The Complete Gili Islands Travel Guide | Indonesia

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Beautiful blue waters of Gili Air

The Gili Islands are a trio of dreamy islands in Indonesia, just northwest of Lombok and just east of Bali. The Gili Islands are the very definition of an island paradise, with a multitude of beaches with soft sands and oh-so blue waters, each more beautiful than the last.

The Gili Islands offer a little something for everyone, from those who want to relax on the beach and do nothing else to those looking for endless diving/snorkeling adventures. These islands are chill and picturesque.

This post is your complete Gili Islands travel guide, covering everything from getting around, which island to stay on, and what to do. Just be sure to check out some post-COVID-19 content from other travelers to see what the islands are currently like (this trip was pre-COVID-19, in 2017). The Gili Islands have been hit pretty hard by the lack of tourism.

About the Gili Islands

Technically, “Gili Islands” is a bit redundant, as gili in Sasak means “small island.” But the trio of Gili Trawangan, Gili Air, and Gili Meno are commonly referred to as the Gili Islands.

There are other islands in Indonesia with gili in the name, but these three are what people mean when they say the Gili Islands.

The Gili Islands are a popular addition to trips to Bali and Lombok due to their close proximity to these two larger islands.

Gili Trawangan

Gili Trawangan is the biggest of the Gili Islands, at about 1.9 miles/3 kilometers and 1.2 miles/2 kilometers. It’s maybe 4.5 miles/7 kilometers to circle the island. Gili T is the westernmost of the three Gili Islands.

Gili Trawangan has a population somewhere between 1,000 to 3,000ish people (lots of conflicting information out there). Gili Trawangan also offers the most tourist infrastructure in terms of accommodation, restaurants, shops, activities, and so on.

Unbelievably blue water around Gili Trawangan

Unbelievably blue waters on Gili Trawangan

You’ll definitely want to rent a bike on Gili Trawangan, especially if you’re only on the island for one day. That way, you can maximize your time and see more of this beautiful island.

Gili Air

Gili Air, the island seen in the featured photo above, is the middle-sized Gili Island, at roughly 0.9 miles/1.5 kilometers by 0.9 miles/1.5 kilometers. It’s about a 5 kilometer course around the island, also making it a good place to rent bikes. Gili Air is the easternmost of the trio, and is the closest to Lombok.

Green cocktail on the beach

Can you say “paradise”?

The population of Gili Air sits at around 1,000 people (possibly up to 1,800?). Gili Air is in-between Gili Air and Gili Meno in terms of amenities and infrastructure, having less than Gili Trawangan and more then Gili Meno.

Gili Meno

Gili Meno is the smallest of the Gili Islands, at approximately 1.2 miles/2 kilometers by 0.6 miles/1 kilometer. To circle around the island is roughly 3 miles/5 kilometers. It’s located in between the other two islands, with Gili T to the west and Gili Air to the east.

A beach with lovely water on Gili Meno

A beach on Gili Meno

Gili Meno a population of a few hundred people. Gili Meno thus has the least to offer in terms of amenities, but it’s also probably the most quiet and peaceful.

Getting to the Gili Islands

There is only one way to get to the Gili Islands: by boat.

You can’t fly into the Gili Islands. The closest airports you can fly into are Ngurah Rai International Airport on Bali or Lombok International Airport on Lombok. But then you’ll still have to make your way to one of the harbors and take a boat to the Gilis.

You can catch a boat to the Gili Islands from Bali or Lombok. You can take a public ferry, a fast boat, or a private boat if you’re feeling fancy. Most ferries will stop at Gili Trawangan and Gili Air, but not many stop at Gili Meno.

Please note that this list is not exhaustive, especially as prices and routes change as the pandemic continues and eventually ends. But it covers the major transportation options to get to the Gili Islands.

How to Get to the Gili Islands From Bali

From Bali, you can get boats from Serangan in the south, Padang Bai in the southeast, as well as Sanur in the southeast and Amed in the northeast. A one-way fast boat ticket from Bali to Gili Trawangan or Gili Air can range from 350,000 Indonesian rupiah (~$25.00 USD; Eka Jay) to 790,000 IDR (~$55.00 USD; BlueWater Express).

