What brings you to the Gili Islands? Are you looking to party and come away with your diving license? Or are you desperate to get away from the crowds? Or maybe you've sparked up a holiday romance and are looking for somewhere to escape to together?
Fringed by white-sand beaches and coconut palms, all three Gilis, located off the northwest coast of Lombok, are a vision of paradise, but each have a distinct personality. Find the one that matches yours.
Gili Trawangan: the party island
The largest, most developed and most lively 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 snorkelling, diving and sunbathing spots are more than enough to keep most people there, and the party atmosphere isn’t too overbearing for open-minded families. Snorkellers would be wise to head to the northern part of the island for the best marine life.
There's a good 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 Hostel or chill out in style at Kokomo), and a vast choice of international restaurants to suit all tastes and budgets. Cars are forbidden on all three Gilis, but Gili T's main strip 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 one of the six luxe bungalows at Pondok Santi). The southwestern point of the island offers sensational sunset views, and the popular nightly food market on the eastern strip sells delicious barbeque dinners complete with sides for around 60Rp. Beach parties complete with DJs and fire dancers frequently take place around here, too.
- 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.
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 the eastern side (head to Webe Cafe for a barbecued seafood dinner), and accommodation options are mostly limited to attractive mid-range resorts and bungalows (such as Villa Nautilus). Other than a few secluded resorts that are slowly emerging (such as Mahamaya), the western side of the island is pretty much deserted, so there's plenty of privacy. There are some spectacular dive sites here, including the Bounty – a sunken pier, which is really fun to explore – and Meno Wall. There are about three dive schools to choose from on the island.
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 a seeking stunning beach escape to set a romantic mood.
- Might not be for you if: you’ve just been dumped and need a distraction.
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 number 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. It’s also the only Gili where you can gaze across the sea for uninterrupted views of Lombok’s mountainous northern coast.
The eastern side of the island is lined with plenty of beach bars and restaurants. In terms of nightlife, there's more of a laidback, chill-out-over-a-Bintang-style bar culture, and though there are places you can go to dance, clubbing is not a priority for Gili Air-goers. Having said that, full moon parties do take place here each month.
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 clown fish 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.
There's plenty of ongoing development on Gili Air, but hopefully the island’s authentic, local feel will be retained, as this is its key allure. Currently, its accommodation consists mostly of comfortable bungalows for budget travellers (try Bintang Beach 2 or Gili Air Hostel), but watch this space...
- 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.
How to get to the Gilis - from the 15th edition of Lonely Planet’s guide to Bali & Lombok
Fast boats advertise swift connections (about two hours) between Bali and Gili Trawangan. They leave from several departure points in Bali, including Benoa Harbour, Sanur, Padangbai 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).
The website Gili Bookings (gilibookings.com) presents a range of boat operators and prices 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 direct 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, you can travel on one of the fast boats from Teluk Nare 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 has posted prices and which is where you also charter a boat. Buy a ticket elsewhere and you’re getting played. Public boats run to all three islands before 11am, after that you may only find one to Gili T or Gili Air. Public boats in both directions leave when the boat is full – about 30 people. When no public boat is running to your Gili, you may have to charter a boat (280,000Rp to 375,000Rp, carries up to 20 people).
One-way fares are 10,000Rp to Gili Air, 12,000Rp to Gili Meno and 13,000Rp to Gili Trawangan. Boats often pull up on the beaches, prepare to wade ashore. Public fast boats also link Gili T and Bangsal; they run several times a day and cost 75,000Rp.
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 (10,000 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 walk (5000Rp by ojek) to Bangsal harbour. A Metered taxis to the port will take you to the harbour.
Last updated in August 2017.