Scuba diving with the beautiful turtles who call the tiny Indonesian island of Gili Trawangan home is like a dream. I was fortunate to spend five days in Gili T with my husband and our friends, exploring a part of Indonesia that I had never visited. Before the pandemic, the island was popular with tourists, often crowded and full of life.
The global shutdown has certainly affected local businesses, including dive resorts, hotels, restaurants, cafes, bars, tour groups and transport. For a place that only recently began recovering from the devastating earthquakes in 2018, it was a surreal experience to visit during this time. I am hopeful that people will return to the Gilis to enjoy all of the amazing activities that the islands have to offer.
Read on to learn more about diving with the turtles, plus I share some of my favourite things to do on the island.
The Gili Islands
The three stunning islands that form what is known as the Gili's are Gili Trawangan or Gili T, Gili Meno and Gili Air. Tourists have long been in love with these islands and often travel from Bali to experience their white sand beaches and crystal clear waters.
Getting There: Currently, you have two options, the local boat or a private speed boat.
As we travelled as a group of four, we took the speed boat for a few reasons. First, divided by four, the cost of 350,000 IDR was still reasonable.
Second, it takes roughly ten minutes to cross from Lombok to Gili T, meaning you get to your island paradise ASAP.
Third, we just missed the cut off for the local boat capacity, and it would be a 2-hour wait. We took this as our sign that the speed boat was meant for us.
Accommodation: No matter your budget, this place has got you covered from a basic room in a guesthouse to a luxury hotel stay.
I had a budget of $30.00 AUD per night for 2 people (including breakfast), which was more than enough to find an incredible place to stay (currently, rooms are heavily discounted).
It is a touristy place, so expect prices to be a little higher given the location. Also, I don't recommend booking online right now because if you are going to base your choice on the photos on the listing - you might be disappointed. As expected many guesthouses and hotels are going through a loss (and some have sadly had to close their doors) so it is best to arrive and check out the conditions of the room for yourself.
Food: Support the local eateries and enjoy a meal of rice and vegetables (of course, you can find plenty of fresh seafood here too).
It was easy to eat vegan with plant-based options on every menu, including vegan burgers, salads, wraps, local dishes like fried rice or noodles with vegetables, smoothie bowls and fresh juice. Fresh produce like fruit and vegetables are limited as it is a small island, and other imported items are understandably more expensive.
Drinks and snacks are priced higher than in Bali, but they are widely available in the local convenience stores. The average price of a meal at a restaurant was around $5.00 - $7.00 AUD.
Trawangan Dive - PADI 5 Star Dive Resort
Where To Stay: I highly recommend staying at the Trawangan Dive Resort.
It has the perfect beachfront location and is especially great for divers as you can wake up and walk out from your room and over to the dive centre. The rooms are large, with comfortable bedding, high-speed wifi (the fast wifi is amazing), and delicious breakfast. Try their soy latte and nasi goreng with tempeh - yum!
Diving: Scuba diving courses are available, as are a wide variety of speciality courses and diver training.
I enrolled in the refresher course as it had been over nine months since my last dive, and I wanted to gain more confidence with my gear and regain the sense of what it feels like to breathe under the water.
I started my day with an 8:00 am pool session before a morning dive at 9:00 am at the dive site. The conditions for my first day of diving (the end of the rain season) were not so great, but I was still excited to be diving, so I booked in for a second dive the following day.
It turns out the next morning, the sun was shining and the water was calm; perfect for diving in Turtle Heaven.
The staff are professional; the dive gear was ready to go, the crew take everything on and off the boat, so all I had to do was show up and enjoy my stress-free dive.
Turtle Heaven Dive Spot
Six of the seven sea turtle species are classified as threatened or endangered due to human actions.
I had heard that the turtles are so relaxed and happy at this dive spot that they are easily spotted resting on the coral reef, finding food, swimming around, but I was not expecting what I found!
Not just one or two turtles, but around ten or more turtles all in one place. I felt so overwhelmed and grateful at this moment. As someone fearful of scuba diving, (and probably still is), this reassured me of why I work to overcome my anxiety in the ocean.
50% of the world's coral reefs have been lost, and the rest could disappear completely by 2050
Turtles are magnificent to see up close and breath-taking to watch as they swim around and above you. As I looked out into the distance, I could see even more turtles passing by.
Turtle Heaven is a pinnacle that starts at 10 meters and is where you can discover both Hawksbill and Green turtles. I was diving between 15 and 18 meters, but I could see turtles in the shallows, too, as they surface for air.
An estimated 50% or more marine turtles have ingested plastic or other rubbish, mistaking it for food.
There are so many unique facts about turtles' lifespan, but one important fact is that their life expectancy is estimated to be 150 years; it is usually 80 years or less. Turtles are under constant threat from humans and climate change.
Turtles are charismatic, friendly and calm natured creatures and diving with them is not something I take for granted.
My Favourite Things To Do In Gili
In no particular order:
Watch the world go by.
Find a chair, ordering a coffee, and relax. There is no better place.
Read an actual book.
As much as I love a good podcast or audiobook, I love putting down my phone and swapping it for a second-hand book. My current read is called 'Beyond The Mat' Achieve focus, presence and enlightened leadership through the Principles and Practice of Yoga by Julie Rosenberg.
Ride my blue bicycle.
Possible number one (or second behind diving) is hiring a bicycle and riding everywhere around the island. Cruising up and down right next to the ocean, stopping in for lunch, taking photos and waving hi to everyone. It makes you feel like a kid again and is pure bliss. No traffic. No worries.
Enjoy a vegan smoothie from a fresh coconut.
Don't think - just do. One of the best smoothie bowls I have had was in the sweetest café called Hello Capitano @hellocapitanocafe packed with fresh banana, mango and all the healthy toppings. Tropical paradise would not be complete without one.
If you are in Gili, I would recommend exploring both land and sea as you will not be disappointed. It is a chance to disconnect from social media, lay out on the beach and read that book you have had on your side table for the last few months.
Don't forget that remote islands often struggle to manage to keep the beaches clean and free from plastic and trash.
If you visit, remember to be a sustainable traveller and bring your eco-friendly essential items with you such as a reusable water bottle, keep cup for your coffee, tote bag for shopping and eco beauty products; a reef-safe sunscreen should definitely be on your packing list!
Chose an eco-friendly accommodation option, a guesthouse or hotel that does not use single-use plastic, and has an environmental protection policy.
Take your trash back with you if you do a day trip to the beach and help to keep Gili a tropical paradise.
Horse & Cart
One thing to note, there are no motorbikes or cars on the Gili's, so local transport is by bicycle or horse and cart. This forms one reason the island is less polluted, yet on the other hand, the horses are often over-worked and in poor condition; a heart-breaking sight for visitors.
I personally do not encourage supporting horse and cart transportation and you can get around the island easily by bicycle. To learn more, click on the link below to the Bali Animal Welfare Association, a local organisation taking care of the animals in Bali, including the horses, dogs and cats.
*Please note all information is current as of Feb 2021 and may be subject to change.