THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO THE GILI ISLANDS
After working hard for nearly two months in Bali, I found myself in need of a few days off the grid.
Working for yourself may sound like a total dream, and in many ways it is, but it can also be much harder to disconnect and stop yourself from working near non-stop.
Debating where to go before spending my final few days in Canggu, my friend suggested the Gili Islands.
Three tiny islands, off the coast of Lombok, the Gilis are postcard paradise- turquoise water, white sand, swaying hammocks, leafy palms.
Each island, with their own individual beauty and charm, the Gilis have become an incredibly popular destination.
A Guide to the Gili Islands: Which Island Should You Visit?
- Gili Trawangan: Often dubbed ‘Gili T’, has some of the best partyingi n this part of the world. There are plenty of hotels, resourts, beach bars, making it the most developed of all three islands
- Gili Air: If chill beach vibes and remote relaxation are what you’re after, Gili Air is the place for you
- Gili Meno: The smallest of the islands, Gili Meno may only be 2km long and 1 km wide, but it’s arguably the most peaceful of all three islands
Devastated by the 2018 earthquakes, the Gilis were still in recovery mode when we visited. We weren’t sure just how much would be rebuilt and were surprised by how far along reconstruction on all three islands seemed to be (summer 2019).
The three days we spent exploring the Gilis were sheer perfection- days spent swimming in warm, clear waters and nights whiled away watching the sun sink below the horizon, waiting for the nightly beach bonfires to begin.
The best part of visiting the Gilis?
If you’re visiting Bali, they’re easy to reach and add onto an already planned Indonesian holiday.
I love the Gilis, in part, because they help round out a dream holiday in Bali. Bali is a gorgeous island, naturally and spiritually, with a lot going for it, but its beaches aren’t what you envision when you think ‘paradise’.
Cue: Other parts of Indonesia, like the Gilis and Flores with pristine beaches, perfect for seaside relaxation.
A GUIDE TO THE GILI ISLANDS: HOW TO GET THERE
Traveling between Bali and the Gili islands is easy.
Most people depart from Canggu, Seminyak or Ubud. Pending the company you book with, you’ll be picked up in a shared shuttle, and taken to the nearest pier.
We booked with BlueWater Express, and were impressed with the quality of their boats, the punctuality and entire experience.
From Ubud to the pier we departed from, it took about 30-40 minutes, and once on the boat, about 1.5 hours.
Returning, we went to Canggu, which took just over 2 hours by boat and 1.5 with Bali traffic once on land.
We didn’t experience any issues, but the waters between Bali and the Gili Islands can be quite rough. If you suffer from seasickness, come prepared with motion tablets. BlueWater hands some out, if you forget.
A GUIDE TO THE GILI ISLANDS: TRAVELING BETWEEN THE ISLANDS
We used the public ferry, which departs in the morning and makes return trips in the afternoon.
Tickets cost 40k ($3 USD) each way. From Gili T to Gili Meno, it’s about 10 minutes, and then an additional 5-10 to Gili Air from Meno.
If you don’t want to be subject to a ferry schedule, you can also hire a private speedboat, but expect to pay a lot more (I’ve heard upwards of $20-30 for a single transfer).
A GUIDE TO THE GILI ISLANDS: WHERE TO STAY
We wanted to stay on Gili Air, at the Pink Coco resort, or on Gili T, at the Le Pirate resort.
Looking at prices though, in peak season late July, put both options a bit out of budget for us. We visited the Gilis right before heading to Oz and New Zealand for a 2+ month long-road trip, so we wanted our time in the Gilis to be relaxing, but also affordable.
Resorts aside, Gili Air was our top choice initially- its vibe sounded more in line with how we wanted our days to be. But, searching hotels and Airbnbs, we quickly realised rates were 2-3x+ what we’d find on Gili T.
And so, once we realised how easy it was to hop from island to island, we decided to stay on Gili T in a cute, but basic, Airbnb I’d found for $15 USD a night.
We were in the heart of town, which was perfect for accessing cafes and restaurants, as well as the pier. However, our place was tucked down a side street, which meant we didn’t hear any party noise.
The room and location were great, plus we found the pricerier resorts we’d wanted to stay at didn’t mind if we hung around their pools/beach stretches as long as we bought fresh juices, or something to snack on.
A GUIDE TO THE GILI ISLANDS: WHAT TO DO
We spent most of our time on Gili T and Gili Air, which is where my recommendations are focused. We did stop at Gili Meno, but only spent a few hours on the island, as there isn’t really much to do, which is the point of staying on Gili Meno (utter relaxation).
