The Gili Islands (meaning Little Islands) are one of Indonesia’s not so hidden gems. Although they’ve grown in popularity over the past 10 years, they’re still an amazing place to visit for quiet beach relaxation, amazing underwater adventures and some excellent scenery and sunsets. And did we mention the nightlife?
The Gili’s are a collection of three small islands off the north-east coast of Lombok. Each of them has something different to offer and will appeal to alternating interests. Follow our ultimate guide to the Gili Islands below to help you pick an island (or two… or all three) and explore it to its fullest in a short but fulfilling holiday.
What does Gili Trawangan (Gili T) have to offer?
- The largest and most developed of the Gili Islands with the most things to do. One side of the island is bustling with bars, restaurants and beach activities whilst the other side is a quiet haven of relaxation.
- A lively nightlife that attracts young people from around the world: backpackers and holiday seekers alike. Choose from relaxed beach bars and live music spots to full blown night clubs.
- Can be explored entirely by bike.
- The widest selection of accommodation to choose from – both luxury hotels and cheap hostels.
- Ideal for young people on a budget that enjoy partying, but also for those who just want lots to do. There’s a quieter side to the island.
What does Gili Air have to offer?
- Gili Air is the second most popular island and it has a distinct combination of personalities from the other two islands. It bears the relaxed atmosphere of Meno, yet you can still find a good nightlife and some cool bars to visit, just as you would in Gili T.
- The island strikes as being the cleaner and greener island of the bunch due to having its own water supply and it has a number of nice beaches and viewpoints.
- Accommodation-wise, Gili Air has plenty to choose from and has lots of hotels on the more luxurious side of the scale. However, you’ll still find budget options readily available.
- Visit Gili Air for a mix of quiet relaxation and plenty of things to do, with a sprinkle of good nightlife.
What does Gili Meno have to offer?
- Meno is the smallest of the Gili’s. This intimate island is the most peaceful option and a place to enjoy the natural scenery and beaches without an overly touristic vibe
- Meno is family friendly and great for couples that want some quiet time together and the beaches are excellent.
- Accommodation options are quite limited on this island, as are things to do. However, that’s not a bad thing if you just want to relax and enjoy the aquatic life surrounding the island. In that limited pool is some excellent places to stay.
When’s the best time to visit the Gili Islands and how long should you stay?
The months of June – September provide some of the best conditions to visit the Gili Islands. The sea is calm so there’s less chance of a rocky speed boat crossing to the islands and these clear conditions are excellent for scuba diving trips.
July – August and November – January are the peak months of the year to visit. If you’re travelling during these periods, book your accommodation and travel well in advance to secure the best prices. Whatever month of the year you choose to visit, the Gili Islands’ equatorial location almost guarantees hot and sunny weather, but you will experience heavy but short rain showers from time to time.
How to get there
You can get to the Gili Islands via the islands of Lombok or Bali via a ferry or fast speed boat. Speed boat is the recommended option!
There are 3 main ports on Bali that have direct ferries to the Gili Islands and onwards to Lombok. The port you choose will all depend on where you’re staying.
The transfer times below are from Bali ports to Gili Trawangan. Onward journeys to Gili Meno and Gili Air take an additional 15 – 20 minutes.
Direct speed boat transfer times:
From Padang Bai (Ubud, North East Bali) – 1hr 30min
From Serangan (Canggu, Seminyak, Kuta, Uluwatu) – 2hr 15min
From Amed – 45min
View the latest crossing schedule on the Bali Ferry website here. You can also book tickets in advance.
If you’re travelling from the airport, you’ll need to take an 14 hour 40 minute taxi or mini bus ride to Teluk Kode ferry terminal to the north of the island. From here you can catch a fast boat from the pier to the Gili islands
Transfer time: 15-20min for the fast boat option
View boat transfer timetables for the Gili Islands on the Lombok Speed Boat website here. You can compare arrival times, prices and port pick-up options.
Travelling between islands
It goes without saying that you should visit each of the Gili islands for a varying island life experience. You can catch the fast boats that travel between the islands and onwards to Lombok and Bali multiple times per day or hire a private boat transfer. If you’re visiting for 4 nights or so, why not pick two different islands to spend your time?
Top things to do on the Gili Islands
Beach relaxation – Most people come to the Gili Islands for the serene white beaches, and clear water shorelines. Relax on a hammock with a cold drink or sunbathe and wind down after visiting more hectic parts of Indonesia. All three islands have a number of excellent beaches, some more secluded and un-touched than others (Gili Meno and Gili Air or west Gili T).
