Gili Islands, Indonesia

Fringed by dazzling white-sand beaches, turquoise waters and reefs that teem with turtles and fish, the trio of the tiny Gili Islands just off Lombok’s northwest coast are strikingly beautiful. With no motorized vehicles allowed on any of the islands – just horse carts and bicycles – and swathes of the dusty interiors still taken up with coconut plantations and sandy tracks, the Gilis are as close as you can get to living the tropical dream. Island life here is incredibly seductive No wonder the Gilis have exploded in popularity. Most visitors revel in long days spent snorkelling the reefs, eating fresh seafood and enjoying the spectacular views, with the volcanic profiles of Bali and Lombok filling the horizon.

The best travel tips for visiting the Gili Islands

All three Gili Islands – gili means “small island” in Sasak – have only really been settled since the 1970s, mostly by Sasaks from mainland Lombok and Bugis fishermen from Sulawesi. Island culture reflects these roots and all three islands have predominately Muslim populations.

Gili Trawangan is the most developed of the three. It has become a premier tourist destination with its stunning white sand beaches and loads of sophisticated places to eat, drink and party. Families, honeymooners and backpackers are all well-catered for here.

To the east, diminutive Gili Meno is the smallest and quietest of the Gilis. It has a limited number of places to stay and no nightlife except a laidback bar or two. East again is Gili Air, which falls somewhere in between the two. It has plenty of restaurants and bars but a much larger population of islanders to balance out the tourist influx. Prices on the islands are generally higher than on Bali and mainland Lombok due to the high transport costs of importing practically everything and are continuing to increase as local land prices boom and more luxurious hotels open.

Rough Guides tip: need help on deciding which island you should visit? Read our article: which Gili Island is the best?

 Kasia Soszka/Shutterstock

The Gili Islands have some amazing beaches © Kasia Soszka / Shutterstock

Best things to do in the Gili Islands

The Gili's, as they are referred to, are a popular holiday destination for travellers all over the world. It's no wonder that there are enough activities and things to do on the Gili Islands to keep you busy for a couple of days. Are you planning a visit to the Gili's? Make sure to add this to your to-do list.

#1 Scuba dive the Gili Islands' sublime reefs

The best thing to do in the Gili Islands is snorkelling and diving. Rewarding and accessible, there is good snorkelling from the beaches and two dozen sites within half an hour’s boat ride. The islands are fringed by coral reefs, and the Biorock coral regeneration programme has created house reefs throughout the Gilis. Visibility averages 15–25m. Turtles are common and the prolific fish life includes reef sharks, cuttlefish, moray eels, lobsters, wrasses and bumphead parrotfish.

Among the most popular dive sites are Shark Point, Meno Wall, Halik, Manta Point and Hann's Reef. As they’re so close, dive centres tend to send boats to at least three different sites a day, which gives lots of choice and flexibility.

#2 Splash about with some exhilarating watersports

The Gilis are not exclusively about scuba diving. Visitors can parasail, wakeboard, surf, freedive or kayak here too. The best tubes are the reef breaks off Kokomo, Trawangan and the southern tip of Gili Air.

While sea turtles everywhere struggle to survive, the Gilis seem to attract them. Endangered green turtles appear in greater numbers, but occasionally critically endangered Hawksbill Turtles are also spotted. You're most likely to see them on Gili Air. The east coast from Gili Air Santay hotel to the boat harbour in the south is usually where they turn up.

View from Gili Trawangan on Gunung Agung, Bali © Shutterstock

View from Gili Trawangan on Gunung Agung, Bali © Shutterstock

#3 Watch spellbinding sunsets

The islands’ west coasts are a dream at sunset. From bars such as Malibu Beach Club, the great cone of Bali’s Agung volcano and the setting sun is a spellbinding sight. The cocktails and choice of sangrias are just, ahem, extra.

#4 Party on Gili Trawangan

Gili T’s famous nightlife revolves around a handful of venues that take turns to host large parties a few times a week (from about 10pm till 3am or later). The west and southwestern sides of the island are wildly popular for drinks around sunset when big crowds gather for photos at the beach. For a mellower vibe at sundown head north to Karma Kayak. As the evening wears on the southeast coast (which is away from the village, protecting them from the ruckus) becomes the party scene that Gili T is known for.

#5 Mellow Meno

To experience the Gilis of yesteryear you don’t need to time travel: just hop on a boat to easy-going Meno, a Gili without the crowds. At 2km long and just over 1km wide, Meno is the smallest and most tranquil of the islands, with a local population of around five hundred.

