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Gili Islands Overview

Only a few kilometres off the northwest coast of Lombok lay the idyllic Gili islands – Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno and Gili Air. "Gili" actually means 'island' in the local language - however over time due to the popalarity and proximity of this particular 3, they have become collectively known as the Gilis. This archipelago of three small coral isles are rapidly becoming one of the most popular destinations for visitors to Bali and Lombok

   

Although each island has its own particular charm they all boast powdery white sand beaches, crystal clear waters and some of the best diving and snorkelling opportunities in the region; so no matter which island you choose, whether it be to party or just to relax (or a bit of both!), you’ll always be rewarded with the key elements that make the Gili Islands an unforgettable tropical paradise.

Which Gili Island is the best?

The three Gili Islands each offer something different, so the best will often depend on what type of traveller you are.
 
  • Gili Trawangan is the biggest and most visited of the three and has earned a reputation as ‘Party Island’ amongst the world’s travellers. Once a backpacker’s haven – with basic beach huts and simple bars, serving concoctions that offer ‘free lunar transport’ – Gili T has undergone some dramatic changes over the past five years and now caters to a decidedly more upmarket crowd, often with family in-tow, all seeking that tropical island experience with the luxuries of home. Aside from the laid-back beach culture, the main draw of the island is scuba diving, with a number of professional dive centres offering courses and fun dives. Watching the fishing boats passing through the channel between Gili T and Meno, plus the lack of motorized traffic still makes for a chilled out vibe - but at night time Gili T really is a partygoers paradise.

 

Accommodation choices start from budget guesthouses through to a large selection of mid-range beachfront hotels, going all the way up to resort-style hotels and luxury villas. It’s highly recommended to book your accommodation Gili Trawangan in advance during the peak season (Jul-Sep) to ensure you don’t end-up sleeping on the beach! The great range of bars and restaurants along the beachfront make the island buzz with cosmopolitan activity. Offering everything from local street-food to high quality international cuisine, along with some of the freshest seafood BBQ’s around, you'll be spoilt for choice. And at the end of the day – when you’re done soaking up the sun or diving to new depths – there are plenty of bars to quench your thirst, with weekly themed party nights.

Tip: Start you evening on the west side of Gili Trawangan, looking out over the shining sea towards the gorgeous setting sun behind Bali's mt. Agung in the distance. Gili Teak resort has a beachside bar serving great food and boasting the best view. Afterwards, grab a Cidomo (horse cart) taxi and head back over to the east of the island to dance the night away.

 

Gili Trawangan sunset gili teak resort

  • Gili Air, although closest to mainland Lombok, lays somewhere between the tranquillity of Gili Meno and the bustle of Gili Trawangan – making it a great option for backpackers and families wanting to get away from the tourist crowds and immerse themselves in the local culture. As with Meno, the pace of life is slow and endearing but like Trawangan there’s plenty to keep you entertained – with diving, snorkelling and even some surfing by day, to live music and socialising at night. There’s a surprisingly wide range of accommodation on the island to suit every taste and budget, whether it be on the beach or set back in the coconut groves. Dining options are also quite varied, with inexpensive local food available inland to grilled fish and international cuisine being offered at the many beachside restaurants

    Tip: The stunning sunrises over Lombok's majestic mt. Rinjani in the background are a must see if you're willing to get up for an early breakfast while staying on Gili Air.
 

gili trawangan nightlife

  • Gili Meno may be the smallest and quietest of the three islands but it’s as close as you’ll get to a true tropical island getaway. Sandwiched between Gili Trawangan and Gili Air, its stunning beaches and laid-back charm provide a great escape for honeymooners looking for seclusion or those just wanting to get away from it all! Accommodation is provided by a variety of small hotels and beachside bungalows; with more luxurious options slowly being developed. Dining is a casual affair with fresh fish BBQ’s dominating the menus of the beachside cafes. And when not relaxing, there’s plenty of great diving and snorkelling on offer.

    Tip: The nicest area to stay is the northwest corner of the island. There's a small concentration of good places to eat, great little resorts nestled in a coconut grove and the island's best Dive establishment (Divine Divers). Only drawback: If the wind is right, you'll get the sounds of Gili T's nightlife blowing over in the evenings.

gili meno beach

Staying in the Gili Islands

Once you've made your choice of which island to visit (or islands!), there are a range of Gili Islands accommodation options to suit all budgets, with a steady number of new Gili Islands hotel and more luxurious villas being slowly added to the list. Over the years, the quality and choice of dining on the Gili Islands has come a long way, with restaurants serving everything from authentic Indonesian food to sushi, pizza and a good variety of western cuisine, accompanied by imported wines.
 
There’s also a budding environmental outlook on the Gili Islands, with efforts focused on reef protection and regeneration. The Gili Eco Trust was set-up to protect and monitor the environment, both under the water and on land. Through visitor donations they have managed to erect over a dozen artificial Bio-Rock reefs and ensured that local fisherman now use more sustainable fishing practices.
 


