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 with only a week in advance, we changed everything 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 separately 2 or 3 days to go to the Gili Islands.
In fact, being so close to the tourist epicenter of Indonesia, many travelers decide to take a trip to the Gili Islands from Bali. And it is that, its paradisiacal beaches, its dreamy sunsets 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 is no doubt that it is 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 are thinking of traveling to this earthly paradise, in our Gili Islands guide you will 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 is 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 will see that they are also very close to Bali, the most tourist 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. But, the Gili surpass them in fame for having, according to some, better sunsets and shallow coral reefs ideal for snorkeling.
If you are a diver and ask me if it is better Gili Islands or Nusa Islands, I recommend the Nusa Islands. Different species of manta rays and the giant Mola Mola fish are 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 are not many differences between the Gili Islands and the Nusa Islands. Both archipelagos have spectacular beaches that will make you think you are in paradise.
Which Gili Island should you choose
Knowing which Gili Island to go to is essential to enjoy your trip. There are three Gili Islands, one for each type of traveler. If you make a mistake when choosing which Gili Islands should you 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 like.
I sincerely believe that whatever Gili Island you choose, you will love it. Although, a bad decision about which Gili Island to go to, can completely change your perception of this trip.
There is no Gili island better than another. Simply each one has its audience. To help you choose, in this section we tell you the differences between the Gili Islands.
GILI TRAWANGAN – The Gili Island for Backpackers and Young people
With only 3.4km2, Gili Trawangan is the largest of the Gili. In addition, it is the one that receives more visitors annually, because we can find some of the cheapest accommodation in the Gili Islands here.
Gili Trawangan stands out for its vibrant nightlife, possible thanks to its bars and nightclubs that open until dawn. Therefore, GiliT is the favorite Gili Island for young people; they even call it the Gili Island for backpackers.
In the center of the island, there is a community of international Rastafarians attracted by the low control that exists on drugs. If you have ever heard that drugs are legal in the Gili Islands, this is mainly due to the lack of prohibition on them. Although there is no police in any of the Gili Islands, if we add to this, thousands of young people searching for fun, Gili Trawangan cannot be another thing than what it is today: a favorite destination for bachelor parties and other sprees.
However, it is still a paradise. There is no motor vehicle so you will 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 it.
Gili Meno – The best one to disconnect from your daily tasks
Gili Meno is the smallest of the Gili, and the one with the fewer services. However, that is changing. Recently they installed the first ATM and every day new accommodation are opening, although still somewhat expensive.
If you want to visit the most remote island of the three, I recommend you choose Gili Meno. In addition, many sea turtles live here, and it has the most virgin seabed you can 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 to read a book, you may find it a bit boring.
Better choose one of the other islands and take a half-day tour to visit Gili Meno. You will 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, we find more restaurants than in Meno and even some cocktail bar. However, the mood is totally different from GiliT.
They say that Gili Air was the Hippy Island of the Gili. Although it is now quite touristy, it isn’t crowded so it is a very good option.
If you have doubts about which Gili Island to choose, I recommend you Gili Air. Also, don’t forget that whenever you want, you can spend the day at any of the other islands. 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 we leave you 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 waters beaches. After all the miles you have traveled to get there, relax as you deserve.
It is difficult to choose the best beach in the Gili Islands, so I invite you to discover 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 only for that moment would have been worth all my trip to Bali: the sunset of the first night in paradise.
The sky caught fire creating impossible reflections in a completely calm sea. Watch the sunset is the most important thing to do in the Gili Islands.
3. Turn around the islands by bike
You are not aware of the tiny size of the Gili Islands until you turn around by bicycle. In the largest of the Islands, GiliT, it will only take 20 minutes. Of course, there are so many things to do in the Gili Islands that you will surely stop before 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 Boat” have quite low prices, 35k IDR approx., although it is true that I don’t recommend them if the sea is choppy and you get dizzy easily. Even so, they are a great option to spend the morning on another island different from the one you are 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! On all the beaches you can find them, although if you want to increase possibilities go to Gili Meno, where there is even a small turtle sanctuary.
In almost all the beaches of the Gili Islands you can rent snorkel goggles and that is that the seabed is the most important thing to see in the Gili Islands. In addition, 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 them end at sea, since little by little we are destroying the few remaining paradises.
