Collectively, the trio of tiny Gili Islands located off Lombok’s northwest coast are the epitome of a tropical paradise. Yet while all three Gili Islands will satisfy travellers seeking a dream destination of idyllic beaches, enchanting azure waters, and magnificent marine-life, they do have their differences. Read on to discover which Gili Island is the best, according to what kind of tropical break you're longing for.
What’s the best Gili island?
Before moving to the differences between the Gili Islands — Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno and Gili Air — let’s cover what they have in common.
Firstly, fittingly enough gili means “small island” in Sasak, and they all retain an appealing unspoiled, small island vibe. In fact, they’ve only seen any real kind of settlement since the 1970s.
Secondly, none of the islands allow motorised vehicles. On the Gilis, getting around is done by more sedate means — push bikes, carts, and your own feet.
Lastly, they all offer stunning scenery, seas that are ripe for exceptional snorkelling and diving experiences, and plenty of opportunities to bliss out in beautiful style.
As for their differences, Gili Trawangan is the most developed of the three, with a range of accommodation to suit everyone from honeymooners and families, to backpackers on a budget.
Meanwhile, Gili Meno is the smallest island, and also the quietest, with no nightlife to speak of, and limited places to stay.
Offering an experience between Gili Trawangan’s pretty developed infrastructure and Gili Meno’s away-from-absolutely-everything vibe, Gili Air offers a reasonable range of accommodation and places to eat, drink and make merry.
Travelling between the Gili Islands
The island-hopping boat service between all three Gili Islands does one circuit (Air–Meno–Trawangan–Meno–Air) in the morning 8.30–10.15am, and another in the afternoon 3–4.15pm. This makes day-trips straightforward — the islands are 10–20min apart.
Tickets are sold at each harbour, but if you don’t want to wait for a boat, charters are available in all the islands. Simply ask around at each harbour.
Read on for more detail on what each Gili Island has to offer, along with how to get to them, and our top recommendations for things to do and places to stay.
Want to see more of the region? Browse our customisable Indonesia itineraries.
Gili Trawangan — best for partying in paradise
With a permanent population of around fifteen hundred, Gili Trawangan (Gili T) is largest and most built-up of the islands.
That said, it’s only 2.5km long by 1.75km wide, which means you can walk around it in about two hours, or cycle it in less than an hour.
Formerly something of a back-packers island, Gili T now appeals to a greater range of ages and budgets, with accommodation ranging from basic, low-cost options, to upscale villas and boutique hotels.
Of the three Gilis, it has by far the biggest offering of beachside restaurants and bars, with the east of the island especially buzzy.
As a result, it’s the best Gili island to visit if you’re looking for lively nightlife and more fellow travellers.
Best things to do
Beyond the obvious activities that apply to all three Gilis (water-sports and stretching out on picture-perfect beaches), here are some suggestions of things to do that might give Gili T the edge as the best Gili Island. Depending on your tastes, of course!
Party in Paradise
Gili T’s legendary nightlife revolves around a few venues that take it in turn to host huge parties. To enjoy buzzy, social sundowners, head to the west and southwestern sides of the island just before sunset.
After dark, the island’s party life is centred on the southeast coast. To mix things up, Karma Kayak in the north offers a more chilled vibe.
Meander local markets
When all the partying gets too much, another top Gili T night-time experience is heading to the Night Market.
It opens just before sunset, with a huge variety of food stalls selling affordable fresh fare. We also recommend visiting Gili Trawangan Art Market to buy locally made art and crafts.
STUD Horse Riding and Rescue offer horse-riding trips around the whole island. After riding cross country for around an hour, your tour ends with a gallop on the beach, and spell in the water.
Sunset rides are available and, if you don’t fancy mounting a horse, you could opt for a pony paddle experience. This allows visitors to take rescued, retired or young ponies for a walk on the beach.
Swim with turtles
On Gili T, snorkelers can swim in the company of turtles along the north coast beach starting in front of Karma Kayak bungalows.
Another great spot for turtles is North beach, near Wilson’s Retreat resort.
On the east coast, you’ll find plenty of turtles swimming in the waters near Villa Almarik, which also has a dive centre.
How to get there
Boats from Bali, mainland Lombok and the other Gilis dock either at the pier on the east coast or a fewhundred metres further north.
Most east-coast and village destinations can be reached on foot in 5–10min. The north coast is a 25min walk, or you could hop on a cidomo (horse and cart).
Boats to Gili Meno, Gili Air, Lombok and Bali leave from either the pier or the nearby harbour.
Buy fast-boat tickets from agents, public-boat tickets from the Karya Behari office at the harbour.
- Luce d’Alma Resort & Spa: a luxurious boutique hotel with elegant wood-floored rooms.
- Gili Beach Bum Hotel: a popular backpackers’ lodge by the beach and social action.
- Wilson’s Retreat: a gorgeous small resort right on the north shore.
Best places to stay
Discover more of the best places to stay on all three Gili Islands.
Gili Meno — best for tranquillity
At 2km long and just over 1km wide, Gili Meno is the smallest of the Gili Islands. And, with a local population of around five hundred, and fewer tourists, it’s also the most tranquil.
As such, Meno is the best Gili Island if you’re looking for a truly away-from-it-all break.
Gili Meno is pretty much the opposite of Gili T, in that’s there’s no nightlife to speak of. In place of big-scale beach parties, the vibe here is enticingly laidback, with your evenings more likely to be spent sipping sundowners in one of the few quiet little bars.
