Indonesia

Gili Islands, over- or underestimated?

4 December 2017

The Gili Islands are an archipelago of three small islands located next to Lombok, known as Gili Trawagan, Gili Meno en Gili Air with each another vibe. In the southwest of Lombok are the ‘Secret Gilis’ located. These relatively unknown islands are a group of 25 small islands. You can read everything about these small, often uninhabited, islands here. Did you know that ‘Gili’ in Sasak means ‘small island’?

How to get to Gili?

The Gili islands are easily accessible by boat from Lombok and Bali. Given the small size of the islands, they don’t have an airport.

From Bali (and Nusa Lembongan)

Most travelers stay in Bali first and then go to the Gili islands. In Bali there are several places where you can take a boat to the Gili islands, namely Benoa Harbor, Sanur, Padangbai and Amed. Some boats first pass Nusa Lembongan and then go to the Gili islands. With a speedboat, departing from Sanur it will take just under 2 hours to get to Gili Trawangan (this is an average duration, weather conditions and boat type also play a role). From Gili Trawagan it is only a few minutes to the next island. First you’ll pass Gili Trawagan, then Gili Meno and the last one is Gili Air.

An overview of boat connections to the Gili islands

From Lombok

The Gili islands are only a few kilometers away from Lombok. There are 2 places in the western part of Lombok where you can take a boat to the Gili islands, namely Sengiggi and Bangsal.

  • The smaller harbour of Sengiggi has mainly speed- and larger boats. Between these two ports there is another smaller harbour, namely Teluk Nara, which is only 25 minutes from Sengiggi.
  • Bangsal is the largest port, which is closest to the Gili islands.

We chose to take a local boat from Bangsal to Gili Air. These local boats are much cheaper! For example, a single ticket to Gili Air costs about 1.27 euros (16 000 IDR). There are no fixed hours, so the captain waits until the boat is full (about 60 people). This is usually within 30 minutes, so we certainly found this a good and cheap option!   Here you will find an overview with all the boat connections to the Gili islands.

The traditional boat departing from Lombok to Gili Air

Arrival on  Gili Air

What’s the difference between the Gili islands?

Although these islands are located next to each other, there are some important differences!

Gili Trawangan

The largest and most touristic island. This island is also known as the ‘party island‘. During the summer, there are a lot of Australians that come here to party. Almost everywhere on the island you hear music and there are several parties going on. We stayed at Gili Trawagan in the beginning of October, during this period it was pretty quiet. We read several negative reviews about this island, so we didn’t know what to expect. In high season I would not recommend this island, unless you are there to party hard.  In low season we found this island pleasant to spend a few days. Gili Trawangans had endless hip bars, discotheques, restaurants and shops.

Gili Trawangan and its turtles

What surprised us is that there are still a lot of turtles on the coast of Gili Trawangan! You only have to step into the clear water and suddenly a turtle swims by! I fear that the population of turtles will decrease over the years. Tourism on these islands is booming, which unfortunately will have an impact on nature. For example, almost all the coral on the Gili islands has died completely.

Conclusion: a busy island for young people or backpackers, who like to meet people and party!

A turtle near Gili Trawangan

A turtle near Gili Trawangan

Gili Meno

The most relaxing, romantic and less touristic island. Gili Meno has not so many inhabitants, but the largest part of the population is Sasak. They say that this island is the perfect place to spend your honeymoon, with its beautiful and quiet beaches. Gili Meno has a handful of restaurants, which are mainly located in the eastern part of the island. The diving and snorkel enthusiasts are at the right place here!

A great place to dive

Gili Meno has some nice places like the Bounty wreck (for this you need an ‘open water course’ certificate) and Meno Wall (a wall that goes up to 22 meters deep) to go diving. Gila Meno has less accommodations compared to Gili Trawangan or Gili Air, but the accommodations are usually good! Conclusion: The quietest and most authentic island with a relaxed, romantic atmosphere. Families with children can also relax here and enjoy each others company in a beautiful environment or in a nice resort.

Snorkeling close to Gili Meno

 

Gili Air

The perfect chill out spot. This island has a real laid back island vibe, everything is allowed and nothing should be done. It is a mix of the facilities of Gili Trawangan and the relaxing atmosphere of Gili Meno. Gili Air is the only island that has a beautiful view over the mountains of Lombok, because this island is the closest to Lombok.

A little paradise

It is a very small island, you can walk around the entire island at 1.5 hours. The best place to snorkel is in the east of the island and the endless beaches are more located in the west of the island. You will certainly see some beautiful fish and probably also turtles on the Gili islands, but coral is mostly dead. If you want to see some colorful coral, you should take a trip to the Secret Gili’s! Conclusion: A rather authentic Gili experience in a relaxed atmosphere.

