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.
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.
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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Discover more of the best places to stay on all three Gili Islands.
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.
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.
Here you can see endangered turtles up close, while learning about local conservation and protection efforts.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
You can buy boat tickets at the harbour counter and Perama tickets from their office nearby, opposite Villa Karang Hotel.
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