The Gili Islands in Indonesia – Affordable paradise

The Gili Islands in Indonesia

Sandy beach on Gili Trawangan, the biggest of the Gili Islands in Indonesia. Ready to relax?

The three Gilis Islands in Indonesia northwest of Lombok are no longer a secret. They have been discovered by backpackers for quite a while now. No wonder, the three Gili Islands are stunning and everybody will find its own paradise on one of the three islands. They are all so different from each other. We checked them all out and we will tell you why you should put the Gilis on your bucket list.

Gili Trawangan, the Gili Islands in Indonesia, is the party island. Gili Meno is the smallest with a natural touch, laid back and tranquil. And then we have Gili Air with a strong local character, a serene atmosphere and great white sandy beaches. And this time we 100 percent agree with Lonely Planet: The Gilis are indeed incredibly hard to leave.

Gili Trawangan – Beach, Party, Diving

A lot is going on at the biggest of the three Gili Islands in Indonesia. Most of the backpackers come here and stay for a while. Especially the ones who like to party, chill out at the beach or are keen on learning to scuba dive. It is the perfect place to hang out for a while. Why? Gili T offers a wide range of nice little restaurants, cosy cafés and busy bars. As soon as the sun sets the parties start and they last until the next morning.

Gili T is the cheapest of the three islands and you can find a huge amount of low priced accommodation and restaurants. During high season in July and August it gets quite crowded on Gili T. We came to Gili T beginning of July and it felt busy. But it can be much busier some locals told us. As it is the month of Ramadan the party scene is also a bit quieter. To be honest we are quite happy about that.

Street scene Gili Trawangan

Main street on Gili Trawangan.

For the ones who are looking for a quiet and relaxing holiday, away from the crowds, we recommend to stay in a bungalow either on the west or north side of the island where you will find quietness. There are not as many restaurants as on the east side but there are still a few options to choose from. If you want more variety just rent a bicycle or hop on a cidomo (horse cart) and head to the main strip on the east side.

Partygoers and nightlife seekers will find plenty of options to go out and party around the jetty and along the east coast. There you’ll also find a full range of accommodation in all price classes.

Night market on Gili Trawangan

Night market on Gili Trawangan. Great place to try local food.

You like to try local food? Check out the night market and dive into the world of Gili and Lombok food at its best. But be warned, it’s hard not to eat too much.

To explore the island it’s best to rent a bicycle or take a horse cart (cidomo). You can also walk but it will take some time to walk around the island.

Lina and Dave have published on their blog Divergent Travelers 15 Fotos and facts about Gili Trawangan. Great blog post with cool pictures from Gili T and tips on how to get there from Lombok.

Gili Meno, the smallest of the threesome. A relaxing and laid back island

On Gili Meno you will find paradise on earth. We couldn’t believe how different the three islands can be. After visiting busy Gili T we took the local boat (price per person IDR 25’000, which is around USD 2) to get to Gili Meno where we found a laid back island with very friendly local people.

There are only a few restaurants and resorts around the jetty on the eastern side of the island. The busiest time is in the morning when the public boat and speed boats arrive. During the day there is a relaxed atmosphere on Gili Meno. If you seek quietness and tranquillity go to the western side. There are a few guesthouses with basic bungalows but also more luxurious resorts. The choices are limited but it’s extremely relaxed on this side of the island.

Lake on Gili Meno

Sunset at the salt water lake on Gili Meno.

Our favourite guesthouse is the Sunset Gecko. Our A-Frame bungalow is a gem. We love our tiny basic romantic hut. The shared bathroom is just 10 seconds to walk and the priceless view to the ocean is maybe 20 seconds from the rooms.

Sunset Gecko Bungalow

Our home away from home on Gili Meno.

We would say that you’ll find the best beach in the southeast just in front of Malina’s Child Restaurant/Bungalows. It’s easy to get in the water and the beach is wide for sunbathing.

What else to do on Gili Meno? Relaxing, reading, snorkelling, diving or savouring fruit juice. Life is good on Gili Meno.

Beach on Gili Meno

Snorkelling around Gili Meno is probably the best on the three Gilis. The reef is close and easy accessible.

