The Gili Islands were the big surprise of my first trip to Asia. When I already had my travel itinerary for Southeast Asia planned, someone told me about three tiny islands by the Indian Ocean where the sunsets were pure magic. Its seabed full of turtles convinced me, and only a week in advance, we changed our entire trip in order to visit the Gili Islands.
We had 7 days available to explore this area of Indonesia, which we distributed between Bali and Gili Islands. I don’t regret this decision at all, but, if you have more time, I recommend you spend 7 days in Bali and book 2 or 3 days separately to go to the Gili Islands.
In fact, since these islands are so close to the tourist epicenter of Indonesia, many travelers decide to take a trip to the Gili Islands from Bali. Its idyllic beaches, its dreamy sunset, and its leisurely island life make everyone who visits them fall in love.
Although tourism has grown immensely in this archipelago in recent years, there’s no doubt that it’s still worth traveling to the Gili Islands.
Relaxing on a white sand beach or diving among colorful corals are just some of the things to do in the Gili Islands. If you’re thinking of traveling to this earthly paradise, in our Gili Islands guide, you’ll find the following information:
- Which Gili Island is best for you
- Things to do in the Gili Islands
- How to get to the Gili Islands
- Best tours in Gili Islands
- Best hotels in Gili Islands
- Other tips
- Map of the Gili Islands
What are the Gili Islands?
The Gili Islands are an archipelago formed by three islands (Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno and Gili Air) that are located on the Northwest coast of Lombok and belong to the province of West Nusa Tenggara.
However, if you check where the Gili Islands are on a map, you’ll see that they’re also very close to Bali, the most touristy island in Indonesia. Therefore, many travelers believe that the Gili Islands are in Bali. In fact, most tourists who travel to the Gili Islands do so from Bali and not from Lombok.
Bali also has an archipelago of paradise islands called Nusa Islands. However, the Gili Islands surpass them in fame for having, according to some, better sunsets and shallow coral reefs ideal for snorkeling.
If you’re a diver and ask me if the Gili Islands or Nusa Islands are better, I recommend the Nusa Islands. Different species of manta rays and the giant Mola Mola fish can be seen around this archipelago during some months of the year (we talk about this in our article about the best time to visit Bali). In addition to this, there aren’t many differences between the Gili Islands and the Nusa Islands. Both archipelagos have spectacular beaches that will make you feel like you’re in paradise.
Which Gili Island should you choose
Knowing which Gili Island to go to is essential for enjoying your trip. There are three Gili Islands, one for each type of traveler. If you make a mistake in choosing which Gili Islands you should visit, you may be disappointed or, at least, not enjoy them as much as you should. But don’t worry; there are many things to do in the Gili Islands and surely, some you’ll like.
I sincerely believe that whatever Gili Island you choose, you’ll love it, although a bad decision about which Gili Island to go to can completely change your perception of your trip.
There is no Gili Island that’s better than another. Simply, each one is ideal for a certain type of traveler. To help you choose, in this section we’ll tell you the differences between the Gili Islands.
GILI TRAWANGAN – The Gili Island for Backpackers and Young people
With only 3.4 square kilometers, Gili Trawangan is the largest of the Gili Islands. In addition, it’s the one that receives the most visitors annually, because you can find some of the cheapest accommodation in the Gili Islands here.
Gili Trawangan stands out for its vibrant nightlife, which is possible thanks to its bars and nightclubs that stay open until dawn. Therefore, Gili T is the favorite Gili Island of young people; they even call it the Gili Island for backpackers.
In the center of the island, there’s an international community of Rastafarians attracted by the few legal restrictions on drugs. If you’ve ever heard that drugs are legal in the Gili Islands, this is mainly due to the lack of prohibition of them. Since there are no police in any of the Gili Islands, if you add thousands of young people searching for fun, Gili Trawangan couldn’t be anything other than what it is today: a favorite destination for bachelor parties and other sprees.
However, it’s still a paradise. There are no motor vehicles, so you’ll have to go everywhere on foot or by bicycle.
If you plan to enjoy your honeymoon in the Gili Islands or travel as a family, I wouldn’t choose this island.
Gili Meno – The best one to disconnect from your day-to-day
Gili Meno is the smallest of the Gili Islands and the one with the fewest services. However, that is changing. Recently, they installed the first ATM, and every day, new accommodations are opening, although they’re still somewhat expensive.
If you want to visit the most remote island of the three, I recommend you choose Gili Meno. Additionally, many sea turtles live here, and it has the most virgin seabed you could dream of.