How to travel between the Gili Islands        

Getting between the Islands and Lombok is cheap and easy, simply use one of the many local services available by public or chartered boat. Fast boat tickets from Bali to the Gili Islands will get you to Gili Trawangan or Gili Air. A few companies also now service Gili Meno directly for example Eka Jaya (you can book tickets here), but as services are limited you may need to catch a local boat from the jetty in Gili T or Air when you arrive.

No need to pre-book the local boats, the approximate rates in indonesian rupiah are as follows: From one Gili Island to another (or to Lombok) - Public boat: from IDR 20,000 or Charter with 12 capacity: from IDR 170,000. If however you just want to choose your own departure time and get there as quickly and easily as possible you can pre-book a reliable private Speed boat services through our sister site gili-islandtransfers.com.


How long does it take from Bali to Gili Islands? 

The travel time between Bali and the Gili islands depends on your location in Bali. Serangan port is recommended for South Bali hotels and the airport. The ferry journey time from Serangan Harbor and the Gili Islands is 2-2,5 hours depending on the sea conditions.  If you are planning to do an island hopping trip and visit Lembongan or Nusa Penida on the way to the Gili Islands, it’s recommended to depart from Sanur harbor.

The journey duration from Sanur Bali to Gili Islands is approximately 3,5-4 hours. The travel time between Amed (North Bali) and the Gili Islands is only an hour. Amed departures are only recommended if you‘re staying in North Bali.
 


Can you fly from Bali to Gili Islands?

No, you can not fly to the Gili Islands from Bali as there is no airport on any of the Gili Islands. The islands are basically too small to fit an airstrip, let alone an airport on. The closest airport to the Gili Islands is Lombok International Airport (LOP).
 
Private transfers (car + speedboat) can be arranged from there to the Gili's through Gili-islandtransfers.com, otherwise you can opt for the slower (cheaper) and less reliable public boats that leave from Bangsal harbour in north Lombok. Flight time from Bali to Lombok is only 30 minutes, and check in time is 1 hour before.

 


In-depth Travel Guide for each island:


Gili Trawangan

Gili Trawangan is the most visited of the three and has earned a ‘Party Island’ reputation amongst travel enthousiasts internationally. Once a backpacker’s haven – with basic beach huts and simple bars, serving concoctions that offer ‘free lunar transport’ – Gili Trawangan has undergone some dramatic changes over the past five years and now caters to a decidedly more upmarket crowd, often with family in-tow, all seeking that tropical island experience with the luxuries of home.

Aside from the laid-back beach culture, the main draw of the island is scuba diving. Accommodation choices range from budget guesthouses through a large selection of mid-range beachfront hotels,  to resorts and luxury villas.

Gili Air

Although closest to mainland Lombok, Gili Air lays somewhere between the tranquillity of Gili Meno and the bustle of Gili Trawangan – making it a great option for backpackers and families wanting to get away from the crowds and acquaint themselves in local culture. As with Meno, the pace of life is slow and endearing but like Trawangan there’s plenty to do, such as diving, snorkelling and even some surfing by day, to live music and restaurants at night. There’s a surprisingly wide range of accommodation on the island to suit every budget, on the beach or set back in the coconut groves.

Gili Meno

Gili Meno may be the smallest and quietest of the three islands but it’s as close as you’ll get to a true tropical island getaway. Sandwiched between Gili Trawangan and Gili Air its stunning beaches and laid-back charm provide a great escape for honeymooners looking for seclusion or those just wanting to get away from it all! Accommodation is provided by a variety of small hotels and beachside bungalows; with more luxurious options slowly being developed. Dining is a casual affair with fresh fish BBQ’s dominating the menus of the beachside cafes. And when not relaxing, there’s plenty of great diving and snorkelling on offer as well as bird and turtle sanctuaries to visit.

THINGS TO REMEMBER
 

  • Don’t try to swim between the islands. They may not look that far apart but the currents that run in the channels between the islands can be very strong and unpredictable. There are plenty of cheap local boats to get you across.
     
  • Never sunbathe nude or topless, and cover up away from the beach (no bikinis). Although it may feel like Bali, the locals are Muslims so it’s good to show some respect.
     
  • When snorkelling or diving you should avoid touching the coral or any other marine life…..take only pictures, leave only bubbles!
     
  • Malaria and dengue are found throughout Indonesia and although the risk is minimal in the immediate region, there are plenty of mosquitoes. Staying covered around sunrise and sunset and using repellents (DEET 50%) throughout the day and night will ensure your stay isn’t an itchy one.
     
  • Avoid locally distilled spirits such as Arak, as well as cocktails containing local spirits. There have been a number of cases of Methanol poisoning in 2012/13, the most recent being at Rudy's Bar on Gili Trawangan which was fatal. Stick to beer and wine.
     
  • There are no cars, or any form of motorised vehicles to disturb the peace – getting around is either by ‘cidomo’ (horse cart), bicycle, or on foot – the laid-back rustic appeal of the Gilis has people coming for a day and staying for weeks!
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