The Gili Islands are a group of three small islands close to the larger island of Lombok and a bit further away from Bali. For a long time they have drawn backpackers. When I visited the largest of the three islands, Gili Trawangan, in 2010 for the first time it felt like an idyllic island paradise to me even though the rapid development was already visible then. Coming back I wanted to see another Gili island, so I chose the smallest island with the reputation for being also the quietest – Gili Meno.
And here are the 11 reasons why you may want to visit the island – and also 11 reasons why you probably should not go there.
Reason 1 to visit Gili Meno: It is harder to get there than to its neighbours
Most speed boats from Bali or ferries from Lombok go directly to either Gili Trawangan or Gili Air, the island which has twice as much accommodation choices as Gili Meno but only half the accommodations as Gili Trawangan. So it means people need to make an extra effort to get to Gili Meno and take a local boat from Trawangan. The transport hurdle is like a filter and you will encounter less annoying tourists than on the other islands – considering their quantity and quality.
Reason 1 NOT to visit Gili Meno: It is harder to get there than to its neighbours
Of course it is not as comfortable and you have wait for the public local boat which goes only twice daily. Or you charter private transport which is more expensive.
Reason 2 to visit Gili Meno: The tranquility
As of 2015, Gili Meno still contrasts the little sister of Bali’s noisy Kuta called Gili Trawangan. Especially in low season you will notice the difference. You have way fewer noises, only some chicken, some construction works, a few local chatting villagers. The people who come here usually do not look for parties, but for silence and peace.
Reason 2 NOT to visit Gili Meno: The tranquility
For adventure-seekers and partygoers it might quickly become too tranquil. Besides from snorkeling and baking in the sun there is nothing much to do here. And you might not find too many others who are in for excited socialising and group action. There is no visible nightlife here, just a few quiet beach bars.
Reason 3 to visit Gili Meno: The beaches
The entire island is surrounded by coral beaches. Their light colors look beautiful. On the east coast there are some stretches of fine sand. You won’t be alone at the beaches, but there is still enough space to enjoy some illusion of privacy for everyone. You can walk around the island and most stretches are freely accessible by foot. Many places have parasols for rent.
Reason 3 NOT to visit Gili Meno: The beaches
A lot of the stretches of beach are eroding and in most parts it is not a fine sandy beach but an accumulation of rocks and mostly dead coral. Be careful with your feet, some sandals or plastic shoes are essential. There are only a very few places where you can enter for swimming, for instance at the south east coast. Most parts of the beach are just to shallow to enter and you walk at a height of a few centimeters over rocks and dead coral covered by some water.
Sometimes the current in the water can become pretty strong. If you are sensitive to the sun you would need to take care, there are no palm trees at the beach, only a very few trees with hardly any leaves where you can lie in the shade.
Reason 4 to visit Gili Meno: The good infrastructure
I was surprised about the good infrastructure after reading the island was a little remote and slow in development. Actually development goes in rapid cycles here. You have quite good wifi in almost every place, many pathways are paved and even lit at night. Lots of bungalows have AC. And now in 2015 there is even an ATM at the east coast.
Reason 4 NOT to visit Gili Meno: The good infrastructure
The good infrastructure means it is no more the illusion of a laid-back island of the 19th century. And development is going fast. Almost every family is constructing new bungalows on the island and soon there won’t be any empty space left for nature – only bungalows, resorts, and shops. So my estimation is that in a few years the charm of Gili Meno will be completely gone and it is going to be a mediocre copy of Gili Trawangan with not much reason left to prefer this island over another.
Reason 5 to visit Gili Meno: The corals
The good news is you won’t need a boat or tour, you can just try to walk into the water at almost every stretch of coast, get over the rocky part first and every now and then you find some nice corals and big colorful fish. I had some good snorkeling here.
Reason 5 NOT to visit Gili Meno: The corals
It is sad to see that 90 to 95 percent of the corals appear to be dead. It just looks like a huge graveyard. How beautiful it must have been some years ago. And the increasing number of visitors certainly won’t help the reefs recover.
Reason 6 to visit Gili Meno: The people’s vibe
When you first walk around the island you will immediately notice the villagers will mostly leave you alone, not shouting “Hello Mister” at you and try to sell you transport. Often they will even friendly greet you without any hidden commercial interest. They seem to be pretty relaxed.
Reason 6 NOT to visit Gili Meno: The people’s vibe
Sometimes they are just too relaxed. If you need getting something done, you need patience. And often the service is not very professional. In the restaurants it often happened that orders were confused – same with the booking in some homestays.
Reason 7 to visit Gili Meno: The local music
If you enjoy self-made guitar music, you might enjoy the attempts of many locals to sing and play the guitar at nights when nothing else is happening. Also the islanders are devout followers of Islam. The largest building is the mosque in the middle of the island and you can hear the songs to call for prayer. In the evening there is a kind of contest when the island’s kids sing the prayer songs.
Reason 7 NOT to visit Gili Meno: The local music
One might think singing kids were cute. I am not a Muslim, but if I was I could have believed their attempts to sing were not very pleasing to god. It was merely shouting and I have been speculating if they were threatened with some severe punishment if they dared to hit the right note. And the story goes on like this. The amateur musicians in the beach huts are the grown-up mosque kids from yesterday and display an notable lack of talent.
Reason 8 to visit Gili Meno: Turtles
Yes, you can see turtles here. There is a good chance you might see one while snorkeling. I was really excited when one was passing by. And if you don’t see them in the sea, there is a turtle sanctuary at the south east coast where small turtles are kept together in water tanks. For a donation you can buy one turtle’s freedom and send it to the sea.
Reason 8 NOT to visit Gili Meno: Turtles
Increasing tourism is probably anything but beneficial for the turtles. The more people come, the less space is left for laying their eggs and the more boat traffic there is, the more they will be disturbed.
Reason 9 to visit Gili Meno: No motorized traffic
This goes along with the tranquility part. It is so nice to not hear any honking or motor noises on the roads. Horse carriages and bicycles are the only means of transport here.
Reason NOT 9 to visit Gili Meno: No motorized traffic
Many horses look pretty poor. I doubt they are treated too well, so I wonder if motorized transport might have spared those creatures some suffering.
Reason 10 to visit Gili Meno: Domestic animals
Gili Meno is a combination of a tropical island paradise and a laid-back Indonesian village. In the middle of the island there are cattle, cats and lots of chicken. Chicken will often even roam around in the garden of your bungalow, often followed by their cute offspring.
Reason 10 NOT to visit Gili Meno: Domestic animals
Chicken make noises, and the roosters usually like to do so in the early morning. And of course animals smell a bit and leave their traces behind everywhere. If you prefer a more sterile or perfect environment you might have some difficulties here.
Reason 11 to visit Gili Meno: The weather
The Gili islands receive less rain than neigbouring Lombok. So you have a pretty good chance for sunny weather. And the ocean breeze makes it more bearable.
Reason 11 NOT to visit Gili Meno: The weather
It can get really really hot here. And less rain has its downsides. Parts of the island appear pretty dry and when you don’t find a tree where to lie down at the beach it is often just too hot and sunny. Desertlike.
For those who seek a quiet low-key retreat the island is really idyllic. A nice place for introverts too, you will not be molested too many other noisy people. But you should visit Gili Meno soon before the silence is over.
Young party- and booze-loving backpackers still have more fun at Gili Trawangan, and honeymooners who like a certain standard of comfort are better served on Gili Air. For my part I can say I enjoyed Gili Meno a lot and it was definitely the right choice to go here.