When you are thinking of your next holiday destination, do you dream of a Robinson Crusoe deserted island? Visions of Leonardo DiCaprio finding “The Beach” creep into your thoughts but you wonder if this can possibly be a reality in this day and age? Clearly you haven’t heard about Gili Meno .. so look no further!
Sandwiched between its famous neighbours Gili Trawangan and Gili Air, Meno is the smallest of the three peanut sized islands and is often overlooked. With arguably the best beaches in all of the Gilis coupled with a quieter vibe, Meno is the ultimate paradise. Don’t be that person who misses out!
With its satin-soft white sand, tranquil waters and humble vibe, Gili Meno has gained a reputation for being the honeymoon island amongst the 3 of the islands. It’s true, you will see couples strolling along the palm-tree fringed shores holding hands, but it’s not exclusively for lovers. Do you want to recharge your batteries without the temptation of a late night? Well, this island is perfect for you. If escaping the noise of our technology driven world in favour of swinging in a hammock and reading a book is what you seek, Gili Meno will fulfil your dreams and then some!
Your most difficult decision will be where to stay. There are luxury villas, beachfront traditional bungalows, yoga retreats offering massages on the beach and various bungalows or boutique hotels to suit any budget.
Speaking of budget, if you are a backpacker you may be thinking “Gili Meno is too expensive for me” but I can speak from experience in saying that this simply isn’t true. I first visited Meno after backpacking around South-East Asia. I needed a place to leave the “real world” behind without the constant noise of traffic buzzing in my brain and hawkers hassling me to buy their wares. I discovered that there were plenty of affordable homestays dotted around the island and for solo travellers, The Eco Hostel has dorm beds or, for that true open-air experience, the option to sleep outside in a hammock. For couples on a budget, the hostel also has private rooms so if cost is a concern, you’re in safe hands and there is no reason to skip this island.
As soon as I stepped off the boat, I knew that Gili Meno was going to give me the peace and tranquillity I was seeking. The most under developed of the three Gili islands and with fewer visitors, at times I felt as though it were my own private island. Just like its neighbours no motorised vehicles are allowed; traditional Cidomo (horse & cart) or bicycles are the only transportation but the best way to get around is on foot. Take off those flip-flops to feel the sand between your toes and the warmth of the Indian Ocean as you splash along the shore. The pace here is slow and immediately my pace slowed to mirror this. I found it liberating to stop worrying so much about time, be present with myself and the welcoming locals. After all, isn’t this something we all seek at some point in our busy lives?
My time on Meno was spent lazing on a stretch of stunning white beach topping up my tan. For a change of scenery, I would swing in a hammock, sit on a beachfront restaurant baruga enjoying delicious local food or indulge in a spot of snorkeling or scuba diving. If you plan to stay in one of the fine spa villas on the beach or inland, then a massage or yoga will become a welcomed part of your day. Most nights I witnessed sunset beach horse rides; on the Gili Islands, this bucket list activity can become a reality.
Don’t bother packing a whole heap for your paradise trip to Gili Meno; definitely no shoes! All I needed was beachwear, a good book, my kindle, sarong and sunscreen but if you want more advice, let me share with you our Top 10 things to pack.
To give you a sense of how small this island is, it’s possible to walk around it in an hour so, one afternoon, that’s exactly what I did. I discovered that this truly is an undeveloped paradise with an abundance of lush green trees and deserted areas. No houses, no people; just pure white sandy beaches to lose yourself in the beauty of. To the east, you will see Gili Air and Lombok, to the west is Gili Trawangan and far in the distance, Bali’s Mount Agung can be seen. Sometimes the islands look so close you would swear you could swim to them.
Swings are dotted all along the beachfront. If that doesn’t scream relaxation I don’t know what does!? There are plenty of Instagram-worthy opportunities that kept me snapping away for hours. Gili Meno is a photographers’ dream!
The sweet sound of birdsongs can be heard all over. I would often just stop and listen and with my eyes closed I could visualise myself walking through a bird park. Rooster, Mother chickens and their chicks casually roam freely around the island dashing in and out of the foliage inland as well as along the beachfront. There is nothing like sitting on your luxurious beachfront balcony looking at the stunning ocean catching the sight of chickens from your peripheral vision!
I like to scuba dive and found that all three dive shops visited the three islands. If you are not yet a diver and would love to be certified or if wish to further your current dive training, the Gili Islands are the perfect place to do this. They have crystal clear aquamarine waters which provide fabulous visibility averaging 20 to 25 metres all year round (sometimes more) and not only are the waters clear, they are wonderfully warm (up to 31 degrees). Many divers (myself included) enjoy the freedom of wearing shorts and a rash vest – no wetsuit required!
The Gili Islands are part of the Coral Triangle, which is considered to be the world’s primary marine bio-diverse hotspot, so the waters are flooded with marine life. One of the most popular dive sites is off the north-east coast and is known as Turtle Heaven; need you ask why? Turtles hang out around 12 metres where a plethora of marine life can also be found; such as schooling Fusiliers, Anemone Fish (including Nemo, yes you can try and find your own Nemo) snappers, angelfish; the list goes on! Sometimes, there are just too many fish for the camera to capture and photos simply don’t do this underwater heaven justice.
There is also Simon’s Reef, a deeper dive site with thriving, healthy coral formations; possibly the healthiest and most diverse in the Gilis. Many different types of schooling fish can be seen here such as 2-spot snappers, surgeon fish and rainbow runners; and keep an eye out for bumphead parrot fish, cuttlefish and octopus!
Snorkelling off the beaches of Gili Meno is out of this world! If you don’t have your own equipment, there are plenty of local operators where you can hire a snorkel set. Alternatively you can take a snorkelling trip or jump on a glass bottom boat.
In the north east corner (Turtle Heaven!), I swam out from the shore and was rewarded with a hawksbill turtle rising to the surface to take a couple of breaths. I met butterflyfish, Moorish idols, parrot fish and many more and for lunch, we stopped at Ryan’s Café & Restaurant on the beach and ate a delicious local meal. It was a perfect way to spend half a day.
But wait, there is more! Have you heard of Nest, the underwater statues? In front of BASK (a new luxury resort villa currently being built), 48 life-size figures were created by Jason deCaires Taylor, a well-known underwater sculptor. Based on real-live people, the statues form a circle and are a fascinating sight to see. The long-term plan is for the statues to become an artificial reef encouraging soft corals, sponges and, in time, hard corals which will then form a fully established reef.
Photo : feet do travel
Gili Meno is the quietest island I have ever visited. If (like me) you are looking to get away from it all; the technology, traffic, noise and people; and you feel called to spend your days gazing at stunning white sand beaches and beautiful crystal clear waters, then yes, Gili Meno is for you!
Is Gili Meno on your radar to visit? Have you already visited Gili Meno and if you have, do you have any tips for other travellers? Let us know in the comments below – we would love to hear your thoughts.