Okay, so I have a confession to make. On three separate trips to Indonesia, I have never really fallen in love with the island of Bali. I have always felt that Bali’s beaches were a little underwhelming, the beach clubs were a bit pretentious, and the traffic was total gridlock.
That being said, I think Bali provided an amazing jumping-off point for some of the coolest Indonesian adventures like exploring eastern Java, hiking to epic beaches on Nusa Penida, climbing Mt Rinjani on Lombok, and chilling out on the Gili Islands!
With no motorized traffic, inexpensive accommodations, stunning sunsets, idyllic beaches, and a seriously laid-back vibe, it’s impossible not to fall in love with Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno, and Gili Air. Here are our 9 favorite ways to enjoy these three Indonesian island paradises!
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Getting to the Gili Islands
The Gili Islands are located just off the coast of the Indonesian island of Lombok (and visiting them is one of the best things to do on Lombok). However, many people choose to visit the Gilis from Bali and there are numerous companies that run fast ferries between Bali and the Gili Islands. The three most established ferry companies that also boast the best reputations are Eka Jaya Fast Boat, Blue Water Express, and Scoot Fast Cruises.
From Bali, most boats leave from Padang Bai Pier in northeast Bali (about 1 hour from Ubud or 2 hours from Kuta/Seminyak/Canggu). Many fast ferry companies provide a transfer bus service as part of the ticket price, but the quality of the bus can vary significantly from company to company.
You can also find a handful of fast ferries that leave from Sanur or Nusa Lembongan. These cost a bit more but may save you some time. The easiest way to check schedules and ticket prices for all the fast ferries is on Bookaway.com.
Getting around the Gili Islands
The only motorized vehicles on the Gili Islands are used for construction or public services, such as hauling trash. The lack of motorized traffic is one of the things that makes the Gili Islands so quaint and appealing. You’ll encounter the occasional electric scooter, but almost everyone travels by bike or on foot.
When you first arrive at the pier, you can hire a horse carriage to carry you and your luggage to your hotel. Horse carriage rates run between 100,000 – 200,000 IDR depending on how far your hotel is from the pier.
Once you’re settled in at your accommodation, it’s easy to travel around the Gili Islands by bicycle since many hotels provide bikes free of charge. If yours doesn’t, there are dozens of bike rental stands around the islands where you can pick one up for 30,000 IDR per day (~$2).
Also, most businesses around the Gili Trawangan ask that you remove your shoes before entering. That, coupled with the fact that you’ll be spending most of your time on a beach or in the water, means you’ll probably want to stick with wearing flip-flops.
Where to Stay on the Gili Islands
While all three Gili islands offer great accommodation options, we prefer staying on Gili Trawangan because it has the most amenities available in terms of bars, restaurants, and activities. It’s also just a short boat ride away from Gili Meno and Gili Air if you want to explore further!
If you are looking for the best place to stay in Gili Trawangan, look no farther than the Pearl of Trawangan. Located just south of the town center this beautiful property offers an inviting pool with a swim-up bar and easy access to the beach where you’ll have your own comfy lounge chair waiting for you. You’ll also be just a few minutes walk away from all of the most popular bars and restaurants in Gili Trawangan.
Kuno Villas is located on the quieter north end of Gili Trawangan so if your goal is relaxation then this is the place for you. The beautiful wooden bungalows will put you in the perfect island mindset and the friendly staff will take care of every request so you won’t have a care in the world.
Pondok Santi Estate is one of the top luxury properties on Gili Trawangan. The bungalows are perfectly appointed and you’ll have your pick of relaxing by the picturesque pool, on the nearby beach, or in one of the many hammocks strung throughout the property. You’ll also be a short walk or bike ride away from Gili Trawangan’s western-facing beaches where you can enjoy the island’s stunning sunsets.
The Best Things to do on the Gili Islands
1. Go Snorkeling
Gili Island is known for its crystal clear waters and abundant sea life. You can expect to spot sea turtles, lionfish, eels, rays, and lots of other amazing aquatic animals. There is an underwater sculpture called “The Nest” by Jason deCaires Taylor that has become quite famous on Instagram and makes for some pretty remarkable underwater photos if you rent a GoPro.
If you want to go snorkeling on Gili Trawangan, there are group snorkeling trips that leave three times a day and cost just 100,000 IDR (~$7) per person. They visit all three islands and follow the same route every day which includes the ring of sunken statues (“The Nest”), turtle point on the northern side of Gili Meno, and a few other scenic spots. But be warned that the boat holds 25 people and they will make every attempt to fill it up. So if you want any elbow room on the boat or solitude in the water, this might not be the best option for you.
Our recommendation is to hire a private boat. If you ask around, you should be able to hire a boat and captain to take you on a private snorkeling trip for the day for ~1,000,000 IDR (~$70), including a snorkel mask and fins. If you can round up 4-5 people to join you on your private boat trip, it will make your snorkeling experience much more enjoyable and will only cost you around $12-15 per person!
2. Get your PADI Certification
Scuba diving in the Gili Islands is one of the most popular activities and they are one of the cheapest places in the world to get your PADI certification. You’ll find the main street of Gili Trawangan lined with endless dive shops, each with its own hotel and restaurant attached. Almost all of the dive shops on the Gili Islands have great reputations, but if you want to be sure you have a wonderful experience be sure to check out Manta Dive or Blue Marlin.
