What You Should Know About The Gili Islands

The Gili Islands in Indonesia are three tiny islands off the northwest coast of Lombok, Bali’s neighbor to the east. “The Gili Islands are how Bali used to be 20 years ago” and other things tourists say are some of the reasons I was one of many people flocking to these teeny idyllic islands. I had seen instagram pics of the gorgeous sunsets, the uncrowded beaches, the carefree people on swings in the water, and I was super excited to finally be visiting. After going, I decided to share what you should know about the Gili islands in order to spare you the distressing experience that I had.

The Horse Carriages

Sadly my parade was rained on…or should I say, stomped on…almost the minute I got off the ferry on Gili Trawangan. When I saw that horse carriage (locally called a Cidomo) was the only means of transportation other than bicycle, my heart dropped. I’ve never been a fan of horse carriages.  I find them cruel and unnecessary, especially in busy large cities. Furthermore, I grew up around horses and know that standing around in an urban environment with heavy equipment attached and eyes partly covered is anything but fun to them. Turns out, those lucky American horses live a life of luxury compared to the poor Gili Horses.

Things You Should Know About Visiting the Gili Islands

Before I knew what was happening, my luggage and my partner’s were thrown on a cart along with two other women and their luggage PLUS the driver. I thought that seemed like way too much for a pony to pull. Especially considering the blazing hot sun. The carts are poorly designed with little care to balance the cart, making the task of pulling even more arduous for the horse.

By the end of the first day in Gili Trawangan, my partner and I decided that we would not use a horse cart again. We rented bikes and on our last day, walked with our luggage 40 minutes to the ferry. Yes. That is how badly I did NOT want to support the horse carriage industry.

The Harsh Reality of a Horse’s Life

I did some research and closely observed the horse carts.  They aren’t horses, they are ponies, based on their small size.  They carry carts full of heavy Bintang Beer crates and construction material in between carting lazy tourists.  I never once saw a driver give fresh water to a horse. Furthermore, they typically give them salt water (this causes kidney failure btw)!   I witnessed merciless whipping to force horses to go faster, sometimes through sand.  I saw a tiny horse buckling from the weight of obese tourists plus other items in the cart. It could barely stand up let alone trot quickly.

Many horses have red bleeding sores from the tight harness. They are constantly gnawing on their bits and shaking their heads, clearly miserable. In addition, the harnesses are often not removed and they must sleep that way, if they get much sleep at all. They typically work until they drop, sometimes 18 hours per day, then they are killed and new horses found. Apparently the horses are stolen from neighboring islands.  After just one day, I literally felt my stomach sink everytime I heard the “clop clop clop” of hooves coming behind me on the street.

What to know before visiting Gili Islands
Frothing from dehydration

The Horse Mafia

To make matters worse, there is a well-known horse Mafia. This is big money. You can read more about the mafia here. The prices are outrageous and tourists pay because they think they have no choice. THERE IS ALWAYS A CHOICE PEOPLE. Walk, ride a bike or how about boycott the Gilis until the hotels and tourist industry provide more options? Write to your hotel of choice and tell them you want transportation other than a horse. There are bicycle carts and wheelbarrows and other non-motorized wheeled devices in existence; therefore there are other ways luggage can be transported. I suspect locals are too afraid of the mafia to start any kind of alternate business. I heard stories of people trying to make a change and being physically harmed for their efforts.  For change to happen, there has to be money loss as in lost tourism dollars to hotels and other businesses. That’s often the only impetus for change.

What You Should Know about the Gili Islands
Typically overloaded cart

I Didn’t Love the Gili Islands

I stayed on Gili Trawangan but also visited Gili Air and saw the same damn thing. There were other reasons I didn’t love the Gilis including beaches that look pretty but suck to swim in, lots of noise and construction, hazardous boating practices, and what I consider turtle harassment (that’s another story for anther day!), but it all pales in comparison to this number one reason I wouldn’t go back. There are other beautiful islands in the world, where this crap isn’t happening. Go there instead folks. Don’t use your tourist dollars in a way that supports this horrible industry.

