Here are the 7 best things to do in the Gili Islands for mindful travellers. This guide to mindful fun is part one of our Mindful Travel Guide to the Gilis.
When I first read about the Gili Islands, they sounded like my version of tourist hell — a place for backpackers who wanted to get off their faces on mushrooms and bootleg alcohol. While there is that element to the islands, especially on Gili Trawangan, there’s another, milder side to the Gilis.
There are also plenty of things to do on the Gili Islands for travellers like you and me, who seek a more meaningful experience from our journeys.
This is the first part of our Mindful Travel Guide to the Gili Islands. The rest of the guide has tips on where to stay in the Gili Islands, where to find vegetarian and vegan food on the Gilis, how to avoid offending the locals and more.
7 Things to Do in the Gili Islands for Mindful Travellers
Yoga on the Gili Islands
These three little tropical islands are a bit of a hippie paradise, so there is plenty of yoga available. Many of the studios offer packages so you can design your own yoga retreat.
There are some great teachers on the islands, but there are also a few awful ones! So before you fork out your cash for a class, read reviews and ask the instructor about their style, background, and teaching credentials.
Related: If you’re in Bali, here are some great tips on where to go to avoid the Bali crowds →
Gili Trawangan Yoga
Gili Yoga (at Freedive Gili Trawangan)
Pleasant space right near the ferry “terminal”, offering Freedive instruction as well as a consistent daily schedule of Vinyasa and Hatha yoga classes. Run by one of the world’s top free divers, Kate Middleton. (No, not that Kate Middleton.)
To be honest, Stephen wasn’t thrilled with the class he took here but it wasn’t taught by one of their regular instructors, so it may just have been an unlucky experience. (Also, Stephen is very hard to please.) Just make sure to ask about the teacher’s background before you sign up.
You can read reviews of Gili Yoga here.
The Yoga Garden
The Yoga Garden is a little oasis in the middle of the island. There is a healthy cafe catering to all sorts of yogi diets, villas you can rent, and many different styles of yoga, including Aqua yoga.
Unfortunately, we were so aggressively sold their 3-Hour Beginner’s Yoga class – despite our insistence that we weren’t interested – that it left a bad taste in our mouths. Then again, if you ARE a yoga beginner, this might be the perfect place to get started!
Gili Air Yoga
With eye-catching yoga posters dotted around the island, it’s hard to miss MandalaBlue at Blue Marine Dive Resort.
They offer a range of styles — Ashtanga, Vinyasa, Yin, and FlyHigh aerial yoga. There’s also a weekly SUP yoga class and a sunset SUP, too. They also offer retreat packages which combine a diving course, SUP, and yoga. We didn’t get a chance to practice here but the view from the yoga space is amazing.
Gili Meno Yoga
Offering one or two drop-in classes per day, Mao Meno is also a retreat space, with accommodation, all the standard props, and catering services.
Right on the beach, Seri Retreat‘s two-level bamboo yoga shala looks like a spectacular place to practice. They offer drop-in yoga twice a day. They also offer retreat packages and, quite frankly, we want to hold a retreat there! Will you come?
SUP and Kayaking on Gili Islands
If you’re a beginning stand-up paddle boarder or kayaker, the Gili Islands are a great place to give it a try. The water is relatively calm but, more importantly, it’s extremely warm, so it doesn’t matter how many times you fall in!
Always stay close to the shore and don’t try to go between islands. They look close but there are lots of hidden currents that could sweep you out to sea.
Snorkelling Gili Islands
I used to hate snorkelling, until I discovered the full-face snorkel masks that you can rent at a few spots on the Gili Islands. These masks make it easy to breathe, they don’t fog up, and the have a valve to stop water from getting into your mouth if you accidentally go too deep.
BTW, Stephen almost destroyed his iPhone shooting this video! Don’t put your iPhone underwater, even if Apple says it’s waterproof. It’s not.
Most vendors still rent the old-school tube-in-your-mouth mask, but ask inside the better dive shops and you should be able to find the modern ones.
If you’re snorkelling, please be extremely mindful of the coral. Don’t step on it or kick it, even if it already looks dead.
Also, respect the sea turtles, fish, and other marine life by keeping your distance. And for god’s sake, don’t try to touch them. We saw far too many people grabbing at the turtles in order to look like an animal-lover on Instagram. Just NO!
Related: Here are some tips to get the most from your snorkelling experience from the WWF.
Diving in Gili Islands
All levels of divers will find Gili Island diving rewarding. If you’re looking to learn, you can get excellent diving lessons on the Gilis. You can also get terrible ones! At one shop, we were offered a 20-minute lesson in the pool before being taken out in the open water. No thank you!
Whether you’re a newbie or an experienced diver, please use one of the reputable Gili Islands scuba diving companies who are members of the Gili Island Dive Association. Not only are they safer but they are committed to protecting the environment in the Gili Islands.
You can join GILA members for a weekly beach clean-up every Friday evening on Gili Trawangan. You’ll get to meet the community of divers on the islands plus earn a free beer!
There are dozens of dive shops on the Gili Islands, so you’ll need to do a little research to decide which is right for you.
Related: Please read this guide to protecting the environment while diving before you go.
Free Diving on the Gili Islands
Before we went to the Gili Islands, my only knowledge of Free Diving came from that 80s French movie, The Big Blue. Turns out that on the Gili Islands, free diving is a pretty big deal.
Gili Islands Surf
Though the surfing in the Gili Islands isn’t the most popular in Indonesia, there are plenty of places to catch a wave if you want to give it a shot. Gili Trawangan is the most popular island for surfing but according to locals you can find great surfing on all three islands.
Related: Check this post for more details about surfing in the Gilis.
Sunset Swings and Sips
You’re probably familiar with the iconic Instagrams from the Gilis, right?
A girl with a perfect bikini poses on a swing over the ocean as an impossibly beautiful sunset lights the sky around her. (Sorry, I just can’t bring myself to repost one here).
Well, if you want your shot at a perfect sunset swing photo on the Gili Islands, be prepared to get in line. Though lots of swings have been built since the original sunset swing became a massive hit, in high season, you’ll be one of a dozen people waiting for your perfect sunset pose!
We didn’t bother waiting around, since neither of us was wearing a bikini at the time. Instead, we went and sat on an empty patch of beach and saw this.
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There are plenty of places to sit and sip a happy hour cocktails while watching the sunset.
The best sunsets are on Gili Trawangan where the sun slips behind Bali’s magnificent Mount Agung. Gili T also has the busiest sunset scene. Sunset beach is lined with party bars which get rowdier as the evening progresses.
On Gili Meno and Gili Air, the sun sets behind the neighbouring Gili Islands, so while the view might not be quite as impressive (it’s still pretty awesome), it’s a much more peaceful experience.
Our favourite place for sunset cocktails on Gili Air was El Pirata. Don’t let the cheesy pirate-Mexican vibe fool you. Sink into a bean-bag chair on the beach for a perfect view of the sun dipping behind Gili Meno while sipping the best-priced beer and cocktails (which weren’t bad!) along the beach.
They also serve a pretty good plate of guacamole and fresh flour tortilla chips if you’re feeling peckish.
(Note: We have been in Asia for a long time, so our guacamole standards are slipping!)
If you decide to go to the Gilis, make sure you leave enough time to enjoy the laid-back island vibe. Just because there are so many things to do on the Gili Islands doesn’t mean you want to spend your whole time there rushing from one activity to the other. Leave time to sit by the water, sipping a sundowner and watching the boats drift by.
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♥ Happy adventures, Stephen & Jane