During the day, there are gorgeous deserted beaches to stretch out on.
When you want a bit of action, it takes about two hours to gently stroll around the island, with views across to Gili Air and Lombok from the east. To the west, you’ll see Gili Trawangan and Bali’s Gunung Agung volcano.
Best things to do
Here you can indulge in a tranquil escape by relaxing on pristine white-sand beaches and snorkeling in crystal-clear turquoise waters to witness vibrant marine life. Additionally, exploring the picturesque inland saltwater lake and enjoying stunning sunsets are highly recommended activities on this enchanting island.
Snorkel sea sculptures
Arguably, Gili Meno offers the best snorkelling in the Gilis. Our tip is to visit the mesmerising “Nest” undersea sculpture garden off the west coast.
Commissioned by BASK Resort, it was created by environmentalist and sea sculptor John de Caires Taylor.
Comprising 48 human forms moulded from actual people standing and lying in a circle, in time the statues will be covered in corals, thereby creating a reef.
“Nest” is about 20m from the shore at about 3m below the surface. You’ll need water shoes to cross the rocks before entering the water.
Our tip: snorkel tours stop here, so for a solitary look, it’s best to go at sunrise, at noon while they’re having lunch, or after 4pm when most tours end.
Visit Gili Meno Turtle Sanctuary
Home to dozens of sea turtles, some of which are rehabilitated before being released back to the sea, visiting Gili Meno Turtle Sanctuary is one of the best things to do in the Gili Islands.
Here you can see endangered turtles up close, while learning about local conservation and protection efforts.
Explore Gili Meno Saltwater Lake and mangroves
Located ten minutes from the docks on the east coast, Gili Meno Saltwater Lake covers some eight hectares.
Clean and green, it’s a great spot for nature lovers to take in another side of Meno’s landscapes i.e. it’s not all about the beaches!
With places to rest up, it’s a great place to watch birds, with the lake and its environs designated a mangrove ecotourism region, known locally as Ekowisata Mangrove Gili Meno.
How to get there
Gili Meno's harbour is on its southeast corner, within walking distance of the main cluster of accommodation options.
You can buy tickets for the island-hopping boat at the harbour office.
For fast-boat connections, and to charter your own boat to get to the other Gilis, see outlets around the harbour.
Shuttle bus/boat tickets to destinations on Lombok and Bali can be bought from Perama, based in the Kontiki hotel.
- Mahamaya: on the northwest coast, this stylish family-friendly resort offers beachfront villas and pool-view rooms
- Meno Dream Resort: on the southwest coast, this offers warm hospitality, bungalows, cooking courses, and free bike use.
- Les Villas Ottalia: five minutes from the beach by bike, each bungalow/villas has access to a garden.
Best places to stay
Gili Air — best for Indonesian atmosphere
Closest to the Lombok mainland, Gili Air stretches about 1.5km in each direction.
With around two thousand residents, it has the largest permanent population of the three islands
Though tourism is important here, and increasingly so, village life and homes dominate the heart of the island.
This gives Gili Air a more Indonesian atmosphere than Gili Trawangan, while still being livelier than Gili Meno.
As a result, Gili Air offers visitors the convenience of a developed tourist infrastructure alongside feeling like you're in an unspoiled paradise.
Best things to do
Immerse yourself in a laid-back island atmosphere while enjoying activities like snorkelling or diving to discover the diverse underwater world teeming with colourful coral reefs and tropical fish.
Take a cookery class
Located near the harbour, opposite Oceans 5 Dive Centre, Gili Cooking Classes offer excellent lessons in how to cook up tasty Indonesian cuisine.
With three classes daily (11:30 am, 4:00 pm, and 7:30 pm), you can choose from three menus, with mie goreng (fried noodles), kelopon (sweet rice flour balls) and yummy yellow chicken curry among the delicious dishes you might get to make.
Gili Cooking Classes also host lessons on Gili Trawangan’s east coast, next to Trawangan Dive Centre.
Dive Gili Air’s divine waters
With year-round warm waters, and visibility of up to 30 meters, Gili Air is a great place to dive.
Among Gili Air’s most reputable dive outfits, Blue Marlin Dive, Dream Divers and Manta Dive come recommended. Each of them has a training pool.
To discover free diving, talk to the fine folks at Freedive Flow, which you’ll find near the harbour.
Explore with a subwing
As a fun alternative to snorkelling, why not take to the water with a subwing?
As for what this involves, you hold onto a wing-shaped device, with or without a snorkel, while a boat tows you through the warm water.
Subwing Gili Islands run such trips at 8.30 am every day (except Fridays) from the beach just past Villa Karang.
How to get there
Boats cover routes to and from Bali, Lombok and the other Gilis, arriving and departing from the harbour in the south.
You can buy boat tickets at the harbour counter and Perama tickets from their office nearby, opposite Villa Karang Hotel.
- PinkCoco: on the northwest coast, this beachfront beauty bills itself as "the sexiest hotel on the island".
- Mola2 Resort: lovely beachfront bungalows in a peaceful part of southwest coast.
- Captain Coconuts: with beds in the Bamboo Lodge suspended from the rafters, this is no ordinary hostel.
Best places to stay
And, for more inspiration, browse our customisable Indonesia itineraries.