This island, however, is not paradise for all travelers. If you like to try different restaurants, have an extensive range of tours available, and do more than just lie on the sand reading a book, you may find it a bit boring.
You’re better off choosing one of the other islands and taking a half-day tour to visit Gili Meno. You’ll have more than enough time, since you can travel its coast on foot in an hour.
Gili Air – The best Gili Island for honeymoons
Gili Air is the best Gili Island for honeymoons, family trips, and travelers who want to escape the madness of Gili Trawangan but need more action than in Gili Meno.
On this island, you’ll find more restaurants than in Meno and even some cocktail bars. However, the mood is totally different from GiliT.
They say that Gili Air is the Hippy Island of the Gili Islands. Although it’s now quite touristy, it isn’t crowded, so it’s a very good option.
If you have doubts about which Gili Island to choose, I recommend Gili Air. Also, don’t forget that you can spend the day at any of the other islands whenever you want. Island hopping is one of the main things to do in the Gili Islands.
Things to do in the Gili Islands
There are more things to do in the Gili Islands than you can imagine, so here are some ideas to help you plan your trip:
1. Enjoy the Best Beaches of the Gili Islands
We could not start our list of things to do in the Gili Islands without talking about its spectacular white sand and turquoise water beaches. After all the miles you will have traveled to get there, you’ll need to relax.
It’s difficult to choose the best beach in the Gili Islands, so try to visit as many as you can. Of those that I saw, I think that Coral Beach, in Gili Trawangan, is possibly one of the best beaches in the Gili Islands, although I also visited some beautiful ones in Gili Air.
2. Watch the Sunset from the Gili Islands
On my trip to the Gili Islands, there was a period of 20 minutes that made my trip to Bali entirely worth it: the sunset on the first night in paradise.
The sky caught fire, creating impossible reflections in a completely calm sea. Watching the sunset is the most important thing to do in the Gili Islands.
3. Bike around the islands
You won’t be aware of the tiny size of the Gili Islands until you take a bicycle ride. On the largest of the Islands, Gili T, it will only take 20 minutes. Of course, there are so many things to do in the Gili Islands that you’ll probably stop before you make a complete loop.
4. Visit the three Gili Islands
Going from one Gili Island to another is very cheap and a good way to get to know the Gili Islands and their differences.
There are public boats that connect each island to each other and that depart twice a day (once in the morning and once in the afternoon). These “public boats” have quite low prices, 35k IDR approx., although it’s true that I don’t recommend them if the sea is choppy and you get seasick easily. Even so, they’re a great option for spending the morning on another island different from the one you’re staying at. “Island hopping” is one of the best things to do in the Gili Islands.
5. Swim with Sea Turtles
If your dream is to swim with sea turtles, welcome to the Gili Islands! You can find them on all the beaches, although if you want to increase your chances, go to Gili Meno, where there’s even a small turtle sanctuary.
At almost all the beaches of the Gili Islands, you can rent snorkel goggles, which is because the seabed is the most important thing to see in the Gili Islands. Additionally, you can go to visit the submerged sculptures in Gili Meno, one of its main tourist attractions.
More than anywhere else, if you visit the Gili Islands, be very careful with your plastic waste. Don’t let it end up in the ocean, since little by little, we’re destroying the few remaining paradises in the world.
6. Go party in the Gili Islands
Partying in the Gili Islands is a unique experience. After watching the sunset to the rhythm of the drums of Gili Trawangan, enter any nightclub and enjoy the music. If you are one of those people who like partying until dawn, join one of the late-night fires to wait for the sun to rise.
We were very lucky because we found a group of travelers with a guitar, so we sang songs around the fire until it was daylight.
7. Take a picture on the famous swing of the Gili Islands
Who doesn’t know about the swing of the Gili Islands? Well, swings, because there are several, although the most famous are those of Gili Trawangan.
They have become so popular that today it’s almost impossible to take such a long-awaited photo without queuing. If you want to know exactly where the Gili Islands swing is, we tell you in our guide to Gili Trawangan.
8. Stay in a bungalow with sea views
There is a lot of accommodation in the Gili Islands and some with quite good prices. If you can afford it, rent a bungalow with sea views.
Although later we’ll talk about the best hotels in the Gili Islands, my favorite is the Pearl of Trawangan, where we stayed for two nights.
9. Diving in the Gili Islands
All the Gili Islands have diving schools. Whether you have a certification or want to get it, diving is one of the main things to do in the Gili Islands.
