The Gili Islands, Lombok Indonesia – A Diver’s Paradise
Indonesia is a well know scuba destination for the avid diving fans with places like Bali and the Gili Islands that are homes to some of the richest biodiverse coral reefs in the world.
Gili Islands (comprising of the Gili Air, Gili Meno, Gili Trawangan) is an archipelago of over 17 thousand tropical islands.
The Coral Triangle is one of the few unique places on the globe where the reefs and marine life are actually thronging and growing instead of declining in the times of harsh climate change.
There is a lot more to be discovered in the calm, temperate waters of the coral triangle which has 76% of all known coral species in the world making it the most legendary sites in the world.
If you are reading this, you probably already know that scuba diving in Indonesia is something truly special.
There is a bountiful choice of a variety of dive sites around Gili Trawangan which is truly a blessing. You can get a chance to swim in the most colorful and beautifully endowed reefs known to man that has some of the rarest and bizarre creatures found underwater like the unique mola molas which is any divers dream along with manta rays, large colonies of different varieties of sharks, whales and turtles, and many unique micro critters lurking in their shells.
And the best part is that these islands are at a hopping distance apart so one doesn’t need to travel far to try different terrains and levels which is suitable for all skill levels.
This is a guide to some of the best diving spots in the Gilis with some truly remote and untouched spots to explore as well.
Scuba Diving Komodo, Indonesia
The best thing about Indonesia is most definitely the island of Komodo known for its virgin reefs, and an impressive array of every type of tropical underwater life. The diversified marine life in Komodo puts it in the league of the world’s best dive destinations. Komodo is also close to the Visayan Sea which has the world’s largest concentration of marine life.
The warm, calm colorful reefs have several channels in-between the islands conditioned by swift currents that are perfectly suited for a drift diving.
The reef is a colorful festival of fish like mantas, eagle rays, sunfish, pygmy seahorses, ostentatious ghost pipefish, ornate clown frogfish, brilliantly colored Gastropods, and blue-ringed octopus. It has a spectacular range of colorful sponges, rubbery tunicates and sea squirts. Filming deep in the Komodo is a macro enthusiasts heaven.
Best diving conditions are between March to October. Best time to see lots of Manta rays is during the rainy season
This is another dive point that is on every visitor’s mind while coming to the Gilis. The island is located to the south of Gili Trawangan. The reef has some of the best corals around the Gilis and its gently inclined sloops with very little current ideal for a relaxed diving. The large reef has various corals marked by a great variety of sea life. Get up close to white tip reef sharks on the sandy bottom, manta rays, yellow snappers hovering on the edge of the reef.
Heading back in the shallow area, one can spot a black-tip reef shark, a couple of turtles, and cuttlefish.
Good for multi-level diving, beginners can dive shallow and still see plenty of marine life, while divers with higher certifications can diver deeper. The shallows part has a small wall going down to 12m and has an extremely colorful reef.
There are big schools of drummers and rainbow runners, beautiful sea turtles lazing around hardly unfazed by divers. A canyon like profile of the Deep Halik hides plenty of life ideally suited to drift diving thanks to steady currents. Here divers can come face to face with sharks, trevallies and the occasional big ray, and can also get clear views of bumphead parrotfish feed in schools on a full moon night.
This is one of the most inquired about dive sites with the most colorful underwater spot and offer something to see for divers of all levels.
The beautiful shallow area has huge soft corals with a thronging population of hawksbill turtles which is known as the ‘Turtle Capital of the World’.
Below 30m are the progressively deeper canyons located in the flat sandy bottom ‘Jack Point’ where the huge resident school of Jacks and passing trevally hover overhead.
Jack point is known for the most exhilarating dive in the Gilis for reef sharks, black and white-tip reef sharks. Large rays, blue spotted stingrays, batfish, big bumphead parrot fish, that can be spotted regularly.
Sunken Japanese Wreck
The wreck of a World War II Japanese patrol boat from 1945 is the best wreck site in Gilis, however, it is meant for more experienced Nitrox certified divers. The wreck sites 45 meters down on the sandy bottom. The best way to enjoy the wreck is to explore through the corridors, rooms filled with stuff like it just sunk yesterday. None the less it is an unforgettable dive here, filming underwater at the sunken Japanese wreck.
The beautiful wreck is home to scorpionfish and lionfish, huge frogfish, colorful nudibranchs.
The place is famous for a great variety of exotic marine life and colorful corals including cabbage, stars, and brain that is particularly rewarding for the drivers who have an interest in macro diving.
All levels of divers can enjoy the two walls which throng with a variety of marine species. The first wall starts at about 12-15m in depth and the second one is a little deeper at 20-22m.
The steep sandy slope is marked by patchy coral gardens and coral bommies in between the two walls making it a highly colorful dive. Meno wall is a famous “night diving” spot.
Groupers and sweetlips hang out at the bottom along with spiny lobsters, clownfish, porcelain crabs, angelfish, colorful sea slugs, green sea turtles, elusive leaf scorpion fish. Lucky spotters come across a beautiful Spanish dancer showing off its colors. There’s a mesmerizing school of Glassfish and Bumphead Parrotfish.
It’s a group of about 10 takats, each one nature sculpted with great channels in between, overhangs, swim throughs. The site is very much worthy of a boat ride as the white sand in between featuring stunning coral gardens.
