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Indonesia’s Gili Islands compared – which one to visit?

The Gili Islands are an archipelago of three small paradisiac islands located in the Bali Sea in the northwest coast of Lombok. Known for their stunning beaches, turquoise waters full of turtles, and vibrant marine life, the Gili Islands have something to offer for anyone visiting Indonesia.

The three islands have all dreamy beaches, great snorkeling spots but each island has a unique atmosphere. Although tourism keeps growing in this small archipelago, there’s no doubt that it’s still worth traveling to the Gili Islands.

Where are the Gili Islands

The Gili Islands are in the Bali Sea located between Bali and Lombok. Many people think the Gili Islands belong to Bali, but they are part of Lombok! The largest island is Gili Trawagan on the west, Gili Meno in the middle and Gili Air nearer Lombok.


Which Gili Island should you choose?

Gili Trawangan (Gili T)

Gili Trawangan is the largest of the three islands. It is closest to the island of Bali and is known for its vibrant nightlife and lively atmosphere. It’s also the busiest of the three islands with the most visitors every year.

You will find a large option for hotels, restaurants, and bars. Most people don’t recommend Gili T if you want peace and quiet, but we disagree. The west coast of the island is home to many resorts in the quieter part. In our opinion, Gili T is big enough to offer a large choice of atmosphere, bars, and restaurants.

Gili Meno

Gili Meno is the smallest island situated in the middle of the three islands. It is the quietest and most serene of the Gili Islands, making it an ideal choice for travelers seeking a peaceful and romantic getaway.

Gili Meno has incredible marine sea life and some of the best snorkeling spots just off the shore. There are more bungalows and a few resort types of accommodation. However, there are not many options for food or party!

Gili Air

Gili Air is the southernmost of the three islands and is located closest to Lombok. It strikes a balance between the liveliness of Gili Trawangan and the tranquility of Gili Meno, offering a mix of relaxation and fun activities.

Gili Air has the best quality restaurants and cafés with vegan options and the most chilled vibe. There are also some cool bars in the north of the island that play live music until late!

Our Verdict

Each Island has something to offer that is unique. We stayed in both Gili Trawagan and Gili Air and loved it equally. Gili Trawagan is definitely more than a party island, it has stunning beaches and more things to do like massages, cooking classes. What is important is to choose where you want to stay on the Islands – staying in a resort on the beach with sunset views every night or in a quiet hotel in the middle of the island is a complete different experience.

Whichever island you choose to stay on, remember that you will probably visit the three islands during a boat tour.

Best things to do in Gili Islands

1. Snorkeling

The Gili Islands are recognized for their crystal-clear waters and incredible marine life making them one of the best places in Indonesia to go snorkeling. From spotting colorful exotic fish, stunning coral reefs, and countless sea turtles, to seeing to a shipwreck or underwater statues, you are guaranteed to have a blast !

If you love snorkeling, you can either explore by yourself directly from the beach, there are so many things to see so close to the shore or join a snorkeling tour!

2. Diving

For diving enthusiasts, the Gili Islands are one of the safest and most affordable places to dive in Indonesia. Whether you are a beginner or an experienced diver, you can dive all year round in the Gili Islands. The weather is very reliable, the water is warm (around 28 degrees), and the currents aren’t too strong.

There are many great diving centers that will take you to one of the 25 best diving sites around the islands to spot sharks, mantas, turtles, lionfish and shipwrecks!

3. Private Snorkeling Tour

Many local agencies sell snorkeling tours in the islands offering roughly the same itinerary that includes stops at the three islands. We negotiated a private tour with local fishermen in both Gili Air and Gili T and paid roughly 900K IDR ($60) for one boat for 5 people.

This is a great option if you are at least 4 people sharing a boat as it gives you better prices than if you book with a large tour agency where you are 15 to 20 people sharing one boat.

Our guides were super flexible and friendly. We started the tours earlier than the regular boats so we could be on the best spots before the crowds get there! Also, the itinerary can change depending on what you want to see.

4. Cycle around the islands

The Gili Islands are quite small but walking from one point to another can take some time, especially in Gili T which is the biggest island. Renting bikes and cycling around is a great way to explore the islands.

From chilled beaches on the west coast to the busy main street with countless restaurants and bars, Gili Trawangan is more than just a party island. Take at least one hour and spot at the most remote beaches, go for a dip before finishing the loop.

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However, the last earthquake has damaged the northern part of the island and you need to take a short detour to avoid the road covered in sand. You can also cycle around Gili Air in less than 30 minutes.

5. Laze at the beach

One of the reasons to come to the Gili Islands is for sure the stunning beaches with white sands and turquoise water surrounding each island.

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In Gili Trawangan and Air, many restaurants and bars rent sunbeds along the coast. If you are staying in a luxury resort, they often have a private beach just for the customers.

