Picture three tiny desert islands, fringed by white sand beaches and coconut palm trees, sitting in the middle of a turquoise sea – these are the Gilis. The Gili Islands have exploded in popularity in the last few years, with more and more people flocking to these stunning white sand beaches everyday. While we were in Indonesia, we spent two nights on Gili Trawangan, the largest of the three islands.
The Gili Islands are a cluster of three islands, Gili Trawangan, Gili Air and Gili Meno, which are found right next to Lombok and about an hour away from Bali Island by speedboat. It’s not too hard to understand why the Gilis have become so popular, with no motorbikes or cars, no dogs and endless open air restaurants and cafes offering some of the best cocktails going around. The three islands all have their own unique vibe and appeal. Gili Trawangan is the largest and most popular, with a vibrant party scene as well as relaxing ocean vibe. Gili Air is the best place to experience the local life and go back to basics, and Gili Meno is pretty much just a desert island getaway.
The best way to get to the Gili Islands is by catching a fast boat transfer from Serangan or Padang Bai to your chosen destination, either Gili Trawangan, Gili Air or Teluk Kode, Lombok. We chose to travel on the BlueWater Express, which are in my opinion the most reliable service available. You can book a seat directly through their website, and their direct prices are significantly cheaper than if you purchase through a travel agent. Their customer service team was so helpful and quick to respond to all of my questions and e-mails, they were absolutely fantastic! A return ticket is 1,500,000 Rp if you purchase through their website and includes free transfers from your hotel to the port. Definitely book your trip in advance, as boats are completely full every day and there are only a few departures each day.
Life on Gili T is like a step back in time. There are no motorized vehicles of any kind on the island, with transport options being either horse and cart or bicycle. It’s so refreshing! I would definitely recommend trying out both forms of transport. We used horse and cart to get to and from our hotel when we had our luggage, as our hotel was on the opposite side of the island from the boat port, but for day to day island life we loved getting around on bicycle!
The restaurants on Gili T are the exact definition of an island way of life. There are views straight out to the ocean, sandy floors, no walls and little huts where you can sit on cushions cross legged while you enjoy your meal. Try out as many of the restaurants as you can, as they all offer different food and cocktails! I would definitely recommend Egotiste for the amazing gelato and cocktails and New Rudy’s for some sensational Nasi Goreng. There are also lots of different food stalls around the island, offering fruit, fresh juices, and my favourite nutella and banana crepes!
What to do
When you’re staying on any of the Gili Islands it is really all about island life. Everything slows down, there is nothing to rush for, nothing you’re going to miss, you can truly just relax and enjoy the day. If you’re someone like me who is terrible at slowing down and is normally trying to fit seventeen activities into a day, Gili T is the ultimate place to visit, as it forces you to relax!
Take a bike ride around the island, relax by the pool, swim in the ocean and try a little bit of everything. You can try lots of water activities on Gili T such as paddleboarding, kayaking, snorkeling and scuba diving. For about 200 Rp per person, you can rent a private boat and they will take you snorkeling around all three of the Gili Islands, which I highly recommend. Two guys took us out on their boat for about three hours and took turns snorkeling with us, pointing out sea turtles and beautiful coral in the depths of the water.
Just like anywhere else in Bali, there are all levels of accommodation available on Gili Trawangan, including luxury hotels, hostels and even some home stays. We stayed at the Hotel Ombak Sunset, which is the home to the infamous Gili T swing. It was located on the opposite side of the island to the main town, so you will need to rent a bicycle or catch a horse and cart to get into the main strip. Many of the hostels are located right in the heart of the strip, so if you don’t want to travel far after a night out, maybe take a look at the closer options!
When to go
I’m sure you would have heard that Bali is an all year round destination and there is no bad time to go. In my opinion that is not true. When we were there it was right in the middle of the rainy season, which meant it rained pretty heavily for a little bit every day. There was still heaps of blue skies and sunny moments, but I definitely wasn’t expecting so much rain.
High season is traditionally July, August and September, as well as the school holidays in December and January. Mid season is May, June, October and November and the low rainy season is February, March and April. During the high season (and even sometimes mid season) the island can book out completely, so make sure you book in advance!
For a local experience
Take a bike ride through the centre of the island. While most visitors to Gili T normally stick to the pathway that runs around the edge of the whole island, few visitors explore the middle of it. While it’s not as beautiful as the outside trails, you are able to see a different side of Gili T – the one that the locals are used to! You can see where the locals live and you might even come across some of these cows!
Represent your country
Why not engage with the locals and other tourists in a friendly game of ping pong to represent your country! If you win you get to add a point to your country on the board, and it can get quite competitive, Canada is absolutely smashing it!! This bar is used as a seating place for visitors waiting to catch the speedboats during the day, and turns into a ping pong bar at night.
Have you been to Gili T? What was your favourite experience?
For more travel tips and to keep up to date with our adventures make sure you subscribe to our newsletter today!