Gili Islands: Enjoy the Best of Three Worlds

Gili Islands is an archipelago of three islands located just off Lombok’s north-west coast in Indonesia. Meant to be tourist destinations, there are several resorts on each island, usually featuring huts, pools, and restaurants. Thanks to the Gilis’ abundance of coral formations and marine life, free diving and scuba diving are among tourists’ most common activities. Let’s know more about these islands, along with other travel-related information.

The Three Islands

As mentioned earlier, the Gili Islands are made up of three island triplets:

Gili Trawangan: Also known as the Party Island, this is the biggest and most famous of the islands.

Gili Meno: Situated between the other islands, it is a laid-back place nicknamed the Island for Couples.

@Gili Air: Also known as the Social Backpacker island, it is closest to Lombok and has a well-developed community of locals.

How to Reach the Gili Islands

Planning to travel to Gili Islands? Here are the available options:

By Air: Gili Islands have no airport. The nearest airport, Bandara International Airport, is situated in Lombok near the city of Praya. Another option is to fly directly to Bali and take a boat to the Gili Islands from there. From Bali, you can take an onward flight to the Bandara Airport.

By Ferry: Public ferry service runs every hour from Padang Bai in East Bali to Lembar Harbour in Southwest Lombok. The ferry service operates 24/7. Although this is a slow service, it is cheap and affordable. Once you reach Lombok, you can take a local boat from the Bangsal Harbour to reach Gili Islands.

By Boat: Sea remains calm in the morning, but all transportation stops by late afternoon.

From Bali: If you are traveling from Bali, the fast boat is the quickest and direct way to reach Gili Islands. Several boat services operate direct boats from Bali to Gilis. All the boats continue onto Lombok, and some also pass by Nusa Lembongan. Daily services are operated from Serangan and Benoa (South Bali) and Amed and Padang Bai (East Bali).

Ticket Booking: Contact a fast boat company directly by email or phone, or ask a travel agent to book your ticket from Bali to Gili Islands. You may also book your tickets online. Prices range from $30 to $50 for one-way tickets and $60 to $100 for return tickets. All tickets in Bali include free hotel drop and pickup service. Since there are different ports in Bali from where boats depart for the Gili Islands, you must carefully choose your departure port.

Difference Between the Three Gili Islands 

Each of the three Gili Islands has a different atmosphere and has something different to offer. The one you will like depends on the type of traveler you are. Let’s have a look at the uniqueness of each of these islands:

Gili Trawangan: This is the biggest and the most famous island of the three. Once known as a backpacker’s haven laden with simple bars and beach huts, the island has gone through drastic changes over the last few years. It has undergone massive development intending to cater to the upscale crowd. It has now gained a reputation as a Party Island.

The major attraction of Gili T is its scuba diving spots and professional diving centers. Lack of motor traffic gives it a chilled-out atmosphere, but the island becomes a party lover’s paradise as the sun goes down. Start your evening on the island’s west side, from where you can have great views of the shining sea with a background of setting sun behind the Bali mt. Have a great time at a beachside bar of a resort, enjoy some great food, and admire the views. Later, take a horse cart, head to the island’s eastern part, and dance your night away.

From budget guesthouses to mid-range beachfront hotels, you may go all the way up to the lavish resorts and luxury villas. Beachfront restaurants and bars of the island give it a cosmopolitan feel. Whether you crave international cuisine, local street food, or fresh seafood, you will be spoilt for choice at Gili Trawangan.

Gili Meno: This is the smallest island of the triplets, that is still close to its tropical island atmosphere. Situated between Gili Trawangan and Gili Air, it is known for its laid-back charm and stunning beaches. Its serene atmosphere proves to be an excellent escape for honeymoon couples in need of seclusion. Many small hotels and bungalows offer relaxing accommodation on the Gili Meno. While you are not in the mood to relax, head on to enjoy some snorkeling and diving.

Gili Air: Closest to Lombok, Gili Air’s atmosphere is a mixture of Trawangan’s bustle and Meno’s tranquillity. So, if you are looking to immerse yourself in the local culture without getting disturbed by the crowds of tourists, Gili Air is the way to go. While life moves slowly on the island, it still has plenty to entertain you. Whether you are looking to stay in a beachfront hotel or behind the coconut groves, this island will give accommodation to suit every budget and taste. Don’t forget to admire the sunrise over mt. Rinjani of Lombok.