What You Should Know before visiting the GIli Islands
Notice the ribcage and scars on the flank

I will not be returning to the Gili Islands until I see changes. This post was actually difficult for me to write because it causes much dismay thinking about what I saw.  If you need more evidence, information, or videos, go to the Gili Carriage Horse Support Network Facebook page.  If you have visited the Gilis and were equally upset by this, or if you are planning to go and want this practice to change, write to the hotels, write to the tourism boards or tour companies. The more that they hear tourists are concerned and willing to go elsewhere, the better chance of making change.

Read More: https://www.thedodo.com/Gili Islands Horse Carriages

What Can Be Done?

I did some research into the administration of Indonesia and discovered how the islands were split into different governing bodies. The Gili Islands fall under the North Lombok Regency. Unfortunately the Office of the Regent administration email I found was returned to me. If anyone can help out with contacts, I’d be grateful.  I wrote a letter to the Indonesian Ministry of Tourism and got a response saying they would pass on my concerns to the local Lombok government. Of course, I have no way to follow up on that. More letters need to be written.

I cannot simply witness horrible things and just say,  “oh well, that’s sad”.  All of you people out there who say you want to travel and change the world,  I implore you;  Do something! Write the letters. Be part of the solution. If we don’t do it, who will?

I spent hours trying to find the best people to contact in order to voice concerns. Other than hotels on the islands, I had trouble finding working links! This is what I came up with for those of you who want to do something to help. To make it easier for you to be active, I have included a downloadable letter template that you can add to and personalize when sending emails.

Gili Horse Carriage Letter PDF

Other Useful Links

Admin at the Lombok Board of Tourism: kotak_kominfo@yahoo.com

Link to Indonesia Board of Tourism contact page:  http://www.kemenpar.go.id/

Here are some tourism industry email addresses: 

info@balitourismboard.org

lomboktourism@gmail.com

Emails for a few of the top hotels in Gili Trawangan:

Hotel Ombak Sunset   info@ombaksunset.com

Pondok Santi  Asst Manager Madison Bouillir   reservations@pondoksanti.com

Scallywags Resort   Estelle@scallywagsresort.com

Ko Ko Mo Resort   Manger Mr. Lukman Hakim    lukman@kokomogroup.co.id

Le Pirate Beach Club   fo.gili@lepirate.com

Update as of June 26th:  Both the Scallywags Resort and the Pondok Santi replied to my email and they both agreed with my sentiments. However they informed me that although they use the cidomo as little as possible, they find it unavoidable in some situations.  Scallywags are actually using Cidomos only once or twice a week for wood orders that they can’t carry. They have trolleys for the luggage that they push and all their team use bikes to bring laundry, drinks for minibar, etc.  Apparently all horse carts are owned by people from the island. It is “their domain”. No hotels have authorization to have a horse they would take care of if the owner is not originally from the island.  

If You Want To Be More Involved

I am working with a some animal welfare organizations to come up with a better strategy going forward. If you would like to be included in these efforts once a strategy is formulated, please let me know either with an email via my contact page or in the comments below.

READ MORE: Why You Shouldn’t Swim With Whale Sharks in Oslob

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About The Author

csaradar

35 COMMENTS

  1. The Wanderlust Dietitian | 24th Jun 17

    This breaks my heart to pieces!! I saw a poor horse, limping, in New Orleans. I almost lost it! Great post and thanks for keeping us informed!

    • csaradar | 24th Jun 17

      New Orleans, New York…it all is so sad!

  2. thelifeofasolivagant | 24th Jun 17

    I am honestly so glad I read this. I went to Gili T a long time ago for only two nights and I was naive and a new traveler back then. Barely did anything while there, and had always wanted to go back. But now I am going to avoid it! This is all awful… I want to read about the sea turtles tho. I love them and I would hate to promote anything that harms them! Sincerely, thank you for this cause you really opened my eyes to how cruel this is and how going there is just feeding into it.

    • csaradar | 24th Jun 17

      Basically I did the snorkel trip that everyone does to see sea turtles and there were barely any around. One was chilling at the bottom of the ocean about 10 m down and the guide swam down and grabbed it’s fin and pulled it up so it would swim near us. A few snorkelers actually went crazy grabbing and touching it before it escaped. I was mortified and yelling at people. ugh!

