Boating -- Most villas can hire you a glass-bottom boat or will recommend a man to call. Otherwise, it's easy to arrange this through various outlets on the island. The boat people rent out their boats for a full-day or half-day to one or all of the islands. The trip usually entails stopping at a few snorkeling spots as well as one of the other islands for lunch. For a full day, don't pay more than Rp450,000 for a trip to Gili Meno and the nearby area, and Rp600,000 for all three islands.
Cycling -- Hire a bike from many of the shops along the main strip. A rental store next to Coco Cafe rents bikes from Rp25,000 a day. Don't pay any more than Rp50,000 a day although you may well hear offers higher than this. A perfect way to spend an early morning or a late afternoon is a cycle round the island. One road hugs the coast, but much of it on the south and north sides are soft sand, which make for tough going at times. Plenty of other roads crisscross the center of the island passing local houses and through small villages while keeping under the shelter of the coconut palms. A trip around the island should take an hour or two depending on your route. Take a map as there are plenty of dead-end tracks. But the island is so small, you're never too far from a friendly face to show you the way home.
Horseback Riding -- Stud's Horse Riding Adventures (tel. 08/175746079) offers beach rides and treks around the island through the coconut plantations. Most of the horses are actually ponies but there are some for the bigger boys. Take a memorable sunset ride followed by a swim in the sea.
Kayaking -- Astrid, a former kayaking medalist, will take you out on a half-day kayaking expedition via Karma Kayak (Rp300,000 per person). Lunch is a picnic on the beach of Gili Meno, en route. Trips are subject to the weather and the currents on the day.
Snorkeling -- The best snorkeling on the island, with plenty of varieties of coral, is the north coast where you are virtually guaranteed to see turtles. Another popular spot is off the east coast. Several years ago the coral reefs here were almost fully intact but with the development of the island, more and more boats are anchoring on the reef and causing endless damage. The Gili Eco Trust is trying to address this by installing buoys in the area in an attempt to limit damage. Start at the north easterly spot and be carried south by the currents. The currents can be very strong. Ask the dive schools for any advice on currents. Snorkeling kits can be rented from plenty of places on the island. Expect to pay about Rp20,000 a day.
Surfing -- At the southern end of the island is a fast right-handed break, better known as Secrets. This break is best tackled at high tide with a southwest or south swell. The wave can get big and in shallow waters and is best left to the experts.
Watersports -- The Beach House, Scallywags, and Kelapa Villas can all arrange banana boats, donuts, and water-skiing. (The kids never seem to tire of the banana boat.) It's not cheap though. Expect to pay Rp700,000 for an hour and Rp400,000 for half an hour.
The Gili Islands may be a bit sleepy on land, but they come alive under water. With some 3,500 individual species living in the reefs and seas of Indonesia, compared with only around 1,500 species off the Great Barrier Reef, you are rarely disappointed. Some 25% of the world's reefs are in Indonesia and the Gilis offer some of the best sites with the richest diversity. Diving here offers you clear, visible, and mainly safe waters to view a huge variety of species; the array of plateaus, slopes, and even wrecks make this perfect diving country.
The area has also become globally regarded as one of the premier turtle-viewing spots (both hawksbill and Olive Ridley), with year-round water temperatures of 28°C (82°F). Other fish and marine life you are likely to see include black and white-tip reef sharks, cuttlefish, moray eels, angel fish, ghost pipefish, pink leafed scorpion fish, blue ringed octopus, and, from December to March, manta rays.
With some 15 to 18 accepted dive sites, many suitable for beginners, and professional, internationally credited dive schools, diving options are available for all abilities. Currents however can be misleading. Attempting to swim between the islands will likely end you far out at sea.
All the PADI dive schools on the Gilis charge the same price. Prices for a single dive typically start at US$40; you'll pay US$60 for an introductory scuba course; it's US$350 for a PADI open water certificate and US$275 for an advanced open dive. You will encounter many other non-professional, non-accredited dive schools on the islands. Use on the PADI-certified ones listed below.
The schools are: Blue Marlin Dive (tel. 08/1339930190; www.bluemarlindive.com); Dream Divers (tel. 0370/634496; www.dreamdivers.com); Big Bubble (tel. 0370/625020; www.bigbubblediving.com); Manta Dive (tel. 08/123753125; www.manta-dive.com); Vila Ombak Diving Academy (tel. 0370/642336; www.hotelombak.com); and Trawangan Diving (tel. 08/1339648; www.trawangandive.com).
In recent years, increasingly destructive and more concentrated fishing practices, coupled with the increase in pollution that tourism brings, has led to reef damage. The use of heavy anchors has been addressed to some extent with the introduction of mooring buoys, and, mercifully, fishing techniques involving either dynamite or cyanide have, with the financial support of the Gili Eco Trust (www.giliecotrust.com), now been banned. Concern about the destruction of the reef and the need to protect the marine life and the islands' microcosm led to the creation of the Gili Eco Trust in 2001. All seven of the dive centers on the Gilis participate and anyone wishing to dive around these islands needs to pay a one-time fixed fee of Rp40,000, which goes to the trust to help pay for beach cleaning, recycling, education, and reef conservation. The Trust is expanding its programs to cover education and awareness initiatives as well as projects that help the local community develop more sustainable practices.
One of the major projects of the Trust has been Biorock. The Biorock is an artificial structure pumped with a small electrical current which, over time, allows the development and regeneration of a coral reef system. Currently 33 reef modules are in operation and the work to date has shown remarkable results.
Learning to Free Dive -- FreeDiveGili offers a rare opportunity to learn to free dive. An experienced Apnea Total instructor will teach you all the techniques required to enable you to dive longer and deeper. Located in Manta Dive on Gili T (tel. 0370/643649; www.apnea-total.com), the 2-day introductory course is US$185.
The Five Best Dive Spots on the Gilis --
Shark Point: All levels?
Location: Northside Gili Trawangan
This is probably the most popular site off Gili T and excellent for viewing larger marine life. It is a vast open area with a flat sandy bottom and a series of ridges that fall away into deeper water and progressively deeper canyons parallel to the shore. Reef sharks can be found in the canyons, and cuttlefish, stingrays, and tons of turtles in the shallows. In the past, this has been a favored hang-out for huge bump-head parrot fish.
Manta Point: All levels ?
Location: Southside Gili Trawangan
This gently sloping reef has a variety of hard and soft corals interspersed with bombies and large table corals that provide shelter for fish. With rarely any current, it is an excellent site to get close up with reef sharks, stingrays, cuttlefish, and octopus. At the right time of the year (Dec -- Mar), as the name suggests, you may well see a passing manta ray.
Simons Reef: Advanced divers
Location: Northeast of Gili Meno
This great deep dive offers a variety of corals not seen at many of the other sites. At 30m (98 ft.) this site has a sandy bottom between large sea mounds, which rise some 20m (66 ft.) from the sea bed. Sand bar formations here are similar to sand dunes in a desert.
Hans Reef: All levels
Location: Northeast of Gili Air
Famous for its muck diving, this site provides an opportunity to view some of the smaller, stranger creatures found in these parts. Frog fish, leaf scorpion fish, sea horses, black spotted morays, spearers, pipe fish, and many types of shrimp and other macro life are here.
Deep Turbos: Advanced divers
Location: East of Gili Trawangan
This site has spectacular topography. At 30m (98 ft.), this is another site with a sandy bottom between large sea mounds. You'll find a good variety of corals, huge sea fans, and plenty of overhangs and cracks to explore. Garden eels cover the sandy bottom and barracuda, leopard sharks, and giant rays can also be seen here.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.