If it’s your first time, they’ll first give you some basic rules at the school, and you’ll have a few hours of training in the pool before diving into the sea.
10. Eat seafood on the seashore
If you want to enjoy the cuisine of the Gili Islands, enjoy a Nasi Goreng with seafood in any of the restaurants on the beaches.
Eating in the Gili Islands is usually more expensive than in Bali or Lombok but, even so, you can always find cheaper options. For example, I recommend not missing the GiliT Night Market, something essential to visit in the Gili Islands.
How to get to the Gili Islands
If you are one of those who get seasick easily, I have bad news. The only way to get to the Gili Islands is by ferry. However, not all boats are created equal, so in this section, we’ll tell you how to get to the Gili Islands from Bali and Lombok.
Gili Islands from Lombok
To go to the Gili Islands from Lombok, you can take a public boat from the port of Bangsal (Teluk Kode) for less than $1. These boats only depart twice a day: at 7:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. They are usually full, so you’d better arrive early, or you’ll have to wait until the next day. It takes about two hours to reach the Gili Islands.
However, it’s not the only option and not the best if you don’t have time to lose. There are many private companies that take this route in speedboats, which takes only 20 minutes, from the port of Teluk Kode and also from the ports of Teluk Nara and Senggigi. For this route, you should not have to pay more than 125k IDR ($9 approx.)
Gili Islands from Bali
There are no public boats to go to the Gili Islands from Bali. You must either book a speedboat (2hs) or take a public boat to Lombok.
To go by boat from Bali to the Gili Islands through Lombok, you must go to the port of Padang Bai in Bali. There, take the ferry that leaves you at the port of Lembar in Lombok. Then you will have to go to the port of Bangsal, where you can finally take the public boat to the Gili Islands (9-12hs in total).
The problem with this option, in addition to the fact that you’ll waste practically a full day, is that the port of Lembar is not well connected with the port of Bangsal (neither is it with Teluk Nara or Senggigi).
That is why, unless you have a long Bali itinerary, I advise you to take this speedboat directly, since it’s the cheapest one you’ll find. The price, if you book it in advance, is practically the same as the public boat option for $24 instead of IDR 280k ($20 approx.).
However, if you hire it through Civitatis, for a higher price, they’ll pick you up at your hotel in Bali to take you to the port so you save even more time. On the way back, they’ll leave you in the area of Bali that you choose.
That’s why we took the Civitatis ferry to go to the Gili Islands from Ubud and then, on the way back, they left us in Canggu, which saved us a lot of time and money. Here’s a list of essentials things to do in Ubud in case you also visit this town.
Best Gili Islands Tours
If you’re in Bali and have little time, it’s best to book a tour to the Gili Islands directly that includes transportation from your hotel and the different activities you want to do.
This three-day excursion, I think, is perfect if you prefer to have everything organized, as it includes pickup at your hotel in Bali, speedboat, accommodation for two days in Gili Trawangan and Gili Air, and a snorkeling tour where you’ll visit different points of the three Gili Islands. Without a doubt, this is one of the best tours to do from Bali.
We did it on our own, taking this ferry. If you also do so, I recommend that, as soon as you get to the Gili, you approach one of the many tourist agencies around the small ports to book your excursions in the Gili Islands for the following days.
Without a doubt, the snorkeling tour is the best excursion in the Gili Islands. We paid 160k IDR ($12) after negotiating for a while. In addition, if you have more time, I also recommend you take a “public boat” to spend the morning at any of the other islands, something essential to do in the Gili Islands.
Best Hotels in Gili Islands
There is a lot of accommodation in the Gili Islands, from luxury hotels to very cheap bungalows. To help you choose, here are our recommended hotels in the Gili Islands.
Best Accommodation in Gili Trawangan
In Gili Trawangan there are two distinct areas to stay. The East side, where the ferry leaves you, is the best option if you want to party or find some of the cheapest hotels in the Gili Islands.
