guarantee” that you’ll see a sea turtle (“this big!”), though that means you might need to follow your guide down a few meters to find one. Even more thrilling was the one we swam with in the shallow waters just. (Well, it swam past and we followed.)

Or go luxe

Standards (and prices) are rising in the Gilis, but if you really want to luxe it up, spend a couple nights at the Oberoi Lombok on your way out. To get there we chartered a speedboat to the Oberoi’s private jetty. The resort is on a hill overlooking the ocean, with a huge pool and over 20 acres of manicured gardens. Service, facilities and food are five-star—breakfasts are particularly awesome. If you don’t have your own villa, grab a poolside gazebo for the day, which might include afternoon tea served with local desserts and expertly mixed cocktails and those addictive Balinese peanuts at sunset. Rates start at around $400.

Essentials

GETTING THERE

There is a 7:50am flight on SQ or SilkAir (unfortunately Jetstar suspended Singapore-Lombok service earlier this year) for around $450 to Lombok and it’s possible to have your toes in the sand by 2pm or so. In high season you might want to book a private car plus “speedboat” package online, but otherwise it’s just as easy and often cheaper to stop at one of the four interchangeable tour desks at Lombok Airport. You shouldn’t have to pay more than Rp800,000 ($83).

VISA, CURRENCY AND TAX

Singaporeans can enter Indonesia visa-free for up to 30 days. Other nationalities can check requirements at www.visahq.com.

($1=IDR 9.5).

WHEN TO GO

Visit the Gilis in January, February, October and November for the best chance of clear skies, little fain and fewer crowds.