The Ultimate Guide To The Gili Islands: What To See, What To Do, Where To Stay & More!

The Gili Islands are a group of small islands off the coast of the Bali mainland.

They’ve become increasingly popular over the last few years with tourists particularly the three Gili islands of Gili Trawangan, Gili Air and Gili Meno.

However, before you book a boat out to the Gili Islands, you’ll want to spend some time reading our guide to the Gili Islands and seeing what there is to do, where you can stay, eat and more. Check it out.

About The Gili Islands

beach and boats as a background gili meno islands

The Gili Islands are a small archipelago of three islands (the Gili Island triplets) Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno and Gili Air.

They are referred to collectively as Gili Indah (a Bahasa name that means “small and beautiful islands”).

Given their proximity to Bali and Lombok, they are ideal for tourists who want to try a bit of island hopping without travelling too far.

Gili Air is the island that is home to the most Indonesians, however, due to a huge influx of expats, Gili Trawangan is actually the most densely populated of the three Gili islands.

Oddly, there are many other islands around the island group that are also have the word “Gili” in their name.

However, this is because the word “Gili” means “small island” and not because they are part of the Gili islands grouping.

Gili Air is not named after the air, but is, instead named after the water (Air is the Bahasa word for water). It is the only island in the Gili islands that has its own water table which it can draw fresh water from.

This means the other two islands must get all their water shipped in from the mainland and water is more expensive because of this.

Where Are The Gili Islands?

BALI MAP GILI

The Gili Islands are found in the Lombok Strait. They are Northwest of the island of Lombok and about 35 kilometres from Bali.

You can easily see both Bali and Lombok when standing on any of the Gili Islands and the towering Mount Rinjani over on Lombok is the most noticeable part of any Eastern view from the islands.

Interestingly, the Gili Islands have their own microclimate and they tend to be drier than the mainland. The average annual temperature is a very pleasant 28 degrees here.

Which Island Should We Visit Gili Trawangan, Gili Air or Gili Meno?

deserted beach of gili air

Gili Trawangan (or Gili T) has a reputation as a party island and also for the circulation of certain recreational chemicals that Indonesian authorities take a very dim view of.

You should be warned that if you choose to party in Gili Trawangan and you’re caught with those substances, you are in serious trouble. You can face very long sentences and in some cases, even the death penalty. Don’t let a good time in Gili T impact your life in this way.

However, if you put this to one side, Gili Trawangan is the most tourist-friendly destination and it has spent a lot of effort building up its infrastructure to attract visitors.

Certainly, if you want raves on the beach until the sun comes up, there’s only one island for you and that’s Gili Trawangan.

Unfortunately, Gili T may well be over-touristed and the local population is not always enthusiastic about seeing more overseas visitors.

Gili Meno is a tiny island with a permanent population of about 500 people. It’s the quietest of the three islands and if you want a peaceful honeymoon in idyllic luxury, it’s the best of the islands.

It’s also home to the turtle sanctuary and that’s a great reason to spend some time on Gili Meno. Scuba diving with sea turtles over coral reefs is an unforgettable experience.

Gili Air is often the one Gili island that everyone agrees is great to visit. It has plenty of seclusion and privacy but also excellent watersports and entertainment facilities.

There’s even a cooking school and a public gym on Gili Air. But we like it best for its natural environment. It has the best beaches and the best natural features of the three islands, we think.

How Do I Get From Bali To Gili Islands?

Aerial Drone Flight over Big Ferry Boat Sailing

There are a few ways to get from Bali to the Gili islands and they include:

  • Flying to Lombok. A flight from Ngurah Rai International Airport to Lombok International Airport takes about 40 minutes. Then you need to take a taxi to the Bangsal harbour on the Northwest coast of Lombok which takes about 2 hours. Then you jump on a local boat service to the islands and that takes another 30 minutes.

  • The public ferries from Bali. These leave Padang Bai in the Southeast corner of Bali and they take about 5 hours to reach. Lembar in Southwest Lombok. After that, you need to take a taxi to the Bangsal harbour which is going to take 2 hours. Then, you take a boat to the islands.

