Once a backpackers’ secret, the Gili Islands are slowly beginning to emerge as a destination in their own right. Located on the northwest tip of Lombok a short 2-hour ferry ride from Bali, the Gili Islands consist of three separate islands: Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno and Gili Air, each surrounded by perfect white beaches, glistening turquoise waters and coral reefs housing a dizzying array of marine life. On a clear day, the towering peaks of Bali’s Mount Agung and Lombok’s Mount Rinjani are visible in the distance. Recent improvements to the ferry services as well as a number of boutique hotels popping up have increased the islands’ international profile in recent years.
Out of the three islands, Gili Trawangan is the most developed, with a downtown strip of lively bars, restaurants and shops. Neighbouring Gili Meno is the quietest island, with a relaxed pace and atmosphere that’s perfect for those looking to get away from it all, while Gili Air offers a mix of the two with a good variety of guesthouses and restaurants. Blissfully, all three of the islands are completely car and motorcycle-free, with the only mode of land transport being horse-drawn carts, or cidomos, as well as bicycle.
Still, it’s what lies beneath the islands that is the biggest draw. With over 20 different established dive sites as well as numerous snorkelling points, the Gilis’ are a haven for divers and a great choice for beginners looking to learn. Thanks to several far-sighted marine conservation programs, the area is teeming with turtles, reef sharks and manta rays, and those lucky enough may even spot the elusive mola-mola fish.
Composed of three tiny islands off the coast of Lombok, the Gili Islands are a mini barefoot paradise.
When to Go
The best time for diving is during the dry months of May till September. Avoid the rainy season from December until early February, which results in limited underwarer visibility and poor beach days.
Things to Do
- With reliably good conditions and gentle currents, the Gili Islands are an ideal destination for divers as well as those looking to get certified.
- Charter a fishing boat for a day and go island-hopping amongst the three islands, jumping off deck to snorkel at various points along the way.
- Enroll in a cooking class on Gili Trawangan and learn to make authentic Indonesian dishes.
- Learn the art of freediving or get centred with yoga classes at Freedive Gili and Gili Yoga.
- Explore the islands from a sea kayak or paddle board, available for rent in Gili Trawangan.
- Rent a bicycle and pedal around the island, stopping to cool off in the turquoise waters along the way
- Party on Gili Trawangan at its many diverse beach clubs and bars until the sun comes up
- Indulge in a traditional massage or spa treatment to unwind after a long day in the sun
- Visit the turtle sanctuaries on Gili Trawangan and Gili Meno, where baby Green and Loggerhead turtles are hatched from eggs and released into the ocean
- Enjoy a seafood BBQ dinner with freshly-caught lobster, prawns, squid and fish at one of the many restaurants around the islands
- Take a day trip to Lombok, less than half an hour away by boat, and explore its jungle trails and waterfalls
- Take an evening stroll west and watch the fiery orange sunsets sinking over the horizon
There are no airports on the Gili Islands. For international visitors, the nearest airport is Lombok International Airport (BIL), located near the city of Praya on neighbouring Lombok, or Ngurai Rah International Airport (DPS) in Bali. Most resorts as well as several private companies can arrange for land and boat transfer to the islands.
Several fast boat and ferry companies operate services several times a day between the three Gili islands, linking them to the harbour of Senggigi in Lombok (30 mins) and the ports of Padang Bai, Benoa, Serangan and Amed in Bali (2 hrs). A land transfer is also usually necessary, which often comes bundled together with the package. Safety standards have improved greatly in recent years, although this can vary greatly depending on the company. Indistay tip: avoid travelling during the afternoon, which usually sees choppy sea conditions.
All three Gili Islands are completely free of all motorised vehicles, which makes horse-drawn carts, or cidomos, the main mode of transport on the islands. These can generally be hired near the harbour as well as in the main town areas, although most resorts can also call one for you. Prices are negotiable, starting at approximately IDR 20,000-40,000 per head.
Bicycle rentals can be found at most resorts as well as in town. At just a few kilometres in diameter, the islands are easily circumnavigated by bicycle and it makes for a pleasant way to get around. If travelling after dark, be sure to carry a torch light with you as streets are not lit.
Motorised boats are available for charter to ferry you across to the other Gili Islands or for a snorkelling tour. These are generally modified wooden fishing boats, and some even have glass bottoms for viewing coral.
Indonesia uses the rupiah (IDR), which has a tendency to fluctuate wildly in value. As a general guide, IDR100,000 is approximately equivalent to US$8. Visit xe.com to view the latest exchange rates. There is currently only one ATM on the islands, situated near Hotel Ombak on Gili Trawangan. Bring cash with you.
Restrictions and Laws
The majority of the Gili population are Muslim, so respectful behaviour is a must. Bikinis should be limited to the beach area only, while topless sunbathing is a strict no-no. Keep in mind Indonesia’s harsh penalties for drug peddling and use, which ranges from a stiff prison sentence to the death penalty.
Health and Safety
There is no visible police presence on the islands, although undercover agents are known to frequent busy areas. Visitors wishing to report any crimes must pay a visit to the local Kelapa Desa (Village Chief) instead.
In case of a medical emergency, all islands have resident nurses trained in basic first-aid. There is also a 24 hour doctor’s surgery located on Gili Trawangan.
Learn the Lingo
Bahasa Indonesian is the official language of Indonesia. English is widely spoken by hotels, although a few words of Indonesian will be helpful when dealing with the local boatmen.
Welcome - selamat datang
How are you? - apa khabar?
What is your name? - siapa nama?
How much is this? - ini berapa?
Excuse me / sorry - maaf
Thank you - terima kasih