Not enough? Go and see the work of the Gili Meno Turtle Sanctuary, which plays an important role in protecting and hatching turtles. As soon as the baby turtles are old enough they are safely released into the ocean. Are you a birdwatcher? Then we recommend to check out the salt water lake on Gili Meno. 30 species of birds can be seen around the sea salt lake which is surrounded by a mangrove forest.

Gili Air – Dream island with a strong local character, a small party scene and nice sandy beaches

Gili Air was the first to be settled around 1850 by fishermen. We visited Gili Air last and found another little paradise. Gili Air is a mix between Gili Trawangan and Gili Meno. The main strip with a wide range of restaurants and bars on Gili Air is on the south eastern and the eastern side of the island. There is a small party scene compared to Gili T.

Beach on Gili Air

Gili Air is a great place to be.

Do you like a quiet and relaxed atmosphere? Then head to the western or northern side. You will find relaxing bungalow resorts and guesthouses with restaurants right on the beach.

Beach Gili Air

Beautiful beach on Gili Air.

We did not book ahead and were worried about not finding any accommodation. After arrival on Gili Air we walked around and found many places to stay. Even in high season it is possible to find accommodation. There are many guesthouses with rooms. Not all close to the beach but if you do not mind to walk a few minutes there are great places to stay among the locals in the middle of the island.

What do all three Gili Islands in Indonesia have in common?

Beautiful sandy beaches, superb snorkelling and crystal clear waters. But the best is there are no cars and motorbikes on the islands. The main transportation is the cidomo (hors cart) and bicycles.

Which one of the Gili Islands in Indonesia is the best?

That’s hard to say. Each one of them has something very special. For us personally Gili Meno is THE perfect island. Why? Because we were looking for relaxation, quietness and a personal, local touch. We found altogether on Gili Meno.

For the ones who are limited in time and can only visit one of the islands we would say Gili Air is the place to go. You find tranquillity, a local character, white sandy beaches and a wide range of restaurants and accommodation. Gili Air suits everybody.

You wonder how you can get to the Gilis? How much the transfer, accommodation, food and drinks cost? And you want to know what you can do on the Gilis? Continue reading and you will find out.

What to do on the Gili Islands in Indonesia

The main activity is doing nothing. Relaxing and enjoying the easy going island life. You think that’s boring? Then you can start a diving course or if you are certified already do some fun dives with one of the islands dive centres. How about a free-diving course? Or hire a set of snorkelling gear and explore the beautiful reef on your own. To rent a snorkel set (mask, fins and snorkel) cost as little as IDR 20’000 to 30’000. Due to strong currents we highly recommend to use fins.

Snorkelset Rental

You can rent Snorkel sets on every corner for very little money.

Do you fancy other water sports? Try kayaking, stand-up paddling or surfing.

On land you can go walking or rent a bicycle to go around the island. We prefer walking. It’s for free and as there are many sandy parts along the road and therefore quite difficult to ride a bicycle. Cost for bicycle rental per day around IDR 30’000.

Diving and snorkelling are very popular activities on the Gilis

If you love the water you should try diving or go on a snorkel trip. Dive centres are easy to find on the main street on Gili T, Meno and Air. The big names like Blue Marlin Dive Centre, Dream Divers and Manta Dive look very professional. Check the possibilities with the staff. The Gilis are known as a place for beginners’ right up to instructor level. There is good diving around the islands that are suitable for all levels. Diving courses are offered in many different languages.

Due to the position of the Gili Islands in Indonesia currents in the channels are very common and drift diving is the norm. The underwater world offers good corals and a good mix of marine life. Turtles bump head parrotfish, reef sharks, moray eels, nudibranches and different kind of reef fish can be seen.

We went snorkelling off the beach in Gili Meno. We hired a snorkel set and did the Meno Wall. The visibility was perfect and the corals nice. We have seen two turtles, a sweet lip and clown fish.

Do not miss out to go snorkelling, it is a great experience. If you don’t want to go from the beach by yourself you can join a snorkel trip by boat which cost about IDR 100’000 per person. You need a snorkel set? You get it everywhere on the street.

When to go

High season is definitely July and August. Weather wise probably the best months to visit but also the busiest. To avoid the crowds we recommend to go in May, June or beginning of July.

