The Gili Islands are a cluster of three small islands located just off the northwest tip of Lombok, Indonesia.
This archipelago of islands only recently came to the attention of the wider world in the 1980s and 1990s but is now officially Lombok’s most popular tourist destination and a firm fixture on the Banana Pancake trail.
Despite their increasing popularity, the islands are still very relaxed and laid-back with countless little beach-side cafes, restaurants and bars to sample and lounge in.
There are no motorized vehicles allowed on the island so your stay here will be undisturbed by honking horns or the bustle of traffic. Still, times are changing and every year brings a new array of glamor options to the Gili Islands – especially the island of Gili Trawangan – so head over now to indulge in the remote island experience that is becoming more and more rare by the day.
Gili Islands Fun Fact:
- Gili means “small island” in Sasak (the native language of Lombok) – making the name Gili Islands something like “small island islands.” Rather silly, but the name stuck and is now universally used.
A Closer Look at the Gili Islands
The three small islands making up the Gili Islands get lumped together time and time again, but take a closer look and each has its own distinct vibe.
In order from Bali to Lombok, the islands are Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno, and Gili Air. Locally, the islands are known Tiga Gila (“three Gilis”) or Kepulauan Gili (Gili Islands).
Gili Trawangan: Sun, Sand, and Sex
Gili Trawangan, also known as Gili T, is the largest and the most developed of the three Gili Islands. It’s the easiest island to travel to since there are countless guesthouses, hotels, resorts, bars, and restaurants catering to the tourist crowds. This makes it popular among budget travelers as well as the “party crowd.”
In fact, Gili T has a burgeoning party scene – a more wild and woolly one nearby the boat landing where all the beach bars and pubs are as well as a more refined, laidback party scene around the northern tip of the island with more secluded beach shacks and bars.
Drugs are also commonplace on Gili T – you’ll come across plenty of dealers offering marijuana and coke and signposts advertising magic mushrooms are not uncommon. Keep in mind that pot and coke are very illegal in Indonesia and although the local authorities are known to turn a blind eye, it is not a risk worth taking.
Gili Meno: The Middle Child
In typical middle child fashion, Gili Meno is the most attention-deprived of the Gilis. The tourist industry is not as developed here as on the other Gilis, and you’ll find a smaller range of accommodations, restaurants, and bars to choose from here.
That being said – the relative lack of tourists to Gili Meno makes it the perfect place for travelers looking for a beautiful, serene island retreat.
The smallest of the three Gili Islands, Gili Meno is surrounded by clear blue water that stretch to infinity. The waters are calm and safe for swimming – great for families with kids – and the white sand beaches are quiet and clean. Although just a short boat ride from Gili T, the crowds, drugs, and partying hasn’t made its way over to Gili Meno. What you will be able to do is plenty of snorkeling and plain old relaxation – Gili Meno is perfect for that.
Gili Air: The Sophisticated Sister
Gili Air is the closest Gili to Lombok and has distinguished itself amongst the Gilis as the more sophisticated of the three Gilis. Here, you’ll find beautifully stylish beach bungalows shaded by palm trees and set amidst lush green landscape.
It’s also the only Gili with an indigenous population, which gives the island more of a “home” vibe. You can still find a party scene here, but the scene is more upmarket than Gili T and the crowd is a bit more grown up.
Gili Air boasts a stunning sunrise and sunset – those times alone make this island worth visiting, on top of everything else it has to offer.
Best Time to Visit the Gili Islands
The Gili Islands are dry and hot during the days and cool at night for most of the year. It get rainy during the wet season which lasts from November to April, but the rain comes and goes and won’t totally ruin your island experience.
Keep in mind that the peak tourist season for the Gili Islands are from July to August and again in December and January. Sneaking in a visit around May to June or from September to October is a great way to get wonderful weather and avoid the crowds and higher prices of peak season.
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How to Get to the Gili Islands
There are no airports in any of the 3 Gili Islands. To get to the Gilis, you’ll have to travel by sea from either Lombok to Gili or from Bali to Gili.