There are spectacular diving sites surrounding the Gilis, including three different wreck sites. The Bounty Wreck is perhaps the most popular dive site in the Gili Islands. It was previously a jetty for the Bounty Cruise ship, but it broke in half during a storm and sank. Now the submerged dock sits about 25 feet below the surface and is covered in coral and surrounded by sea life.
The other two wrecks are an old tug boat called the Glen Nusa and a Japanese World War II ship that sank in the channel between Lombok and Gili Air. The Japanese Ship is the most interesting dive, but due to its depth of almost 150 feet, it’s not a dive for beginners. You’ll need to be Advanced Open Water certified, have done 30 dives, and be Nitrox certified.
3. Bike Around the Island
The best way to explore Gili Trawangan is by bicycle because the island is small and super easy to navigate. There is a road that hugs the beach for the circumference of Gili Trawangan except for a short section on the northeast corner where the road doesn’t quite connect. There you will need to walk your bike across the beach for about 200 yards.
You’ll find beachfront bars all over the island so you can stop at your leisure and grab a snack or an ice-cold Bintang beer. Our favorite snack stop is Gili Yo Frozen Yogurt Sunset on the west side of Gili Trawangan. Grab some frozen yogurt and enjoy it on one of their beachfront bean bag chairs!
Many hotels and guest houses provide bicycles free of charge during your stay, but if yours doesn’t, there are plenty of tour agencies that rent bicycles on the main street of Gili Trawangan.
Make sure you check the brakes and tire pressure before you start your bike tour. Even though the roads are easy to ride on, you’ll enjoy yourself more if your bike is in good working condition.
4. Hike to the Highest Point on Gili Trawangan
All of the Gili Islands are very flat. In fact, the highest point on all three islands, Gili Trawangan Hill, is just 200 feet above sea level. This means you can enjoy panoramic views without having to do much climbing at all.
It’s a short bicycle ride from almost anywhere on the island and once you arrive, you’ll just have a short 10-minute hike through the forest to reach the top of the hill. From the top, you’ll have 360-degree views of Mount Rinjani on Lombok, Mount Agung on Bali, and the other two Gili Islands.
Most people on the Gili Islands tend to head to beaches for sunset so if you visit Gili Trawangan Hill at the end of the day you might even have the spectacular lookout all to yourself!
5. Go Spearfishing
We got a taste for spearfishing when we lived in Hawaii, and now we’re always on the lookout for good fishing locations. The Gili Islands offer a great opportunity for spearfishing with crystal clear water and plenty of marine life. While you’re snorkeling, why not catch your dinner at the same time?
There are no group spearfishing tours offered on the island so you’ll need to hire a private boat along with a captain and a spearfishing guide. Expect to pay around the same as a private snorkeling trip (~1,000,000 IDR) for the whole day, including snorkeling gear and your spearfishing setup.
6. Watch Sunset on the Beach
Sunsets all over Indonesia are pretty epic, and the Gili Islands are certainly no exception. The best place to watch the sunset is on the west side of Gili Trawangan where the sun sets over the water directly in front of you.
There are loads of bars dotting the western shore with quaint seating areas and swings set in the ocean. We’d recommend Casa Vintage Beach for great food and music to accompany your sunset view. Or try Malibu Beach Club which has a beachfront pool that you are welcome to cool off in while you are waiting for the sun to set.
7. Work on Your Instagram Game
Since you’re already watching the sunset you might as well snap one of the Gili Islands’ most iconic photos – a silhouette of you on an ocean swing set with an orange and purple sky behind you. Just keep in mind that everyone else wants the same photo so you may have to line up and wait your turn.
Most of the bars on the west coast have built some type of swing apparatus as well as a handful of hammocks slung over the shallow water. We thought the most photogenic swings on Gili Trawangan were at PinkCoco or The Exile.
8. Go Vegan at Pituq Waroeng
We’re not vegan, or even vegetarian, but we fell in love with Pituq Waroeng on Gili Trawangan. The food there is both beautiful and delicious. Try the Green Curry with Jackfruit and the Fried Cauliflower for the most delectable snack you’ll have during your trip! Pituq Waroeng was definitely one of our favorite restaurants on the Gili Islands.
As an added bonus, Pituq Waroeng is a part of the Pituq Community Foundation which provides earthquake relief to the affected communities of Lombok and Sumbawa. Both Islands experienced catastrophic earthquakes in the summer of 2018 which resulted in over 500 deaths and left nearly 500,000 Indonesians homeless.
By eating at Pituq Waroeng or buying something from their small shop, you’ll be getting an amazing meal and also helping Indonesians recover from these recent natural disasters.
9. Eat at the Night Market
Every night along Gili Trawangan’s main drag, you’ll find a bustling street food market. A few dozen food stalls display piles of skewers and long rows of Indonesian curries that will make your mouth water!
There are two main ways of ordering and eating at the night market in Gili Trawangan. The first is to choose from the selection of skewers on display at the food stands which include tuna, beef, chicken, and vegetarian options. They’ll grill it and bring it to your table along with rice and Indonesia’s ubiquitous peanut sauce.
Your second option is to peruse the curry stands. They have rows of plastic containers with homemade Indonesian dishes on display. Just point to each item you want and they will pile it all on a plate with rice. Most dishes cost just 5,000 IDR per scoop so you can get a huge, delicious meal for less than 30,000 IDR (~$2).
We hope you fall in love with the Gili Islands too!
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