The little harbor of Gili Air

Gili Islands

Some details on Gili Air

  

Transportation options in the Gili islands

There are no motorized vehicles on the Gili islands. You can get around the island on foot, bike or with horse drawn carts.

On foot

The cheapest way, but not always that practical. The islands are all very small, so it is certainly possible to move on foot. You have to take into account that the travel times will be longer and it can be hot, so be sure to bring a sun hat!

Bicycle

The best option to get around on the Gili Islands! Many hotels and hostels offer bicycles, you can often use them for free or against payment (around 3 euros/day). You can move independently on the islands and often discover some nice spots along the way, which were not yet on TripAdvisor. Keep in mind that not all roads are in good condition on the Gili islands, there are several sandy roads. Optionally, you can choose to rent a beach bike, to make cycling through sand a bit easier.

Horse drawn carts, ‘cidomo’

This was no option for us! These animals are, in my opinion, not treated well and have to work hard without the necessary rest or cooling. I would encourage everyone to either walk or rent a bike. Since we have not considered this option, we also have no idea how much this costs.

Gili Islands

Cidomo

Gili Islands

The sandy roads on Gili Air

What’s about the food

There are a lot of nice restaurants on the Gili islands, with the majority located on Gili Trawagan. On every Gili island you will find several restaurants that serve all kinds of dishes such as Western, vegetarian, Mexican, Indonesian, seafood, … You certainly do not have to stay on Gili Trawagan to eat delicious and varied!

Cheap, cheaper, cheapest

The prices for food vary, but generally it’s really cheap to eat compared to the prices in Belgium. Those who travel on a ‘budget’, can always go to a local warung. This will cost you only a few euros! We’ve eaten everyday in the same local warung on Gili Trawangan, they serve the best fish (prepared on the bbq). They have so many options in several fish dishes, from tuna to king prawns with fresh vegetables and a potato/fries or rice. A fresh tuna steak of 250 grams with vegetables and rice costs less than 5 euros per person, you can not ignore this!  

Accommodation Gili

From hostels to luxurious resorts, on the Gili Islands, anyone can find an accommodation that fits their budget. The location of your hotel or hostel on the islands of Gili Air and Gili Meno is not that important. Gili Trawangan is slightly bigger, so it can be useful to see where your hotel is located. The north and west of Gili Trawangan are quieter compared to the busy area around the harbor, which is located in the east of the island. If you want to book a hotel, always check the reviews on Booking.com first (and especially the negative points)!

Our accommodations:

  • Gili Air: – we stayed in a luxurious private villa of Slow. Perfect if you want to stay in a luxury and private place and are willing to pay a little more. If you want to know more about this accommodation, you can check it on booking.com.
  • Gili Trawangan: – we stayed at Villa Gracia Resort & Spa. This hotel is located at the coast within cycling distance of the busy harbor. It has some spacious rooms and distinguished accommodations. The pool was not that amazing, but if you stay on an island you better dive into the sea! If you want to know more about this accommodation, you can check it on booking.com – our 2nd stay was at Luce d’Alma Suites Resort & Spa, we can also recommend this cozy resort. The location is quiet, but slightly better situated compared to Villa Garcia Resort & Spa. They offer free bikes and have a beautiful pool! If you want to know more about this accommodation, you can check it on booking.com.
Gili Islands

The luxury villas of  Slow

Highlights of Gili

On the Gili Islands you’ll be relaxed while enjoying the island life. The activity you should definitely do, is snorkeling or diving. The Gili islands are known for its population of turtles, there are also several ‘turtle sanctuaries’ where they help and raise small turtles. You do not necessarily have to dive to see a lot of animals, we chose to go snorkeling and saw just as much. The scuba divers go to the same places, but they only go deeper.

The negative side of snorkeling 

Snorkeling is certainly a fun experience, but due to the enormous tourist industry, the coral has often died. The only place where we have seen beautiful coral is at the Secret Gili’s, here you can read more about these little gems! Another fun activity is to participate to a traditional Indonesian cooking class. This is a good way to get in touch with the local population, but of course you can do this anywhere in Indonesia.

Why should I do a trip to the Gili Islands?

  1. Enjoy the relaxing atmosphere
  2. Beautiful beaches with clear blue water
  3. Snorkeling with turtles
  4. Friendly people
  5. You can dive into the nightlife of the island
Gili Islands

The amazing sunset at Gili Air

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