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February 7, 2018

Everything you need to know about the Gili Islands

The Gili Islands are a picture-perfect tropical paradise. If you love blue waters, white sands, and palm trees, the Gilis are for you!

Welcome to the beautiful Gilis

The three Gili Islands are collectively known as the Gilis – one of the most beautiful destinations in Indonesia. Commonly visited from nearby Bali, the Gilis are actually located closer to the neighbouring island of Lombok.

The three Gilis consist of Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno and Gili Air. Each one has something slightly different to offer, meaning they appeal to different people. If you’re planning to visit the Gili Islands whilst on vacation in Bali, this guide will help you decide which Gili island is for you, or perhaps encourage you to visit all three!

Is one day enough to see the Gili Islands?

This is a question we are often asked by people planning to visit the Gili Islands from Bali during their vacation. Our answer tends to be that whilst it is possible to see the Gilis on a day trip from Bali, one day is not really enough to do them justice.

We would suggest that at least two days and one night is the better amount of time to allow for when planning a trip to the Gili Islands. This way you can check out a sunset and sunrise, see more of the islands, or just enjoy the relaxing time better. We have heard of people spending weeks and even months there though!

Lively Gili Trawangan: The biggest island

This is the largest of the three islands, and also the most popular to visit. The island has a good mix of beaches, with more laidback ones being toward the north and west, and livelier ones toward the south. There’s also plenty of bars, restaurants and accommodation on Gili Trawangan. As with the other Gilis, there are no cars or motorbikes on the island, so to get around you will need to hire a bicycle or simply walk. It’s really not that big of an island!

Over the years, Gili Trawangan has grown a reputation for the party scene. It seems that this is the only place in Indonesia where authorities have turned a more or less blind eye to pot smoking, which is punished harshly elsewhere. This reputation can draw a ‘certain crowd’ at key points in the year, especially for the monthly Full Moon Party!

Gili Meno: What you should know

This is our favourite Gili island for getting away from it all. Known as something of a couples’ island, it has a far more laid back atmosphere than its bigger neighbour, thanks in part to a late night music ban. This means that there’s a more relaxed feeling overall on Gili Meno, nature is more preserved, and well, it just seems much nicer!

Development is also pretty low key on Gili Meno – you won’t find an ATM or shops, but the small beach bars will provide all your needs including good food and a cold beer for the end of the day! This is an island for nature lovers, who want to take advantage of beautiful barren beaches, incredible snorkeling, and romantic sunsets. Accommodation on Gili Meno ranges from budget bungalows through to upmarket resorts.

The island paradise of Gili Air

Often thought of as a mini Gili Trawangan, Gili Air actually offers the best of both its larger neighbour and Gili Meno. There are upscale and relaxing places to stay, but it has something of a friendly backpacker edge. There’s great diving and snorkeling, shops, and even a couple of ATM machines. The nightlife here is certainly not as raucous as on Gili Trawangan, but at least there is some compared to Gili Meno. In short, Gili Air is a great island for people who like to enjoy themselves a little more moderately!

Top things to do in the Gili Islands

The Gili Islands are not big on major landmarks or sites. After all, the attraction of visiting is the beauty of the islands themselves! That said, nature lovers may appreciate visiting the turtle sanctuaries on Gili Trawangan and Gili Meno. These are home to green and loggerhead turtles, and visitors can learn more about them, as well as see baby turtles in their pools.

Other things to do in the Gili Islands include:

Check out the beaches on the Gili Islands

Most people choose to visit the Gili Islands for a taste of island life, one of the main things being all those glorious beaches. Each of the three islands is so small that you can easily get around on foot within a matter of a short few hours, meaning you can visit most of the beaches during your stay.

Sunset Beach, Gili Trawangan

Located on the northwest side of the island, the clue is in the name as to the reason we like this beach. It can can get a little crowded as the big event nears, but even during the day those white sands are amazing. Don’t forget your Instagram photo at the over-water swings!

Malibu Beach, Gili Trawangan

Not all the beaches have official names, so they end up with unofficial ones instead! More incredible white sands to chill out on during the day before heading off to find the sunset. You can find this beach on the southwest coast.

The best beaches in Gili Meno

The north and northwest of the island have the best looking beaches, with Turtle Bay also being popular for snorkeling. If things get busy with day boats from the other islands, then keep heading north. This is where you will find those pristine, glorious beaches you have only dreamt about up until now!

The best beaches in Gili Air

It’s often thought that Gili Air has the best beaches of all the Gili Islands. The stretches of sand of the beaches are wider, and if possible even whiter than the beaches on the other two Gili Islands. Even with stops, you can walk around the island in two hours, so the best idea is to simply head off, and stop at the place that attracts you the most. Walk clockwise around the island from the port, and you’ll come across the best of the best beaches in the Gili Islands on the southwest.

Incredible scuba diving in the Gili Islands

The Gili Islands are a renowned centre for scuba diving, suitable for people of all levels. Whether you are a beginner wanting to attain a PADI certification, or an experienced diver looking for more technical dives or courses, there’s something for everyone.

