The Gili Islands have some of the best sunsets we have ever seen, with crystal clear waters and white sand beaches. Everyone searches for that destination where they want to feel they’re in paradise, well, that’s exactly how we felt. Each of the Gili Islands are unique; Gili Trawangan is best known as the ‘Party Island’, Gili Meno is more suited for couples and is considered the ‘Honeymoon Island’ and Gili Air, we found, to be a mixture of both. With this in mind, whether you’re looking for adventure, romance or relaxation, the Gili islands have something for everyone. We’re going to break them all down for you so you can get the best from each Islands, but first, we will give you things to do that you can experience on all of them.
11 Things To Do on The Gili Islands
1. Rent a bicycle
First things first, to enjoy the Gili Islands to the fullest we recommend renting a bicycle. Since the Islands aren’t that big and the paths are quite smooth it’s a good means of transport. For around 40,000 IDR a day it’s also dirt cheap.
2. Swim with sea turtles
Snorkelling on the Gili Islands were one of the highlights of our trip to Indonesia. Here you can search for brightly coloured fish and….Sea Turtles! Our first snorkelling adventure was on Gili T. After 20 minutes of snorkelling we finally found some Sea Turtles, they were located at “Turtle Viewpoint” on the strip where the boats are (opposite side of sunset beach).
We rented snorkel gear at 20,000 IDR each for snorkels and 20,000 IDR each for flippers (do it, it makes swimming so much easier, keeping up with the fish). Try not touch the Sea Turtles and respect their distance. They’re calm and friendly, all they want to do is eat, best bet is to wait and watch them eat. They will eventually, every 10 minutes or so, swim up for some air, you will be able to see them from every angle and appreciate this magnificent creature.
3. Visit a turtle sanctuary
On each of the Gili Islands there is a sanctuary for turtles which grow baby turtles until they’re around 6 months old. At this age, they’re ‘bigger and stronger’ and more likely to survive. As a result, if you’re lucky, you can be involved in releasing the turtles into the sea yourself. Hopefully you are luckier than us, as we were a week too early when we asked. Damn!
4. Under water statues
Yes, we have already mentioned snorkelling, but if you want to take snorkelling to the next level, book a public or private tour. These consist of visiting key snorkelling points in a glass bottom boat. You will visit:
- Sea Turtle point (guaranteed to see turtles)
- The famous Underwater Statues
- Christmas Tree Coral
We would recommend a private boat, not only due to the privacy but due to the freedom. We managed to book a private glass bottom boat on Gili Meno for 450,000 IDR, we could take any route we wanted, stay at a specific point for however long we wanted and had the whole morning to do it. In addition, you can set off earlier, maybe 7.30am and it will be quieter. Also, it’s nice to have a glass bottom boat to yourselves so there are no other annoying tourists to ruin your experience. In contrast, you can book to go with a public boat if you want to chat and meet other people. Just be prepared to fight for viewing points and being told when to leave at specific times.
5. Eat at the night market
Starts around 6pm, cheap food and desserts. In short, the night market consists of local food and western food, good for those on a budget or interested in the local cuisine.
6. Island hop
The public boat is near the harbour and is the best way to travel. It leaves a couple of times a day, usually in the morning and afternoon, most noteworthy, it’s 3x cheaper than the fast boat so avoid the people trying to sell you fast boat tickets. Unless you can’t be bothered with the public boat or want to travel at a specific time.
7. Sea swing at sunset
Each of the Gili Islands have swings in the sea like this, due to this, it’s hard not to get a great picture with a gorgeous sunset! This particular one was at Pandawa resort restaurant on Gili T. They served 2 for 1 cocktails at 90,000 IDR and this is where they light fires on the beach for that added setting. They also have free Wi-Fi.
Other things to do
8. Go diving
We were tempted to do a diving lesson ourselves, in spite of this, we decided against it and snorkelled instead. However, if you fancy a bit of underwater adventure, the Gili islands are the perfect place for it. With so many dive centres all over the islands, there are plenty of opportunities to get your dive on.
9. Ride a horse in the sea
For the ultimate tropical experience, riding a horse through those crystal clear waters at sunset looked amazing. We are massive animal lovers and most importantly, the horses we saw looked well looked after.
10. Watch a movie on the beach
If you’re too hangover to party but still don’t want to be sat in your room, there’s always film nights on the beaches. It is also just another good excuse to do nothing and chill.
11. Cooking class
This looked like a fun thing to do, but we were too short for time. Some cooking classes offer an opportunity to cook 7 traditional Indonesian dishes. Prices vary, but we saw one for 385,000 IDR per person located on Gili T.
Gili T is the largest and most developed out of the 3 islands, being the most popular it has an abundance of restaurants/ cafes and bars. Known as the best place to party, we could actually hear the music playing from neighbouring island Gili Meno. Most people spend all their time on this island and book trips over to the other 2. We had more time, so we spent 3 nights on Gili T, 2 nights on Gili Meno and 2 nights on Gili Air. If you’re short for time, stick with just a few nights on Gili T.
