Which is the best Gili Island? And what will you do when you get there? Where should you stay and where should you eat? We answer all your Gili Islands questions!
If you want all the amenities of Ubud — without the terrifying traffic, the annoying scams, and the overwhelming hassle — hop on a fast boat from Bali or a charming slow boat from Lombok and enter the chilled-out world of the Gili Islands.
On the Gili Islands there are no cars and trucks, nor are there any scooters, aside from a few slow-moving electric ones. That means no dodging speed-racer motorbikes, no revving of motors right outside your window at 5am, and no busses blasting your eardrums as you walk down the streets.
It’s pure bliss after the choked streets of Bali or Lombok.
Visitors and locals alike get around by bicycle or on foot, while small wooden boats bring passengers and supplies to the islands. The exception, of course, is the “fast” boat services, which bring people from Bali in all their plexi-glassed and mega-motorized glory.
Though the Gili Islands provide lots of mindful things to do, like yoga, snorkelling, and SUP, don’t get the wrong idea. The Gili Islands aren’t deserted stretches of sand where solitude is your only companion.
Instead, they are tourist escapes, dotted with villas, resorts, and restaurants for every taste and budget, crawling with foreigners, especially in high season, and ringing with the sound of pumping dance music as the sun goes down.
If you want to be Robinson Crusoe, these are not your islands. Try Nusa Penida or Nusa Menjangan instead.
But if you want a beach vacation in a laid-back setting, along with affordable luxury and some mind-blowing mindful food, give the Gili Islands a shot.
A Mindful Travel Guide to the Gili Islands
Which is the Best Gili Island?
It’s not really a question of which Gili Island is best but which is best for your style of travel. Each Gili has its own personality, so choose wisely!
Backpacker’s Paradise: Gili Trawangan
The biggest and most built-up of the three Gilis, Gili Trawangan (Gili T for short) caters to the European backpacker and flashpacker crowd. When you tell local people you’re going to Gili T, they often react with surprise and stop just short of saying “Why?!?”
Despite all the warnings, we liked Gili T a lot more than we expected to.
Sure, there’s the mega-party scene along the sunset side of the island but these aren’t the seedy dens of sin you’ll find in Bangkok or Ibiza. There are beachside bars a la Cocktail, the movie. They play mellow dance tunes and cheesy pop hits while offering 2-for-1 happy hours featuring sketchy bootleg booze.
Yes, you can party your face off all night long, on a mix of alcohol and magic mushrooms, but you can also go to bed at 9 pm and never witness any of the nighttime shenanigans.
Guess which one we did?
Being the biggest, Gili T also offers the largest range of accommodation (at the best prices). They also have the best vegan, vegetarian, and healthy food selection.
Gili T is the westernmost Gili Island, so if you want those epic sunset shots for Instagram, you’ll find them here.
Gili Trawangan is the best Gili Island if you want a great food scene, an interesting nightlife, and the best sunsets.
Lovers’ Paradise: Gili Meno
As the smallest island, Gili Meno has the fewest services but is also the quietest, making it a perfect getaway for couples and misanthropes.
If you plan on doing nothing except lounging by the pool or beach and staring into your sweetheart’s baby blues, then Gili Meno is ideal. If you can tear yourself from your chair, there is yoga, snorkelling, SUP and other activities.
Gili Meno is the best Gili Island if you’re looking for somewhere to switch off and chill for a few days.
Beach Bum’s Paradise: Gili Air
On Gili Air, the vibe is a little more subdued than Gili T and a little more lively than Gili Meno. For us, it offered the perfect combination of home comforts — think Western vegan cuisine and cocktails on the beach — and tropical-island relaxation. There are beach bars and clubs if you want them, but there are also quiet spots to lie on the sand and watch the turquoise water lap the shore. It takes about an hour to walk around the entire island, which we found ourselves doing each night before dinner.
Wandering the interior of Gili Air after the sun goes down, you’ll hear the local islanders strumming their acoustic guitars and singing old hippie tunes. Kokomo for the modern age.
Gili Air is the best Gili Islands if you want to mix action with tranquility.
Where to Stay on the Gili Islands
There is a huge selection of resorts, hostels, homestays, and hotels on the Gili Islands. You can get decent (but not great) accommodation on the Gilis starting at $10 per night. If you spend around $100 per night, you can get a luxury villa in one of the islands most sought-after resorts.
We booked last-minute during high season, we ended up overpaying for so-so accommodation. The best places get full quickly, so if you know your dates and you’re travelling in high season, book ahead.
