7 Things To Do in the Gili Islands for Mindful Travellers

Surf, SUP, yoga, and sunsets... all the activties in Indonesia's Gili Islands!

things to do in gili islands

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

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.

Pin for your Gili Island trip!

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!

things to do in gili islands

Beach yoga is free for everyone on the Gili Islands.

Gili Air Yoga

MandalaBlue
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

Mao Meno
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.

Seri Retreat
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.

things to do in gili islands

Kicking back with a Bintang is a must when you visit the Gili Islands.

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.

things to do in gili islands

Sitting and looking at the boats is a perfect thing to do on the Gilis.

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.

Try Freedive Gili on Gili Trawangan or Freedive Flow on Gili Air for some of the most reputable lessons, from absolute beginner to instructor training.

things to do in gili islands

The sign says it all. Island life is good on the Gilis.

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.

things to do in gili islands

The sun sets quite beautifully on Gili Air.

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.

Need a guidebook for your Indonesia trip? We recommend these:

  Happy adventures, Stephen & Jane

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.

Pin for your Gili Island trip!

20 comments

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  3. Comment by TourGuideInSriLanka

    TourGuideInSriLanka Reply November 9, 2017 at 7:11 pm

    Amazing post…! Thanks for sharing this useful tips and guide guys. Very informative, really enjoyed reading this. Seems like a must go place. SO , exotic.

    • Comment by Jane

      Jane November 9, 2017 at 7:14 pm

      Thanks for the comment. It is an amazing place to chill out for a few days (or weeks)! J

  4. Comment by Jitaditya

    Jitaditya Reply October 24, 2017 at 11:34 pm

    I was expecting languid shores but it seems there are many other things to do in Gili. Yoga must be fulfilling… both physically and spiritually. However, my favorite is the horseriding shot with reflections on the wet sand!

    • Comment by Jane

      Jane October 25, 2017 at 1:35 am

      That’s been a very popular shot! Makes me kind of want to go horse riding, even though I’m not a big fan of horses :)

      J

  5. Comment by Jennifer Melroy

    Jennifer Melroy Reply October 24, 2017 at 9:11 pm

    I am so over people grabbing animals to take pictures with them. There is no excuse you can give me that makes it ok. I love how Hawaii has made it a really expensive fine and turtles near beaches are closely monitored.

    Thank you for putting in the lines about protecting the coral reefs. I hate snorkeling and diving in popular places because I can see how much damage they have done.

    • Comment by Jane

      Jane October 25, 2017 at 1:37 am

      There are certain countries where you can just see that the government are not doing anything to protect the environment. Indonesia is one of those countries which is very sad because not only is their tourism totally dependent upon the beauty of nature, but so many people still make their living through fishing and agriculture.

      Western tourists have no excuse for being ignorant about these things though. I wish there was better education involved when snorkel masks are rented.

      J

  6. Comment by Cat

    Cat Reply October 24, 2017 at 9:00 pm

    I love Gilis! Last year I visited just Gili Air and LOVED it! The slow pace of life presented the perfect opportunities to disconnect. We didn’t do much but felt so refreshed. I will need to go back and perhaps try free diving!

    • Comment by Jane

      Jane October 25, 2017 at 1:38 am

      Full disclosure: we didn’t do much when we were their either! Lots of walking and cycling and a little snorkelling – but that’s it. So relaxing.

      J

  7. Comment by Marvi

    Marvi Reply October 22, 2017 at 10:21 pm

    Would agree that spending time on amazing places like the Gili Islands should be leisurely experienced. Your visit here sounds really relaxing. Imagine seeing that sunset alone! <3 So lovely that you were able to capture the sea turtles on video, too (despite almost destroying the phone). I guess they're used to people as I've witnessed some sea turtle who avoided people and would swim away, really fast.

    • Comment by Jane

      Jane October 23, 2017 at 9:27 pm

      Yes, I assume they are used to people as the waters there get very busy in the summer. Sort of sad to think that there are so many people that their natural instincts are being dulled. The tourism has led to sea turtle conservation efforts as well though – so as always, tourism is a double-edged sword.

      J

  8. Comment by Lydia Smith

    Lydia Smith Reply October 22, 2017 at 10:55 am

    The landscape at Gili is just too perfect for a vacation. There is so much to do that I want to travel down right there. The thought of diving down there thrills me.

    • Comment by Jane

      Jane October 22, 2017 at 5:13 pm

      I think it must be a wonderful place for divers since so many expat divers have gone there to stay and set up shop! I have not yet learned to dive (though it is on my list!) – but just being on the islands was relaxing and they have a magical feel to them.

      J

  9. Comment by Mizhelle

    Mizhelle Reply October 22, 2017 at 7:32 am

    Enjoyed the snorkeling video. Hope your iPhone’s okay.

    • Comment by Jane

      Jane October 22, 2017 at 5:12 pm

      At first we thought the phone was dead forever but then it slowly came back to life. It seems OK now but for a couple of weeks we thought we’d made a disastrous $1000 mistake!

      J

  10. Comment by Meagan

    Meagan Reply October 21, 2017 at 9:28 pm

    I knew literally nothing about the Gilis before this, and your writeup is so thorough that I want to add this part of Indonesia to our list! Listing out all the different activities (and some potential pitfalls for them) is an amazing idea. And I appreciate you warning folks not to touch the wildlife – since common sense isn’t all that common ;) And that sunset shot of yours is amazing! I love it when fate lines you up for a perfect snap like that :)

    • Comment by Jane

      Jane October 21, 2017 at 9:55 pm

      Hi Meagan – Glad you liked it and are considering the Gilis. I was definitely pleasantly surprised by the vibe there! Stay tuned as we’re going to publish our food, accommodation and a full mindful travel guide to the Gilis during the next few weeks.

      J

  11. Comment by Medha

    Medha Reply October 21, 2017 at 9:24 pm

    I was in Gili Trawangan a few months back and this post brings back amazing memories. So great to see that you’ve been to all 3 Gilis, it’s very insightful and helpful to see tips and suggestions from Gili T, Meno and Air, all in one post. Thanks for sharing.

    • Comment by Jane

      Jane October 21, 2017 at 9:56 pm

      So happy you had a great time on Gili T. The three islands aren’t all THAT different so I’m sure you got a good flavour of what they have to offer just on Gili T. For travellers who are thinking of going, I actually recommend just choosing one island and staying there!

      J

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