Gili Islands: where to go for a digital detox

By Nadia Sheng,

If a short escape is beckoning you from beyond your office seat, the Gili Islands are what the doctor ordered for a complete digital detox. Located off the northwest coast of Lombok, Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno, and Gili Air offer beachfront accommodations ranging from tents to villas, containing only the essential amenities to ensure an enjoyable stay. Besides the complementary breakfast buffets and fresh drinking water offered at most of the islands’ hotels, the quality of service on the Gili Islands is like no other. Locals and longtime expats who’ve fallen in love with the beach life extend their enjoyment of simple pleasures – such as fresh coconut juice – by catering to guests’ every need (incl. climbing coconut trees to get you a coconut!)

As the islands are each very small (total population of 3,500) you may think there are only a few hotels to chose from while, in fact, there are close to 600 choices (comprising hotels, guest houses, inns etc.). So in order to help you quickly get your hands on that ripe coconut, we’ve reviewed and selected the best hotels on each island, whittling that three digit list down to six.

1. Gili Trawangan

aka “backpacker party island” & the largest of the islands

If you want to be a part of the big party for which Gili Trawangan is famous, stay on the island’s east coast near the city’s main strip. But if you want to enjoy the serenity only celebrities with the means to own a private island enjoy then stay on the north or north-west coasts at one of these gorgeous ecolodges. Either way, you’ll have a true back-to-nature experience as with no automobiles on the island, you only have a bike, horse-drawn cart, or your feet at your disposal (don’t worry, the island’s perimeter is only 8 km and walkable in 90 minutes).

La Cocoteraie Ecolodge

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After a hot day spent snorkeling with sea turtles, imagine falling asleep in a big airy tent, watching the sunset as the cool breeze washes over you to the abounding sounds of nature. Don’t strain yourself by trying to imagine the picture painted above – just stay the night at the area’s top-rated glamping hotel; La Cocoteraie Ecolodge!

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While there are horse-drawn carts, you won’t actually need them if you travel light, which you can do when glamping as most necessities are available to guests including head torches, bicycles, snorkeling equipment and drinking water (approximately 4 liters). On top of these practicalities, the personalised touches of the French owner make it extra special and include her tips on the best spots to go swimming with turtles and the cooking classes she offers.

As you can easily visualise the semi-private location is ideal for a couples retreat. Each tent is 30 m², has a queen size bed, and its own private balcony so couples can truly enjoy the inherently romantic nature of camping with the luxury of comfortable beds and porcelain facilities that, if camping traditionally, wouldn’t have been available.

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For your detox, order fresh juices or freshly picked coconuts (you’re on a coconut plantation after all) or, if you are only on a digital detox, order a G&T in homage to Gili Trawangan, and mingle with other guests in the communal area of the main building or take your drinks to the open-air pool.

Sounds like a dream right? Well, as the best kinds of dreams are ones that come true, make sure you book ahead as there are only eight tents available.

Les Villas Ottalia

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Have you been to the Southern Hemisphere? Have your first taste of the flip side by taking a trip to the Gili Islands! Stay at one of the 26 luxury villas/bungalows located in the centre of Gili Trawangan, also situated on a coconut plantation, as it’s as far from the brightly lit main strip as possible which allows you to see the beautiful southern night sky. That being said, it’s only five minutes from the beach by bike. Start your detox by waking up at sunrise each morning with your coffee brewing on the terrace as you do your sun salutations. Note that only villas come with private terraces and outdoor pools (there’s a shared 25 metre pool for guests staying in the bungalows however).

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More specific still is selecting a sunset side or beach side villa/bungalow. The most secluded villa is number 20, way at the back. Also around five minutes from the Trawangan night market where you can have fresh fish and rub shoulders with locals and other travellers.

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2. Gili Meno

lit. “middle island” – the most laid back of the islands

Gili Meno is the smallest of the Gili Islands (the island’s perimeter is 5 km and walkable in one hour). If you’re the hammock-rocking, book-reading sort then this is the island for you and is reachable in 15 minutes via Gili Trawangan by an island-hopper boat. The cool thing about Gili Meno and all of the Gili Islands is that, unlike Guam for instance, these islands aren’t just for honeymooners but for families, friends, and solo travellers so that you know you’ll blend in comfortably among the people you’ll be seeing multiple times a day (it’s a small island after all).

More tips for travelling the Gili Islands below

Seri Resort, Gili Meno

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When you’re on a small, tourist-driven island, the list of things you can do isn’t extensive (unless you’re on Survivor and need to build boats) and generally looks like this: get a spa treatment that’s cheaper and better than back home, go snorkeling in the lagoons, clear your mind with a stroll on the beach, and have dinner by the beach followed by cocktails. While that’s a pretty solid list, add “watch the sun rise from behind a volcano” to it if you’re staying at Seri Resort, Gili Meno. As you can’t see the sunset from the hotel, ask the staff where their favourite sunset viewing spots are.

