Gili islands perfectly fit the description of the stunning tropical islands. The three small islands are floating in a turquoise sea and are fringed by white sand and coconut palms. Residents and tourists seem busy pulling horse carts and bicycles from one point to another. No pollution on these islands since motorized vehicles is banned. A few times a day, speedboats zip visitors directly from Bali, Indonesia’s primary tourist destination.
I just spent a week in Gili islands, mostly on Gili Trawangan (often dubbed as Gili T). We came to Gili Islands to have fun and partially to see how is it going on Gili Islands after the pandemic. Much like Bali, Gili Islands were practically dead during the pandemic. Luckily, the most challenging time has gone, and since a few months ago, tourists have been returning to Gili Islands including Gili Trawangan. We arrived in Gili T in early November 2022, supposedly to be low season because now is the rainy season. It’s my second visit to Gili T, I come back here because I was so impressed by the beauty of this island back in 2019.
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Gili Islands Overview
Gili Islands is a group of 3 tiny islands – Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno, and Gili Air – near the coast of northwest Lombok Island. Characterized by sandy beaches fringed with palm trees, they’re known for their coral reefs just offshore. Not only do they look like a paradise, but each island also has a distinct personality. Whether you are looking for a romantic getaway, a perfect place to party and dive, or you are desperate to get away from the crowds and looking for quiet beach time, Gili islands, has it all.
In the local Sasak language, Gili means “small islands”. There are other Gilis around mainland Lombok, but the Gili islands usually refer to these three small islands just off the northwest coast of Lombok Island: Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno, and Gili Air.
Gili Trawangan, widely known as Gili T, is the biggest, the liveliest, and the most developed island of the three Gilis. Although the largest, it has a permanent population of around only 800 people. The island holds a reputation as a backpackers’ haven and party island. Backpackers first stumbled onto the small island in the 90s, and until now it’s still managing to hold on to its natural charm.
The area of Gili Trawangan is only 15 square kilometers; you can walk the sandy circumference of the island in around 1,5 hours. Alternatively, you can also opt to rent a bike or ride a horse cart which is also referred to as Cidomo. No cars and motorbikes are allowed on the three Gilis, which makes Gili Islands, Indonesia less polluted than other main tourist hubs in Indonesia such as Bali and Labuan Bajo in Flores island.
Gili T has one main road consisting of a wide array of restaurants, coffee shops, bars, stores, and hotels. For budget accomodation, look on the main strip on the eastern side of the island. There’s a great variety of options, including hostels, bungalows, and homestays. Meanwhile, if you are looking for a quieter environment while staying on Gili T, opt to stay on the western side of the island. It is mostly occupied by serene Gili Trawangan hotel & high-end resorts.
Gili T is the perfect Gili if you are into partying and keen to meet other travelers. The atmosphere of the island is very laid back and friendly with a different club or dive center and bar that hosts a party each night of the week. But you can still enjoy Gili T even if you aren’t into partying. There is plenty of activity you can do from joining the scuba trips, taking diving classes, sunbathing, or just chilling on the beach while sipping coconut drinks or cocktails.
Gili Trawangan is best for :
- Water sports (diving, snorkeling, swimming, kayaking, paddle boarding, free diving)
- Island hopping between the Gili Islands
The smallest and quietest of the three Gilis. Gili Meno is mainly about rest and relaxation. It will be a dream place if you are looking to get away from the hustle-bustle city and escape from a stressful life for a few days. Gili Meno is also known as the romantic escape destination of the three Gilis. It has a romantic honeymoon atmosphere, along with arguably has the best beaches of the lot.
There are some upmarket resorts/ hotels on Gili Meno, also a few hostels you can choose from. Other than chill with your lover, some activities you can do here are cycling, learn diving in a dive school, and snorkeling to see Nest, an underwater sculpture from British artist Jason deCaires Taylor with 48 life-sized human figures.
Gili Air is said to have the perfect blend of the other two Gilis. It has similar facilities to Gili Trawangan such as a few restaurants, resorts, and dive schools, but is also almost as peaceful as Gili Meno. If you are looking for somewhere quiet to relax but still want to enjoy some facilities like Gili T, you should try to stay at Gili Air.
How to Get to Gili Islands?
Getting to Gili Islands from Bali is the most convenient in my opinion. From Bali, there are several departure points, including Benoa Harbor, Sanur, Padang Bai, Amed, and also Nusa Lembongan. Many of the fast boats dock at Teluk Nare/ Teluk Kade on Lombok Island, north of Senggigi before continuing onto Gili T and Gili Air. The journey takes around 45 minutes to 2,5 hours.
I took Eka Jaya, one of the boat operators to go from Padang Bai harbor in Bali to Gili Trawangan. From Canggu, I had to drive for 1 hour and 40 minutes to Padang Bai. The cost is Rp.750.000,- ($48) for round trip, while the journey takes 2 hours. Eka Jaya is one of the most popular fast boat operators to Gili islands. Not only their boat is pretty nice but they also allow me to park my car on their office when we were in Gili islands (parking fee is Rp.10.000,-/ $0,64/ day). If you wanna book the ticket, just head to their website or contact them at: +6281237745789.
From Jakarta and Lombok
If you’re coming from Jakarta, you can take a plane towards Lombok. From Lombok International Airport Praya, head towards Senggigi by a car or taxi for 1,5 hours. The price is Rp.160.000 ($10). The journey to Gili islands will start from Teluk Nare/ Teluk Kade north of Senggigi by a fast boat. On 2019, I used a private fast boat for Rp.600.000 ($38 for one way) to reach Gili Trawangan. It was a very fast journey, only took 15 minutes to reach Gili Trawangan; we didn’t even have to wait for other passengers. If you want to hire it, contact Deny at +6281907653900.
