Firstly, if you’re a little confused about the “Gili” reference, you should know that the word Gili actually means “small island” in the Sasak language. So although the word has become associated with the popular Gili Island group to the northwest of Lombok, it is actually a misnomer and Lombok is in fact surrounded by 26 gili’s. A handful of these are located just off the north east coast of Lombok and whilst they have remained, rather surprisingly, off the tourist radar they are a favourite weekend and holiday destination with the Lombok locals.
Gili Lawang and Gili Sulat are the northernmost of the eastern gili’s and are officially designated as a regional marine conservation area due to the rich mangrove, sea grass and coral reef systems the islands support. The primary attraction is the diverse coral reef surrounding the islands and make excellent snorkelling and diving, particularly in the shallow channel separating the two islands. For something a little different, snorkelling in the clear waters alongside the mangrove system is also worthwhile.
On land, the vegetation is dominated by mangroves but there are several small sandy beaches which make a great spot for a picnic or swim. Gili Sulat has a boat dock and a raised timber boardwalk through the mangrove forest where you can spot a variety of birds and resident monkeys.
There are several dive companies including liveaboards that operate in the area but independent travellers can access to the islands from the village of Sugian, about 3 hours drive from Mataram. From there it’s only a 15min boat ride over to the islands. Small local boats and snorkelling gear can be hired for a daytrip out to the islands from the Office of Marine Conservation Area (KKLD) at Sugian for around 350.000Rp per day for up to ten people. Snorkelling gear is extra and costs around 35.000 per person.
There are no facilities on either island so pack provisions for the day and camping gear if you want to stay overnight. The only other local accommodation is actually in the KKLD building in Sugian which costs around 150.000Rp per person for a basic room.
Gili Lampu, Gili Kondo, Gili Bidari, Gili Nondo, Gili Pentangan and Gili Nora form another cluster of islands just 10km’s or so to the south. The waters around these white sandy islets are home to an amazing array of colourful marine life, making it an ideal place to swim and snorkel. Named for lighthouse it boasts, Gili Lampu is equipped with basic tourist facilities such as toilets, change rooms, small shops selling food and drink and simple bungalow style accommodation so it’s perfect for those wanting to stay over and chill for a few days. Visit during the week outside school holidays, New Year and Eid Al Fitr holidays and you could very likely have the place to yourself.
Lying just to the south, Gili Kondo is another sandy jewel. Apart from a small daily stall selling basic food and drink, Kondo is completely uninhabited. At low tide it’s possible to cross the sand bar on the eastern side of the island to Gili Bidari, which has a small village but no accommodation. The remaining islands in the group are all uninhabited but they all have sandy beaches, clear warm water and fringing coral reefs in common. It’s simply a matter of island hopping between them to find your very own piece of paradise.
Small charter boats to this group of gili’s depart from the beach at Padak Guar village for the short 10-15min crossing. The outrigger type boats and snorkelling gear hire can be arranged through the fishing cooperative (just ask on the beach) for either a straight transfer to one of the islands or an island hopping day trip. There are also some stalls run by the local villagers just above the beach were you can stock up on snacks and drinks.
Alternatively, the islands can be accessed via a fast boat departing a few kilometres further north from Labuhan Pandan Beach at Sambelia village which takes about 30min. Ideally located on the east coast of Lombok almost halfway between the two groups of islands, Sambelia is a good place to base yourself if you want to explore any or all of Lombok’s north-east islands. There’s decent homestay accommodation at Pondok Siola or Tiara, both of which can help you arrange boats and snorkelling gear, and local style restaurants along the beach.