  • The public boats from Bali. By far, the best and easiest way to get from Bali to the Gili islands is to catch one of the fast boat services, you can leave from Serangan (in South Bali), Amed (in Northeast Bali) or Padang Bai (Southeast Bali) and these fast boats take between 90 minutes and two and a half hours to complete the trip.

What Should I Pack For The Gili Islands?

Silhouetted female tourists watching sunset over sea, Gili Trawangan, Lombok, Indonesia

You don’t need to bring much more to the Gili Islands than you were bringing to Bali anyway but you might want to bring:

  • A sarong – the most flexible way to cover yourself and you can use it to lay on the sand to get your sunbathing in.

  • Basic clothing – thongs, swimwear, etc. It’s vital that you have the clothes you need for island life and the best beaches.

  • Sunscreen, sun hat and sunglasses – you can, probably, buy these things on the islands but at really inflated prices.

  • Personal medicines – if you need medicine, bring it with you. The Gili islands have no hospital, a few small clinics and almost no pharmacies.

  • Dry shampoo and soap – a lot of places on the Gili islands try to conserve freshwater by using seawater for showers, baths, etc.

How To Get Around The Gili Islands?

rear view of two young women cycling in palm tree gili islands indonesia

One of the big selling points of Gili Island life is that cars, lorries, etc. are banned on all three islands.

There are no motorised vehicles permitted not even the ubiquitous Balinese electric scooters and most other people walk or cycle. There is no motorized traffic of any kind.

 

local transport on indonesian island with no cars gili air

You can walk around the island of Gili Trawangan in less than 2 hours and the other islands are smaller still.

You can always hire a local horse cart (known as a cidomo) if you don’t want to walk somewhere. The sedate pace of the horse cart will still see you get where you want to be fast enough.

When To Go The Gili Islands?

Aerial Shot girls swim in the turquoise, clear water of Gili Meno Island, Lombok, Indonesia.

The peak time to visit a Gili Island is between July and August and between December and January. At these times, the price of accomodation can go shooting up.

The best hotels will be sold out in advance (and even the budget places may have no room at the inn) and you definitely want to book in advance.

You should also book things like scuba diving before you arrive if you want to be there in peak season.

If you want great weather and cheaper prices, then September to November sees relatively little rain and much less crowded beaches.

Are The Gili Islands Safe?

Gili Meno

In the main part, Gili Air, Gili Trawangan and Gili Meno are about the safest places you could visit in Indonesia and there are almost no scammers or even pickpockets on these islands.

However, as we mentioned earlier, Gili T is famous for its illegal drugs and if you are caught purchasing, selling, possessing or consuming drugs, you will have a very unhappy end to your holiday. Indonesian jails are truly awful places and not in the remotest bit safe.

If you swim off the North East Beach be aware that the currents can be very powerful and if you’re not a strong swimmer, don’t swim alone in these places.

Ask a local about the currents before you get into the water, it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

Solo female travellers should continue to take all normal precautions when out partying or getting home late at night.

Mostly a trip to the Gili islands is going to be 100% safe, but we always recommend that you have travel insurance, just in case something goes wrong.

Where To Go And What To Do In The Gili Islands?

Woman underwater, Gili Meno, Gili islands, Bali, Indonesia

There are plenty of things to do on these islands including:

  • Lounging on the beach – seriously the beaches here are awesome. Beautiful white sands, turquoise waters, and great beach bars.

  • Go scuba diving – you can see manta rays (though not as many as at Manta Point in the Nusa Islands), lionfish, scorpion fish, octopus, and more here. The diving companies here are cheaper than in Bali and if you want to get your PADI certs, this is a great place to do it. You need to pay a marine park fee and a Gili Eco Trust fee for each dive you take part in too.

  • Go surfing – it might not be Uluwatu, but the surf here is pretty good. A week’s worth of surf camp is great value and surfing lessons are quite cheap too.

  • Swim with turtles – the turtle sanctuary on Gili Meno is awesome. Get a private boat, visit the sanctuary and go swimming with the turtles. Just, please don’t touch the turtles and never take flash photos of them.

  • Cycle around the islands – this is cheap and fun, the islands are so small that even an inexperienced cyclist won’t find them hard going.