There’s plenty of space for horizon-gazing, some gorgeous deserted beaches and a delightfully mellow, barefoot vibe pervades. It takes about two hours to gently stroll around the island, with views across to Gili Air and Lombok from the east and to Trawangan and Bali’s Gunung Agung to the west.

Aerial view of  Gili Meno, Gili Air and Lombok © Shutterstock

Aerial view of Gili Meno, Gili Air and Lombok © Shutterstock

#6 Lounge by the shore

This is what the Gilis are really about: doing nothing. Kick back and relax on the beach: either horizontal in a hammock or reclined in a beanbag at somewhere chilled like Mirage Sunset Bar. As the name suggests, there’s good sunset viewing at this bar, with beanbags and seating angled for the best panoramas. Musically they keep things subtle and relaxed with ambient soundscapes and electronica.

#7 Take a horse riding adventure on the beach

Stud horse riding adventures on the Gili Islands offer an unforgettable experience for horse lovers and adventure seekers alike. Riding through the crystal-clear waters on horseback is a unique and thrilling way to explore the island's beautiful beaches and lush countryside. The experienced guides will take riders on a journey through the island's stunning scenery, allowing them to take in the breathtaking views while enjoying the fresh sea breeze. Whether you're a seasoned rider or a beginner, this is a great thing to do when visiting the Gili Islands.

#8 Visit Gili Meno Turtle Sanctuary

Visiting the Gili Meno Turtle Sanctuary is one of the best things to do in the Gili Islands. The sanctuary is home to dozens of sea turtles, some of which are rehabilitated before being released back into the wild. Visitors can witness the endangered turtles up close and learn about the conservation efforts being made to protect these amazing creatures. The sanctuary offers a unique opportunity to interact with sea turtles in a responsible and sustainable way.

Sea turtle sanctuary in Gili Meno island, Indonesia © Shutterstock

Sea turtle sanctuary in Gili Meno island, Indonesia © Shutterstock

#9 Enjoy the cinema

If you're a movie buff looking for a unique and unforgettable experience, visiting the Gili Islands to enjoy open-air cinema is an absolute must. These screenings take place in stunning outdoor locations, such as on the beach, under the stars, or in lush gardens. The Gili Islands' open-air cinemas offer a relaxed and casual atmosphere where you can sit back, relax, and enjoy a film in a beautiful tropical setting. The experience is perfect for couples, families, or groups of friends looking for something different to do in the evening.

#10 Check out the local markets and shops

The Gili Islands offer a unique shopping experience, with a variety of shops selling everything from handmade crafts to trendy beachwear. One of the best places to shop is the Gili Trawangan Night Market, where you can find a range of souvenirs, clothes, and accessories at affordable prices. Another great spot is the Gili Trawangan Art Market, where you can find locally made handicrafts and artworks.

Where to stay on the Gili Islands

Despite the growing number of places to stay on the Gilis, accommodation is at a premium. Most places charge wildly inflated prices during peak periods. Renting a private villa for a week or two is becoming increasingly popular. Hostels are officially banned here due to opposition from guesthouse owners. Some places remain hostels in all but name.

Make sure to read our article on best Gili island hotels

Gili Trawangan

The liveliest area to stay is the east coast, in particular the strip south of the harbour, known as Central, which is wall-to-wall bungalows, restaurants and dive shops. The north coast is quieter and places here have more spacious grounds. There are large resorts on the west coast, mainly geared at vacationing Indonesians. whilst cheapest places to stay on Gili Trawangan are inland from the east coast.

Find the best accommodation on Gili Trawangan.

Swing on Gili, Trawangan © Shutterstock

Swing on Gili, Trawangan © Shutterstock

Gili Meno

Accommodation on Meno is less flashy than on Trawangan: few budget places have a/c and there’s some roughness around the edges, so things can feel quite rustic even though you’re mostly paying well above backpacker prices. Book ahead June–Sept and over Christmas.

Find the best accommodation on Gili Meno.

Gili Air

Accommodation is spread around most of the coast and inland. Bungalows and cottages outweigh resorts.

Find the best accommodation on Gili Air.

    Best places to stay on the Gili Islands

  • Desa Dunia Beda Beach Resort, Gili Trawangan This fine hotel's huge plot of land is dotted with salvaged 150-year-old traditional Javanese joglo and kampung (village) homes. There’s a pool and good snorkelling on your doorstep.
  • Captain Coconuts, Gili Air This is no ordinary hostel, with beds in the Bamboo Lodge suspended from the rafters, each with its own privacy screen, fan and locker.
  • Fantastic Cottages, Gili Meno Their location and good value prices make these cottages…well, fantastic. Right in the thick of things near eateries, the harbour and a 100m walk to the beach. Adults and cash only.

