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.
Table of Contents
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.
Unbelievably blue waters on Gili Trawangan
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.
Can you say “paradise”?
A beach on Gili Meno
Getting 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.
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
Getting Around the Gili Islands
A girl riding a bike on Gili Air
Inside and outside a cidomo
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
How Long to Stay in the Gili Islands
Palm trees along the beach on Gili Air
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
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
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
4. Snap a photo on a swing in the ocean
Gili Trawangan swings and me
5. Get a massage
6. Watch the sun set into the sea
The sun came out enough for a lovely sunset
7. Indulge a little
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
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.
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.
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.