The fast boat takes about an hour and a half from Padang Bai to Gili Trawangan. Add another 15 minutes to get to Gili Meno, and then another 15 minutes after that for Gili Air. However, boats from Sanur and Serangan take 3+ hours to get to Gili T. Meanwhile, from Amed to the Gili Islands takes about an hour. Some boats also make a stop on Lombok during the journey.

Leaving from Bali to go to the Gili Islands

Waiting for our boat to the Gili Islands to arrive in Bali

The public ferry from Bali is a lot cheaper, but a lot more inconvenient. One of the main public ferries is from Padang Bai to Lembar, Lombok, and then have to make your way to the Gili Islands from there. A one-way public ferry ticket costs about 40,000 IDR (~$3.00 USD), but the journey to Lombok alone can take 5-6 hours.

How to Get to the Gili Islands From Lombok

From Lombok, you can get boats from Bangsal, Teluk Kode, and Teluk Nare. The public ferry from Bangsal supposedly departs when full, so the journey might take 45 minutes instead of 5-15 minutes. It costs around 20,000 IDR (~$1.40 USD).

For a fast boat from Teluk Nare, it’s around 5 minutes to both Gili Air and Gili Meno, and 10 minutes to Gili Trawangan. A one-way ticket for this starts at 350,000 (~$24.50).

How I Got to the Gili Islands

I personally traveled to the Gili Islands from Bali via fast boat, and then traveled onward from the Gili Islands to Lombok.

To get to the Gili Islands from Bali, we had to take a ferry to Lombok first, which then went onto the Gili Islands. My travel partner and I had a 6:30 AM pickup to get to the harbor (not sure which one, I didn’t write that down at the time). We were ready to hang out on Gili Air by lunch time.

As an FYI, we sat on the top deck of the boat on the way to Lombok. But because the waters were a bit rough and splashy, we sat on the lower deck on our way to the Gilis. So make sure you prepare motion sickness pills if that’s an issue you could have.

Some sights on our boat trip from Bali to Gili Air

We got some beautiful views of Bali as we left the island – beautiful mountains and lush greenery.

Traveling from Gili Trawangan to Lombok, we paid 650,000 IDR (~$45 USD) for a private evening boat and taxi to our accommodation in Senggigi.

Getting Around the Gili Islands

The best way to get around the Gili Islands is by bicycle or scooter. You can rent either at various locations around the islands. The islands are not huge, and you could certainly walk around to the various areas if you have a longer trip there.

A girl riding a bike on Gili Air

A girl riding a bike on Gili Air

Motor vehicles are actually prohibited on the islands. So if you have more to carry (like to/from your accommodation) or have a bigger group, you can take a cidomo. A cidomo is a small horse-drawn carriage that can typically hold up to 4 people.

Inside and outside a cidomo

Getting around with a bike, which is what we did, is quite nice. You can see more with your time, and you have less time traveling in the heat and humidity. Some parts of the paths can be kind of sandy, so you may have to walk your bike through those areas.

Where to Stay in the Gili Islands

Which Gili Island you should stay on depends on what you’d like to do there.

If you want to engage in more activities and/or partying, then Gili Trawangan is where you’ll want to stay. Like I mentioned, Gili T has the highest number of businesses catering to tourists: restaurants, hotels, bars, spas, and more.

For a more idyllic and tranquil trip, then consider staying on Gili Meno. This is the island for those who just want to hang out on the beach and in the water with fewer people around. Gili Meno is also said to be a popular honeymoon spot, as couples can get away from everyone else for a romantic island escape.

For a decent mix of amenities but somewhere less busy, stay on Gili Air. This island is kind of the in-between for everything in terms of size, businesses, and people.

We ended up staying on Gili Air, which I think was a decent decision. We sprung for an adorable private beach bungalow that was close to the beach. Our accommodation (Matahari 1) provided breakfast every day, and also had a small pool.

Bungalow life, featuring our outdoor bathroom and lizard friends

We paid 700,000 IDR total for two nights for two people, including tax and fees (~$50.00 USD). Though we did go in March, which wasn’t really high season.

