Beach Battle: Gili Islands vs Bali
Three tiny islands just off Lombok's northwest coast have their sights firmly set on Bali's staunch reign as Indonesia's top getaway. Once a whispered backpacker tip on the Southeast Asia route, the Gili's are opening up fast. Most come to lose sight of the stars at one of Gili Trawangan's thumping parties, with more and more starting to explore the marooned pathways on Gili Meno, or finding balance on spiritual Gili Air.
It's safe to say you'll find every degree of separation on the islands, from luxury comforts to Crusoe castaway.
Beaches To Die For
Bali has one of the most iconic slithers of sand in the world. However, with great power comes great responsibility and the Kuta/ Seminyak stretch in Bali leaves a lot to be desired these days. Fortunately, no matter which Gili you are on, you can find a spot that's just right for you. For bean bags on the beachan, house music and zingy cocktails, Trawangan's your bag. If you need time to finally finish Shantaram without any hassle from the coconut cartels, Gili Meno has your back. Whatever Bali can do sand wise, the Gili's can match it grain for grain.
Catch The Yoga Bug
Search for wellness in the dictionary and there will be a link to Ubud's Wikipedia page. Yoga, meditation, and mindfulness are the name of the game and there aren't many places in the world that can rival it for options. It is impossible to pretend then that the Gili's will spoil you for choice, but what they lack in selection, they more than makeup for in cost, comfort, and quality. Gili Air is home to H20 Yoga, kitted out with an open sided, circular Shala set in the serene central forest. A full programme of yoga styles and meditation, a vegan café and lovely bungalows to rent on site, there really is little else you'll need. You'll find similarly equipped studios on the other islands too.
Diving and Snorkelling
The ace up the sleeve. Access to teeming spectrums of coral reefs, world famous dive sites and sea life conservation schemes make it an underwater playground. The sheer number of dive schools, particularly on Gili Trawangan and Air, are a testament to the calibre of the local sites. Their collective knowledge, experience, and passion make this an ideal place to take that PADI open water course you've always wanted. If you're not one for gas tanks, take a boat trip around the islands and jump off at some of Indonesia's most lauded snorkel sites.
It is easy to assume Bali got all the luck when those hefty tectonic plates crashed together millions of years ago, but you'd be wrong. Only 34 km to the east lies similarly blessed Lombok, complete with it's very own volcano (and Kuta Beach, as it happens). Here is where the similarities taper, however, as Lombok's majority Muslim population has shaped a different experience entirely. Less development means much more is on the table when it comes to finding adventure. Trekking up Gunung Rinjani, visiting Sasak weaving villages and exploring the busting capital Mataram are all highlights. The best bit? It's is only a 15-minute boat ride from the Gili's.
Roll Another Fat One
If your trip planning consists of ‘beats, beats and more beats' then Bali certainly has it's merits. Kuta is an oasis for the all-night raver and it has to be said, is pretty legendary when it comes to a party. Success will always breed imitation, however, and Gili Trawangan is doing a fine job of offering an alternative. Known as the ‘party island', hoards now find their way here, usually staying longer than they planned. A packed-out party schedule with clubbing highlights every night comes complete with acclaimed DJ's and great crowds. If you're feeling the burn, take a 10-minute boat ride to Air or Meno for some TLC.
Money Really Matters
Food, bungalows, and booze are, on average, cheaper here than on Bali, often with the same range of choices. Gili Castle on Trawangan has all your budget needs covered and a great atmosphere, while at the other end Les Villas Ottalia on Meno will steal your heart with its moonlit beach dining and private pool. The islands are lined with warungs selling bargain Indonesian dishes and no matter where you are, guaranteed there is a stone baked pizza close by.
Trekking Gunung Rinjani
Like most of the islands in the region, nearby Lombok is blessed with some of the best mountain treks and anyone with a bit of spirit will find a sound alternative to Bali's interior. Turquoise crater lakes, pristine rainforest and a better chance of a cloudless view at the top make this mountain a viable alternative to Bali's Gunung Agung.
Komodo is a little bit closer
The Komodo Dragon. A hulking beast you only see in nature docs, right? Wrong. Take a three-day jaunt from Lombok's eastern coast and reach the evocative isle in only a couple of days. Beat that Bali.