Nusa Penida vs The Gilli islands
With the Indonesian government looking for a new island to take some of the tourist load off Bali while they try to curve the pollution and over crowding problems Nusa Penida and the Gilis are now getting touted as the new hot vacation destinations. Having been to both I can honestly say it doesn’t look good for either. Mainly due to a lack of infrastructure and establishment influence.
First you have the Gilis. They have been on the backpacker trail for years and now thanks to the diving culture and amazing blue waters they are getting more traction as a vacation destination. The biggest problems here are size and culture. The islands are small and can only accommodate so much tourism. The new addition of large luxury hotels will only bring more people and contribute to the over crowding. The next problem in the Gilis is the lack of cultural tourism. They offer nothing other then diving. The food is all cheap imitations of Western food at prices much higher then other SE Asian countries. The beaches here aren’t covered in garbage but instead with dead coral from the damaged reefs surrounding all the islands. I couldn’t even count the number of tourists we saw with bandages covering their arms and legs from being beaten against shallow dead reefs. There is little to no regulation from the government so even with a tour company your getting shady service. There is only so much these tiny islands can offer and handle and it seems they are at their peak.
Nusa Penida is the governments newest project. The island is much larger with a lot more geographical promise. From waterfalls to hiking to white sand beaches with stunning cliffs and beautiful blue waters. There are temples for culture seekers and you can even find some decent authentic food. However there is no regulation here either, leading to scammers and situations sure to drive away tourists. For example the island has only 3 ATM machines. It is more common for them to be out of money then actually have money and most days they don’t work at all. If you are fortunate to find one in service the odds are it’s surrounded by shady looking people watching your every move. On Google you can find reviews for anything including ATMs so we did our homework and found the best machine on the island rated 1.3 out of 5 stars with strong warnings about the overly common practice of card skimming. This left us in a difficult spot as most places on these islands only take cash. Luckily I spoke with the host at our bungalow and he agreed to give us a few hundred dollars and just add it to our bill when we left. A practice he has had to do all to often. The roads on Nusa Penida are only wide enough for one small car but are not one way roads making driving a harrowing experience. I enjoy the thrill of driving in Asia but these roads even had me rethinking my decision to rent a scooter.
None of these island can accommodate older people or handicap people at all. For starters, unless you can walk hip deep into the water to climb a latter onto a ferry or manage a wheelchair on roads made of sand so loose and deep that bikes are stopped in their tracks then you are out of luck here. As always, we ventured off the main tourist roads surrounding the harbor on all the islands and usually withing 1 to 2 blocks you were in conditions that would be considered dirty and unlivable even by SE Asian standards. The islands have little to no garbage removal services so like in Bali people burn their trash along the side of the road. The smell can be pretty bad in places. As I mentioned in an earlier blog, all of these islands are mostly Muslim so you are treated to prayers being played over loudspeakers several times a day including 430 am. The prayers are loud enough to be heard over the live music playing at dinner on the beach. We couldn’t find any form of law enforcement on any of the islands. Banks do have security guards though. We couldn’t find Tylenol in mini marts so we stopped in a pharmacy and they didn’t know what Acetaminophen was. However they were willing to hand out anti virals and antibiotics with no questions asked. We passed a clinic and went in and spoke to a doctor only to have to explain to her the difference between Tylenol and Ibuprofen.
My point being, in order to cater to Western tourists they need to improve the infrastructure and hospitality industry.
Gili Air and Menos are too small to be anything more then good day trip destinations for diving and snorkeling if your willing to brave the coral beating. Gili Trawangan is big enough that with some regulation and proper financial investment it could be a really good weekend getaway. The island with the most potential is Nusa Penida. It’s still in its early stage of growth and offers the most variety of vacation activities. Its proximity to both Bali and Lombok also make it easily accessible. With the proper government regulation and financial commitment it could thrive. The big mystery is why the beautiful and large island of Lombok with it’s surreal mountain landscape, hiking trails, hot springs, cultural identity and white sand beaches isn’t getting the attention it deserves.