We did stay at an amazing boutique hotel in Senggigi on Lombok though. Check it out →
Since we can’t recommend the places we stayed, we created a list of our picks of best accommodation on the Gili Islands →
Mindful Things to do on the Gili Islands
There are so many options for eco-friendly and sustainble activities on the Gili Islands that we wrote a whole separate post about it.
Here’s our guide to the best mindful things to do on the Gili Islands →
Where to Eat on the Gili Islands
There’s a great food scene on the Gili Islands, especially on Gili Trawangan, with lots of choice for vegans, vegetarians, and other mindful eaters. We’ve chosen our favourites for you!
Here’s our guide to the best restaurants in the Gili Islands →
Customs, Clothing, & Behaviour on the Gili Islands
As with all travel destinations in the world, being a respectful traveller usually just comes down to using your common sense. Smile, be friendly, be polite and any unintended faux pas will be forgiven.
Still, there are a few things you should know before you go to the Gili Islands…
Don’t Forget You’re in a Muslim Country
When you’re on the beach, basking in the sun with a cocktail in your hand, it’s easy to forget that you’re a guest in a predominantly Muslim country. Indonesians will not show you that they are offended by your clothing or behaviour but that doesn’t mean they aren’t.
Once you leave the beach, have some respect for the customs and the people of the country and GET DRESSED. We saw way too many people head into restaurants in the middle of town, right next to the mosque, still in their string bikinis or with no shirt on.
Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but I was pretty disgusted by all the barely there bikinis and in-your-face fake boobs I saw on the Gili Islands — and I lived in Los Angeles for seven years!
Go with the Flow
If you want German precision and prompt time-keeping, go to Switzerland (Germany is not all that efficient). But don’t go to the Gili Islands or any tropical island. Island people the world over never hurry and neither do Indonesians. Expect delays and build them into your schedule, especially when you’re heading to the airport. When delays happen, just sit back, enjoy the view, and go with the flow.
Things will happen just when they are meant to happen — and not a moment before.
It’s All About Saving Face
One morning, at a beachside cafe, we witnessed a foreign woman screaming at her Indonesian tour guide because… well, we’re not sure why. It had something to do with the boat being 10 minutes late. She caused a massive scene and the more she yelled, the more stubborn the tour guide became.
Disputes are not settled with rage and anger in Indonesia. Instead, if you feel you’ve been cheated or misled, smile, laugh, and pretend it was all a big mistake.
That gives the offender the chance to rectify the situation without losing face. You’ll have a much better chance of getting what you want with smiles instead of anger.
Indonesian Bahasa Phrases for Travellers
English is spoken widely on the Gilis, but it’s still nice to learn a few words of the local language. It’s amazing how much people open up when you make an effort to speak to them in their native tongue.
Here are a few useful words and phrases to learn in Bahasa, the most widely spoken Indonesian language. Luckily, the words are pronounced almost like they’re spelled and it is not a tonal language!
Unfortunately, when it comes to saying hello, Bahasa is pretty complicated. They have four different words for hello, depending on the time of day!
Good morning (until around 11am): Selamat pagi
Good afternoon (from 11am–4pm): Selamat siang
Good evening (from 4pm–sunset): Selamat sore
Good evening (after sunset): Selamat malam
In a casual situation, in many places, it’s perfectly OK to just say the second word of the greeting. For example, just say “malam” instead of “selamat malam”.
Thank you is the most powerful word in any language and it’s the one word we learn in every country, no exceptions.
Thank you: Terima kasih
Listen when locals say this to each other. It’s often said with a little singsongy lilt on the end to express extra gratitude!
If someone thanks you, here’s what you reply:
Sama sama (meaning same to you)
How are you?
We don’t learn this phrase in most languages but in Bahasa, it’s such a fun one and almost everybody will ask.
How are you?: Apa kaba?
Fine thanks: Baik-baik saja (pronouced bike bike saja)
Gili Islands Mindful Organizations You Can Support
Any travel has an impact on the environment and on the people who live in the country. If you want to do a little more to help the people of the country, support local non-profit organizations. Here are a couple to check out in the Gili Islands.
Gili Eco Trust. The trust is a collective of some of the main dive shops on the Gili Islands. They are involved in environmental projects on the islands, from marine and coral conservation to waste collection and sustainable eco tourism. Drop by their office to find out more or to buy an eco-friendly souvenir.
Gili Trawangan Weekly Beach Clean-up. If you want to help keep the wonderful Gili Islands beaches clean, join members of the Gili Island Dive Association every Friday at 5pm for a weekly beach clean-up. Not only will you be helping to save the Gili Islands environment but you’ll be rewarded with a free beer at the end of the clean-up.
Gili Island Horse and Pony Fund. We were horrified to see the working conditions of the ponies on the Gili Islands (see more below in the “Getting Around” section), which are used to ferry tourists around and to haul building materials on the islands.