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Unlike the exclusive tents at the ecolodge, Seri Resort, Gili Meno has a good range of accommodation types and overall capacity for a small island hotel. There are 18 one-bedroom bungalows, 16 one-bedroom suites as part of the longhouse with private verandas, and 22 boutique bale huts that have shared bathrooms. For sea views, the recommended rooms to book are rooms on the first floor or the bungalows. While these rooms are more expensive than the bale huts, they’re worth it if you’re a couple or family.

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For your detox, attend a yoga class at the resort’s Amber Yoga Retreat & Spa (each class is personalised to participant’s needs and experience). Be sure to inquire about prices and the daily schedule as they’re not too frequent.

MAHAMAYA Boutique Resort

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MAHAMAYA Boutique Resort is the top rated four star hotel on Gili Meno that’s governed by an eco philosophy. Begin your digital detox with a dip in the hotel’s freshwater pool and end each day with a shower under the stars. And to complement your technological abstinence, go for a full body detox by dining on tropical dishes made from local ingredients at the beach-side open kitchen. Our tip is to make a reservation for dinner at 6 pm when the restaurant opens as that’s when the sun starts setting.

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Guests can choose between the two types of accommodation; beach-front villas and pool-view suites. Props about the latter is that you won’t have to call room service for a drink; just step in the pool and enjoy cocktails at the swim-up pool bar! For those new to the concept of island living, note that televisions are limited to the two bedroom suites in order to minimise energy consumption; proof that digital detoxing and environmental responsibility go hand-in-hand and makes for a better, all-round feel-good holiday.

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3. Gili Air

Closest to Lombok

Unlike in our other guides, we won’t list what’s within a ten minute radius from the hotel and instead simply tell you that the island’s perimeter is approximately 5 km and walkable in one hour.

Scallywags Smugglers Hideaway

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Before stepping into this cosy little number, make sure you’re in the lounging mode. For your detox, leave your cares in the world at reception and proceed to lie in a sunbed for hours on end by the partially sheltered pool. Retain that hazy demeanour and head to your room and pop in a movie (while WiFi on the island isn’t great in general, the hotel has a good film selection). To ensure the slumber you’ll eventually fall into after all that R&R is not disturbed, get a room on the left (guests recommend room 4) so that you don’t hear morning prayers as prominently. And if you’re not on a digital detox, the recommended room for you one at the end of the hall near the WLAN router.

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As hideaways wouldn’t be hideaways if they weren’t hidden, be prepared to walk or bike to reach the beach and restaurants. The walk to the beach club where breakfast is served is around 15 minutes, and it’s around a 10 minute walk to the harbour – so if you acquire a lot of Lombok handicrafts or (easily nauseated travel companions forbid) dried fish, you won’t have to worry about lugging it through any jungles.

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Book in advance as many couples and groups choose Scallywags Smugglers Hideaway for its 3-bedroom villa option that includes a fully fitted outdoor kitchen, grill, private 8-metre pool and loungers.

The Waterfront

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If it’s the sort of holiday you want to splurge on, ensure the utmost in comfort for you and your loved ones by checking-in to one of the eight bungalows at The Waterfront. Each modern bungalow can accommodate up to three people. If you want peace and quiet, then request a room at the back (number 5-8) or if you want to be closer to the pool and restaurant, stay in rooms 1-4.

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While the hotel is a 15-minute walk from the harbour (the shore is a minute away but not the main beach), its location on the southeast coast of Gili Air is hailed as the best spot for snorkeling on the island. Sister hotel Manta Dive Gili Air is a dive centre that’s located right beside The Waterfront. For your digital detox, make full use of the dive shop next door as guests of The Waterfront are entitled to discounted rates on dive courses and equipment. Besides the must-see underwater sights there’s the above-ground Mount Rinjani (on Lombok) where you’ll be able to see the sunrise from your vantage point at the hotel.

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Gili Islands Travel Tips

Getting there: there are 4 flights weekly to Lombok and both public and charter boats to each of the Gili Islands from the Bangsal Harbour. If you have time to spare, we recommend flying from Kuala Lumpur as it’s much much cheaper and there are more direct flights.

Island hopping: know that public boats leave two times each day.

➂ Charter boats: only worth it for groups.

➃ Peak season: know that high season is May–September and December/January (for Chirstmas & New Year) so as to avoid these months if you’re on a budget.