Ah, Gili Islands… If you have ever looked for Bali on Pinterest or Instagram, you probably got haunted by the sunset image of a swing hanging in the middle of the ocean, just like this one:
Yes, that is Gili! A piece of swinging paradise, located off Lombok, just 2h by fast boat from Bali.
Gili Islands consist of 3 islands called Gili Trawangan, Gili Air and Gili Meno. Three little coral islands ringed by white-sand beaches, coconut palms, and a turquoise sea. There are no cars, no motors on Gili, just tranquility and island living.
Still not convinced whether you should leave your comfortable villa on Bali and travel to Gili? Let me give you a few reasons why not visiting these islands would be a big, big mistake:
Why should you visit the Gili Islands?
If you look for white powdery sand beaches, sparkling turquoise waters, and swaying palm trees, Gili should be your choice. There are no beaches on Bali that could compare to the ones on the Gili Islands. And the best part is that in most cases you don’t have to share them with anyone!
//2// SEA TURTLES
Ha! If you have read my About Me page, you will know this is a biggie for me. Crystal clear waters and the variety of underwater world will make you thrill at the thought of snorkeling there. You will also be able to try your skills at scuba diving, as many diving centers offer a one-day diving experience for total beginners.
I went on a snorkeling tour on which we have made 4 stops around all 3 islands. You can book it almost anywhere on the Gili Islands, every local agent offers the same tour, although the price might differ a bit so try to negotiate. I recommend this trip because it’s cheap, it takes you to the best snorkeling spots, and it has “no turtle=money back guarantee” (which fortunately we didn’t have to claim). Yesss, plenty of turtles in the sea!
Also, there is a possibility of renting a private boat, which if you travel in a group of 4 might be worth considering. In that case, the helmsman will take you wherever you want, and let you do whatever you want: snorkeling, fishing, watching the sunset from the boat, etc.
//3// THE TRANQUILITY
No cars, no motors, no worries 🙂 As motorized vehicles are not allowed on the Islands, the only means of transportation are horse carriages and bicycles. It is way easier to relax when there is no traffic jam, no fumes or busy streets. You can rent a bike for 40-50k IDR per day and go explore the inland paths.
//4// THE VIBE
The Gili Islands have a very chill-out vibe, thanks to many sunset bars, open-air cinemas, hammocks, bean bag chairs and swings placed all around the islands. Also, Gili islands are extremely popular among young people, which means next party is just a beach away 🙂
//5// THE FOOD
The great thing about the Gili Islands is that you will eat extremely fresh seafood. Each night, restaurants create little stands where they expose all the fish and seafood that they have caught during the day. Then, they grill it on a barbecue and serve it to your sea front table. Yum!
How to get there?
One more reason to go to the Gili Islands, that I haven’t mentioned in the list above, is its proximity to Bali. It takes only 2 hours by fast boat to get there. There are many boat companies which offer a pick-up from your hotel and a boat transfer for 200-250k IDR one way (always remember to negotiate the price – 400k was the first offer I received!). The boats depart from Sanur, Amed or Padang Bai but the transfer from Kuta, Seminyak and Ubud is included in the price.
The boats to Gili leave twice a day, from Ubud at 7am and 10.30am, and there is no option to get to Gili islands in the afternoon. Also, the schedule is very weather sensitive so it is better not to go the same day as your flight. The transfer might get canceled if the tide is too high or if it rains.
The ride itself is quite bumpy. I remember regretting sitting in front, next to the window, as the water was going inside all the time and the windows had to be kept closed. It quickly got unpleasantly muggily and stuffily. Thus, it is better to sit outside or near the back door.
On the other hand, the boat back from Gili to Bali was much more spacious and less crowded. I took the boat at 5 pm (which btw was supposed to arrive at 3 pm) and was able to watch the sunset on the roof and then take a small nap downstairs. I guess, the majority of tourists are returning with the morning boats.
The only unpleasant surprise I received during my return to Bali, was that the hotel drop off for all the cities was made in one van! That means, if your hotel is at the end of the list, it might take even up to 3 hours before you arrive in your accommodation!
Which island should I choose?
That is a very tricky question! I have spent 4 nights on Gili Air and have made 2 one-day trips to both Gili Meno and Gili Trawangan. Here are my conclusions:
Gili Trawangan, also known as Gili T, is the biggest of 3 islands. It is also the most developed. Before going there I heard a lot of negative comments about this island, as it is the most popular among backpackers and party animals. But to my surprise, I felt completely in love with it! The offer of hotels, bars, restaurants, and spas is much wider than on other islands, yet you will still find the serenity and tranquility during the day. Against to what I read online about Gili T, I believe it is great not only for single and budget travelers but also for young couples and families with kids.
Trawangan comes from the word Terowongan which means “tunnel”. It refers to a cave tunnel constructed by the Japanese during WWII
Gili Air is an island with the biggest percentage of the local population. Gili Air offers a compromise for people who want to enjoy the peaceful atmosphere of Gili Meno (the smallest of the islands) with a more laidback night scene of Gili T. The bars and restaurants on Gili Air offer more relaxed, chilled atmosphere with live music and sunset watching. What I particularly liked about Gili Air, were the swimming beaches on the east side. The majority of the beaches on all 3 islands are surrounded by coral, which means more soaking in the water than actual swimming.
Air in Indonesian means “water” as it is the only Gili island with an access to fresh water.
Gili Meno is the smallest of 3 islands, with the smallest population and the smallest number of visitors. You can literally circumnavigate the island in 1-2 hours! Gili Meno has many beautiful little boutique hotels located just in front of the beach, ideal for honeymooners. It is a perfect place to do nothing but relax! To get to Gili Meno you will need to switch boats on Gili T or Gili Air as the fast boats from Bali are too big to fit in the harbor.
The world “Gili” means “small island”.
Exchange money on Bali. The exchange rate is much worse on Gili islands.
Bring a torch. You will need it for the night walks to your hotel.
Visit all the 3 islands! Since you are already there, it would be a pity not to see them all.
Pack good water shoes and snorkel gear. You can rent it on the island but why overpay?
Bring mosquito spray!
Take a snorkel tour – you won’t be disappointed!
Rent a bike for your stay. It is much more convenient to move around on 2 wheels 🙂
Last but not least, always negotiate the price!