There’s no veterinary care, little food and fresh water, and many of the ponies are brutally overworked. This fund helps feed and water the ponies and are working to introduce alternative modes of transportation on the islands.
How to Get to Gili Islands
Getting to the Gili Islands is fairly straightforward but it’s definitely going to involve a boat!
Lombok to Gili Islands
There are no flights to the Gili Islands — the Lombok International airport is the closest you’ll get by plane.
Gili Islands from Bangsal Harbour. The cheapest boat to the Gili Islands from Lombok leaves from Bangsal Harbour. There are boats to all three Gilis, leaving from early in the morning until about 4pm. They don’t run on a set schedule but just leave when they’re full. You won’t have to wait long in high season but if you’re there in low season, it may be possible to pay extra to leave a little earlier.
You can pretty much ignore the overblown warnings about scammers and touts at Bangsal Harbour. Just take an Uber or Bluebird Taxi and they will drop you off as close as they can get.
Ignore the horse drivers who will ask you for ridiculous sums of money to drive you a couple of hundred metres. Instead, walk to the harbour. Once through the gate, turn left to the most official looking building there and go inside.
You’ll find an organized set of ticket windows and a line of people waiting to buy tickets. If a bystander tries to “help” you while you’re in line, just say no. They take an extra fee to barge in line and buy your tickets ahead of everyone else.
From Senggigi to Gili T. There is a fast boat from Senggigi to Gili Trawangan which can save you the hassle of making the trek up to Bangsal Harbour. As far as we could discover, the boat doesn’t come back that way, so you’ll have to go through Bangsal on the way back. Let us know if you find differently during your visit!
Bali to Gili Islands
Gili fast boats. This is the easiest way to get to the Gili Islands from Bali. Boats leave from Padang Bai or Amed in Bali. If you book your ticket in advance, most boat services will pick you up straight from your Bali hotel. Any travel agent or hotel in Bali can help you book a ticket. If you want to compare prices online first, check out Gili Bookings.
Not all Gili Islands boats are created equal. If you go for rock bottom prices, expect a less-than stellar-boat with dubious safety procedures and major delays.
Gili Islands ferry. If you want to take a public ferry to the Gili Islands, there is one that leaves from Padang Bai on Bali hourly. It’s slow (minimum 4 hours) but cheap and certainly the best way to travel like a local. The ferry drops you off in Lembar on Lombok. After that, you’ll have to take public transport or a taxi to Bangsal harbour where you can catch a Gili Island boat to your chosen island. Probably not worth the hassle unless you have way more time than money.
Gili Island Day Trip
If you’re considering a day trip to the Gili Islands from Bali, just forget about it. Bali is too far away to make it a worthwhile day trip.
From Lombok, a DIY day trip to the Gili Islands is feasible, although be aware that boats stop running around 4pm, so you’ll need to come back early.
As an alternative, you can book a Gili Island Day Tour and let someone else handle all the planning for you.
Getting Around the Gili Islands
The Gili Islands are, more or less, a combustion engine-free zone, at least when it comes to motor vehicles. (There are lots of generators which rev to life every time the power goes out.)
You have three choices for getting around the islands.
Walking on the Gilis. Gili Air and Gili Meno are very small, so walking is a viable option to get almost anywhere you want to go.
Bicycling. On slightly larger Gili T, bicycling is the way to go. Most resorts and guest houses have bikes for their customers – we had a lot of fun pedalling around on the islands. There pockets of deep sand and lots of oblivious tourists around, so ride carefully!
Horse-drawn carriage. At first, we thought that being chauffeured around in a horse-drawn carriage was kind of romantic. And then we thought again. For a start, with a transportation monopoly on the islands, the rates are outrageous. We weren’t going to pay more than $10 to go 1 km, thank you very much.
But, more importantly, we observed horses being beaten, over-driven, lathered in sweat, not properly watered, and looking skinny as hell. Reports vary about the treatment of these horses, and the treatment of the horses varies from owner to owner.
Sure, maybe we are stupid Westerners who just don’t understand the history or the culture, but for us, supporting this kind of animal cruelty is not OK, whether it’s tradition or not.
Have a Great Mindful Adventure in the Gili Islands
When we first went to Bali, we avoided the Gili Islands because we expected them to be a trashy tourist trap. To some extent, that is true.
Don’t expect an “authentic” cultural experience but do expect a fantastic place to kick back and spoil yourself for a few days.
Have you been to the Gili Islands? What did you think of them? Which was your favourite? Which one would you visit if you could only choose just one? Leave a comment below to let us know!