Our favourite beaches have to be Sunset Beach to the north-west of Gili T; you guessed it, for its amazing sunsets, where the skies glow orange and you have a backdrop of boats, white sands and hammocks. Gili Meno has the quietest beaches, perfect for time alone with your loved one. The Gili’s have mainly coral beaches so be careful wear you walk and wear your flip flops; however, you’ll also find some smooth sand beaches.
Scuba diving and snorkelling – The number one thing to do in the Gili Islands and another main reason for visiting is the rich marine life. In shallow waters, the sea is transparent and you can watch tropical fish, giant sea turtles and many more amazing creatures, swimming beneath you. Get up close and personal with the wildlife and surrounding scenery by embarking on a scuba diving or snorkelling tour. Read more on these later on in the article.
Spa visit – When you need from shade from the hot equatorial sun, lie down on a sun lounger and enjoy a treatment from a beach masseuse or visit one of the luxury hotel spas apparent across each of the islands. The best spas to visit include the Azure Spa on Gili Trawangan or Slow Spa on GiliAir. It’s a great way to wind down after a day out exploring the sea life.
Boat tours – If you’re not a fan of snorkelling or scuba diving but want to see the stunning scenery of the islands, embark on a boat voyage between the three islands and get a glimpse of ocean life from above. You can rent a private boat with a captain, your own small boat (if you have a licence) or join a group tour. You can even join a snorkelling tour and opt to stay on deck rather than getting in the water.
Yoga – The Gili Islands’ neighbouring Bali is famous for yoga treats and like many beach retreats in Asia, the Gili Islands are a great place to calm your mind for a carefree start to your morning or evening. Take part in one of the many yoga classes hosted across the islands – try daybreak beach Yoga or sunset yoga in an air conditioned bamboo studio. We highly recommend Sunset Beach Yoga on Gili T.
Water sports – Although you won’t find the sheer amount of water sports options as nearby Bali and Lombok, there’s still a good number of fun things to do on the coral shores of the Gilis. Rent a jet ski, waterski, parasail or go kayaking in a see-through bottom kayak. You’ll find these activities on the main beaches of each island and prices can often be negotiated!
Watch the amazing sunsets in a beach cocktail bar – No matter the island you choose to visit, Bali’s sunsets light up the skies with vibrant orange and pink colours. Travel to the side of the island where the sun is setting and enjoy a cocktail as you watch it go down. You’ll capture some of your best photographs at this moment.
Dine on the beach – Almost all of the bars and restaurants in the Gili Islands are based on or very close to the beach. Enjoy a flame lit dinner with a light sea breeze or gaze at the stars from a balcony restaurant. Walk down the main promenade’s on each island to browse the fresh seafood on offer. Many places let you pick your meat of fish and you can then watch as they cook it in front of you. Read on to the bottom of this article for our top restaurant recommendations.
Bike ride around the island – Gili T is a large island but not so much that you can’t cover the whole perimeter on a bicycle. There are very few vehicles, just horse and carts and plenty of bikes. Rent a bike from your hotel or a beach rental shack and tour the island at your leisure, visiting the lively east of the island or quieter beaches and resorts of the west. There are lots of cool cafes and bars to stop off at on the way. Riding in the heat can be exhausting!
Party until the early hours – For eccentric nightlife, there’s not many islands like Gili Trawangan. Beach bars line the east of the island and you’ll find everything from cocktail lounges and live music to full-blown EDM bars and clubs. See our nightlife guide below for the full lo-down.
Outdoor cinema – Another unique activity you can do on Gili T is watching a classic or recent movie in an open-air cinema. Lie back under the starts with your loved one or friends and enjoy something different from the bar-scene. Hotel Vila Ombak had the best outdoor cinema that we visited.
Paddleboarding and kayaking – One of the best ways to see the giant sea turtles of the island is hiring a see-through bottom kayak or paddle board and wading the shallow waters with a camera in hand. The marine life you’ll see is amazing!
Hike Treasure Hill – Treasure Hill has one of the best views of Gili Trawangan. This short, 15-20 minute hike is located to the south of the island, giving you a bird’s eye view of the island waters and Lombok’s Mount Rinjani on the horizon.
Gili Meno turtle sanctuary – If you love animals, this small and unassuming beach centre will make your day. The staff are very informed about sea life and turtles and will answer any questions you have. You’ll get to see baby turtles swimming in their pools and being fed. This is a quick activity but well worth seeing.
Scuba diving and snorkelling trips
Many people come to the Gili Islands just to explore the vibrant sea life. Giant turtles and colourful tropical fish roam the waters and the sea if the perfect depth for diving and snorkelling. If you haven’t scuba dived before, you can use this opportunity to attain your PADI diving licence or embark on a one-day restricted dive if you don’t have much time to spare.
The top dive sites to in the Gili’s can be found on Ocean5’s website here.