Keep in mind that just because you stay on one island doesn’t mean you can’t visit the other islands! In fact, that’s likely what you’ll be doing if you stay in the Gili Islands for a few days.

So don’t worry a ton about choosing the wrong Gili Island to stay on. They’re all lovely options. One particular just might be a better choice for you personally, depending on your desired activities and ambience.

How Long to Stay in the Gili Islands

I would recommend staying in the Gili Islands at least 2.5 days and spending around one day on each island. Obviously, it would be better if you can stay 3-3.5 days, so that you can dedicate a full day to each island.

If you only stay there 3ish days, I would recommend spending your shortest day on Gili Meno, as it’s the smallest island.

You could easily spend 5 days in the Gili Islands, or even a week there, if you really want to take your time to explore the islands, lounge on the beaches, and do water activities.

However, with other amazing islands in Indonesia to visit, I’d say that 3-5 days is probably the sweet spot for how long to stay on a trip to the Gili Islands. Though they are incredibly gorgeous, they are quite small.

Palm trees along Gili Air
Palm trees inland on Gili Air

Palm trees along the beach on Gili Air

For our itinerary, we caught an early boat from Bali to Lombok to Gili Air. We spent the first day on Gili Air. We spent our second day doing a snorkeling trip around Gili Air and Gili Meno, and on Gili Air in the evening. Then on the last day, we packed up our stuff and took it with us to Gili Trawangan. We found a place that said they would watch our bags for us. We spent the day on Gili T and then traveled to Lombok in the evening.

Things to Do in the Gili Islands

The Gilis provide everything you need for a world-class island getaway. On your trip to the Gili Islands, try some of these activities:

1. Relax on the beach

All three of the Gili Islands have exquisite beaches, with transparent, azure waters and soft sands. So you’ll want to spend the majority of your time either by or in the water.

A beach on Gili Air
Tethered boats in the water around Gili Air
Clear water around Gili Trawangan

The Gilis had some of the most beautiful waters I’ve ever seen

For beaches that you want to stay longer on, you can rent beach chairs with umbrella. If there is a restaurant or bar along the beach, you might be able to get your drinks and food delivered right to you where you’re sitting! Just make sure to drink plenty of water if you’re in the sun a lot!

2. Go snorkeling

With such clear waters, the Gili Islands are a great destination for snorkeling. For people who aren’t keen on scuba diving, snorkeling is a fun way to spend some time and see some sea life.

I personally went on a snorkeling trip while in the Gilis, which cost 125,000 IDR (about $10 USD). The first stop was off of Gili Air. I saw a sea turtle swimming and my friend saw a manta ray. Our boat for the trip had a glass bottom, allowing us to (kinda) see underwater as we traveled along.

Some snorkeling scenes, including the glass bottom, an underwater shot, and other boats similar to ours

TIP: If you want to put your phone in a waterproof pouch to take photos/videos while snorkeling, make sure it’s waterproof before you go snorkeling (and without your phone in it). My friend’s waterproof pouch wasn’t so waterproof and her phone went for a swim with us in a bad way.

Also, because of the pressure on the pouch on the touchscreen, I found it easier to take videos vs. photos, and you’ll probably have to start the video before putting your pouch in the water.

Some striped fish I saw off of Gili Air

The second stop was at Gili Trawangan. I got to see another sea turtle. It seemed so small just chilling there, but when a guy in our group swam by it, the turtle was about half his size.

We stopped for lunch on Gili Meno. Our third stop was around Gili Meno, and our final stop was around Gili Air. All in all, I saw several sea turtles and saw a lot of fish. But most of the coral was gray and dying. Only a few parts had a bit of color.

3. Go scuba diving

In addition to snorkeling, scuba diving is an extremely popular activity for tourists. The diving spots around the Gili Islands are supposed to be quite good, though I can’t say for sure.

If you have never done scuba diving before and would like to try, there are plenty of places that offer beginner excusrions, as well as courses to earn various diving certifications.

4. Snap a photo on a swing in the ocean

There are several spots in the Gili Islands with photo-ready swings set up partway into the ocean. Though these swings are owned by hotels and restaurants, they’re free to visit.

