The Gili Islands are a collection of three islands located off the northwest shore of Lombok, Indonesia. They offer unbelievable scenery in a laid-back environment, with exponentially fewer tourists than their more famous neighbors. However, the islands are no longer one of Southeast Asia’s best-kept secrets. Their postcard-worthy turquoise waters and white sand beaches are hard to keep quiet for long. The islands now bustle with restaurants, hotels, and activities. Still, the local character remains strong on each individual island. Widely regarded for their miraculous sunsets over Bali’s Mount Agung and sunrises over Lombok’s Mount Rinjani, the Gili Islands are nothing short of a revelation. Here’s everything you need to know before visiting these radiant island gems.
The archipelago of the Gili Islands consists of Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno, and Gili Air. The islands do not allow cars or motorized vehicles of any kind, so visitors and locals navigate the picturesque destinations by foot, bicycle, or horse-drawn carriages called cidimos. You can access the islands either by a speedboat from the northwest coast of Lombok or from the east coast of Bali. Various types of boats also shuttle visitors the short distances between the islands.
Affectionately known as Gili T, westernmost Gili Trawangan is the largest and most developed of the three Gili Islands. This bustling hot-spot caters to all types of travelers. Backpackers adore the main drag of the island, while honeymooners swarm to the quieter northern and western shores. The island nurtures a raucous party scene, with over 30 clubs and restaurants spread along its 1.2-mile span. Whether you’re looking for a luxury beach resort or a budget hostel, Gili T has something to offer. In fact, because the islands are all so close, many visitors choose to use Gili Trawangan as home base for their entire stay. It only takes two hours to walk the entire perimeter of the island, so despite being the largest of the islands, its attractions are relatively close.
Gili Meno is the middle and smallest island. For those starting in Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno is just a 30-minute boat ride to the east. This secluded and quiet paradise is a great place to escape from it all. It is the least-developed of all the islands, but the infrastructure is continuously evolving. The existing hotels attract honeymooners looking to stroll along sun-kissed beaches and relax in idyllic cabanas.
Gili Air is the easternmost and second-largest of the Gili Islands, and the closest to Lombok. It strikes the perfect balance between a tranquil and cosmopolitan atmosphere. The infrastructure is far more advanced than that of Gili Meno, but the party scene is decidedly less rowdy than what you’ll find on Gili Trawangan. Oceanfront restaurants and bamboo bungalows line the beaches. It’s easy to beach-hop, as it only takes about 90 minutes to walk the entire perimeter of the island.
Gili Island Attractions
Gili Trawangan—”the party island”—hosts an array of bamboo beach bars and upscale resort lounges. Because of this, the island attracts backpackers and other tourists looking for excitement. Boat parties launch day and night from the Blue Marlin Dive Center. Every weeknight, there is a large party at a designated bar. The island even houses an Irish pub with its own accommodations. Tir na Nog—or, simply, “The Irish”—has a DJ every night and throws a large party one night each week. A few nights a year, the southern coast hosts its famous Full Moon Party, wherein DJs play music well through sunrise.
For those looking for nightlife without the party atmosphere, Gili Air offers a more scaled-back social scene.
SCUBA Diving and Snorkeling
There are numerous SCUBA diving and snorkeling shops on each island. The diving is superb, and there are boundless opportunities to explore the islands’ biodiverse waters. Numerous shops offer three-island snorkel or dive trips, which help visitors explore multiple sites around the archipelago. For those interested in a more involved SCUBA diving experience, all dive shops offer Open Water Diver certifications. Some of the famed dive spots in the Gili Islands include Shark Point, Manta Point, and Simon’s Reef.
The surfing in the Gili Islands is excellent and a much better-kept secret than the surfing in Bali and Lombok. This means fewer crowds and more welcoming locals. A spot off the southwestern coast of Gili Trawangan near the Ko-Ko-Mo Resort breaks all year long, as does a spot (known as “Secrets” by the locals) on the southeastern corner of Gili Meno. There are even surf camps that offer lessons, meals, and accommodations.
Visiting Sea Turtles
Both Gili Trawangan and Gili Meno host turtle hatcheries and sanctuaries on some of their largest beaches. The sanctuaries release their baby loggerhead and green turtles when they reach eight months of age, and these releases are open to visitors. If you can’t make it to a sanctuary, a simple snorkel around the beach all but guarantees a sea turtle sighting.
The seafood in the Gili Islands is hard to beat, and there are plenty of restaurants to fit every budget on each island. The Gili Trawangan Night Market pleases budget travelers with open-air food stalls featuring fresh catches-of-the-day and other Indonesian favorites. The Mahamaya Restaurant on Gili Meno’s secluded northwest coast offers fresh seafood from an open kitchen on the sand. Scallywags Beach Club in Gili Air cooks up its seafood in a bamboo beach structure. For upscale dining, the four-star Ko-Ko-Mo Resort on Gili Trawangan serves fine Asian cuisine accompanied by piano music. If you want to learn the local cuisine, Gili Air hosts a popular cooking class for visitors.