Where to eat
- Le Petit Grill
- La Regina Pizzeria
- The Night Market
- Kayu Cafe
- The Roast House
Where to drink
- Monday night: Blue Marlin Rave Party
- Wednesday night: Shipwrecked Bar Party
- Friday night: Rudys Bar
- Most nights: Reggae music at Sama Sama Bar
- Music will keep you up until at least 2am; so if you can’t beat them, join them. Go shorty, party like it’s your birthday
- Don’t support the horse and carriage, everything is within walking distance so just walk or get a bicycle like we did
- Go to the official ticket office and get the public transport to the other islands, these boats are the cheapest option, other salesman on the street are more expensive
Where to stay
This hotel is pretty much on the beach, it also has hot water showers and only 5 minutes walk from the Harbour
If you fancy a really nice Villa, this one is only a 3 minute walk from the beach and has a private pool
We stayed here due to the very cheap rates per night, we had a double bed, hot water and ok Wi-Fi. For us backpackers, it did the job
It’s possible to walk around the entire island in less than 2 hours it’s that small. Apart from size, it’s also the most chilled and undeveloped of the 3 Gili Islands. However, where it lacks in activities, it definitely makes up in peace and serenity. We found this place to be really relaxing and the perfect spot to cure a hangover or clear the mind. It is also the closest island to ‘The Under-Water Statues’, so it would be certainly worth it setting off from here, beating the crowds from neighbouring islands.
Where to eat
- Bibi’s Café
- The Jungle Bar
- Malia’s Child.
- The Rust Bar and Restaurant
- Nela Warung
Following the sunset, you can find some great little shacks with beanbags and bamboo huts, serving 2 for 1 cocktails at happy hour. We found such a cool place with live local music, hippies dancing around barefoot and eyes closed #stayfree. There isn’t much going in terms of bars and restaurants, but above all, that’s the appeal, it was so romantic and that’s why we liked it.
- You don’t need a bike for this island, you can literally walk everywhere and most of the ‘roads’ are too sandy to cycle on anyway
- Early bird gets the worm; if you get a private boat and set off at 7:30am, you will have the ‘Underwater Statues’ all to yourself
- All other boats full of tourists get to ‘The Underwater Statues’ at 9am so plan around this
- The island itself is a little underwhelming, there is nothing much to do or see as a lot of places are closed down
Where to stay
This place is 4 minutes walk from the beach with an outdoor pool, free WiFi, air conditioning and a hot tub
Boasting stylish bungalows on the beach, with an outdoor pool and stunning sea views
Just 5 minutes walk from the harbour, these bungalows were really nice and cheap, we couldn’t complain
A perfect mixture of the other 2 Gili Islands, combining the liveliness of Gili T and the chilled vibes from Gili Meno meant it was a good balance of both. Although we went when the tide was really low, with prickly waters due to sea lice, we didn’t have the best beach days. However, it did have some of the prettiest beaches out of the 3 islands with perfectly soft white sand and plenty of sea swings.
Where to eat
- Mowies Gili Air
- Classico Italiano
- Scallywags Beach Club
- Captain Coconuts
- Legend Bar
- Star Bar
It wasn’t hard to find a nice place for a drink on this island, a few drinks and little dance later we found ourselves back at our accommodation by midnight as most places are closed by then. For the party animals, there is a full moon party in high season at the end of every month.
- Check the tide before you go, it was really low for us which made it not so enjoyable
- If you fancy a pool day, go to Captain Coconuts, its free to use and have the best healthy smoothies and food!
- We found it really difficult to find a pool which ‘outsiders’ could use. If you really want the pool life, make sure it is within your accommodation, or visit Captain Coconuts.
Where to stay
We actually tried to use the pool at this place, but it was for guests only. It has hot water, air-con and looked beautiful
Fancy villas with breakfast included and even offer a take-away service, private cooking lessons and a gym
We had a big room with a double bed, hot water, decent Wi-Fi and free breakfast. Lovely!
We spent 3 nights on Gili Trawangan, 2 nights on Gili Meno, then 2 nights on Gili Air. We went to these Islands not knowing much about them, other than seeing the underwater statue pictures all over instagram. Basically, all of the really pretty ‘Bali’ pictures you see online are all from the Gili Islands, the best sunsets, the sea swings and those incredible sea-through waters (see what we did there). Each island had its own character along with negatives and positives, but overall, the island life was so cool.
Our personal favourite was Gili T
It had the most to offer, being quite active people; we can’t really keep still for long. Not only did it have the best nightlife, it also had the best food.
The annoying things about the Gili Islands
There were a few negatives about the Gili Islands in general that didn’t bother us at first, but after a few days really started to grate on us:
- NO HOT WATER (Unless you stay in a more expensive resort)
- BAD WIFI
- LOUD SPEAKERS (The noise at ridiculous hours during ramadan)
We visited during Ramadan
As it was Ramadan, there were few to no parties, the parties we could seek out usually ended around midnight. Consequently, mosques were louder and longer than usual but quietened down around 11pm. Nothing against it, but getting woke up at 4-5am with a mans voice blasting through the speakers wasn’t our most sought after alarm. In any case, it all comes part and parcel with Ramadan on the Islands so embrace and respect it. If you’re a Muslim yourself, this may even be a better time to visit.
However, these are all only minor things, in the grand scheme of things, don’t let these put you off, especially if you’re only planning on being on the Gili Islands for a few days, these things really don’t bother you. You’re so busy enjoying the island life that you don’t even care. Trust us, it’s worth sacrificing these ‘luxuries’ for a few days.
The best thing about the Islands is the distance
They’re so close together! The furthest trip between any of the Islands is around 20 minutes on a public boat.
No hawkers. No hassle!
Finally, the people are really relaxed and don’t pressure you into buying anything, we hated the hawkers hassling us in Bali, they can be so pushy sometimes. The locals on the Gili Islands were some of the friendliest and happiest people we came across throughout our time in Indonesia, making our time there even more memorable.