In case you want peace of mind, for family or couple trips, I recommend the West area. Here, you’ll find some of the best luxury hotels in the Gili Islands, although you’ll also have to pay for them. Of all the GiliT accommodations, I recommend the following:
- Premium Option: Gili Treehouses
- Top Option: Ombak Sunset
- Standard Option: Pearl of Trawangan
- Low Cost Option: Havana Hideaway
Best Accommodations in Gili Meno
As you know, Gili Meno is the favorite island for those who don’t want to be bothered by anyone. At these accommodations, you’ll feel like you have paradise to yourself:
- Premium option: Karma Reef
- Top Option: Gili Meno Escape
- Standard Option: AVIA Villa Resort
- Low Cost Option: Adeng-Adeng Bungalows
Best Accommodations in Gili Air
If you’ve decided to visit Gili Air and there are free rooms in any of the following accommodations, don’t think twice before booking:
- Premium Option: Anahata – Tropical Private Villas
- Top Option: Ke Rensia Private Pool Villas Gili Air
- Standard Option: Musa Villas and Bungalows Gili Air
- Low Cost Option: Old Village Gili Air
Other Tips for Traveling to the Gili Islands
Finally, I’d like to give you some tips to travel to the Gili Islands that I hope you find useful. We’ll also add any other questions you have about the Gili Islands to this section.
How much time to spend in the Gili Islands
Some people decide to visit the Gili Islands in one day and one night. However, I think this isn’t the best option, since ferries to the Gili Islands are not very frequent and you’ll lose a lot of time traveling on the ferry.
If you’re visiting just one of the islands, I recommend spending at least two nights and two days in the Gili Islands, as I did. If you do, you should book a snorkeling excursion to dive at all the islands on your second day.
Although, if you have enough time, the ideal scenario is to spend three or four days in the Gili Islands to go island hopping and visit them all.
Police in the Gili Islands
There are no police stations in the Gili Islands, and they’re still quite safe. In fact, if you have any problems, they’re more likely to be due to another traveler. The locals usually live without any worries and spread their joy and good vibes to everyone who visits. But living 365 days a year in paradise, who wouldn’t, right?
Even so, and although we can say that the Gili Islands are safe, it’s true that, with the increase in tourism, petty crime has increased as well: travelers who run out of money and decide to steal wallets, brawls in Gili T, etc.
Even if they are safe, I recommend you travel with budget travel insurance at least.
To maintain order, the Lombok government has hired private security guards who collaborate with the police, who walk around the island from time to time. As is the tradition in the Gili Islands, when someone is caught doing something undesirable, they are forced to do the “walk of shame.” This punishment consists of having to walk in the streets with a sign around your neck that says your crime. Also, if you’re a foreigner, you’ll be banned from entering the Gili Islands for a few years. Is there worse punishment than being expelled from paradise?
Gili Islands Drugs
As I said before, drugs in the Gili Islands aren’t regulated (perhaps because there are no police as such), so, at least in Gili Trawangan, they’re quite common.
In many bars, you’ll see signs where hallucinogenic mushroom milkshakes are offered in broad daylight. In addition, in the center of the island. there are marijuana plantations, so almost any villager sells or knows where you can buy.
Additionally, you should know that, although I haven’t heard any news about it for some time, before my trip, there were some cases of adulterated alcohol in the Gili Islands that killed several travelers. Just in case and to avoid risks, I decided to drink only Bintang beers during my visit to the Gili Islands.
Gili Islands Earthquake
The Gili Islands are in the Pacific Ring of Fire, so
earthquakes are common. On August 5, 2018, there was an earthquake of magnitude 6.9 in Lombok that caused hundreds of deaths. The earthquake was also felt in the Gili Islands, which created a wave of despair when tourists and locals expected the worst: a tsunami in the Gili Islands, which luckily never arrived.
Even so, the Gili Islands were evacuated, and terrifying scenes occurred. Since they suffered a lot of damage, the Gili Islands were closed after the earthquake.
I don’t intend to scare you with this information, nor stop you traveling to the Gili Islands. I simply advise you to buy travel insurance to Bali that covers your evacuation if you need it.
ATMs in the Gili Islands
Today there are ATMs in all the Gili Islands, so you only need your no-foreign-fee credit cards to travel.
Hospitals in the Gili Islands
There are no hospitals in the Gili Islands, although there are primary care medical clinics that are usually open 24 hours a day which are used to treat tourists’ issues. For typical problems such as diarrhea, sunstroke, stings, cuts, etc. they can assist you directly, although for more serious cases, you will have to be transferred to Lombok. The Blue Island Medical Clinic is the most important clinic and is on all the islands.
In any case, I recommend you take good travel insurance to Indonesia that covers you if you need to be transferred to the hospital in Lombok.
Gili Islands Map
Here is a map of the Gili Islands with my favorite sites. Also, on our map of Bali, you can find a map of Bali and Gili Islands.
Before you go, I’ll leave you with the essentials for your trip to Bali:
ESSENTIALS FOR YOUR TRIP TO BALI
I hope you find everything you need to travel to the Gili Islands in our article. If you have any questions, leave us a comment.