Our main destination on Gili Trawangan was the swings at Ombak Sunset Hotel. And they were lovely! It was just pretty overcast that day, so our pictures aren’t as dynamic or bright as they could have been. The Ombak area had some individual swings, as well as one for two people.

Swings and beach chairs you can rent on Gili Trawangan
Me on an ocean swing in the Gili Islands, an essential recommendation from any good Gili Islands travel guide

Gili Trawangan swings and me

The swings at Ombak were the first ones set up, and became famous on social media. Now, there are many spots around the Gili Islands with ocean swings. Gili Trawangan and Gili Air should both have ocean swings, but I’m not sure about Gili Meno.

The swings are all pretty popular, so depending on the time of day and time of year you go, you might have to wait your turn to get on one. Also, make sure to pay attention to if any people are swimming in the background or milling around the edges of your photo before taking it.

5. Get a massage

What better way to keep the relaxed vibe going than with a massage? Places with different massage and spa services are plentiful across the Gili Islands.

We got our hour-long massages for 120,000 IDR (~$8.25 USD) each on Gili Air. It was quite nice, a bit less intense than the Thai massage I had gotten before.

6. Watch the sun set into the sea

No island getaway is complete without watching a beautiful sunset. And there are plenty of great spots on the west side of each island for your sunset viewing pleasure.

The sun came out enough for a lovely sunset

But many of the locations can get pretty busy, especially the more famous ones. So you’ll probably want to arrive your desired location while it’s still light out to ensure that you can grab a spot to hang out at.

7. Indulge a little

You know what goes great with island vacations? Lots of food and fruity drinks.

There are so many delicious dishes to try when on vacation in Indonesia. And obviously, you can get extremely fresh seafood everywhere as well.

Blue cocktail on the beach

Delicious things in fantastic settings

For people who want to party, there are many places offering up a variety of alcoholic libations. I can’t speak too much to the party scene, but as the sun was setting on Gili T, there was a DJ playing some kind of electronic music nearby. And before we left, a bonfire was starting up and a fire dancer had come out.

So there is definitely a nightlife scene, especially on Gili Trawangan. Though alcohol can be a bit more expensive in Indonesia compared to other countries in Southeast Asia.

Hangout spots on Gili Air at night

Even if you don’t drink, fresh fruit juice is plentiful for your fruity drink fix! Coffee and tea are also readily available, so you can have your pick of all kinds of beverage options.

Gili Islands Photo Tour

This Gili Islands travel guide wouldn’t be complete without more photos to show a bit more of the islands! These are mostly from Gili Air, as we spent the most time there:

So many shades of blue around Gili Air

Some nature around Gili Air

Human life around Gili Air

There were so many boats hanging around each beach in the Gili Islands. But it makes sense: that’s the only way between the islands and to the bigger islands. Some of the boats had clever names, like Hot Tuna and Cold Turkey below. There is also a Scuba Libre in the photo from the getting to the Gilis from Bali section.

Boats with clever names in the Gili Islands

Which do you prefer: hot tuna or cold turkey?

I have many more beach photos from the Gili Islands, but I think you get the picture of how extremely gorgeous the Gili Islands are.

Overall Thoughts

Are the Gili Islands worth visiting?

With crystal cerulean waters, white sands, palm trees, that’s a definite yes!

The Gili Islands are a remote island paradise made accessible by their proximity to bigger islands. I personally think that the beaches of the Gili Islands were better than the beaches I saw on Bali (though obviously I didn’t get to every beach on Bali, and Bali also has some stunning beaches).

The Gili Islands are relaxed and absolutely breathtaking. You can easily get around the islands and see and experience everything you want to in roughly a day per island.

You can just ride your bike, taking in the sights and sounds of Indonesia, stopping when you see some beautiful. Or when you want to chill in the water or on the beach. Or when you just want to get something to eat or drink. It’s the chill island life.

Obviously, it isn’t the most practical to visit if you’re short on time. But the Gili Islands are the perfect addition to a longer Indonesia itinerary, especially if you visit Bali and/or Lombok as well.

I hope this Gili Islands travel guide can help you plan your trip to the islands, and gave you an idea of what it’s like there.

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