On my honeymoon to Indonesia, I was lucky enough to pop over (from Bali) to the iconic Gili Islands. Read on for my review of each island, and decide which one is worth your visit.
The Gili islands are located off the coast of Lombok, an Islamic island, creating a different culture than the neighbor Hindu island of Bali. The Gili’s include three tiny islands, “Gili T,” “Gili M,” and “Gili A,” and each has a very different vibe.
All three of the Gili Islands restrict all motorized vehicles. You’ll find horse-drawn rickshaw and bikes are the preferred mode of transport. Along the coast, you’ll find hotels and shops for tourists, while the locals live in a much shabbier conditions in the middle of each island.
Respect Local Beliefs & Environment
It’s worth it to take a walk through the middle of the Gili’s to see how the locals live. You can even visit their little shops and purchase something to support them. Taking a moment to lift the curtain might stop you from complaining about lukewarm showers and mediocre air-conditioning.
As I mentioned, the locals on the Gili Islands are predominately muslim. This means that it’s inappropriate to walk around in your bikini when you’re not on the beach. Don’t even think about sunbathing topless or wearing a thong! This is not France (where even I have tried topless sunbathing, much to my discomfort). Buy a sarong, bring a t-shirt, and do your best to cover your thighs, stomach, chest, and shoulders. There are signs everywhere telling you to do it, so listen to them.
While the locals are trying hard to accommodate increased tourism, the island is suffering because of it. Please consider your waste and impact. If you walk through the middle of the island, you’ll see piles of plastic that the locals have gathered. You can help reduce this load. Try not to buy single-use bottled water – use a life straw instead. Refuse plastic straws and cups for your beer. Instead purchase a bamboo straw, and take it home with you. The sea life, and the locals, will thank you.
Getting to the Gili Islands from Bali
The best way to get to and from the Gili Islands from Bali is to take a fast boat. You can book a fast boat and car transfer with any tourist stand in Bali. I highly recommend you book once you’re in Bali to get the best price. You can book roundtrip for a cheaper price, but I suggest booking one-way in case you decide to stay longer.
A van shuttle will pick you up at your hotel early in the morning, and drive you to Padangbai Harbour. Don’t be surprised when it stops to pick up other travelers along the way. Depending on where you are in Bali, this ride can take hours, so be prepared for limited bathroom breaks (if any). You’ll have lunch at the dock, and then the travel company will shuffle you onto a packed ferry for a 3 hour choppy ride. The boat will stop at each of the Gili Islands and then Lombock, unloading your luggage from underneath. Make sure they don’t leave with your bag! If you are prone to seasickness, you should be prepared and take medication. It’s not very glamorous, but it’s an adventure!
Gili Trawangan – “Gili T” – The Party Island
Gili T is the largest of the Gili Islands, but it’s still small enough to see in a few days. Known as the party island, here you’ll find plenty of bars, restaurants, yoga studios, massage parlors, and boutique shops. Most of these businesses are owned by foreigners that have relocated to Indonesia. On Gili T, as in some areas of Bali and Thailand, foreigners out number locals by a vast amount.
The east coast is the liveliest part of the island. At the north end of the island, you can even swim with turtles! Rent a beach chair, umbrella, and snorkel gear from a local stand right on the beach. They will also sell you beer, roasted corn, and a variety of local crafts.
The west coast of Gili T is comprised mostly of resorts with gorgeous beaches. This is the area to have a sunset dinner, and then watch a movie on the beach.
Gili T was my favorite part of visiting Indonesia, mainly because it has so much to offer. That being said, I do suggest reading the hotel reviews carefully before you book. Many hotels on the island are open-air and located near the only mosque on the entire island. The call to worship will wake you up before sunrise, and it can be deafening. For some reason, I found that the call to worship on the Gilis went on forever. Longer than I’ve experience before in Morocco, India, or even Dubai. If you want some peace and quiet, stay away from the south east of Gili T, where most of the night clubs rage until 4am.
If you enjoy a party scene, maybe a visit to Gili A is better for you!
Gili Air – “Gili A” – The Local’s Island
Gili A is the second largest Gili Island, with a circumference of about 3 miles. It’s relatively easy to walk to bike around the entire island (but beware of biking in deep sand). Known as the “local island,” Gili A has the largest population of locals. The middle of the island is bustling with local commerce and village life.
While there are less restaurants and bars on this island, the ones that are there are very high quality. Nabil and I had some of my more decadent meals on Gili A, and the prices are also more affordable. For the food alone, I suggest visiting this island for at least two nights.
Luxury hotels are plenty on Gili A, and many of them offer dinner, outdoor movies, and live music. You’ll still find scuba shops, snorkel gear, and massage parlors, but I didn’t see any nightclubs. By midnight, the island was mostly asleep. So, if you’re looking for peaceful sleep, and fine dining along the beach, you be in heaven on Gili A.
Looking for Luxury and Romance? Gili M is the island for you!
Gili Meno – “Gili M” – The Honeymooner Island
While I didn’t visit the third Gili Island on my trip, I heard a lot about it from other travelers. Gili M is the smallest of the three islands, and it’s known as the honeymooner’s island. This is because the majority of the island’s coastline is owned by fancy resorts. Here you can immerse yourself in luxury and quiet, while snuggling with your honey on a beautiful beach. While Nabil and I were on our honeymoon, we’re just not the luxury resort type. So, we skipped Gili M.
Which of the Gili Islands is Right for Your Next Trip?