Guide to the Gili Islands – a barefoot paradise
The difference & the activities on the 3 islands
With this Guide to the Gili Islands you will get a detailed description of the 3 wonderful islands – Gili Air, Gili Meno and Gili Trawangan. A tropical paradise close to Lombok and Bali.
Gili Islands is the dream of bounty islands without cars, with perfect white sand beaches and a colorful coral reef with sea turtles, among other things, that you can meet on a snorkeling trip directly from the beach.
Whichever island you visit, you will meet the friendliest locals and a nice low price level where you can stay in bungalows from approx. 7 € per day and eat a main dish for approx. 4 €
Years ago, the Gili Islands were just a place for backpackers who didn’t have trouble with the effort it was to reach from Bali.
Today, with direct flights to Lombok and fast boats from Bali, the Gili Islands have become a very popular destination that’s no longer just reserved for backpackers.
All 3 Gili islands are completely without cars and motorcycles. The only transport around the islands is by horse carriage, by bicycle or by foot.
Guide to the Gili Islands
What is the difference between the 3 islands
The 3 Gili Islands have a lot in common, but there are also significant differences between the islands and not least the people who visit them.
Gili Trawangan – the party island…
Gili Trawangan, also called the party island, is the most popular of the 3 Gili Islands.
Despite the small size of the island, Gili Trawangan has a large selection of restaurants and bars which, at midnight, are taken over by DJs until the early morning.
Gili Trawangan started out as a backpacker island and due to the many bars and parties is still most attractive to the young. Over the last 10-15 years, however, a great development has occurred on the island.
Today there are several nicer resorts and luxury villas with private pools, which have led to the island is now also visited by a little more mature guests and families.
Most “parties” are concentrated on the southern part of the island, so if you want to live in quiet surroundings, then it is not in the south you have to live.
Most locals live in the middle of the island, where you can also find resorts. We stayed at a small resort inside the middle of the island. A cozy little private resort with few rooms and away from the noise.
So if you are looking for a paradise where you can party all night and sleep on the beach the next day – then Gili Trawangan is just the island for you.
Gili Meno – the quiet paradise…
If you are looking for a tropical bounty island where a stroll along the beach or a snorkelling trip is the wildest thing to do on the island, then Gili Meno is the perfect choice of the 3 islands. Gili Meno is pure paradise!
Life here runs at a very quiet and leisurely pace. At night, the only light that shines is the sparkling stars.
Of the few but lovely activities you’ll find at Gili Meno is to visit the turtle sanatorium, swim with sea turtles directly from the beach, lie on the beach with a good novel while sipping a nice freshly squeezed fruit shake, or take a game of backgammon.
You can easily stay at Gili Meno, but most people choose to go here on a day trip from one of the other islands.
So if you are looking for a paradise where you can relax completely and preferably without other people – then Gili Meno is just for you.
Gili Air – a quiet island, but still with some life …
Gili Air is a lovely island with a very laid back atmosphere. The standard is higher and the guests a bit more mature than at Trawangan.
Gili Air is by no means a party island, but an island with a good atmosphere where most people are more enjoyable than partying.
Gili Air is the island with the largest local population, which, unlike Gili Trawangan, also lives on other than tourism.
Inside the island there are coconut plantations and on the coast you will find the hard working fishermen.
On the east side of the island you can snorkel directly from the beach on the fantastic coral reef. It is also on the east side you will find most restaurants and resorts.
The island has a good selection of small shops, restaurants and bars. Most are open all day of the week, but only until midnight. Don’t go to Gili Air for nightlife, because there isn’t much of it.
However, during the high season you may be lucky to have a party in one of the bars and maybe even a “full moon” party on the beach.
At Gili Air we stayed at the following 2 resorts;
→ Nusa Indah Bungalows – a small authentic resort with Balinese bungalows
→ Sunrise Resort – a hotel of a slightly higher standard and with great interiors
No matter which of the 3 islands you choose, they are all 3 perfect for relaxing on the white beaches and splashing around in the turquoise blue and crystal clear waters.
If you (against all expectation) want to get active and do something other than lying on the beach, then there are some different activities you can throw yourself into.
Guide to the Gili Islands
Activities & experiences
On all 3 islands, there are signs suggesting great experiences – however, several of their suggestions require you to either return to Bali or a trip to Lombok.
That being said, there are activities with everything from volcanic climbing (for those who really want to go to the extremes), scuba diving, snorkeling and cycling, to massage for the slightly less ambitious.
Snorkeling with sea turtles
The most wonderful thing about the Gili Islands is that you can go directly from most beaches to snorkel among sea turtles. The Gili Islands do a great job of preserving their sea turtles.
At Trawangan, don’t miss their “hatchery” on the south beach. As well as you must visit the turtle sanatorium at Gili Meno.
If you are unsure of the best places to snorkel to see sea turtles, ask the locals they know where the probability of spotting them is biggest.