Transport on the Islands

The Gili Islands are intensely calm due to the fact that no motor vehicles operate there. If you wish to travel on the islands, your only options are to go on foot, to rent a bicycle, or to pay for a drive on a cidomo, a donkey-driven cart. Since all the three islands are just a few km in diameter, they can be easily covered on foot.

Gili island donkey cart image by travelfromheart

Transport Between the Islands

Traveling between the three islands is easy and cheap. Many local service providers take you between the islands on chartered or public boats. There is no need to pre-book the tickets, as they are readily available.

Things to do on Gili Islands

Gili Islands are most known for three things: diving, snorkeling, and partying. But there is much more you can do here. Some of the most sought-after activities include the following: 

Diving and Snorkelling: These are the classic activities you just cannot miss if you are on the Gili Islands. These islands are blessed with a stunning underwater world that you must not miss admiring. Most diving schools are present on the Gili T. You can join one of them even if you are a beginner, and snorkel equipment is available for rent in almost every part of the island. Some of the best diving spots include Deep Halik, Deep Turbo, Japanese Wreck, Shark Point, Mirko’s Reef, and Mantra Point. Best places for snorkeling include Nest on Gili Meno, north end of the Gili T, and Wall of the Gili Air.

Walking Around the Islands: You may circumnavigate the island within 1-2 hours on foot. You may also rent a bicycle from a service provider or your hotel.

Island Hopping: Public boars operate between the islands several times a day. Buy tickets and hop around the islands.

Water Sports: Standing paddling is one of the most popular water sport activities on the islands. Kite surfing, wakeboarding, canoeing, and kayaking are other activities worth enjoying.

Surfing: There are many surf spots on the Gili Islands, mainly in the south-east part of Gili Trawangan. Some of them are present on Gili Meno and Gili Air as well. For the most popular ones, head on to Lombok.

BBQ and Fishing: During certain hours, you can be hop on a boat to catch fish for yourself. Spearfishing is also possible at certain spots. Grill the fish you catch, which can’t get any tastier and fresher.

Touring on a Glass Bottom Boat: If you don’t have the heart and skill to go diving or snorkeling, you can explore the underwaters by going on a ride on a glass-bottom boat.

Jamming and Live Music: Some many bars and restaurants play live music every evening. Jam sessions are also conducted during the daytime, where everyone is allowed to participate. 

Horseback Riding: This classic activity is extremely popular among families and couples. Riding a horse along the beach at sunset is a calm and serene activity that peace lovers will definitely enjoy.

Visiting the Night Market: A night market is held at the market square of Gili Trawangan every day after 6 pm. You can eat your heart’s content at really cheap rates in this market. Some of the specialties offered include fresh fish, Sate, seafood, rice and noodle dishes, grilled corn-on-the-cob, vegetables, etc. Don’t forget to try Nasi Campur, which is a typical rice dish of Indonesia served with eggs, vegetables, tofu, meat, peanuts, and fried noodles.

Watching a Stick Fight Tournament: Presean is traditional combat in which two fighters fight with a stick and a shield. Beleganjur players accompany the battle with traditional music. It is a popular sport in Indonesia, in which fighters crave each other’s blood and still spend some laughing and dancing times together during the fight. You can watch a tournament in the marketplace on a Sunday afternoon.

Watching a Movie: In the evenings, you can watch a movie at a mini open-air cinema in one of the Gili Islands. If you are drunk and do not want the hustle of partying, this is something quiet to enjoy.

Sunset Watching: Enter a beachfront bar or restaurant and watch the sunset. If you like solitude, just walk or drive along a beach or find a deserted stretch on one of them.

Gili air sunset image by travelfromheart

Yoga: Join a yoga course on the Gili Islands and give it a try. You can either join a trial one-day class or get enrolled for days or weeks.

Releasing a Turtle: There is a turtle sanctuary on Gili Meno. To keep turtle eggs protected from other animals, they collect and incubate them in the sanctuary and raise them in a small pool for around 8 months. After that, they release them into the wilds. After donating a certain amount, you can release a turtle from the sanctuary yourself.  