      • thelifeofasolivagant | 26th Jun 17

        Ughhhh really? F that shit. People are ridiculous. That poor turtle. I loved swimming with sea turtles in Hawaii but we definitely stayed as far from them as we could when they were swimming right for us.

  3. Patricia Steffy (@PLSteffy) | 24th Jun 17

    I’m glad you were honest about your reactions and the conditions. I would never want to be a part of this, and would definitely choose to walk instead (or bike). Because it seems to be so pervasive, at this point, I’d probably choose one of the other islands entirely. Thanks for sharing!

    • csaradar | 26th Jun 17

      I feel bad being a downer but I know others share my distress at seeing such things and I don’t like to sugarcoat things!! Thanks for reading:)

  4. IngridZenMoments | 24th Jun 17

    hi there, it is such a sad thing to see and it is even more alarming since a lot of people don’t think about this kind of things when going on holiday and I really thin that they have the power to make a change by not choosing to buy/use these kind of services. great thing to share your honest opinion in this matter.

    • csaradar | 26th Jun 17

      Thanks Ingrid. I do think tourists have a ton of power and the more people care, hopefully change will happen:)

  5. Gracefully Global | 24th Jun 17

    Thank you for your compassion, and all of your efforts here. I’m sorry you witnessed this, but the good news is you are able to help further a dialogue about it. I feel the same. Sharing your post now…

    • csaradar | 26th Jun 17

      Thank for saying that. I wish things like this didn’t upset me so much but it does and I have to do what I can. Thanks for sharing!!

  6. Boarding Call | 24th Jun 17

    I had the same experience! I was also really disappointed by the treatment of animals. I think it is great that you share this so more people know about it. I was on Gili Air… I thought it was just OK. it was pretty but the way animals were treated and the trash made me feel a bit sad…

    • csaradar | 26th Jun 17

      I’m glad I’m not the only one who had that reaction. I think the islands have a lot of potential to be a special place to visit but they have lots of work to do!

  7. California Globetrotter | 24th Jun 17

    What a sad reality! I’d definitely boycott the Gili Islands until this was taken care of! #blogpostsaturday

  8. beachbumadventure | 24th Jun 17

    Great ethical info here, glad I never went in one when I visited the Gillis!

  9. Flo | 24th Jun 17

    I HATE horse carriages and tours – there were a ton in Seville and Lisbon and it made me sick to my stomach. The heat, no water, ridiculous loads. I really hope we can change for the better!

    • csaradar | 24th Jun 17

      Man they are everywhere! I hate them everywhere but for some reason, because it’s the only means of transport in some regards, it’s just especially horrible in the Gilis.

  10. Ellie Cleary | 24th Jun 17

    Thanks for writing about this important topic Charlene. I visited Gili Air in 2015. Didn’t go near the horses but agree with your concerns – animal welfare and treatment is a problem in so many parts of the world but particularly south east asia it seems. I was more disgusted by the sheer invasion of mass tourism, development and building of hotels/guesthouses with no infrastructure and no sewage treatment (all sewage goes straight back out into the ocean).
    Waste is a huge issue. There’s no refuse collection so plastic water bottles etc are burned or buried. I walked inland on gili air and saw mountains of rubbish where most visitors do not walk. It made my heart break.
    I hope that your petitioning of the Lombok authorities brings results. I’ve tried a few times to raise similar issues in other south east asian countries and have so far not been successful. The more of us that raise these things the more chance we have! I’ll certainly join your efforts with this! 🙂
    Ellie

    • csaradar | 24th Jun 17

      OMG you are so on point about the garbage and sewage. There are so many problems there and it is indeed unsustainable. The island may have to implode before something is done at the rate they are going. All of Indonesia needs major environmental groups to come in!

  11. Ticket to Adventures | 24th Jun 17

    Thank you for sharing this post. I was planning to visit the Gili islands next year but this post really made me think twice hmm.

    • csaradar | 24th Jun 17

      If you read Ellie’s comment above you will see some of the other reasons I wasn’t in love with the Gili’s. I didn’t find the beaches very nice either. I think Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Penida are great alternatives off the coast of Bali. Lombok is supposed to have gorgeous beaches also. Gili is marketed as being less touristy than Bali, but it’s just as crowded.