Green and hawksbill turtles fill the shallows, while the deeper waters embed soft rainbow corals, giant sponges, sea fans. The reefs are the favorite spot of triggerfish, schooling snappers, and anemones. Tuna, sharks, Spanish mackerels cruise freely at this dive site.
Far off the beaten path, Alor is a quiet place known only to hardcore divers. It is a packed drift dive site with lots of potential for the big stuff. Alor is famous for current led drift diving and world-class muck dives.
Anemone Valley has the highest concentration of anemones in the world. Deep in the corals, there are anemones everywhere, on top of the rock, beneath it, inside the cracks. There are clownfish homes sticking out every inch of space available. Thresher Sharks, Oceanic Sunfish, Big Dogtooth Tuna are in plenty.
Protected bay of Kalabahi, the ‘Mucky Mosque’ are certainly the most favorite dive.
All dives in are either slope or wall dives. Popular dive sites here are The Great Wall of Pantar, School’s Out, and Anemone City.
A beautifully quiet and protected anchorage in the bay of Maumere has one of the most beautiful and the richest species of corals in the world. This is a favorite spot of macro-fans and muck-divers both in the day and by the night.
The site is a critter heaven for a variety of species like the Pipehorses, Nudibranchs, and the Ghostpipefish. There are plenty of sightings of Pilot Whales, Sperm Whales, Blue Whales, and others in the Banda Sea. There is a nice volcano nearby to climb if you have time. The steep path descends into the crater itself with a bare, alien like primal views of orange and yellow shade rocks on all sides. The noisy sulfur fumes emitted from the chimneys with a grueling sound.
Deep Turbo is best for nitrox certified deep divers who are looking for adventure with an interest in drift diving that is supported by a consistent depth of 25 to 30 meters during the entire dive.
The currents here drifts at a right angle to the reef, or mostly to its sides and is most difficult to manage. The site is ideal for expert Nitrox divers.
Sandy bottoms have large sea mounds houses and an amazing variety of pelagic life thriving amidst the colorful coral.
There are thousands of garden eels everywhere. Giant rays, leopard sharks, and barracuda can be found here. There are good chances of coming across bigger fish like the reef shark, giant trevally and Manta ray.
This is a Good site with depths between 10-20 meters, best for an afternoon dive. A series of hills and valleys with interesting coral formations is fascinating from start to finish. This is particularly a good site to watch sea snakes, massive schools of red-tooth triggerfish swimming along the current flow, triggerfish, napoleon fish, and turtles.
It can be combined with Deep Turbo if left with the no-deco time.
It’s a true shipwreck but the favorite amongst divers is the big collapsed space of piers built to anchor the boots that sank in 2003. The massive structure has quickly been overtaken by the hard and soft corals and is amongst the top 5 world’s best wreck sites.
Resting in the shallows, you can see old bicycles standing upright, locked and chained to the railing as if it was just yesterday. This is a great site made out of an artificial reef with corals growing in abundance over it.
It attracts lots of pelagic population of batfish, scorpion fish, and snappers that live around the platform. The large coral head nearby is surrounded by a swarm of glassfish ideal for photography and suitable for divers of all levels.
An easy drive, suitable for intro dive or an afternoon dive with depth is around 18 meters that have pristine sandy bottoms and a number of coral and rock outcrop formations around. Best for cruising around and photographing an intense macro marine life comprising of lionfish, pipefish, nudibranchs, odd frogfish and loads of garden eels and flying gurnards.
Comprising of 8 major “takats” arranged roughly in a figure of eight has a wide variety of stony and soft corals. The reef here is in excellent condition, schools of trevally and glassfish can be seen lurking amidst large areas of mushroom coral. Great spot for deep divers, there are good chances of finding a camouflaged pygmy seahorse, barracudas and leopard sharks deep down 20-30m.
Travel guide to the Gilis
Gili Trawangan is the largest and most popular of the 3 Gilis. It makes for a good island escape as one can easily island-hop to the other two Gilis. A mix of facilities and well-established infrastructure makes it the ‘landing point’ for first-timers as this is where all the action is.
It has a hilltop viewpoint with a desolate tomb and remnants of a WWII gun bunker. The island is known for a buzzing nightlife on the main cost. It has a good mix of hotels, a seafood night market, cozy spas, bars, and restaurants. The secluded western shore is more appt for honeymooners and couples.
What to Do in Gili Trawangan
Stroll down the beaches amidst vast blue waters. It’s a prime diving destination; home to some of the pioneering dive shops that render paid open water or advanced diver’s certification
Gill Meno is the most barren of the three Gilis and an ultimate retreat for those looking for rest and relaxation. Known for quiet coral sand beaches, loud music and late night parties are banned here. There are a mix of luxury to budget hotels or a chance to stay at a local abode experiencing the placid life of the local Sasaks.
The ‘little brother’ is more relaxed, with laid-back beach bar scenes, hammocks strung between the palms, wide choice for dining and nightlife similar to Trawangan.
Air serves is a great alternative to Trawangan, and it’s closest to Lombok in case you want a further extended trip.
Best time to visit the Gilis
High season is July, August, and September with Christmas and New Year Holidays being the busiest.
April, May, October, and November are optimal months for beating the crowd and when weather is great.