But if you prefer to use a public boat, then head to Bangsal harbor. Public boats to the Gili islands run most frequently before noon, while special boats depart for Gili Meno at 2 pm and 5 pm. One-way public fares are Rp.14.000 ($0,89) to Gili Air, Rp.15.000 ($0,96) to Gili Meno (Rp.25.000 or $1,5 for the special afternoon boats), and Rp.20.000 ($1.3) to Gli Trawangan. Meanwhile, fast boats now run almost hourly in the daytime on a route linking Gili T, Gili Meno, Gili Air, and Bangsal. The cost is Rp.85.000 ($5,4).
The Best Time to Visit Gili Islands
September to November is a great time to visit Gili Islands as the islands are not going to be very busy. The busiest time for tourists who visit Gili Islands are in July, August, December, and January.
I went to Gili Trawangan in November, in the middle of the rainy season. But I was lucky that there was no rain at all during my 7-day stay in Gili Trawangan, meanwhile, at the same time, Bali was showered with non-stop rain.
Things To Do in Gili Islands
Since I spent 7 days in Gili Trawangan and only a few hours in Gili Meno/ Air, in this part I will talk about things to do in Gili Trawangan. The island is small but surprisingly there are many activities we can do. Here we go…
Every day I spent at least 40 minutes commuting from our hotel in the western part of the island to the town center. It’s healthy and fun. The bike is one of two vehicles allowed in Gili islands, while motorized vehicles are banned. A lot of hotels provided the bike for free for their guests but if your accommodation doesn’t, you can rent it for 30-40 thousand Rupiah or roughly $2-3. Bike rental is also everywhere in Gili T town.
2. Horse Riding
One of the fun things to do in Gili T. You can opt to ride a horse on the beach or the road. For 20 minutes of riding the cost is 100 thousand Rupiah or $7. If you’re not used to riding a horse, the guide will accompany you.
3. Enjoy The Sunset
The western part of Gili Trawangan provides a magical sunset view every evening. From the beach across from our hotel, we can see Bali island from afar and enjoy the sunset moment.
4. Snorkeling/ Diving
Surprisingly during the rainy season, there is no rain at all in Gili Trawangan, which means it’s a good time to have some water sports. There are plenty of choices of water activities in Gili T, ranging from snorkeling, diving, fishing, kayaking, paddle boarding, and kite surfing. I, Adrien, and our friends choose to spend time for snorkeling and spearfishing. We rent a private boat (Rp.2.500.000,- or $160), and together with the crew, we sail to nearby Gili Meno to snorkel.
5. Spear Fishing
The Gili Trawangan holiday won’t be perfect without some effort to catch some fish by ourselves. Our guide gives us some instructions, and within an hour we managed to catch some small and middle-sized fish. Our hotel then cooked and served it for our dinner. Honestly, It’s the tastiest fish I’ve tried.
6. Cinema on The Beach
Some hotels provide a cinema on the beach and play popular Hollywood movies like Bohemian Rhapsody starting from 7 PM.
7. Night Market
I’ve been told by some youtube videos to visit the night market as something I shouldn’t miss in Gili Trawangan. While I agree that it provides a unique experience of tasting local seafood and cuisine, my experience isn’t great here, but it could only happen to me. Perhaps you will find other stalls that can grill better seafood for you in the Gili T night market.
Where to Stay in Gili Trawangan
During 7 days vacation in Gili Trawangan, we stay in hotel Lumi. Hotel Lumi located in the heart of the Gili Trawangan, Pansea Beach, one of Lombok’s hidden gems, is situated on the island’s west coast. The hotel consists of cottages and beach cabins designed by a well-known Indonesian architect Andra Matin. It has a sustainable design with permaculture on the premise to ensure an organic, green lifestyle in order to reduce carbon footprints. Hotel Lumi has archipelago vibes all around in unison with the international standard.
We really enjoyed our stay at Hotel Lumi. The bed and pillow were very comfy, the staff was so friendly, and it has a nice pool overlooking the beach. I also find that Hotel Lumi restaurant was very good at cooking fish. They helped us cook the fish we caught in the sea and honestly, that’s the best fish I’ve tasted in Gili Trawangan.
Rate : Rp.861.000,- ($55) per night includes with breakfast and bikes.
What to Eat in Gili Trawangan
I and Adrien are foodies, so we took some time to explore the culinary scene in Gili Trawangan. Here are what we’ve found so far..
- Thyme Coffee
To see if Gili T has a great coffee culture just like Bali we go to Thyme Coffee, a coffee shop in heart of town that seems to be packed with tourists. I find their coffee is pretty okay, but it’s also not bad.
2. Jali Kitchen
Ranks no.1 both in Gooogle review and Tripadvisor, I can’t wait to return to Jali Kitchen. This restaurant has very tasty Asian food and the portion is also pretty big.
3. Pearl of Trawangan
Pearl of Trawangan is a pretty restaurant located in the front part of a resort with the same name. The price is slightly higher than Jali Kitchen but it tastes pretty good, with a nice ocean view.
Gili Trawangan and the other islands in Gili Islands are perfect for relaxing and having some sports. One thing that really impresses me is the beaches here are completely clean and free of trash unlike some beaches in Bali. The turquoise color of the ocean is also mindblowing and breathtaking, leaving me with a deep impression and a promise to return to these 3 small islands when I took the fast boat to return to Bali.
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