The ultimate guide to visiting Gili Islands
The Gili are a group of 3 small islands about 1 hour by boat from the east coast of Bali and are one of the most popular tourist destinations in Indonesia. Its white beaches, the turquoise colour of the ocean, the coral reef, and scuba diving opportunities attract thousands and thousands of tourists every year. Of the 3, the largest island is Gili Trawangan, very popular among the young people thanks to its lively nightlife. The other two islands are Gili Meno and Gili Air, mainly suitable for those who prefer a more relaxing and peaceful holiday. We spent a total of 5 days on the Gili Islands (2 days in Trawangan, 2 days in Gili Meno and 1 day in Gili Air), relaxing on their beautiful beaches and having a couple of boat tours. Personally, they did not impress us that much, but if you are in Bali or Lombok, it is worth spending in this small archipelago 3/4 days.
When to Go
The best time to visit the Gili Islands is from May to October, during the dry season. The months of July and August are hectic as they are the peak season. The rainy season is not recommended because boat trips may be cancelled, the water is much murkier, and it could be difficult to move between the islands.
How to reach Gili Islands
The Gili Islands can easily be reached by speedboat from both Bali and Lombok.
In Bali, there are 3 harbours to take the boat: Amed harbour, which is located east of the island; Padangbai harbour, which is the most used port and is centrally located, easily accessible from Ubud; Serangan harbour, the furthest from the Gili and located in the southern part of Bali. We took the speedboat from Padangbai, and the ride lasted more than two hours as the sea in the Lombok Strait is often quite rough. Let’s say it wasn’t so pleasant, so if you suffer from seasickness, take a tablet.
Alternative route: If you want to avoid this stretch of sea or the boat rides are cancelled, you can take a flight from Bali Denpasar to Lombok Praya and reach Bangasal harbour by taxi.
From Lombok Island, the boat ride is about 25 minutes, and it is possible to take a speedboat or a public boat. The main Lombok harbour is Bangasal, where you will find both ticket offices to buy your boat crossing. The public boat, unlike the speedboat, has no timetable and leaves when full.
How to get to your accommodation: on the Gili islands, there are no public or motorized transports, and the only way to get around is the Cidomo, a cart usually pulled by horses. You will find several carts as soon as you disembark.
How to book the boat ticket
You can book your ticket at any Bali travel agency. Usually, minivan transport to the harbour is included. Alternatively, you can also book your ticket through the 12go.Asia.com website, one of the best sites for getting around in Asian countries, or directly on the companies’ website. We opted for the Bluewater Express, recommended as one of the best speedboats for safety standards among the various options. The only company with a larger boat is the Eka Jaya Fast Boat, probably more suitable for those suffering from seasickness.
Which Gili Island is more suitable for you?
1. Gili Trawangan
It is the largest island of the three (2 km wide and 3 km long) and the most popular among young people looking for fun, thanks to the several bars to enjoy the night listening to music and having a drink. The centre of the small village of Trawangan is quite lively: small shops selling a bit of everything, bars, restaurants and several wellness centres for massages. Don’t miss a drink at the Paradise Sunset Bar waiting for the stunning sunset! We slept at Santorini Beach Resort.
2. Gili Meno
It is the smallest and quietest of the three islands, measuring just 2 km in length by 1 km in width. It is suitable for those who want to relax avoiding crowds. Its beaches of white sand and small pieces of coral are wonderful and bathed by a crystal clear sea. Most of the restaurants and facilities are located in the northern and eastern parts of the island. We slept at the Seri Resort on the northeast coast. We have a nice dinner with grilled fish at Ana Warung restaurant.
3. Gili Air
The island is a perfect mix between the busy Trawangan and the quiet Gili Meno. You will find different accommodations and many bars and restaurants for tourists that cover the island’s entire perimeter. Like the other two islands, Gili Air also offers white beaches with a clear sea and several dive sites. Its western and northern sides are the wildest and most peaceful, with beautiful unspoiled beaches and little else, while the southeastern side is the most populated. Don’t miss an ice-cold beer or an excellent dinner at Mowie’s Bar on the island’s southwest coast, where you can enjoy a beautiful sunset. We slept at the Koho Air Hotel, not far from the speedboats pier.