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 who likes parting until dawn, I advise you to join one of the fires that usually light late at night to wait for the sun to rise.
We were very lucky because we found a group of travelers with guitar and we were singing around the fire until it was daylight.
7. Take a picture on the famous swing of the Gili Islands
Who doesn’t know 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 is 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 are many 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 will 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 Gili Islands have diving schools. Whether you have certification or want to get it, diving is one of the main things to do in the Gili Islands.
If this is your first time, they will first give you some basic notions at school and you will 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 that are in the same sand of the beach.
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 you not to miss 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 dizzy easily, I have bad news. The only way to get to the Gili Islands is by ferry. However, not all boats are the same, so in this section we 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 better arrive early, or you will have to wait the next day. It takes about two hours to reach the Gili Islands.
However, it is not the only option and not the best if you don’t have time to lose. There are many private companies that make this route in speedboats, taking only 20 minutes, from the port of Teluk Kode and also from the port 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 will practically waste 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 are going to take a long-term Bali itinerary, I advise you to take this speedboat directly, since it is the cheapest one you will 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 will pick you up at your hotel in Bali to take you to the port in such a way that you save even more time. And, on the way back, they will 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. I leave you a list of essentials things to do in Ubud in case you also visit this town.
Best Gili Islands Tours
If you are in Bali and have little time, it is best to directly hire a tour to the Gili Islands 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 go with everything organized, as it includes pick-up at your hotel in Bali, speedboat, accommodation for two days in Gili Trawangan and Gili Air, and snorkeling tour where you will 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 pay 160k IDR ($12) after negotiating for a while. In addition, if you have more time, I also recommend you take a “public boat” to go to spend the morning to any of the other islands, something essential to do in the Gili Islands.
Best Hotels in Gili Islands
There are many accommodation in the Gili Islands, from luxury hotels to very cheap bungalows. To help you choose, we leave you our recommended hotels in the Gili Islands.
Best Accommodation in Gili Trawangan
In Gili Trawangan there are two areas to stay clearly differentiated. 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 will find some of the best luxury hotels in the Gili Islands although you will 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 speak to the neighbor. In these accommodations you will feel that you have paradise for 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 have decided to visit Gili Air and there are free rooms in any of the following accommodations, don’t think twice:
- 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 would like to give you some tips to travel to the Gili Islands that I hope you find useful. We will also add any other questions you have about the Gili 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 it is not the best option since ferries to the Gili Islands are not very frequent and you will lose a lot of time at the ferry.
If you are visiting just one of the islands, I would recommend spending at least two nights and two days in the Gili Islands, as I did. In this case I advise you to hire a snorkeling excursion to dive in all the islands on your second day.
Although, if you have enough time, the ideal 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 are still quite safe. In fact, if you have any problems, it is 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 goes. But living 365 days a year in paradise, who doesn’t, right?
Even so, and although we can say that the Gili Islands are safe, it is true that, with the increase in tourism, insecurity has increased as well: travelers who run out of money and decide to steal wallets, brawls in GiliT, etc.
To maintain order, the Lombok government has hired private security guards who collaborate with the police, which walks around the island from time to time. As is the tradition in the Gili, when someone is caught doing something undesirable, they are forced to do the “walk of shame.” This punishment consists in having to walk in the streets with a sign around the neck that tells the crime. Also, if you are a foreigner you will 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 are not regulated (perhaps because there are no police as such), so, at least in Gili Trawangan, they are quite common.
In many bars you will 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.
In addition, you should know that, although I haven’t heard 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 that luckily never arrived.
Even so, the Gili Islands were evicted, and terrifying scenes were lived. Having had many material damages, the Gili Islands were closed after the earthquake.
With this information I don’t intend to scare you, nor do you stop 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 usually open 24 hours a day and in which they 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 it is present in 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
I leave here 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 leave you the essentials for your trip to Bali:
ESSENTIAL FOR YOUR TRIP TO BALI
- Get $25 DISCOUNT on your first Airbnb reservation.
- CHEAP FERRIES from Bali (without hotel pick-up).
- SIM cards for Bali with UNLIMITED DATA.
- Check the best BALI FLIGHT DEALS.
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.