Among tourists in Southeast Asia, if you utter the word “Gilis” those around you will assume you’re talking about the three most popular “Gili” islands off the coast of Lombok: Gili Trawangan, Gili Air, and Gili Meno.
In Lombok’s local language, Sasak, the word “gili” simply means island. Therefore, when you talk about the Gili Islands, you are somewhat saying “Island islands.” In the past few years, the colloquially called Gili Islands have seen a boom in tourism. Though this growth has slowed because of a slew of earthquakes that occurred in mid-2018, the islands are well on their way to rebuilding.
What many tourists don’t know is that Lombok has over 20 smaller islands surrounding it. These little islands tend to be rife with sandy beaches and thriving coral reefs. Since the earthquakes did not affect Lombok’s southern region, the reefs and beaches remain in near-pristine condition.
After spending years hopping between the popular Gili Islands, I knew it was time to see Lombok’s lesser-known spots.
The problem with seeing Lombok’s other islands is that transport is difficult to arrange as a solo traveler. Moving between islands requires boat transfer and a guide. Thankfully, I got in touch with Gemma at Mimpi Manis Snorkel Tours and booked a full-day excursion.
Gili Nanggu has just one small resort on the island and is a popular stop among locals. Just offshore, there’s an artificial reef made from metal crates and traditional Sasak-style sculptures. These sculptures were built to encourage coral growth, as coral reefs are essential habitats to juvenile fish and other marine creatures like anemones, star fish, and urchins. The coral structures and reef sweep around the island, and there are occasional sea grass patches where you can spot neon urchins and pipefish in the grass. If you swim beyond the reef, you’ll find schools of fish that surround you as you swim through.
On so many snorkel tours I’ve been on, the guide simply chucks you a mold-speckled mask and snorkel. He’ll wave his hand in a general direction and tell you to be back in an hour. Then, he’ll kick back with a cigarette in hand until it’s time to help you back onto the boat.
Not so with Gemma. Over the past two decades, Gemma has become an expert in spotting creatures that masterfully camouflage themselves into the reef. Ultra-venomous creatures like scorpionfish look as though they’re made of stone.
After what felt like hours in the water, the two other guests and I realized that we’d be the ones to urge Gemma back onto shore for mealtime – not the other way around.
For lunch, we stopped at Gili Sudak. Tables are set on the sand and you can choose from a menu that features classic Indonesian dishes like nasi goreng, mie goreng, and nasi campur. I recommend the gado gado, a meal made from stir fried vegetables tossed in peanut sauce. We watched colorful fishing boats scuttle to and fro, and let our our skin take a break from the sunshine. At a place like this, it’s easy to remember why you opted for a little-known stop rather than get lost among crowds elsewhere.
For the last stop of the day, we ventured to Gili Kedia. Gili Kedis is the tiniest of the three islands and the easiest to snorkel around. The island is punctuated with a small swing in the center of it and has a handful of shady rest areas to tuck under. Two minutes is all you need to walk a complete lap around the island. Along the reef, we spotted tiny lionfish, clown fish, nudibranch, and scorpionfish. Every time Gemma or I saw a critter under a ledge or disguised within the reef, we’d wave the other over. As an ocean-nerd, it was refreshing to snorkel with someone who shares my passion for finding hidden sea creatures.
IF YOU GO:
Snorkel Tour: From 450k IDR with Mimpi Manis Snorkel Tours. Tours depart from Kuta, Lombok and last from 7am to 5pm. Underwater pictures of your trip included.
Bring: Reef-safe sunscreen, a hat, water, and a rash guard.