The Southwest of Lombok consists of long, meandering coastlines, pristine whites sand beaches, sparkling turquoise waters, and thirteen small islands - these are the Southwest Gilis. Unlike the well known and popular Gili Islands in northwest Lombok, the Southwest Gilis are mostly uninhabited and is still waiting to be discovered by mass tourism. The biggest island of Gili Gede, however, is rapidly becoming the hub for tourism in the Southwest of Lombok and, with its range of accommodation and facilities, it makes a good base for island hopping and exploring the area.
The picturesque Southwest region starts at Sekotong, just south of Lembar Harbour, and features pretty beaches and secluded bays set against a backdrop of rolling green hills. The drive down the southwest coast is an enjoyable trip, meandering through villages where life is largely untouched by tourism and where the people are involved in their day-to-day activities of farming, fish cultivation, boating and fishing, brick making and other traditional activities. The peaceful village of Taun (or Tawun), is situated on a wide, placid bay in Sekotong - the ocean is sparkling turquoise and the dazzling white sand stretches in a wide sweep around the bay, just out in the calm bay are the three lovely islands of Gili Nanggu, Gili Tangkong and Gili Sudak (and the tiny island of Gili Kedis) - easily accessible by local outrigger boats. A roadside sign in the nearby village will direct you to the local boat hire area, where you can arrange boat trips out to Gili Nanggu and most of the other islands.
Accommodation at Taun has grown over the past few years and there are now a few small hotels and homestays on the bay. It’s easy to base yourself on the mainland and take boat trips to explore all the southwest islands from here.
Gili Nanggu has accommodation for visitors, with simple cottages on the beach and a restaurant. The island is small and the beach has soft white sand and a good reef just offshore for snorkelling. There is also some basic accommodation available on Gili Sudak (the island closest to the mainland). Travelling a little further south, before the marine culture complex (Balai Budaya Laut), keep an eye open for a small dirt road which leads out onto a white peninsular of sand that juts into beautiful clear waters. Drive to the end for superb views and a closer look at Gili Genting. Gili Genting sits just off the tip of the Peninsula and at low tide, you can walk across the sandbar and explore this uninhabited island. Volcanic rocks and stone carved from centuries of tidal flow have created small caves and alcoves along the shore, providing shelter for picnics and interesting nooks and crannies to explore.
Further south you will come to the only petrol station along the southern coastal road at Tembowong Village. Nearby is the site for catching boats to Gili Gede, only a few minutes across the water.
The largest of the islands in the area is Gili Gede, appropriately meaning ‘big island’. The island lays just offshore from Lombok main island and is large enough for visitors to easily mistake it for part of the mainland. Gili Gede is developing as the main hub for the Southwest Gilis as is one of the few islands in the area that has a choice of accommodation, making it a perfect base location to explore the other nearby islands.
Gili Gede is large enough to provide a range of activities such as hiking to the hills in the centre for fantastic views across the other islands. The highlights will be exploring deserted beaches and hidden coves and taking the time to meet the friendly people living on the island. To the south of Gili Gede, the islands of Gili Ringgit, Layar and Asahan are lined up like secret treasures in the calm sea. There is good snorkelling on the west side of Gili Ringgit, accessed by boat. Beautiful gardens of corals lay just beneath the surface and the reef extends along most of the island’s coast. On the other side of the island, where the pier is located, is a fantastic white sand beach. Just north of the pier is great spot to snorkel offshore, although the reef isn't as large as on the other side of the island, there is still plenty to see.
Most visitors are astounded by the pristine conditions and huge schools of turtles seen near Gili Layar - the island between Gili Ringgit and Gili Asahan. Amongst the coral, you will spot bright blue starfish with bright yellow and black Moorish Idols darting through the water. There is also basic accommodation on Gili Layar and a small restaurant serving fresh juices, beers and tasty meals. Slightly further south, the beautiful Gili Asahan attracts visitors with its deserted white sand beaches, clear calm waters and swaying palm trees.
Back on the mainland, continue south on the coastal road until you come to the main intersection where a signpost to the left points to the spectacular large bay at Mekaki. The road to the right at the intersection leads to Labuhan Poh and Pelangan where you will find small home-stays and private accommodations spaced out along the road to Bangko-Bangko. This area is known as Desert Point and the surfing mecca for those in the know. The wide white sand bay at Bangko-Bangko is lined with fisherman’s huts and draws hundreds of surfers every year from as far away as Hawaii and Brazil to challenge themselves in the huge waves of Desert Point. Although the road deteriorates somewhat after Labuhan Poh, it is still passable for most vehicles during the dry season. During the surfing season, mid-May to September and again in December, you will find the beach and waters buzzing with surfers, but outside of these periods, it is a remote and peaceful area. Bali is clearly visible from here, with the island of Nusa Penida only about an hour away by boat. The drive to the point is dotted with bucolic scenery and tiny villages, making it a worthwhile trip even for non-surfers. There is some basic accommodation and plans for development should change the face of the area in the near future.
The dive sites of the Southwest reflect a good cross-section of what Indonesian diving has to offer. You are sure to find plenty of turtles, white tip reef sharks, cuttlefish, moray eels and many other varieties of marine life. The reefs are full of colourful corals, which harbour an amazing variety of marine life, including ghost pipefish, leaf fish, pygmy seahorses and much more. For non-divers, the islands are a delight for snorkelling - abundant coral reefs lay just below the surface waiting to be explored, filled with thousands of brightly coloured tropical fish. There's no shortage of huge blue starfish and everywhere magical turtles gently glide through the water. It's easy to imagine hotels and resorts on all these beaches and islands in the future but for now, the Southwest is unspoilt and the Gilis remain the secret islands... stunningly beautiful, pristine and unique, and visited only by the lucky few.