a guide to bali & the gili islands
Bali may not be off the beaten path, and despite it being well-worn, it is still an amazing travel destination. World-class surfing, gorgeous sand beaches and a nightlife that doesn't stop can be found in Bali.
Bali become a travel hotspot in the 1970s as hippies and young university students made it a stop off as they traversed southeast Asia. The island has always offered budget travel to those living out of a backpack. Compared to Bali, the Gili Islands is a newer destination for travellers in Indonesia. Dry and hot, the Gili Islands offer beautiful beaches and safe waters for snorkelling.
Three islands make up the Gilis: Trawangan, Meno and Air, and each offers something different to travellers. You can travel between Bali and the Gili Islands easily, which makes travelling to both regions possible during your trip through southeast Asia.
In the past, Indonesia's culture was heavily influenced by foreign traders and sailors. The country's location on the trading routes between Europe and East Asia made it a prime stopping point.
Like in the past, Indonesia is a country travellers continue to stop off at regularly. And today's travellers continue to influence the country's culture. Throughout Indonesia you will see a fusion of influences from film to religion permeating the country's culture.
Places to Visit
Iconic beaches, large volcanoes and breathtaking religious monuments and temples defines Bali. And if you love being near the ocean and catching some waves, Kuta is the perfect city to begin with. The city is well-developed compared
to the rest of the island and you will have no difficulty finding a vibrant nightlife there.
While finding budget accommodation and meals may not be difficult on Bali, you may find a night in a more upscale area to be on the menu. Seminyak is one of the most upscale cities on Bali. The area is very laid back and you will find it to be far quieter than Kuta. Enjoy the resort and spas at Seminyak and feel fully relaxed before you get back on your travels.
Trawangan, Gili Islands
The largest of the three islands, Trawangan has more activities for travellers to do when visiting and it is known as the party island. Trawangan has plenty of budget travel accommodation and meals, although if you have a bit more to spend you can find plenty to buy. The eastern side of Trawangan is where you will find most of the restaurants and accommodation, but visiting the rougher seas on the west side may be too exciting to ignore. Watch the sunset on the western beaches as the waves from the ocean pound the shore and you will have the beach all to yourself.
Air, Gili Islands
If you want to get away from partying and just chill out on the sandy shores of a quaint island, Air is the place to go. The island is perfect for diving and snorkelling, and you can find plenty of other travellers joining in the fun. A lot of travellers who become bored with partying across Indonesia end up on Air for its natural beauty.
Meno, Gili Islands
If you're travelling with a loved one then Meno is the island for you. Romance is at the heart of the island and with so few people living on it (400), you will feel like its your own private desert island. Laid back to the extreme, Meno offers you an ideal paradise during your travels.
Follow the spicy smells of Balinese cuisine and you will be rewarded with a taste like no other. Based around fish, meat and vegetables, Bali's cuisine is aromatic and full of spice. Influenced by Chinese and Indian recipes, Bali's foods are popular around the world. Despite restaurants serving Bali fare in large metropolises in Europe or North America, there is nothing quite like that first bite of authentic Balinese food.
When eating in Bali, rice is served with just about every meal. Whether soup, fish, meat or vegetables, you will have rice on your table.
One of Bali's most famous dishes is the babi guling. The roasted suckling pig is stuffed with a variety of spices before being spit-roasted. It can be found in a variety of places on the island.
With the Gili Islands located near Bali, you will be able to find babi guling and many other favourites when staying there.
What to see?
Bali is the crown jewel of the country and has some of the best tourist sites to see. There are a number of great temples across the island and beaches as far as the eye can see. Goa Gajah is one favourite as the cave has numerous ancient carvings.
Mount Batur is a great location to watch the sunrise over Bali. Each morning before the sun comes up, hundreds of locals and tourists hike to the top in hopes of catching a glimpse of the sun's golden light. It is truly an awe-inspiring moment.
The beaches on the Gili Islands rival those on Bali, with Meno being the pick of the litter. The islands' clear blue waters attract couples looking for romance and the islands' atmosphere of a deserted paradise is intoxicating.
The Gili Islands' popularity over the last 20 years has seen hotels and resorts pop up. This hasn't stopped the island from having that laid back appeal. Of course, the beaches are the main draw; and snorkelling and viewing the local natural habitat can't be missed.
Bali has the best – or worst in some cases – reputation for nightlife in Indonesia. While there are touristy nightclubs with loud music and expensive cocktails, there are also low-key nightspots with cheap, affordable drinks. The nightlife on Bali can get wild, so be prepared.
Trawangan is the main party island when it comes to the Gilis, and you will be able to find something to do every night if you want. The main strip has bars and restaurants that stay open late and there is a good chance you may find a beach party at some time during the night.
A lot of the travellers to Trawangan figure out the local expat routine, which features a different bar or party each night. Your party schedule will be full on Trawangan, and you will meet plenty of new people. Just remember, Meno and Air are for when you decide to leave the party behind.
If you want to make a difference while travelling around Bali, then check out VolunteerinBali.org. The group has a number of great programs you may be able to volunteer with. It is a non-profit organisation, and the group is run by Balinese residents. The GiliecoTrust.com can help you find volunteering opportunities on one of the three islands. The eco trust attempts to help the local marine environment and always needs people like you to help out.