Ultimate Guide to the Gili Islands



The Gilis, mean “small islands” in the Sasak language and are three beautiful, yet strongly contrasting islands off the northwestern corner of Lombok, Indonesia.

Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno and Gili Air.

They are the second most popular destination in Indonesia (if not Asia) after Bali at the moment, and during our visit we were astounded at the amount of people arriving here every day. This only means one thing - get here before it gets even busier!


WHY ARE THE GILIS SO POPULAR?

Bali is stunning, sure. We've all seen pictures of the incredible waterfalls, lush vegetation, coconut palm plantations and rice fields stretching as far as the eye can see. One thing you may have noticed is that there aren't many pictures of beaches and the ones that you've seen, don't really have that 'wow' factor. THAT'S where the Gili Islands come in.

Just a few hours by boat, you will arrive in a paradise, with crystal clear waters resembling something out of a Maldives brochure. It's got that tropical island vibe that most of us dream about as the perfect getaway.

In some ways, it's actually better than places like Tahiti, the Seychelles and the Maldives... here's why:

1. It's a million times cheaper to eat, sleep and be entertained.

2. There are so many things you can do - from kayaking, diving, snorkelling, horse riding, cycling, eating, yoga.

3. The locals have created a perfect atmosphere (different for each island) where you'll still be able to enjoy all modern comforts, yet still have the opportunity to get the vibe of real island life where locals still go about their business with chicken farming and fishing etc.

On all three Gilis, motorised vehicles are non-existent - the main way of getting around is by bicycle or small horse-drawn carts (cidomos).


TOP TIPS

  • You'll find yoga centres on all of the islands, offering several classes every day from around 100,000 ($10).

  • Bicycles can be hired everywhere - your accomodation might even include them. Otherwise they cost around 50,000 ($5) per day.

  • Food will cost between 20,000 - 80,000 ($2-8) depending on where and how much you eat.

  • Water costs the same everywhere - 10,000 ($1).

  • Careful of the ice used here (we both got sick) and when drinking from re-usable staws. The hygiene is questionable so bring your own!

  • You can swim out to the reef to snorkel, but you see more on boat trips (even though you'll have to share the space with 30-50 other people). All of the islands have a very shallow reef right around the island, meaning at low tide, you'll have to walk out over sharp coral which is actually terrible for the reef and just kills it even more.

  • Horse drawn carts are everywhere. The horses don't seem to be cared for though, with no water during their day's hard work. We felt too bad to take them, but lugging our bags through sand and mud to our accomodation was definitely testing!

  • There are ATM machines on all islands.

  • Transfers between islands is relatively cheap and easy - it's best to ask your accomodation for departure times when you get there.


GILI TRAWANGAN

Or Gili T as it's more affectionately known, is by far the most popular.

Trawangan is the largest and most populated of the three Gilis, where you'll have unobstructed views of the sunset over Agung volcano on Bali, or rise above Rinjani Volcano in Lombok.

This party island is the first stop for most ferries arriving from Bali. Whilst some families and couples do stay here, they're somewhat out of place in an ocean of hyperactive single teenagers and young adults looking to get social and crazy on magic mushrooms via the 'mushroom shake' - which is available all over the island.

Stick to the centre or northern parts of the island if you want a a quieter area.

WHERE TO EAT

  • Kay Cafe - cheap, local, healthy, generous

  • Le Pirate Beach Club - Beautiful movie nights under the stars with free popcorn!

  • Casa Vintage Beach - Chilled vibe, flavoursome food and beautiful sunsets

  • Night Market - The cheapest meal and possibly the nicest but mild food poisoning isn't rare..

WHERE TO STAY

Listed from budget to luxury


GILI MENO

Most ferries will not stop at Gili Meno. You’ll need to catch a ferry from Gili T or Air, or from Lombok if you're coming from there.

A peaceful escape where everyone slows to island time and lazing on the beach is the most popular activity. There’s not much going on here and that’s exactly what makes it so attractive. The locals know how lucky they are to have escaped the mayhem that can be heard thumping across the water from Gili T, and they do everything to preserve the peace.

Beautiful seashells hang as decorations in most of the cafes and quaint local eateries are dotted all around the island's quiet beaches, where you can enjoy your cocktails and fresh juices to the sound of lapping waves.

Snorkelling around Gili Meno is the best of the three islands and at high tide, it’s easy to swim out to the incredibly colourful house reef, complete with a shipwreck and an underwater sculpture that will take your breath away.

WHERE TO EAT

  • Jali Cafe - Next to the ferry ticket office. This place was our favourite.

  • Diana Cafe - Healthy, yummy, cheap and delightful service. The best place to watch the sunset from.

WHERE TO STAY

Listed from budget to luxury


GILI AIR

Some ferries go directly to Gili Air and you can also get back to mainland Bali or Lombok from this island.

Gili Air is the original backpacker destination of the 80's and has the best mix of activities and relaxation, as well as being the best beach to spot turtles.

It's got amazingly hip cafes, restaurants and hotels considering how small of an island it is and is perfect for social couples and people interested in yoga.

WHERE TO EAT

  • Pachamama Organic Cafe - Healthy wholefoods

  • Scallywags Beach Club

  • GiliBliss - Look no further for your smoothie bowl!

  • CoCoLoCo - Wholefoods menu with every healthy dish you could dream of. Part of the Captain Coconuts accomodation.

  • Sharkbites - Big juicy burgers

  • Mamasita - Pizza. The only place you should get pizza on the Gili's

  • Ruby's - a little bit of everything with a lot of flavour

WHERE TO STAY

Listed from budget to luxury

  • Captain Coconuts

  • Scallywags Smugglers Hideaway

  • Gili Air Escape


WHEN TO GO

An average temperature of 28°C is the same throughout the year, with water temperatures between 25 and 30°C.

The wet season runs from November to April and the dry season is usually from May to October.

The most popular month for tourism overload is throughout July and August, which is best avoided.

So when's the time to go? May or October.


HOW TO GET THERE

Boats depart from three different ports from Bali’s East coast. Benoa, Padang Bai or Amed.

The boat crossing can take anywhere between 1.5 - 6 hours, depending on where and what kind of boat you are travelling on.

A speed boat from the Southern most port of Bali will take around 2 hours 15 to reach Gili T - on a good day. A local ferry will take from 6 hours.



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