Best restaurants and bars

Gili T has a mass of restaurants to choose from, half the fun is wandering slowly down the main drag, trying to decide which to go for. Alternatively, from sunset onwards, head for the popular night market in front of the art market, where kaki lima handcart stalls serve up cheap and authentic food – ayam bakso (chicken soup), nasi campur, seafood and nasi goreng are all on offer – which you can eat at the tables set out in front. There is less choice on Meno and Air, but plenty of good warung food.

    Best places to eat and drink on the Gili Islands

  • Scallywags Seafood Bar & Grill, Gili Trawangan Fantastic seafood barbecues in the evenings – buy the fish at market price and get potatoes and unlimited salad to go with it – plus open sandwiches, innovative salads, good tapas platters and steaks.
  • Karma Reef, Gili Meno This gorgeous bamboo pavilion (at the Karma Reef hotel) is right by the beach and has a menu of Mediterranean and Asian food such as Sugar Cane Chicken Skewer Salad, wood-fired pizzas and a wine list.
  • Legend Bar, Gili Air On Wednesday night this chilled bar becomes the main party venue, with live music or trance DJ until late.

Don't worry, there are faster boats that take you to the Gili Islands © Igor Tichonow / Shutterstock

How to get to the Gili Islands

Frequent boats run to the Gili Islands from Bali and Lombok. You may need to change on Gili Trawangan for Gili Meno and Gili Air. Public and charter boats between the Gilis are plentiful.

Flying to Lombok and taking a boat across to the islands costs roughly the same as the fast boats. It is the only option in rough weather.

By plane

The most comfortable and safest option from Bali is to fly to Lombok’s international airport (30min). Then take a taxi to either Teluk Nare harbour (2hr) and charter a private boat (15min) to the Gilis.

By boat

The quickest way to get to the Gili Islands from Bali is to take one of the many fast boat services. Only book with trusted companies. Morning departures are usually calmer. In the afternoon choppy seas can make the crossings uncomfortable.

Fast boats leave from several harbours around south and east Bali: Benoa, Sanur, Serangan, Padang Bai, Nusa Lembongan and Amed. Crossing takes 1hr 30min–2hr in a fast boat

From Lombok, the main port for the Gili Islands is Bangsal where you’ll find the cheapest and most frequent service to all three islands. The ticket office for all boats is on the seafront. Ignore all other sellers.

By ferry

The cheapest but most time-consuming option is to take the public car ferry from Padang Bai to Lembar port in west Lombok, then continue by bemos to Bangsal for the public boat to the Gilis.

How many days do you need?

Most people end up staying longer on the Gili Islands than they originally planned. It's worth staying for four to five days, especially if you're visiting more than one island.

For pumping nightlife head to Gili Trawangan You can sleep off the hungover on tranquil Gili Meno. Gili Air has a more local feel but all itineraries can be easily tweaked with boats zipping between islands daily.

The best diving here is possible in a day. Throw in a late-night party on day two, plus beach time and island hopping on days three and four, and you've completed much of what the islands have to offer. That said, those beaches are likely to reel you in for as long as a week.

Looking for inspiration for your trip? Talk to our Indonesian travel experts.


Getting around the Gili Islands should be slow paced © Manamana / Shutterstock

Tips for getting around

The only way to get around the Gili Islands, other than walking or in a horse cart, is cycling.

By boat

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. , which makes day trips straightforward; the islands are 10–20min apart.

By cidomo

Cidomo (horse carts) are the island taxis and meet all boats. They are very expensive considering the distances involved.

By bike

Rental bikes are available all over. Ask at your accommodation for the nearest bike-rental outlet.

Best time to visit the Gili Islands

The Gili Islands are a year-round destination. Peak season is July, August and during Christmas and New Year. The weather is usually sunny with temperatures of 26-27°C. The sea is calmer then too, making it perfect for diving and snorkelling. Expect higher hotel rates and busy beaches. Book ahead.

The best time to visit the Gili Islands is during the shoulder seasons (April to June and September). The weather is still good but hotel rates are a little lower.

Avoid the Gili Islands during the monsoon season (October to March) as the weather can be unpredictable, and the sea can be rough, making it difficult to travel between the islands. Heavy rainfall and strong winds can also close some businesses on the islands.

Find out more about the best time to visit Indonesia or the best time to visit Bali.

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Ties Lagraauw

written by
Ties Lagraauw

updated 25.04.2024

Ties is a true world explorer - whether it be for work or leisure! As Content Manager at RoughGuides, and the owner of Dutch travel platform, Ties is constantly on the move, always looking for new destinations to discover.

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