When choosing a scuba diving company to explore with, there’s a seemingly endless amount! Many operators offer overnight stays in their on-site hotels, which is a good idea if you plan on embarking on a multi-day intensive course.
Recommended scuba diving operators on each island:
Gili Trawangan – Manta Dive
Gili Meno – Blue Marlin Dive
Gili Air – Gili Air Divers
For more information, Girls That Scuba have an excellent guide to everything scuba in the Gili’s. Check it out here.
The hotspots for eating out on all three islands are the beach areas. Open air tables surrounded by fire torches and candles are the norm here and you can look at the stars in the sky as you enjoy freshly cooked seafood and grilled meats. Gili T’s main beach has the most restaurants; however, you’ll still find plenty of nice eateries on the other islands.
Remember to check reviews for a restaurant before taking a seat.
Our favourite restaurants:
Casa Vintage Beach – Casa Vintage Beach is a place that will have you coming back every evening whilst on Gili T. It’s a beach front cocktail bar and restaurant with a relaxed atmosphere and tasty food and drinks. It’s one of the best places to watch the sunset whilst enjoying dinner and although it’s a little more expensive than nearby options, it’s well worth it in our opinion – the portions are huge!
Pearl Beach Lounge – For an extra special meal in a cool environment, check out Pearl Beach to the south of Gili T’s main beach. The entire restaurant is made from wood and the upper deck has an excellent view of the beach. Breakfast, lunch or dinner, it’s a good choice regardless.
Mowie’s Bar – Mowie’s Bar is a restaurant on the beach. During the day you can sit out on the white sand and be waited on, ordering cocktails, snacks and meals to your leisure. After sunset, the beach is lit up with torches and you can enjoy a romantic meal overlooking the ocean. The menu is varied and includes both local dishes and western classics, each cooked to perfection. It’s a very relaxed environment for those that want to chill on the beach and enjoy a nice meal, although nothing fancy.
Waroeng Alam Damai – Waroeng Alam Damai is a small hidden gem of a restaurant, located inland from the main beach area. It serves delicious, family cooked, cheap Indonesian food in a cosy environment. On an evening, it’s lit up with fairy lights and has a basic but romantic ‘beach shack’ setting. We recommend any of the curries as they’re equally as good!
Mahamaya Gili Meno – Currently occupying the number one spot of Tripadvisor for top reviews, the Mahamaya Gili Meno restaurant is a delightful restaurant that sits on Meno’s north-west beach, serving up well cooked and beautifully presented food. It’s a little more expensive than other restaurants but has one of the most romantic sunset settings you’ll see. Keep this one for a special occasion and be sure to book in advance if you want a table on the beach.
A note on street food: corn is ubiquitous everywhere! Street-side BBQ’d corn on the cob is a popular snack for both locals and tourists. It’s cheap, tasty and you’ll spark up some great conversations with the locals as you sit by the roadside.
For more street food dishes, visit the night market on Gili Trawangan. There are plenty of stalls selling Indonesian specialities for super cheap prices.
Nightlife on the Gili Islands
As already alluded to, Gili Trawangan is the place to go for a lively nightlife that will take you into the early hours. The island attracts a lot of young people for its beach party vibe and the main beach strip of bars and restaurants comes alive at night. Surprisingly, it wasn’t the loud clubbing scene that we expected and it’s quite varied.
Choose from a relaxing beach bar for sunset cocktails, enjoy live music at a Reggae or karaoke bar or join the backpackers of Indonesia at a lively club that’s open until 4am. Gili T’s young crowd is geared around partying, although older adults will be at home too and can enjoy some of the more reserved beach bars and hotel lounges.
Unusually, the main nightlife nights are Monday, Wednesday and Friday on Gili T with some bars staying open until 4am, whilst the bars close a lot earlier on the other days of the week (around 1am). Keep this in mind when planning a big night out.
The best nightlife venues (in our opinion):
- Sama Sama Reggae Bar – ideal for live music before a big night out
- Paradise Sunset – the perfect place for 6pm sunset cocktails
- The Jungle Bar – a lively party bar with a wide selection of cheap drinks
- Irish Bar Gili– themed evenings, friendly staff and karaoke
Check out Drinking Traveller’s excellent nightlife guide to Gili for detailed bar and party night information.
Gili Air and Gili Meno nightlife:
Although Gili T is the party centre of the Gili’s, you can find some good beach bars on Gili Air, where you can enjoy cocktail sunsets, and a few venues where you can party until the early hours.
Gili Meno is a more relaxed environment where you’ll struggle to find bars or nightlife. Relax in the comfort of your hotel and go out to a nice beach dinner on an evening.
Note: it isn’t really possible to travel between islands for nightlife so do all of your travelling during the day and stay overnight if visiting another island.