  • Snorkel – private boat tours here are pretty cheap and you can go snorkelling for 4 hours for about 300,000 IDR and gear rental won’t cost you more than another 50,000 IDR on top.

  • Party at Gili Trawangan – Gili Trawangan is the place to party and the full moon parties on Gili Trawangan are legendary. There is also a well-loved foam party at the Mad Monkey Hostel on Gili Trawangan.

  • Learn some water sports – the fees for instruction are lower than on the mainland and you can learn nearly any water sport that you want to learn here.

Where To Stay In The Gili Islands?

ponte villas gilli trawangan lombok indonesia

A lot depends on your budget of course but if you want the cheapest places to stay head to Gili Trawangan and try:

  • Gili Beach Bum Hotel

  • Gili Pirates

  • Jati Village

If you have a bit more to spend then good budget and mid-range hotels in Gili Trawangan include:

  • Moana Guesthouse

  • Gili Beach Wind

  • Pearl of Trawangan

  • The Trawangan Resort

And if you want luxury try these places in Gili Trawangan:

  • Ponte Villas

  • MAJO Private Villas

  • The White Key Luxury Villas

The cheapest place to stay in Gili Meno is The Rabbit Tree Hostel and after that, your budget options include:

  • Jepun Bungalows

  • Meno Dream Resort

  • Dea Gili Cottages

Mid-Range Options include:

  • Kura Kura Beach Resort

  • United Colors of Gili

  • Meno Island Villas

  • Biru Meno Bungalows

Your luxury choices on Gili Meno include:

  • Villa Pulau Cinta Boutique Suites

  • MAHAMAYA Gili Meno

  • Villa Shelra

On Gili Air, the cheapest places include:

  • Fantastic Bamboo Hut

  • Beranda Hostel

  • Jago Gili Air

  • Gita Gili Bungalow

The mid-range includes:

  • Turtle Beach Hotel

  • Salim Cottage

  • Bohoi Villas

  • Sejuk Cottages

Luxury options in Gili Air include:

  • Kempas Villa

  • Anahata

  • Villa Burung

As there are almost no big-brand hotels on the islands, you’ll find that the luxury end of the market is more affordable but a little less polished than it is in Bali.

Where To Eat In The Gili Islands?

mowies gili air

There are plenty of great dining options in the Gili Islands and these include the following on Gili Trawangan:

  • Ko-Ko-Mo, this Asian fine dining establishment is actually run by Matthew Blundell who is from Sydney! The desserts are to die for!

  • The Night Market – if you want great street food and seafood made with the catch of the day, this is the place to go and it’s cheap.

  • Pearl Beach Lounger – this all-bamboo place with beanbags and big chairs is a real winner. They do a wide variety of food and some regular weeknight film screenings too!

On Gili Meno you’ll find:

  • Mahamaya Restaurant – this lovely beachfront place has a mix of local and Western food and an amazing view over the ocean.

  • Karma Beach – this awesome-looking restaurant is made of bamboo and rattan! The Mediterranean food is excellent and the live music is lovely.

  • Ya Ya Warung – when you want traditional Indonesian dishes like a tasty nasi goreng served by the sea, this is where you go.

On Gili Air, you’ll enjoy:

  • Chill Out Bungalows and Bar – this lovely spot serves local seafood caught by the local boats each day. The Bintang is icy cold too.

  • Mowie’s Gili Air, Bar & Bungalow – this is a nice little beachfront spot with some fantastic Western and local options.

  • Sharkbites – If you’re in the mood for a burger or a sandwich, this is about the best place to go in the Gili Islands.

 

What Budget Would I Need?

It really depends on how you want to live while you’re there but some example pricing includes:

  • Local Guest Houses – you can find a private room in these places very cheaply, indeed. 150,000 a night is about right.

  • Hostel rooms – if you want to sleep in a dorm, you can get a bed for 100,000 IDR a night, but if you want a private room you can expect to pay 300,000 IDR a night. Hostels are quite new to this part of the world and come at a premium even if they’re not any better than the guest houses.

  • A budget hotel room – around 500,000 IDR a night.