- Bike around the island, most places will rent bikes from $3-5 USD a day. Be sure to take the bike for a test drive to ensure it’s comfortable and your brakes work. The roads on Gili T aren’t great- super bumpy and broken, so it’s important you have a functioning bike
- Go for a swing in the ocean, Ombak Sunset Resort and The Exhile have the most popular swings on the island
- These can be harder to get on than you’d imagine, as the water can be quite deep when the tide is in
- Unwind with sunrise or sunset yoga at Soraya Yoga or Gili Yoga
- Go snorkelling, you may even spot sea turtles off the beach in front of Villa Almarik
- Gear is easy to rent right off the beach, and many stands even offer underwater camera rentals
- Catch a movie at Hotel Vila Ombak’s open air cinema
- Go horseback riding at sunset
- Test out your kite surfing skills in the beautiful waves
- Chill at one of the beautiful beach resorts for an afternoon, we loved Le Pirate and Pink Coco
- Treat yourself to a massage, there are plenty of shops in town
- Tip: Check Google reviews before you book to ensure you’re going to a good place
- Get dive certified, the best centre is Gili Divers. We thought about doing an open water course here (they also offer advanced and dive master certificates), but ultimately decided against it since we wanted our days to be unplanned and chill
- Watch the sunset, the best spots are on the West side of the island
- Walk the island, it’s small enough to do so, and a great way to see nooks and crannies
- Go snorkelling, as with Gili T, an impressive array of corals, aquatic life and tropical fish can be seen
- Kick back on the sand with a cold coconut and great views at Pink Coco’s resort
- Watch a movie as the sun goes down at any of the open air theatres
- These were still being re-built during our visit, but we saw several going up around the island’s resorts
- Listen to live music at the Gili Lumbung Beachclub at sunset
- Roam the island, it’s lovely to be surrounded by such beautiful nature
- Snorkel the sculptures off the coast of the island (below photo credit). These statues are the stuff Instagram legends are made of. You can visit them via a snorkelling day trip from any of the Gili islands, or try to find them yourself if you’re already on Gili Meno
- From Gili Meno, head down to the Western side of the island and stand opposite the white minaret from the main mosque on Gili T. You should be in front of a sign for the Bask resort. From here, swim out 50m, dive down and you should see the statues
- I’ve also heard you can reach them via a 15-20 minute kayak ride from Gili T
- And, of course, you could always hire a private boat to take you around for the day (usually ~$70 USD and up). If you have several people in your group, this could be a great way to see the statues and visit the other Gili Islands
A GUIDE TO THE GILI ISLANDS: WHERE TO EAT & DRINK
- Gili T night market: Pretty big (for an island), and the best spot to
- Casa Vintage: The restaurant in town is great- fresh coconuts, good smoothies, tasty hummus. And, their location on the shore hosts a bonfire every night
- Le Pirate: Western food, but very tasty, and loads of fresh juice options
- Regina’s: Great, affordable pizza
- Pearl of Trawangan: Lovely beach restaurant
- The Garden Cafe: Loads of veg options
- Casa Vintage’s in-town location
- Coffee & Thyme (our favorite spot)
- The Banyan Tree: Lovely balcony overlooking the main street, and good cold brew
- Drinks: We weren’t drinking while in the Gilis, but I’ve heard good things about-
- Blue Marlin Rave on Mondays
- Rudy’s on Fridays
- Tirna Nog Irish bar, Shipwrecked, on Wednesdays
- Sama Sama every night of the week
- The cocktail menu at Le Pirate also looked great, and really, it’s Gili T- you’ll have no problem finding a party if that’s your scene. Gili T isn’t subject to Indonesia’s strict drug laws, so people come to have a good time, which also means drinking ‘magic’ shakes
- Gili Bliss: Best smoothie bowls and breakfast
- GoGo’s: A small shack serving up the best smoothies on the island
- Camilla: Great for sushi
- Wrung Sunny: Awesome for local food
- Coffee: The Coffee & Thyme location on Gili Air blew us away- it’s so big, bright and airy
EXTRA TRAVEL TIPS FOR THE GILI ISLANDS
- Dress: Dress is casual in the Gilis, but it’s important to remember the residents are Muslim. You’ll see signs asking you not to wander town in just a swimsuit, and nude/topless sunbathing is definitely frowned upon. Cover up walking through town (maxi dress, standard cover-up, etc.), wear a swimsuit on the beach, and you’ll be fine
- Language: The islands have their own language, but Bahasa Indonesian is widely spoken. Chances are wherever you go will also be able to converse in transactional English
- Currency: Indonesian Rupiah
- There are a few ATMs in town on Gili T and on Gili Air, but I’d bring cash with you for smaller purchases. And, if you have to withdraw during your stay, only withdraw from a bank atm (less of a chance your card will be skimmed)
- Budget: Cheaper than Bali, but more expensive than other parts of Indo
- Housing: We spent $15 a night on our budget Airbnb in the centre of Gili T
- Food/Drink: We stuck to a daily budget of less than $20 USD per person on coffee and meals. You can eat for less (street food, night markets) or more (beachside restaurants, alcohol). We had no issues keeping things within a range we were comfortable with, while still enjoy a few treats (smoothie bowls, cold brew)
- Getting There:
- Ferry: You can take a boat from Bali, or Lombok
- We took BlueWater Express, but I’ve heard good things about Scoot Fast Cruises and Eka Jaya Fast boat as well
- Ferry: You can take a boat from Bali, or Lombok
- Getting Around: There’s no cars on any of the Gilis- too small. You can walk or rent a bike to get around on each island. And, when you arrive, you’ll see horses and carts ready to shuttle visitors and their luggage. We walked to our Airbnb, and avoided using the horses during our stay because we saw owners beating them multiple times. However, I’ve had others tell me the horses are (generally) treated quite well, but it really just varies owner to owner
- When to Visit: Weather on the Gilis is usually hot and sunny, usually warmer than on Lombok. The rainy season aligns with the rest of Indo, so best months to visit are September-November. We visited in July, had beautiful weather, and didn’t find the islands too crowded
- WiFi Access: Infrastructure is getting better, but connections can be unstable and speeds may be slower than what you experience elsewhere in Indonesia (especially somewhere more developed, like Bali)
- Electricity: Power supply has gotten better on all of the Gilis, but blackouts can still be a problem from time to time
- SIM Card Options: Pick one up at airports or shops on Bali or Lombok. There are small stores, where you can top up, but their offerings are limited in comparison to what you’ll find on the bigger islands
Have you ever visited the Gili Islands? Would you add any tips or places to this guide to the Gili Islands?
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