In an effort to protect the coral reefs, students and divers are asked to pay a one-time reef tax which is collected by the dive operator. All of the dive operators on the three Gili Islands have excellent facilities, equipment and instructors, and there is little to no difference between their pricing structures. You can try shopping around, but they’ve fixed their prices by agreement!

Go snorkeling in the Gili Islands

If you prefer to snorkel instead of diving, you can take a day’s snorkel trip where the operator will take you to the best snorkeling spots in the Gili Islands. Masks and fins are available to rent, and this is a good way to see the very best snorkeling spots. Whilst it is possible to go snorkeling off some of the beaches on your own, you should be aware that fins are a necessity, and that there are some very strong currents.

Learn freediving in Gili Trawangan

If you’ve ever admired freedivers and wondered just how they can dive so deeply without tanks, you now have the chance to try it yourself! British freediving champion Mike Board has opened a freediving school with courses and workshops. A two day class might give you the skills to dive deeper than you ever thought possible before!

Yoga classes in The Gili Islands

There has been a movement toward health and wellbeing activities in the last few years in the travel industry, and the Gili Islands have their own selection to choose from. Yoga classes are available to join at a number of different places on the three Gili Islands, with two dedicated centres being  Gili Yoga and The Yoga Place on Gili Trawangan and H2O Yoga & Meditation Center on Gili Air.

Catch a sunset on the Gili Islands

The combination of natural beauty and easy access to the coast, makes the Gili Islands a sunset chaser’s dream. There’s really no better way to see off the day and welcome the evening than by watching a sunset. All of the islands have a ‘sunset beach’ of some description. It’s not rocket science finding the best sunset spots in the Gili Islands – Work out where the sun is going to set and then walk around the island until you find the best beach spot!

Party time on the Gili Islands

If you like a party, then you’ll like Gili Trawangan! The island might be small, but cheap drinks and carefree attitudes can fuel some wild nights. Looking for the biggest party of them all? Time your visit with the Full Moon and head to Pandawa Beach. Good luck!

Chillax on the Gili Islands

Finally, remember to make some time in your day to chill and relax when on the Gili Islands. Your day doesn’t need to be any more energetic than lying on a beach and soaking up the sun if you don’t want it to be.

Useful travel information for the Gili Islands

Here’s some more travel information to help you plan your trip to the Gili Islands from Bali.

Weather in the Gili Islands

The climate of the Gilis is similar to Bali, although just slightly drier and hotter. The rainy season runs from October to April, but it’s less of an event than on Bali. Peak season on the Gilis runs from December to January, and from July to August.

How to get to the Gili Islands

There are numerous ways you can get to the Gili Islands, but from Bali two options make the most sense. These are to take boats from Padang Bai or Serangan.

Padang Bai ferry to the Gilis

The very cheapest option to get to the Gilis from Bali, is to take the hourly public ferry to Lombok from Padang Bai, and then a local boat out to the Gilis from there. The journey could cost less than $10, but it’s going to involve upward of 8 hours of travel time. An option only for dedicated, money-saving backpackers looking to get from Bali to the Gili Islands!

Fast boats to the Gilis

We would suggest the best option to get to the Gili Islands from Bali, would be to take one of the fast boats. Although slightly more expensive than slower options, the upside is you are saving precious time during your vacation. Think of it as more beach time!

Padang Bai to the Gilis fast boat

Several companies offer fast boat services to the Gili Islands from Padang Bai in Bali. Two examples include Eka Jaya Fast Boats and Blue Water Express. Depending on where you are staying, a shuttle service from your hotel to the dock in the price of the ticket may be included. Tickets can be purchased through hotels or agents, although people with a little extra time on their hands have reported getting cheaper tickets themselves by going to the waterfront.

The times of departure vary according to season and company. Eka Jaya tend to depart at 09.00 and 13.00, with an additional seasonal departure of 11.00. Blue Water Express have departures at 09.15, 12.15, and 13.00 depending on the time of year.

Fast boats from Serangan to Gili Islands

Although a longer boat journey is involved when leaving from Serangan port, it is a more suitable departure point for people staying in the Kuta area. Some of the fast boats leaving from Serangan may even drop by Padang Bai first before heading to the Gili Islands.

Blue Water Express offers a service from Serangan to the Gili Islands, leaving at 08.00 and 11.00, depending on the time of year.

How to get around the Gili Islands

The Gili Islands thankfully have a no motorised vehicle policy, which means the sounds of cars and motorbikes are not to be heard. A welcome change for long-term travellers in Asia! This also helps the environment, and keeps the islands beautiful.

In order to get around, there are three choices, which are to walk, to use bicycles, and to use horse-drawn carts. This is where some controversy begins. The horses are kept in often questionable conditions, and there is a growing feeling among the travel community that their use should be boycotted. If you decide that a horse and cart is not for you, think carefully about what luggage you want to take with you to the Gili Islands if staying the night. You’ll need to carry it to your hotel yourself!

Getting from one Gili Island to another

The distance may look swimmable, but it’s not, so please don’t try! Several people have lost their lives trying to swim between the Gili Islands. Instead, you’ll need to take one of the Koperasi Island hopping boats, or charter a boat.

If you’re having trouble deciding between the Gilis and Nusa Lembongan, check our blog post on Nusa Lembongan here.

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