Lombok –> Gili
Lombok is closer to the Gilis than Bali is and many travelers choose to fly into Lombok’s Mataram airport before heading toward Gili. Lombok’s Mataram airport is only a 45-minute flight from Bali’s Denpasar and is a great option if you’re prone to seasickness.
You have 3 options of getting to the Gili Islands from Lombok:
1. Easiest: The easiest way to get to the Gilis from Lombok is to go to the nearest travel agent, taxi desk or tour guide and book a package that includes a shuttle car + boat ride to any of the Gili Islands. The package will cost you between 50,000 – 75,000 IDR ($50-$75 USD) which is a great value especially if there are two of you.
Note: Make sure you negotiate and confirm all the details for the trip – i.e. that the package includes the boat price and that you won’t have to pay extra for other passengers. Also, check what kind of boat you’ll be taking (should be a private boat) and where it will be departing from (Teluk Nare is best – only 30 minutes to the Gilis).
2. Cheapest: The cheapest way to get to the Gili Islands from Lombok is to get yourself to Bangsal Harbor (an hour away from Lombok’s Mataram airport) where the public ferry costs 10,000 IDR ($1) and leaves whenever there are sufficient people. The ferry will take you to any one of the three Gili Islands from Lombok, but does not offer service between the Gili Islands themselves.
Note: This option is the cheapest, but it also comes with long waits and dealing with a lot of hawkers. It may not be worth the hassle for the cheaper price. Also, if there are too many people aboard the boat, just wait for the next one unless you are a strong swimmer and like a bit of excitement.
3. Most Convenient: If you want to travel at you own pace and don’t mind paying a little extra, you can charter a boat directly from Senggigi to take you across to the Gili Islands. To do this, either ask a travel agent or simply head to the beach behind the Santosa Hotel in central Senggigi where you’ll be solicited by boat operators galore.
The chartered boat ride should not cost more than 500,000 IDR ($50 USD) and you can bargain hard for a lower price.
Note: Some of the boats are very basic so make sure to check the safety equipment yourself and insist on life vests.
Bali –> Gili
Once you have flown into Bali’s Denpasar Airport, a fast boat service is the quickest and most direct way to get to the Gili Islands from Bali. There are numerous direct boat services serving the Bali –> Gili –> Lombok route and a few also pass by Nusa Lembongan en-route.
You can catch a boat to Gili every day from Serangan Harbor in South Bali (30-minutes from Kuta) and from Padang Bai East Bali (90-minutes from Kuta).
The boat ride takes around 2.5 hours to the Gili Islands.
How to Get Around the Gili Islands
First of all – the Gili Islands appear a lot closer than they actually are. It may look as though you can swim across from one to another, but this is not a good idea – the currents are very strong and some have died to try.
The better option of traveling between the Gili Islands is to try and catch one of the infrequently scheduled KoperasiIsland Hopping Boats or just charter a boat to take you across. Don’t bother with travel agents – simply buy tickets from the ticket offices on each island where the boats depart.
As for getting around the Gili Islands – your options are by foot, bicycle (cidomo), or horse-drawn carts as there are no motorized vehicles allowed on the islands.
A ride on a horse-drawn cart costs around 20,000 – 50,000 IDR ($2 – $5 USD) per person and is a fun ride, but considering that each of the Gili Islands are only a few km in diameter, it’s quite comfortable getting around on foot. In fact, you can walk around the islands in around 90 minutes.
Things to See and Do on the Gili Islands
The biggest draw of the Gili Islands is the tropical, remote island experience they offer without having to sacrifice the Western creature comforts most of us are accustomed to.
The best sights to see while visiting the Gilis are sunrise and sunset and the best activities are exploring the seas via snorkeling, diving, as well as good old-fashioned beach-lazing.
But once you’ve had your share of sun, sand, and sea, there’s still a bit of fun to be had. Check out our post on Things to See and Do While Island Hopping the Gili Islands for a detailed guide to the Gilis!
What to Eat on the Gili Islands
Your dining options depend on the Gili Island you’re on, but in general, restaurants and cafes tend to be more concentrated on the beach fronts and the most activity is found on the east side of each island.
