A light salt spray mists your face as you gaze out over the shining aquamarine sea and up at the slowly receding shoreline of Bali. The skyline is dominated by the Gunung Agung volcano, its towering peak covered in lush vegetation and shrouded in clouds.
You turn around and squint at the horizon, scanning for your destination. A small blob gradually separates from the bright blue sky and resolves into the familiar shape of a tropical island with white sandy beaches fringed by palm trees. This is the first of the Gili Islands, a small archipelago of three islands that sits just off the coast of Lombok.
Gili Trawangan, known to most as simply Gili T, is the largest and liveliest of the islands but as your boat maneuvers around to the small harbor the other two islands, Gili Meno and Gili Air, come into view, separated from each other by just a few kilometers.
The boat pulls up directly to the beach and you clamber off the back, wading through the warm ankle-deep water with your bag above your head. Although Gili T only measures 3 km long by 2 km wide, this de facto capital is bustling with activity. It’s just missing one factor that is ubiquitous to other Indonesian towns: traffic noise.
Motorized transport is banned on all three islands, so people get around by a mixture of walking, cycling and small horse-and-cart carriages, known locally as cidomos. It’s extremely pleasant to have the roar of motorbike engines replaced by the gentle clip-clop of ponies’ hooves and the tinkle of the many bells that adorn the carts.
Yet the cidomos are at the centre of an animal rights debate that has marred the region in controversy—with activists pointing to cases of horses being overworked and mistreated by their drivers. The introduction of government enforced weight regulations and efforts by the Gili Carriage Horse Support Network (GCHSN) have been making some headway to improve the animal’s working conditions, but welfare organisations say there’s still a lot of work to be done.
An even better, and less divisive, way to explore the local area is to pedal around by bicycle. Many hotels have bikes for the use of guests and there are also rental companies offering the unusual-looking Fat Bikes—bicycles with huge motorbike-esque tires. These are especially useful for exploring the eastern coast of the island where the track often merges into the beach with deep sandy patches that quickly bog down normal bicycles.
From your new little slice of paradise it’s easy to a get a boat to the other islands, onward to the Lombok mainland or back to Bali… or perhaps it’s easier to just to lean your Fat Bike against a palm tree, order a chilled coconut, and sit back and watch one of the famed Gili sunsets.
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Main photo: Shutterstock; Body photo: Alamy