Visiting the Bird Park: There is a bird park at Gili Meno. Here, you can witness various parrots, small eagles, pelicans, pheasants, and peacocks worth admiring.

Places to Stay at Gili Island

Gili Islands is an overwhelming place for tourists with all its attractions, beaches, and bars. But when it comes to staying there, there are several 3-star luxurious hotels in the area. They not only do their best to keep you comfortable but also help you enjoy the best of pleasures. Apart from luxury hotels and villas, there are family hotels, boutique hotels, and budget hotels as well. Choose the one as per your budget, as there is a huge variety available.

Most hotels are ready to help you in every possible way during your trip. They arrange bicycles for touring on their island, and if requested, they can also set a snorkeling tour for you. If you are not sure where to go, what to see, and what to do, your hotel staff members can help you with that too. The people are hospitable and friendly, and they are more than happy to guide you through your tour.

Eating and Drinking at Gilis

All the three Gili Islands feature a plethora of cafés and restaurants, mainly on the beachfront. The eastern sides of all the islands are the hub of activities. You will find both small and large cafés and restaurants everywhere. While most of them are concentrated on the Gili T, several new restaurants are also opening up on Gili Air to offer western dishes. However, eating options are limited to basic food only on Gili Meno, including wood-fired oven pizza, barbecued fish, etc.

Gili island beachfront bar image by travelfromheart

At Gili Trawangan, you will find nightlife to suit all tastes. There are DJ bars, live music bars, as well as quiet beachfront. You will have a varied list of choices 24/7. However, be careful never to leave your drink unattended, as a spiking incident may occur. Drink in moderation, as production methods will be non-standardized in the Gilis, due to which you may get intoxicated with locally distilled spirits known as Arak. Some of them may contain methanol and cause injury, sometimes even death. If you suspect that you have been served a wrong drink, send it back immediately.

Need to Respect the Gilis

While at Gili Islands, you may feel like being at Bali sometimes. But remember, most of their population is Muslim, and they are quite conservative in their beliefs. Even though they are getting used to tourism’s western style, you must never disrespect their community and traditions. Avoid sunbathing topless or nude on the beaches, stay covered up while not at the beach, and avoid excessive PDAs.

While staying overnight at the Gilis, you may wake up with early-morning prayers of mosques. There might be little changes on the islands during Ramadan month, such as reduced diving schedules

Safety Tips While at Gili Islands

While at Gili Islands, here are a few safety tips you must follow:

  • Keep your doors and windows locked at night, and never leave valuables in the open.
  • Lone female tourists should avoid befriending local men and accepting any gifts or drinks from them.
  • Gili Trawangan is a place where you will find Magic mushrooms. Avoid taking them, as they may have serious psychological effects on some people.
  • You can be offered various intoxicants and drugs on the Gili Islands, like magic mushrooms and power drinks. You may also easily find methamphetamine and marijuana. There are strict regulations against offenders in Indonesia, and you may be banished from the island or even imprisoned for drug use.
  • While the three Gili islands seem to be too close to each other, and you may think that you can easily cover the distance by swimming, never take that attempt. The channel currents between the islands are unpredictable and very strong. Be safe by getting across on a cheap local boat only.
  • Jellyfish or stingers will be common to find in the Gilis waters, especially during moon cycles of July and August. So, whenever you enter the waters, always wear a surf skin or full-length wetsuit. The stings are harmless but painful and may cause problems in your respiration. The effects usually last for an hour. If you get stung, remove the tentacles immediately, rinse the area in seawater, and immerse it in hot water for 15-20 minutes.
  • Also, beware of large spiders on the islands that are the size of your palm. While not venomous, they can result in painful wounds. To stay away from them, avoid treading through the bushes and climbing trees.

Conclusion

Each island in the archipelago has a unique character. Gili Trawangan is famous for its cosmopolitan atmosphere, featuring a vibrant culture, bar, party scene, lavish accommodations, and various restaurants. Gili Meno is away from buzz and languor, while Gili Air is a mix of two. Head to the island of your choice, as per your personality and interests. Although it is a water paradise with lots of water sports and activities, don’t touch the coral reefs. Just take pictures and enjoy a memorable holiday!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *