Party, romance or chill: which Gili island is best for you?

Two red chairs under a red umbrella on a white sandy beach in the Gili Islands.
The Gili Islands offer something for everyone, which one is right for you? © Jozef Gurzynski / Getty Images

Fringed by white-sand beaches and coconut palms, the Gili Islands, located off the northwest coast of Lombok, are a vision of paradise. Looking for a holiday paradise? Or maybe you're desperate to get away from the crowds? Each island has a distinct personality. Find the one that matches yours.

Editor's note: Please check the latest travel restrictions before planning any trip and always follow government advice.

The best of Indonesia's Gili Islands

Gili Trawangan: the social scene  

The largest, liveliest and most developed of the three Gili Islands, Gili Trawangan is also one of the world’s cheapest and safest places to learn to dive, with plenty of reputable dive schools to choose from. You can walk the sandy circumference of the island in around two hours (or run it in just under an hour).

Gili T has a very friendly vibe and is full of people keen to get to know one another. The social atmosphere is a massive draw – each night of the week, a different club or dive centre bar hosts a party, so everyone ends up in the same place (and business is spread evenly across the venues).

You can, however, still enjoy spending time on Gili T if you’re not into partying – the scuba trips, free-diving classes and sunbathing spots are more than enough to keep most people here, and the party atmosphere isn’t too overbearing for open-minded families, particularly the further away you travel from the public boat landing. Snorkellers should head to the northern part of the island for the best marine life, including turtles.

People in swimwear stand in shallow water, silhouetted against a colourful sunset. Some of the people are holding drinks and one person is on a large swing in the water
Gili Trawangan is the most sociable island © Mark Johanson / Lonely Planet

There's a great variety of accommodation on Gili T, with some quality hostels, bungalows and homestays on the main strip on the eastern side of the island (join the pool party at Gili Beach Bum Hotel or chill out in style at Gili Joglo), and a vast choice of international restaurants to suit all tastes, budgets and dietary needs. Cars are forbidden on all three Gilis, but Gili T's main strip (which was severely damaged in the 2018 earthquakes) can become surprisingly congested with foot traffic, bicycles and horse-drawn carts.

The western side of the island is much quieter and is mostly occupied by serene high-end resorts (splurge on the stylish bungalows at Gili Teak Resort or one of the five stilted wooden villas at Gili Treehouses). The southwestern point offers sensational sunsets, which serve as the backdrop for the epic happy hours at beach bars like The Exile and Casa Vintage.

Might be for you if: you’re travelling alone and looking to mingle while you log a few dives, or if you’re with friends and keen for a few memorable nights out
Might not be for you if: the hedonistic backpacker party scene isn't your thing.

A small green boat is moored in shallow blue water with a colourful sunset and another island in the distance
Romance is in the air on Gili Meno © Mark Johanson / Lonely Planet

Gili Meno: the romantic escape

The smallest and quietest of the three Gilis, Gili Meno arguably has the best beaches of the lot – swathes of white sand scattered with squat trees, fringed with crystal clear water. There's a definite honeymoon atmosphere that you can sense as soon as you step off the boat and see couples canoodling on the beach, and thatched-roof huts for two lining the shoreline beyond them.

There are just a handful of restaurants to choose from on Meno, and most serve Indonesian fare (head to Sasak Cafe at sunset for crispy fish and other yummy Sasak dishes). The 2018 earthquakes toppled many hotels here.

The remaining options tend to skew upmarket, though there are two fantastically eccentric hostels: The Rabbit Tree (home to a dorm room in a ball pit) and Gili Meno Eco Hostel (a driftwood jungle gym for adults). Other than a few secluded resorts (such as Mahamaya), the western side of the island is largely deserted.

There are several dive schools to choose from on the island and some spectacular sites just offshore. These include the Bounty – a sunken pier, which is really fun to explore – and Meno Wall, a top pick for macro lovers. Selfie-taking snorkellers put on waterproof phone cases and head out to Nest, an underwater sculpture from British artist Jason deCaires Taylor with 48 life-sized human figures.

Locals hiring out snorkelling gear and bicycles can be found on the main strip on the island's east coast – just be sure to check that the equipment is in good condition before you walk away with it. Gili M is mainly about rest and relaxation, so if you get bored easily, it may be best to limit your visit to one day.

Might be for you if: you’re travelling with a loved one and are seeking a stunning beach escape to set a romantic mood.
Might not be for you if: you’ve just been dumped and need a distraction.

A large two-seater wooden swing in crystal-clear water with the words 'Pelangi Beach' on the top of the frame
Chill out on Gili Air © Mark Johanson / Lonely Planet

Gili Air: the chill-out spot

Gili Air is the perfect blend of the other two Gilis. While it has similar facilities as Gili T – with a few of the same restaurant and diving school franchises – it’s almost as peaceful as Gili M. There is a slight hippy feel to the island – think guitar strumming and Bob Marley tunes – and it’s creeping up on Ubud for the title of Indonesia’s top yoga destination. Air is also the only Gili where you can gaze across the sea for uninterrupted views of Lombok’s mountainous northern coast.

The northern and southern sides of the island are lined with plenty of beach bars and restaurants. In terms of nightlife, there's more of laid-back, chill-out-over-a-Bintang-style bar culture, and though there are places you can go dancing, clubbing is not a priority for Gili Air-goers. Having said that, full moon parties do take place here each month.

A boardwalk leads down a white sand beach towards clear blue waters
Wish you were here? © Mark Johanson / Lonely Planet

There are a couple of dive centres on Gili Air, and lots of places to hire bikes (warning: it can be hard-going on the sandy roads) and snorkelling gear. The coral reef off the east coast provides great snorkelling opportunities – just like the other Gilis, you're bound to see a clownfish or two, and there’s a good chance you’ll spot turtles. On the western side, you’ll find unspoilt white sandy beaches and little else.

Gili Air bounced back from the 2018 earthquakes faster than its neighbours. The current spread of accommodation consists mostly of comfortable bungalows for budget and mid-range travellers (try Sejuk Cottages or Biba Beach Village).

Might be for you if: you’re looking for somewhere to relax and for a more local experience, yet still want to enjoy a similar choice of facilities as Gili T.
Might not be for you if: you’re hoping for some wild nights out.

A yellow horse-drawn cart carries a passenger. The beach in the background has loungers and umbrellas in front of a beautiful sea
Cars are banned on all three Gili Islands © Mark Johanson / Lonely Planet

How to get to the Gilis

From Bali

Fast boats advertise swift connections (45 minutes to 2½ hours, depending on the destination) between Bali and Gili Trawangan. They leave from several departure points in Bali, including Benoa Harbour, SanurPadangbai and Amed. Some go via Nusa Lembongan. Many dock at Teluk Nare/Teluk Kade on Lombok north of Senggigi before continuing onto Air and Trawangan (you’ll have to transfer for Meno in most cases).

Gili Bookings presents a range of boat operators and prices in response to your booking request. It's useful for getting an idea of the services offered, but it is not comprehensive and you may get a better price by buying directly from the operator. Keep in mind that the fast boats are unregulated and operating and safety standards vary widely – there have been some major accidents and boats have sunk.

From Lombok

From Lombok, you can travel on one of the fast boats from Teluk Nare/Teluk Kade north of Senggigi. However, most people use the public boats that leave from Bangsal Harbour. Boat tickets at Bangsal Harbour are sold at the port’s large ticket office, which is where you can also charter a boat. Buy a ticket elsewhere and you’re getting played.

Public boats to the Gilis run most frequently before noon; after that, you shouldn't wait much more than an hour for boats to Gili T or Gili Air, while special boats depart for Gili Meno later in the day. With the exception of these afternoon transfers to Gili Meno, all boats leave, in both directions, only when full – about 45 people. When no public boat is running to your Gili, you may have to charter a boat. 

A red boat on the beach of Gili Trawangan
Boats are the only way to move between the islands © juliyaburnos / Shutterstock

Boats often pull up on the beaches, prepare to wade ashore. Public fast boats now run almost hourly in the daytime on a route linking Gili T, Gili Meno, Gili Air and Bangsal.

Although it had a bad reputation for years, Bangsal Harbour hassles are much reduced. Still, avoid touts and note that anyone who helps you with bags deserves a tip (10,000Rp per bag is appropriate). There are ATMs. Coming by public transport via Mataram and Senggigi, catch a bus or bemo to Pemenang, from where it’s a 1.2km (0.74mi) walk ( or you can take an ojek) to Bangsal Harbour. A metered taxi to the port will take you to the harbour.

You might also like: 

This article was originally published in October 2014 and updated by Mark Johanson in December 2019. Its latest update was in January 2011. 

Get more travel inspiration, tips and exclusive offers sent straight to your inbox with our weekly newsletter

Order The Sustainable Travel Handbook

Lonely Planet

This practical and inspiring guide motivates travelers to take a responsible approach to the impact of traveling.

Order The Sustainable Travel Handbook

Places from this story