  • A mid-range hotel room – from 1,000,000 IDR a night

  • A luxury hotel room – really the sky’s no limit depending on what you want from the hotel

  • Airbnb – this varies dramatically with the time of year and you can find rentals that go for 600,000 IDR a month that

  • Food – a meal at a local warung will cost up to 75,000 IDR, at a good mid-range restaurant you will pay up to 200,000 IDR for a meal, and you can, of course, spend as much as you want at the top hotel and fine dining restaurants. Watch out for hidden taxes though, many places add a surcharge of up to 25% when the bill arrives and fail to mention this charge upfront.

  • Beer – a bottle of beer is about 45,000 IDR.

  • Water – imported water isn’t cheap, 17,000 IDR a bottle, in fact.

Thus backpackers need a budget of around 500,000 IDR a day in the Gili Islands, a mid-range budget might look like 1,500,000 IDR a day and the luxury budget might start at 2,500,000 IDR a day and work it’s way up from that quickly.

Again, it’s really up to you how much you spend on a visit to these islands, lying on a beach drinking Bintang and sleeping in a hostel, is way cheaper than staying at a luxury resort, learning new water sports and chartering boats out to sea.

How To Reduce Your Spending On The Gili Islands

 
close up hands taking out money from wallet indonesian rupiah

It’s fair to say that overall, this isn’t going to be the most expensive part of most people’s trip to Bali but if you want to keep your expenses down, you can:

  • Rent a bicycle– you really don’t need more than a bike on these tiny islands and 40,000 IDR a day is cheap. You can also walk to most places, with a bit of patience. That’s even cheaper than a bicycle.

  • Eat street food – the cheapest food is always street food, these are the places that the locals eat at and the food is both tasty and authentically Indonesian. If you pick a place with a queue, you can be sure that the food is fresh and good to eat.

  • Haggle as though your life depends on it – unless you’re in a restaurant or somewhere with fixed prices, you can haggle nearly everywhere on these islands. People expect you to bargain and it’s not considered rude to negotiate for a discount on nearly anything.

  • Take a water bottle with its own filter – the water’s expensive on the Gili Islands if you have your own filtering water bottle, you can drink for free topping up the bottle from the tap or even using sea water! Make sure to choose a reputable brand though, cheap clones often don’t filter properly. 

FAQs

Are The Gili Islands Worth Visiting?

Yes! They are beautiful places in the middle of the Indian Ocean free of the bane of Indonesian life – traffic.

Once you’ve been swimming with sea turtles, we can’t imagine you going home unhappy.

What Gili Island Is The Best To Stay On?

That’s really up to you. If you want parties – Gili T. Otherwise, Gili Air is probably your best bet but if you want a romantic getaway with a lot of privacy – Gili Meno will do the job nicely.

Is Gili Islands A Party Island?

No, but Gili Trawangan is something of a party island.

Gili T has a reputation for its late-night party vibe and nearly every foreigner on that island is more about the beach bars and drinks than they are about the tropical climate or the dive shops.

It’s the kind of place where you start the day in an Irish Pub and end up dancing until dawn in some random bar and then fall asleep all day long in the sun.

Are The Gili Islands Cheaper Than Bali? Are The Gili Islands Expensive?

No, they’re not cheaper than Bali. Almost everything on these small islands must be imported from the mainland and thus, there’s an increased cost to things on the Gili Islands.

Having said that, the difference isn’t huge and you won’t spend your time on Gili Trawangan or Gili Meno feeling like your cash is draining at three times the rate of Bali.

Is Gili Islands Part Of Bali?

No. While the islands are very close to Bali, they are part of the neighbouring Lombok administrative region, not the Bali one.

What Is Special About The Gili Islands?

They are a great place to go island hopping with amazing marine life, some lovely beach bars, the Gili eco trust, and much more!

How Do You Book A Holiday In The Gili Islands?

You call our friends at the Bali Res Centre ! This local travel agent can ensure you get access to the best local boats, all the beaches, all the local dining options and more.

They can also ensure that you don’t overpay for your time on Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno or Gili Air.

Final Thoughts On The Gili Islands

This tiny archipelago of small islands is a delightful place to spend some time on your Balinese vacation. You don’t need to see all three Gilis but everyone should visit, at least, one of them.

Going to a place with no cars, wonderful marine life, amazing beaches, great food and the best sunset is simply a no-brainer.