Boat tours and activities on Gili Islands
These islands are small, and, in general, they offer very little. In addition to relaxing on their beautiful beaches, the main activity is boat trips to snorkel or dive and see the coral reefs and the great marine biodiversity of the area. All islands have dive sites for both beginners and more experienced divers. For example, in Gili Meno, there is the Bounty Point, a wreck of a ship surrounded by colourful corals, and the Meno Wall, a spectacular section of coral reef that goes from 5 meters down to 30 meters, full of fish, colourful anemones and where sea turtles often meet. In Gili Meno, there is a point called “turtle point”, where it is quite easy to spot turtles while snorkelling. If you stay in Gili Meno, do not miss the “Sea Turtle Sanctuary“, a facility where baby turtles are cared for and then released into the wild. Other activities are bicycle rides (you can rent them) or a pleasant walk along the perimeter of the islands.
Reservation: boat tours can be booked through one of the many stands on the islands. For those interested, several diving schools arrange scuba diving and courses.
Tides: tides are a phenomenon that affects the Gili Islands, especially July and August. During the day, it could be not easy to swim from the beach. We suggest bringing a pair of water shoes to walk in the shallow.
Our boat tours: as we are not scuba diving lovers, we opted for a classic boat tour. We left the island at 10 am, and we went back around 4 pm. We had 4 stops for snorkelling between Gili Trawangan, Meno and Air, plus a stop on Gili Air for lunch (not included). The cost of the tour was 200.000 rupees each. The most interesting stop was the Gili Meno northeast coast, known for the presence of turtles. Be very careful because the current was very strong, and it was not easy to swim. During our stay in Gili Meno, we also hired a boat to go to the famous site known as “Nest”, a submerged contemporary work of art made up of 48 life-size figures. These sculptures were made of neutral PH concrete with the aim that, over time, they will turn into a home for corals, sponges and other forms of marine life. The statues can also be reached by swimming from the west beach of Gili Meno.
Consideration: we were not particularly impressed with our boat tour as the coral reef near the shore was spoiled by the many tourist boats. Even going a bit offshore, the reef is nothing special. The best way to enjoy the coral reef is scuba diving, arranged by the diving centres.
Method of payment and ATMs
The local currency is the Indonesian Rupiah (IDR). 1 USD corresponds to 15,000 rupees. The payment method is mainly in cash. On the islands, you will find some ATMs and money changers (especially in Trawangan). It is always better to have cash and not only rely on withdrawals because the ATMs could run out of currency in the period of greatest tourist influx.
Electricity and plugs
The standard voltage is 230V with a frequency of 50 MHz. The plugs are type C and F, so you will probably need a universal adapter.
Mobile phone and internet
Although you will find wifi in all accommodations, buying a local sim card will make your stay easier. Once landed at Bali international airport, you will find the official stands of the many telephone providers. We suggest buying a Telekomsel Simcard, which has one of the best coverage in Indonesia. We bought a Telekomsel sim (simPati tourist card) with 10 Gb of data.
There are no particular security concerns; be careful not to leave your valuables unattended. You may be offered drugs in Trawangan, especially during the many night parties. Avoid getting into trouble because the law in Indonesia is very strict. Remember that the small fishing community living on the islands is Muslim. Always respect the local culture. Remember that Safety conditions change worldwide daily; therefore, always do your own research through official websites.
There is a risk of contracting dengue fever and malaria in Indonesia, especially during the rainy season. It’s always safer to take measures to protect yourself against mosquitos, above all at night, by applying mosquito repellent that contains at least 30% DEET. One of the most common health issues is intestinal disorders, often contracted via contaminated food and water. Avoid drinking local tap water and make sure food is cooked thoroughly before eating. It is highly recommended to consult a travel medicine specialist to assess travel-related risks and have information to ensure your health and safety. In case you need serious medical attention, go back to Bali.
Travel insurance: the medical expenses abroad could be very high; therefore, don’t forget to buy travel insurance. We always take it out with WorldNomads.com. In case you need it, they also offer scuba diving insurance.