Our recommendation: Go before the high season starts. If you travel in May and June prices are moderate (in high season accommodation prices can go up 50 %), you can bargain and you can choose. July and August are very busy and accommodation very often is fully booked. Pre-booking is essential if you want to stay in a particular place like a beachfront bungalow.

Where to stay

Depending on your budget there is a wide range from basic rooms to simple beach huts or even luxury bungalows with private pool. We are travelling on a budget and like it simple and basic. Luxury is not important to us but it has to be clean, safe and friendly. For people with the same idea we recommend staying in a homestay or guest house. Costs vary from IDR 150’000 to IDR 400’000 for a room or bungalow with fan. Bungalows with AC are available from IDR 400’000. If you are on a tight budget you’ll find dorm rooms for IDR 50’000.

Accommodation: Booking ahead or shopping around on the spot?

We visited the Gilis in July, in the high season. We read in the guide book that pre-booking is necessary to get a room for sure. We normally do not like to pre-book but to be on the safe side we did book the first two nights on Bali and on the Gili Islands in Indonesia. We must say it was a good decision but it wouldn’t have been a problem without a booking. There were plenty of rooms available in Sanur and on all three Gilis. Many guesthouses don’t have a website and it is not possible to book online. Finding a room after arrival is normally not a problem.

Bungalow Gili Air

Bungalows are very common on the Gilis. Small and basic huts but with charme.

We normally check beforehand where we want to stay. It gives us an idea about the place and the area. This time we travelled without a guidebook. Therefore we used the internet for doing research. Tripadvisor and booking.com are the sites we used and we’re happy with the outcome. Both platforms have a wide range of accommodation all over the world listed.

Resort on Gili Meno

A more luxurious resort on Gili Meno.

How to get to the Gili Islands in Indonesia

The Gili Islands in Indonesia are quite easy to reach from Bali or Lombok. We flew to Denpasar and stayed a night in Sanur. Because we’re travelling in high-season we booked the ferry ticket from Bali to Gili Trawangan (costs IDR 450’000) online through Perama Tours. The booking went fine but the pick-up was one hour late. After calling the Perama Hotline twice the driver arrived and we made it to the harbour in Padangbai just in time. The driver brought us to the Marina Srikandi Office where we got the tickets for the ferry. We went to the harbour and after we hopped on the boat we left. The boat was very crowded and probably overbooked. People on the top deck got soaking wet. So be prepared. We wrapped all our electronic gadgets to protect computers, cameras and phone in plastic.

Fastboat Bali to Gili Trawangan: IDR 300’000 to 850’000 depending on company and season. We paid IDR 450’000 in high season with pick-up in Sanur included. The boat transfer from Bali (Padangbai) to Gili Trawangan with a fast boat takes about 2.5 hours.

There are also slow boats which are cheaper but also a lot slower. It can take about 4 to 5 hours to get from Bali to the Gili Islands in Indonesia.

It is also possible to fly from Bali to Lombok. Prices vary a lot depending on the season. Flight time appox. 30 minutes. From Praya, the International Airport in Lombok, it’s a 45 minute drive to Bangsal harbour with a taxi. From Bangsal harbour you can either go by public boat which is running during the whole day without a fix schedule. Price IDR 10’000 per person or you can charter a private boat.

Before you book a fastboat make sure that:

  • The company has a good reputation because accidents have been reported. We think that Perama, Bluewater Express, Marina Srikandi and Semaya are probably the best.
  • Hotel pick-up is included in the price. Boats are leaving from Padangbai, Benoa, Sanur, Serangan, Amed or Nusa Dua.

Important note: There are ATM’s on Gili Trawangan and Gili Air. If you plan to visit Gili Meno bring enough cash. It may be possible to pay your accommodation or in the dive center by credit card but don’t count on it and be prepared to pay a commission. In restaurants and warungs you have to pay cash.

Cidomo

No cars, no motorbikes – just bicycles and Cidomos.

