by Bianca Ohannessian
Have you heard of the Gili Islands? They’re a laid-back group of islands just off Lombok and Bali, in Indonesia. Gili Meno and Air are reasonably untouched, whereas Gili Trawangan (AKA Gili T) is their naughty neighbour who likes their music loud and their drinks strong.
Gili T is often described as Indonesia’s answer to Ibiza, or at least Ibiza a few decades ago. However it’s not quite as hedonistic as some would like to make out. You can party hard if you want to. But you don’t have to. Like the other Gili Islands, Gili T moves at a chilled-out, sun-soaked, slow pace.
There are no cars on the island, just colourful horse-drawn carts and bicycles with a mix of backpackers and locals milling about in flip flops. In fact, it’s so chilled-out that people often end up staying longer than they expected. Myself included. You just forget about having to leave.
So, it’s easy to fall into the trap of becoming a Gili T beach bum. And there’s nothing wrong with hanging out on the beach, hanging out at the bar, just hanging out. Combined with the warm sunshine and £3 Balinese massages, you’ve got all the ingredients to make you feel lazy… But it’s the Rockskippers to the rescue!
There’s a lot of ways to keep you active, in between lounging about of course, and listening to that tropical playlist you put together for your trip. Here are a few activities to help keep that Gili T laziness at bay.
1. Scuba diving at Turtle Heaven
Yes, this dive site lives up to its name. Turtle Heaven (as in, its heaven because there are lots of turtles here, not because it’s the place they go to die) is an underwater haven for these friendly creatures. You’re almost guaranteed to see a few floating about underwater here.
There are lots of scuba schools to choose from too, such as Trawangan Dive Centre. Some of the other local dive sites are likely to bring you face to face with reef sharks, sting rays, scorpion fish and colourful coral gardens.
2. SUP yoga
(Photo source: Carolien @ The Yoga Place)
Can’t decide between that yoga class or hiring a stand-up paddle board at the beach? SUP yoga is the answer! You’ll get a work-out for your mind and body, and especially for your sea legs.
Balance and core strength are key, but The Yoga Place classes are open to all levels, from first-timers to off-duty instructors. It’s a great way to slowly wake up to the world with views of the island paradise in front of you and inquisitive turtles popping their head above the surface of the sea to take a peak – yes, that actually happened!
3. Cycle around the island
Gili T is quite a small island, around 3km by 2km, and fairly flat, which makes it easy to explore by bicycle. The main beach stretches along the whole east side of the island, and this is backed by a dusty road lined with beach bars and little shops. It’s essentially the high street of the island and you’ll probably find yourself going up and down this street several times during your visit so a bike can make it easier.
Venture further inland and you’ll find hidden cafes like the Pituq vegetarian café with bamboo beds and tropical smoothies. And if you want to check out the other side of the island, you’ll find sandy dirt tracks guiding the way. Warning: your legs are likely to get very dusty! You’re never too far from the sea here though, so you can always jump in the water to cool down or wash off the dust.
4. Walk around the island
If you want to explore, you don’t necessarily need a bike. You can easily walk around the entire island in a day, following the coastline most of the way. And this includes plenty of time to stop off at sandy stretches or tuck into a leisurely lunch with sea views. The sea can be rocky and choppy in places, so you might want to wear shoes to protect your feet if you go for a dip.
Time your walk so that you end up on the western beaches around sunset. There is a selection of beach bars, from chic to shack, providing the liquid refreshments as you watch the sun sink behind Bali in the distance. Some of the bars also have sea swings which will give you the best view, if you’re lucky enough to grab one.
5. Sunset yoga
If you’re still bursting with energy after your island stroll, why not end your day with a sunset yoga session? Again, run by The Yoga Place, although there might be other yoga groups that offer this, it’s a magical way to unwind as you watch the sky change colour above the sea.
Set in a corner of the beach, it draws in a friendly, international crowd of all experience levels and no experience levels, so you can push your downward dogs as much or as little as you want to. And with beach bars, live music and sunset gazers just a few minutes down the beach, you can join the party after you’ve realigned chakras.
6. Aqua pole dancing
I can’t talk from experience on this one, but we did pass a poster on what is possibly the island’s most luxurious hotel advertising aqua pole classes among other activities. This might have just been available to hotel guests at the Pearl of Trawangan, but it looked intriguing and if you’re interested in trying out new types of fitness classes it’s worth investigating.
It basically looked like a pole dancing class in water. The poles were set up in the swimming pool, incorporating an element of aqua aerobics into the mix. The weightless water feeling might help to make upside down moves easier that usually need a lot of arm strength, but it probably makes spins harder!
7. Dancing at beach parties
And if all that sounds a bit too much like hard work, then there’s always dancing to fall back on. The bars hold late-night parties three days a week, with different bars hosting the party each time. And because the island is so small, these parties attract a large crowd as everyone that wants a night out heads to the same place. It ranges from chart music to live bands, including our favourite local rockstar who had a great repertoire of indie classics.
And then there’s the full moon party on the beach once a month. Expect big queues at the bar and avoid being slipped dodgy alcohol disguised as gin or vodka by buying bottled drinks instead. Not as big or messy as the ones you might find on the beaches of Thailand, the Gili T full moon party sees locals and visitors dancing on the sands until sunrise.