  12. Katrina | Aqua & Ink | 24th Jun 17

    I was so sad to see the horses too but I got speaking to some locals about it and although I don’t think they’re treated entirely fairly, apparently they are a type of horse that can comfortably carry a lot more than their size would seem. But I didn’t get one around the island because I didn’t want to support what I feel looks very unfair. Its so sad that we have to pick between ruining the environment or ruining an animals life 🙁 I did however love the Gili Islands, but agree the horse carts are a dampner for sure.

    • csaradar | 24th Jun 17

      I think that the locals are trying to sugar coat a problem. I saw firsthand horses buckling and falling from too much weight and still being whipped. Animal welfare is not a “thing’ there so I get how maybe they aren’t too concerned.They suddenly have tourist money pouring in and they are doing anything to keep that trend going! I’m glad you liked the Gilis. I hate going somewhere and not liking it but unfortunately between the garbage and sewage issues, the horses and other things, I just didn’t enjoy 🙁

  13. amandasettle | 24th Jun 17

    It’s not very often you see a travel blogger talk honestly about a destination today and it’s faults. The treatment of those ponies is completely disgusting, well done for highlighting it and I hope that others will follow. Here in Greece it’s more common to see donkey’s rather than ponies being used on the islands with no vehicles. The health and wellbeing of those animals has improved immensely over the last 30 years simply because tourists didn’t want to see animals in distress any more. It hit the European press, it hit the pockets of the locals and this was before mass social media and the powerful force that it can be today. There is hope, just keep sharing images and when they realise that having fit and healthy animals will earn them more money change will happen.

    • csaradar | 24th Jun 17

      Thanks for your supportive message. I think I can be viewed as Debbie Downer with these posts but I have to do what I feel is right. I a happy to hear that the donkeys in Greece have better conditions now. I was in Santorini over ten years ago and was pretty upset by what I saw but it wasn’t nearly as bad as the ponies in Gili! I agree that the spread of information and public pressure is how change happens.

  14. amyrbutler | 24th Jun 17

    Wow, that’s awful! Props to you for not just noticing and boycotting on the island, but also doing something about it after your trip! I think a lot of times people think if they don’t live there, they shouldn’t get involved, but you’re right, if tourists are part of the problem they can be part of the solution!

  15. Kristine Li | 24th Jun 17

    Horse carriages as the only transport other than bicycles in touristy Gili islands is just plain ridiculous! Thanks for sharing about these horses and the industry. Very sad to read about =( I haven’t been to Gili but it helps to know that this problem exists over there.

  16. Nam | 24th Jun 17

    Oh my god thank you for sharing this! It’s so unacceptable! I’m going to Bali in fall and I was thinking of going to Gilis and now I won’t – not going to support something like this!

    • csaradar | 24th Jun 17

      If you want an alternative that is actually LESS touristy with nicer beaches, look into Lembongan and Nusa Penida, even closer to Bali:) I have a post on Nusa Penida and working on one about Lembongan.

  17. Catherine | 24th Jun 17

    This is a very honest post, quite an eye-opener. It’s a reminder that tourism isn’t always all that it appears and not always postcard-picture perfect… thanks for your honesty.

    • csaradar | 24th Jun 17

      Exactly. I may not be winning points with any tourism boards, but I have to be honest about what I see!

  18. rhiannontravels | 24th Jun 17

    It’s so sad how they treat those horses! Thank you for making us aware of the problem. It makes me sick that animals get treated this way, just to make money from tourists. Horrible! Very informative post, thank you! 🙂

  19. Christie | 24th Jun 17

    I visited Bali and the Gili Islands in November and also found the horse carriages very sad. We only rode one once on our way back to the ferry from our hotel. I do like that there isn’t motorised vehicles on the Gilis because it feels a lot more peaceful than Bali for that reason to me, but I agree that there are better ways they could go about that, like rickshaws. Apart from the horses though, I loved the Gili Islands and would definitely return 🙂

  20. Kelly | 24th Jun 17

    Wow. I had no idea this was going on there and I cannot belive they give them salt water. That is so awful. I grew up around horses too and things like this make me so sad and would taint the experince for me too. Thanks for educating me on an issue that I was totally unaware of.

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