Green Travel Guide To Gili Islands
A while ago, we had a pleasant chance to visit Gili Islands, Bali. It has been a rather hard time recently for the region, as a couple of rather harsh earthquakes hit Lombok, a city placed approximately 120 km from the Islands. As recently as August 2018, news of destroyed resorts and hotels and tourists being evacuated from the idyllic Gili combed through media. We visited the islands in November the same year, just a couple months after those events. Quite opposite to what some might expect, and in spite of clear destruction visible all around the islands, we found the place to be as idyllic as it can be, given the circumstances. We also got positively surprised by the local attitudes towards sustainability and waste management. Let us get you on a small green tour around Gili Islands!
GETTING TO AND AROUND GILI ISLANDS (GREEN SCORE: 4/5)
Admittedly, there is only one, unfortunately highly polluting, way to get to any of Gili Islands (there are three: Trawangan, Meno and Air) - a speed boat. Of course you can try a contraband way of getting there from the nearby bigger islands by kayak, but the paddle would be rather long and bumpy - but hey, long live the brave! However, getting around islands and hopping from one to the other is a piece of cake. They are so small and in such close proximity, you can absolutely walk or bike around (and all hotels have bikes included in rental price) and stand-up paddle or kayak your way in between Gili Islands. In the islands, a popular way to get from speed boats to the respective hotels is with horse carriages - which is a fair eco-friendly way to transport yourself, but not very ethical. Most of the hotels are really in walking distance from harbours, and a little walk never killed anyone. Just to put it in perspective: on foot, to get from the most distant points of the biggest Gili, Trawangan, takes around 40 min. Why using animals if we have our own legs and feet? Because of the speed boat, we give transportation a green score of 4/5.
EATING AROUND GILI ISLANDS (GREEN SCORE: 5/5)
What? 5/5? You are really bad at constructive criticism, right?! Well… maybe we are, but if any place deserves this score, it’s definitely Gili Islands - if you know where to look as well (and we did). The amount of vegan food available on the Islands is absolutely more than sufficient for any vegan out there. A simple gado-gado is served in any restaurant (option without egg is super easy to make), upon request everyone is also ready to prepare the local - and yummy - nasi goreng (vegetable rice) and mie goreng (fried vegetable noddles). It is also extremely easy to get grilled corn around the islands, as well as small snacks and fruits wrapped in paper.
Admittedly, there is a lot of seafood (duuuuuuh!) and meat around but it is very easily substituted if needed, and the local restaurants are extremely accommodating when it comes to special food requirements. One place deserved our special attention on Gili Trawangan, naturally because of being vegan and incredibly tasty! Kayu Cafe sells incredible vegan food and deserts - vegan ice cream, kombucha, home-baked cakes and a selection of really good food. The place looks nothing like the Facebook images though, as the earthquake probably destroyed the whole of the charming outside sitting area, but the warm and pleasant staff, great food, hospitality and chill vibe definitely stayed there. They also ditched plastic straws entirely, so expect to get a nice metal one to your smoothie or fresh coconut.
Another place worth mentioning for food was Coffee and Thyme on Gili Air. It is actually not a vegan place - they serve meat as well, but their veggie/vegan options are great! They also make incredible smoothies and fresh juices - the atmosphere and staff are just incredible too!
All in all, we had absolutely no problem to eat vegetarian or vegan on Gili Islands, and were also very positively surprised to notice that vast majority of beverages was served with either none or paper straw instead of plastic one. The drinks that get served on beaches also always come in reusable plastic or glass containers - never in disposables - which makes there is hardly any single-use plastic. Always a plus!
CONSCIOUS SHOPPING ON GILI ISLANDS (GREEN SCORE: 2/5)
As you would probably guess by now, such popular tourist attraction like Gili Islands cannot boast a great pool of sustainable/ethical shopping spots. Most of the sold goods are aimed at tourists and do not look like they are of good quality. Also, extreme availability and numbers of certain products make us more than sure they have been cheaply produced in China. We were also quite sad to notice, that a couple of objects we knew well from other parts of the world (like the small, round, woven boho bags) are available cheaply in abundance in Bali. That would mean that (shocker!) we are sold something of very poor quality in other parts of the world for the money that the given market is happy to pay for it - while in Bali it is sold in any other souvenir shop next to towels and plastic flip-flops. Sad to learn those hard truths of the world we live in.
Admittedly, we bumped into a shop that would sell only small things that were “hand-made” by locals or at least so we have been told. We will abstain from recommending that stop for shopping, since we lack information on who, were and how, in fact, made those accessories. Therefore, we are giving Bali a rather low rank in terms of products sold there. But hey - we cannot blame them after all, as tourist-driven consumption is the best way to get this amazing place rebuilt.
Waste (GREEN SCORE: 4/5)
No need to hide it - waste is a massive problem in Southeast Asia. Some sources say, that the new drop-off spots for worldwide waste, after China closed its borders for it, popped up in places like Malaysia. But back to Indonesia, Bali - Gili Islands, although having an amazing spirit around them, are far from anywhere near zero-waste practice. Mass tourism unfortunately too often equals disposability. Loads of trash (especially architectural and construction waste) have been amassed ever since the place started quickly, and sometimes cheaply, rebuilding itself from the horrible cataclysm last year. Happily, there are places that try to alleviate the problem of trash as much as they can. We were lucky enough to stay in such place - Kuno Villas on Gili Trawangan - a beautiful, tiny and isolated resort on the northern tip of the island. The complex is built nearly entirely from reclaimed wood that comes from old Javanese traditional houses that had been found in nearly-destroyed condition. The staff of Kuno Villas practices composting with their food waste and uses compost to nurture the soil in their gardens. There is absolutely no plastic in the whole resort, and even the small cosmetics boxes in rooms come in refillable glass containers. There is still a lot of trash visible on Gili Trawangan and we are sure it is due just to the insufficient government regulation. But we are giving Gili high score, because they are doing really the best they can over there to keep their incredible islands as clean as possible, to the best of their knowledge.