5 tips to safe money

  • Go local. Not only is local food in Warungs cheaper than western food but also fresh and delicious.
  • Check the exchange rate before you enter the country. It’s easy to get ripped of. It’s important to know what you should get for your money.
  • Bargain especially if you travel in low season. You often get a big discount on accommodation and transport when it’s not so busy.
  • Use local transport (local bus, boat, bemos, cidomo etc.)
  • Look for accommodation away from the main street or the first row on the beach. Prices in the second row are a lot cheaper.
Shop on the Gili Islands in Indonesia

A local shop on the Gili Islands in Indonesia

Swiss Nomads recommendations

  • Go local. Eat Indonesian food and drink freshly squeezed fruit juices. So tasty and cheap.
  • Go snorkelling or diving. The coral reef is easy accessible from the beach or by boat.
  • Island hopping. There are daily public boats cruising between all three islands. It costs IDR 25’000 per person one way only.
  • Don’t miss the sunset on the hill in Gili Trawangan for great panoramic views.
  • Check out the turtle sanctuary on Gili Trawangan and Gili Meno where you can learn more about green and hawksbill turtles.
  • Be patient with the Internet. Almost all restaurants and guesthouses offer Free WiFi but be warned, it is incredibly slow most of the times if it works at all.

Do you love scuba diving?

Have you ever thought about going on a liveaboard? Check out Komodo National Park and Labuan Bajo for option. A wonderful place to dive off a boat and spend a few days on one of the awesome liveaboards. We dived with Wicked Diving. More about our trip here and tips about how to find a good dive company.

Should you also need information about travel insurance, we wrote an article with our experience about “Do I need travel insurance?”

Leave a comment, we’d love to hear from you.

Have you been to one of the Gili Islands in Indonesia too? Or do you fancy going there? Leave a comment on our post. We love to hear about your experiences and travel plans.

14 thoughts on “The Gili Islands in Indonesia – Affordable paradise

  1. i really enjoyed this article especially because we have just visited Gili T for 3 nights. First we were planning to take the slow boat in Paddangbai but as it would have taken us about 8 hours to get to Gili (it goes first to Lombok, then you need to take a shuttle bus and then another boat), we decided to buy fast boat tickets on the spot. We were with 2 friends, so we were 4 of us, and we started bargaining…you must always Bargain in Indonesia!! at the end we only paid 900.000 IRP for all 4 of us. 🙂 And it is August!

    • Hi Nora,
      On which one of the 3 have you been? We really liked all three of them but our favorite was Gili Meno. Probably also because of the really nice room we had there.
      You managed to get a really good price for the speedboat. And true. You always have to bargain hard…
      Sunny greetings from Australia. Marcel

  2. Hi, nice and useful site 🙂 in planning on going to the gili’s in September. I’ve read on a few sites that that would be a good month to go as it won’t be too busy and the prices for accommodation is cheaper. Is this correct?

    Thanks

    Andy

    • Hi Andy,
      Definitely a great plan. The Gili’s are paradise 🙂
      Yes, September is a great month to visit the Gili’s. Especially as it’s not the busiest month.
      Safe travels,
      Reni

    • Hi Katie

      We used cash only in Bali. We use our credit card to withdraw money for free (there are no additional fees from the bank with our card) and than we use cash to pay in restaurants and guesthouses.
      We avoid using our debit card because the bank is charging approx. USD 5 per withdrawal.

      Hope that helps. Should you have more questions don’t hesitate to write us again.

      Cheers,
      Reni

        • Hi Katie,

          We payed with Indonesian Rupiah. It’s easy to chenge USD into IDR but you have to be careful with where you change your money. There are some places where they try to cheat you. Changing in official banks is saver but the exchange rate may be a bit lower.

          Cheers
          Marcel

  3. Thankyou very much for that information! I was wondering if it’s pretty simple to get from Gili Trawangan to the other islands of you wanted to stay there for just a day? And especially not knowing the language

    • Dear Katie

      To get from Gili Trawangan to Gili Meno and/or Gili Air is pretty easy. There is a public shuttle boat. Ask for public shuttle boat which costs only a few dollar. In doubts ask other travelers or at your accommodation. They can help you.

      Wishing you a great trip. When are you planning to visit the Gilis?

      Cheers,
      Reni

      • Okay! Sounds fairly simple
        We’re actually going for our honeymoon and leaving next Tuesday for a few weeks. We’ve both never traveled anywhere outside the US so we’re trying to find out all the information we can right now!

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