Where to stay on the Gili Islands
The Gili Islands aren’t a place for super luxurious chain hotels, but you will find a selection of tranquil eco-resorts, enchanting beach shacks, private cottages and boutique hotels with great facilities. A stay on the Gili’s should centre on the swimming pool and beach, and plenty of accommodations do that just perfectly.
Pearl of Trawangan – The Pearl of Trawangan resort is located to the south of the island in a great location. It’s close enough to the more secluded beaches of the south and west in a quiet location, however with a short walk you’ll find yourself on the main Gili T beach near the main bars, restaurants and market. The hotel is spread over beautiful gardens with a nice pool, intricate furnishings and an adjoining beach. This is the best hotel on the island in our opinion.
Desa Dunia Beda Beach Resort – For luxury accommodation in a much quieter area of the island, check out Desa Dunia Beda Beach Resort. This small collection of private villas is right next to one of the quietest beaches on the island. Enjoy plenty of space to relax in the villa, chill by the pool or take a bike ride around the coastline. This hotel is ideal for families or couples on their honeymoon. Welcome to paradise!
Pink Coco Gili Air – This small boutique hotel on the beach is the obvious choice for visitors looking for a relaxing retreat to the Gili’s with a nice place to stay. The entire resort has a pink theme, with everything from the sun loungers to the windows, doors and drinks. It’s a quirky little place to unwind with the care of very attentive staff. Prices are on the more expensive side for Gili Air, however the reviews will show you why it’s so popular and well worth paying extra for!
An excellent alternative to Pink Coco is Gili Air Escape, a secluded eco-retreat with large and luxurious wooden bungalows, a top notch restaurant and small pool to escape the hot Indonesian sun. Check it out!
Mahamaya Gili Meno – Gili Meno is small and has limited accommodation on offer; however that’s no problem when you have resorts such as the Mahamaya. We recommended its restaurant in our eating out guide and the hotel is just as good! The rooms are spacious, bright and within a short walk of the beach, where you can enjoy fresh juices or cocktails at your leisure and meet the friendly staff. The resort tranquillity makes it perfect for a quiet retreat or honeymoon with your loved one.
An equally impressive but more expensive resort is Karma Reef. Stay in a spacious and picture perfect beach bungalow and enjoy excellent service as you spend your days lying on the beach and swimming. Check it out!
Gili Palms Resort – If backpacker hostels aren’t your style (and Gili T has lots of them), the best budget friendly hotel has to be the Gili Palms Resort to the north-east of the island. This well maintained collection of bungalows is bright, spacious, clean and great value for money. Relax at the pool or take the short walk to the main beach for water sports and boat trips. The staff at the Gili Palms are also very nice and will go out of their way to help you explore the island.
Manta Dive Gili Air Resort – It’s not the cheapest of the budget accommodations available; however it’s the best and provides great value! Manta Dive is currently the top-rated hotel in Gili Air on Tripadvisor. Although rooms are basic, they’re clean and spacious with easy access to the beach. If you’re visiting the Gili’s for a diving course, Manta Dive provide a range of advanced and beginner courses, with dive and overnight stay packages.
Meno Dream – Experience island life in the comfort of a private bungalow in the Meno Dream resort. This inexpensive and quiet getaway is tucked back inland from the eastern beaches but is only a short walk away. Experience nature as you wake up on a morning in the small but pretty resort surroundings and there’s a swimming pool, restaurant, sports games and chill-out areas to enjoy when you’re not out exploring Gili Meno.
Gili Islands visitor/travel tips
- If you’re visiting the Gili Islands for more than 4 days, why not stay on a couple of different islands for different experiences? Alternatively, you should definitely catch a boat tour to see the other islands.
- Book your ferries in advance through Baliferry.com . It’s cheaper than other ferry websites and paying on the day. They can get very busy!
- Try to dispose of your rubbish/garbage carefully. The Gili islands have a huge problem with plastic waste.
- If you don’t have a PADI licence but want to try scuba diving, opt for a one day shallow dive course. You can plunge to depths of 12m without a licence, which is plenty enough to see the sea life and underwater ruins.
- Book your accommodation in advance. Being small islands, rooms are limited and can fill quickly during busy times of the year, meaning higher room prices the later you leave it!
- Pack light and for the beach. Flip flops, shorts and t-shirts are all you’ll wear on the islands. Weather is hot year-round and it’s rare you’ll see rain.
We hope our guide to the Gili Islands has given you everything you need to plan your trip to this amazing archipelago. Each island is different so pick based on your interests and be sure to visit the other ones during your trip. Whether you’re here for a quiet retreat on the beach or an action-packed scuba diving trip, paradise awaits you…
If you have any questions about anything we’ve mentioned in this guide or have a suggestion or review of a place you’ve already visited on the islands, get in touch!