Snorkeling in crystal clear water with a sea turtle is a perfect way to spend an afternoon, but remember to respect the turtles by not touching them.
There are several really great snorkeling tours you can go on, among other, this one where you get to all 3 islands and their best snorkeling spots.
One of the main attractions of the Gili Islands is diving.
Water temperatures are at approx. 28 degrees and with more than 20 different dive spots around the islands, there is something for everyone.
When diving, you have the opportunity to spot sharks, rays and turtles, or just explore the amazing life underwater.
Talk to one of the many dive shops on the islands. They will find the dive that suits you and your wishes the best.
Learn to free dive
Dive on the Gili Islands without an oxygen bottle on your back.
Gili Trawangan has his very own free diving school. Here you will learn all about breathing techniques and how to effectively use your own oxygen.
Did you know that you can explore the depths with just a single breath?
A day trip to Lombok
Take a day trip to Lombok where you can trek to waterfalls, climb Mount Rinjani or explore the local villages.
Besides being far less touristy than Bali, Lombok is also different from Bali and with its very own culture.
No matter where you stay at Gili, the staff at your resort will help arrange a trip to Lombok.
Trekking on Lombok’s Mount Rinjani
The view from Mount Rinjani is quite unique and the trip up there is indescribably beautiful.
Rinjani is located on Lombok, so you have to sail to Lombok and drive for approx. an hour to reach the foot of the volcano.
In several places on the Gili Islands you can find small shops that organize the trip, where they also assist with equipment.
The tours vary from one day / night to week-long trekking tours. You get what you pay for, but it’s worth paying a little extra to get some good guidance and some better food along the way.
The trip can be quite challenging, so it’s important that you are in good shape.
Experience the islands from a sea kayak
Explore the Gili Islands from a sea kayak. If you’re lucky, you might get the experience of paddling with turtles.
Visit “viewpoint” at Gili Trawangan
Get great views of the Gili Islands, Bali and Lombok from the highest point on Gili Trawangan.
The hill is located on the southern end of the island and can be reached within half an hour, from most places on the southern half of Trawangan.
Viewpoint is perfect for watching the sunset.
Watch the sunset
Go to the west side of the island you are on.
Find a spot in the sand or throw yourself in a beanbag at the beach bar, watch the sun paint the sky orange, and head down behind Mount Agung in Bali.
Go on a bike ride around the island
Rent a bike – on all 3 islands, you can drive around the island in less than an hour – it’s a great day trip.
Bring your swimwear and snorkeling gear on the trip so you can take a swim along the coast along the way.
Remember to bring drinking water and a flashlight (suddenly it gets dark and then it gets really dark).
Treat yourself to a massage
“If you take the climb to the top of Mount Rinjani, you deserve a good massage – it will feel as good as after a day at the beach”
– this is how most hotels write as a reason for booking a massage.
Massage in the small salons, in addition to massage also offers traditional treatments such as pedicures, manicures, etc. – and are at least as good as the hotels, and they are far cheaper.
In addition, you can easily book a massage without climbing a mountain.
Freshly caught seafood
Lobster, shrimp, tuna, “Mahi mahi”, snapper, squid, etc. – choose your favorite from the huge selection of seafood.
Enjoy a traditional Gili dinner – stroll down all the fish restaurants and choose the restaurant where you think the fish look the freshest.
Also visit the local fishermen at Trawangan, who are grilling and selling today’s catch on the “square”.
Party beneath the stars
The nightlife of Gili Trawangan in particular is limited to all days of the week – every day is a celebration.
Thursday is probably the quietest day due to Muslim customs. All other days you can be seduced by the music along the coastal stretches.
If you are going to Gili to party, be sure not to arrive in the middle of the Ramadan. During the Ramadan, there is extraordinarily quiet at Trawangan.
Travel tips to the Gili Islands
- Remember bathing shoes, there are many corals and stones in the water
- REMEMBER flashlight – there is no light on the roads in the evening
- Watch if tax and service is included in bill at yhe restaurants
- There is a difference between how much you can withdraw in an ATM – if says a minimum of 150,000, it’s the ATM from which you can withdraw the most (approx. 3 million Rupiah).
- Be your own guide around the islands – the islands are no bigger than you can be your own guide.
- If you are going on a day trip to Meno, use the Public Boat – it is the cheapest
- Bring snorkel gear, sunscreen and towel every time you are “on tour”.
- Snorkling gear can be rented anywhere.
- You can easily book resorts on an ongoing basis, but if you want to make sure that a resort has available rooms, you can book from home or the evening before you arrive on the island. Use is advantageously Booking.com, Agoda or Hotels.com
- Would you like to pre-book snorkelling and day trips you can do it with Get You Guide & Viator, who both make really good trips.
If you have experiences that you think we should include in our Guide to the Gili Islands, then please feel free to write them in the comment below.
This article was updated on 17 December 2019