Gili Trawangan has hordes of cafes and restaurants of all sizes price ranges and you’ll be able to dine on anything from local fare to international cuisine.
Gili Air also has a range of options and there are more and more restaurants opening up that offer western cuisine.
Gili Meno, on the other hand, is more basic but you can still get oven-baked pizza as well as a range of local cuisine.
Note: Upscale restaurants tend to charge a “fee and tax” that can range from 5% to 25% or more – be sure to check the fine print on the menu if you’re on a budget.
Gili Island Travel Tips
Money: Gili Trawangan currently has 4 ATM machines – 2 at the Hotel Villa Ombak resort and 2 near the main beach area. They’re all available 24 hours a day. Gili Air also has one ATM machine available. Gili Meno does not have any ATMs so make sure you withdraw money on Bali or Lombok before heading over.
Internet: For those of us who still needed to remain connected while on vacay – Internet cafes are commonplace on the Gilis but the connection is very, very slow. Free WiFi is available in restaurants and bars, but also usually slow. For faster Internet connection, opt for a USB modem stick with a Telkomsel Flash SIM card.
Drinking: Locally made spirits have caused casualties and even some fatalities in recent years, mostly due to methanol being used by locals as a cheap way of topping up their stock. Be very careful with locally-produced alcohol, especially Arak, and stick to alcohol brands that you know. If your drink tastes off, send it back.
Also, drink spiking has been reported several times for both sexes. Never leave your drinks unattended.
Drugs: Drugs are available on the Gili Islands, particularly on Gili Trawangan. Magic mushrooms are pretty much ubiquitous and not illegal here, but they can be very strong and psychologically distressing for some people so please exercise caution.
You’ll also come across plenty of dealers on Gili T offering marijuana and some harder drugs, like cocaine or methamphetamine. These substances are highly illegal in Indonesia and there have been a number of high profile drug busts followed by serious prison sentences. Gili Air and Gili Meno are regularly patrolled by undercover police agents and there are around five police units on Gili Trawangan so don’t do anything you don’t want to spend a lifetime in some dilapidated Indonesian prison for.
Jellyfish: Especially around July and August, the waters around the Gilis become quite popular with small, but annoying, jellyfish. The stings from these tiny jellyfish can be painful, albeit harmless, so prepare to wear a wetsuit.
Bluebottle jellyfish are less common, but also more harmful. You can spot them from their long, bright blue tentacles – if you get stung by one, it’ll hurt like hell and can even cause respiratory problems. The tentacles must be immediately removed (make sure your hands are covered) and the area rinsed in sea water. Afterwards, the affected area must be immersed in hot, hot water (as hot as you can stand) for at least 20 minutes.
Mosquitoes: Mosquitoes are a fact of life in most tropical islands, and the Gilis are no exception. Luckily, there’s no Malaria here but there have been cases of Dengue Fever, mostly during the rainy season. Get your shots before you come and bring mosquito repellant from your home country since the mosquitoes tend to get immune to the local repellants.
Crime: Crime is mostly limited to opportunistic petty theft – keep an eye on your belongings and make sure you exercise basic precautions like locking your door at night. There are no police on Gili Air and Gili Meno and a very small police unit on Gili Trawangan so if you face larger crime problems, you’ll need to head over to the mainland (Lombok) to do make a police report.
Health: All three of the Gili Islands have no hospitals – only small, simple medical clinics. If any serious medical problems arise, you’ll have to get back to Lombok or Bali as quickly as possible. It is highly recommended that you have travel insurance while traveling to the Gilis – there is nothing worse than being stuck with a bill for emergency transport and medical services after what was supposed to be a fun vacation.
Keep the tips in mind, make sure you have travel insurance and enjoy the heck out of this paradise while you’re here! Happy traveling!
Lastly – keep in mind that the Gilis may feel like Bali, but the locals here are Muslim and the customs here differ. Please respect their community and beliefs by never sunbathing nude or topless and covering up when away from the beach.
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