Driven by a lifelong dream of swimming with sea turtles in their natural habbit we found ourselves headed to the Gili islands. Famed for mushroom fuelled partying, dreamy beaches and most importantly sea turtles we couldn't resist the lure. Here is our recommendations of how to find sea turtles in the Gili islands as well as how to best spend your time there.
After a few days in a luxury villa in Ubud, we set off to visit the popular Gili Islands, a must visit for anyone planning a trip to Bali. We paid 250000IDR (approx £17) each to Gili Air, including the transport from Ubud to the ferry port however that price came after cutting a deal for the sale of 4 tickets but be aware that prices are crazy expensive in Bali so be prepared to pay a similar amount.
Having been advised against the island of Gili T, our first stop was Gili Air which took around 2 hours of what started as a relaxing boat ride in the sun with some beers but ended in stormy conditions, soaked wet through and a rocky ride but we made it alive. The island is a happy medium between Gili T and Gili Meno, it has a good mix of bars and restaurants but the beaches remain relaxed and clean. The island is small enough to walk or cycle around easily enough, we mainly walked but bicycles are very popular and can be rented from most guesthouses or shops. One of the main things to do on the Gili Islands is snorkelling; snorkels, masks and fins can be rented for around 40000IDR, full face masks are much more expensive to rent, up to 100000IDR, but we found the basic masks to be good enough. We'd highly recommend renting your own gear and heading out yourself rather than booking a snorkelling trip, as you lose the sense of accomplishment and if you find a turtle you will have to share the experience with a group of strangers. We had a great day in the sea but unfortunately we were unable to see any turtles in Gili Air as our time was cut short when Pippa was stung by a jellyfish and also swam into a large rock cutting her leg open. If you want to snorkel in Gili Air, we recommend heading to Hans Reef or Frog Fish Point, these points are visited on the boat tours but you can swim into the sea yourself for a fraction of the cost. Do be aware of sea urchins though, the seagrass is plentiful and there are a fair few in and amongst the coral. For the best snorkelling, we recommend heading to Gili Meno where the sea is clearer with less seagrass and we found turtles within ten minutes! However, do not skip out Gili Air entirely as some of the food is simply outstanding, our top food spots on Gili Air were Mowies, towards the south of the island, which has the best tuna burgers we've ever tasted, Ruby's, which has a small menu with some of the most authentic food on the island and Pachama for an amazing array of health food.
Heading to Gili Meno from Gili Air takes only about 15 minutes on a small boat and cost 35000IDR. We decided to take the early boat to Gili Meno to make the most of the day and even though we were staying on the island, it is possible to go for a day trip, returning in the afternoon. We spent our days in Meno snorkelling, as we found the sea to be much cleaner and safer, we rented snorkels and fins for a similar price as in Air and had some great experiences. Most people head to Turtle Point to start their turtle hunt but you may find snorkelling tours here as well as jellyfish at certain times of the day and we failed to find any turtles. We recommend heading to Mallias Bungalows, just a bit further south of the ferry port, and heading 50 metres into the sea from there towards the drop off. Each time we did, we saw turtles with ten minutes. The beaches on Meno have much less coral and beautiful white sand; some of the best beaches we have seen and just an incredible, relaxed atmosphere. Our favourite island.
The food on Gili Meno is fairly average and a little more expensive as it is the smallest and quietest of the islands and as such there are fewer shipments each day. The best food we found on Gili Meno was a traditional warung named 'No 5 Star' aptly named as the service isn't great and you can wait over an hour for a dish, however the food is worth the wait and the vegetable curry was a particular favourite amongst our party. For a more upmarket experience head to Adeng Adeng where you can catch the famed sunsets cocktail in hand. The food and drink here is more expensive and but the pizzas are definitely big enough for two. It is worth noting that you should not book accommodation on this side of the island as the noise from Gili T can be heard late into the evening, spoiling an otherwise perfect scenery.
Gili T is the party haven of the three Gili islands but beware as this comes at a cost as the island is dirtier and busier than it's counterparts. It is possible to find sea turtles here but as it is the busiest of the three islands you may find it hard to get them all to yourselves and don't count against floating trash spoiling the experience. Most people who go in search of turtles from Gili T end up on a snorkelling trip which we strongly discourage as it only takes you to the best spots on Gili Air and Meno.