Gili Meno is a lot quieter, but the beaches are as great!

Whether you want a quiet beach or a lively beach bar, you will always find a great spot to enjoy these paradise beaches.

6. Sunset views with a cocktail

The Gili Islands are known for their amazing sunsets. On each island, you have a sunset point with some beachfront bars and restaurants where you can lounge on sunbeds to witness the sun going down.

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We found Gili Air to have more relaxed and intimate bars to watch the sunset while sipping a nice cocktail. Gili Trawagan has probably the best views but expect more people!

7. Swim with Sea Turtles

Our favorite activity in the Gili Islands was seeing the sea turtles in their natural habitat. The islands have specific turtle points where you have more chances to see turtles, fish, and corals while snorkeling!

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On each island, you can also just observe the turtles without snorkeling, the water is crystal clear, and they often come to eat the grass near the shore.
We saw so many turtles gently swimming in the waves 5 meters from the beach, one of the best things to do by far!

8. Enjoy the nightlife

Gili Trawangan is the best island if you want to party in the Gili Islands. Home to many beachfront bars with lively atmosphere, reggae live music, cocktail bars, and even fire dancing, the nightlife has a lot to offer! There are many different options and events every night!

Gili Air has also a few places like the Legend Bar where you can dance on the beach until very late.

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9. Visit the Turtle Sanctuary in Gili Meno

Gili Meno has opened a turtle sanctuary that is working on species conservation around the islands. They teach you how the babies are grown, and you can even do baby turtle release in the sea. It was so great to be able to see so many baby turtles waiting to go into the sea.

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10. Eat the best seafood BBQ

Spend one night eating a local tasty seafood BBQ on the beach! Head to the fish market at night in Gili Trawangan or to one of the seafront restaurants that serve amazing BBQ seafood platters! The fish is always super fresh and local!

We recommend The Chill Out Bungalows and Bar restaurant in Gili Air where we had the best seafood BBQ served with great portions for a decent price. Alternatively, there are many local warungs offering Indonesian dishes or other international restaurants if you prefer.

Where to stay on the Gili islands?

  • Gili Trawagan has the most diverse range of accommodations from cheap hostels, nice boutique hotels to luxury resorts. We stayed at Kubuwatu Boutique Resort in the northern part of the island. This newish boutique hotel is great value for the price – the rooms are big and nicely decorated. Each room has their own little private area facing the swimming pool and the breakfast is delicious. The staff is super helpful and friendly.
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  • Gili Air has also great options overall, but hotels are in general more expensive than in Gili T. We spent 3 nights at Molah Gili Villa. This is a great option for low budget, we stayed in a very nice bungalow and the breakfast was tasty! The family running the villas are lovely.
  • Gili Meno has the least options compared to the two other islands, but the island is slowly developing and remains very authentic. Prices can be slightly high for the standards of the bungalows or rooms. Most people are looking for a quiet getaway instead of a luxury resort.

However, and wherever you stay, don’t be fooled by some hotels that certify that they’re eco and sustainable, there is a massive problem with plastic and litter on the islands. Some hotels have created open air rubbish dump behind their hotels. It’s hidden from the customers but be aware of these issues while visiting the islands.

How to travel to the Gili Islands

From Bali

Fast Boat: The fastest and easiest way to get from Bali to the Gili Islands. There are several departures every day between Bali harbors (Padang Bai or Serangan) and the Gili Islands.
The journey takes around 2h and can be very rough depending on weather conditions.
Make sure to book your tickets in advance during peak seasons because the best boat operators like Blue Water Express, Eka Jaya or Gili Getaway are usually sold out days in advance.
This is the most expensive option ($35 one way) but also the most comfortable and reliable service.

Public Ferry: Much cheaper option but takes 5 hours from Padang Bay to Lombok (Lembar harbor) where you’ll need to transfer to another boat to reach the Gili Islands.

The public ferry costs only $3.5 (one way) but is time-consuming and not very reliable. The ferry schedule can vary day after day without much warning.

From Lombok

Public boat: From Bangsal Harbor to the Gili Islands – it is very cheap ($1.30) and takes around 30 minutes. However, the boat leaves as soon as it is filled with 40 people – this means that you can wait many hours, especially in the afternoon before departing from Bangsal.

Fast boat: The best option from Bangsal, Senggigi or Teluk Nara. The price is around ($6) but you don’t need to wait for the boat to be full. The journey takes around 15 minutes depending on which Gili Islands you are going to.

Getting around

The islands are car-free so there is not any traffic with motorized vehicles. Most people walk from the harbor to their accommodation. You’ll also see many horse-drawn carriages waiting for tourists – they offer rides to your hotel, but the horses are very skinny and don’t look well looked after! If you have a large luggage that you can’t carry, this is a good option. After you’ve reached your hotel, the best way to explore the islands is on foot or with a bike!

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