If you’ve read our Guide to Lombok, you’ll know that our onward plans unexpectedly changed, but that’s what travel is all about, right? When we weren’t able to head to Komodo Island, we quickly decided to head over to the Gili Islands instead.
The Gili islands are very close to the north west of Lombok, Indonesia. We visited all three; Gili Air, Gili Meno and Gili Trawangan over the course of a week in December 2016. Visiting the Gilis is like stepping into paradise with serene beaches, crystal clear water and delicious cocktails. If you are after a relaxing or snorkelling/scuba-diving holiday these islands are the place for you. And with no motorised transport on the island, it is all the more relaxing. In this guide I will tell you how to get there from Lombok, how to travel between the islands, the best things to do, where to stay and some extra tips to keep you on the right track.
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How to get there from Lombok
The best way to get to any of the Gili islands from Lombok is by shuttle boat. It leaves from Bangsal, 24km from Senggigi. We got to the ferry terminal from Senggigi by bemo (minivan).
The shuttle boats only leave twice per day. They leave at different times depending on your destination, but they seem to have boats running between 7.30 and 8.30am and between 4 and 5pm. Be prepared for this and arrive in advance to ensure you get a spot. As we made a quick decision to head to the Gili islands, we just turned up in the early afternoon and waited around for the next boat.
You can buy tickets for the shuttle boat at the ticket office, which is on your left once you get to the harbour area. Don’t buy a ticket off anyone else, there are lots of touts around that will try to lure you onto their fast boats, which really aren’t worth it. The maximum price for the shuttle boat is ~£1.50 (25,000 IDR) depending on which island you are going to, whereas the fast boats try to charge ~£15-20 (250-300,000 IDR). The boats actually take a similar amount of time, 30-45 minutes.
If you prefer travelling by fast boat or public ferry, read more here.
How to travel between the Gili islands
You can also travel between the islands by shuttle boats. There are usually 2 crossings per day, at the same price (25,000 IDR). You can check the times at the harbour and remember to arrive in advance so you get a space. We forgot about this when travelling from Gili Meno to Gili Trawangan and we had to take a boat back to Lombok and then to Gili T which was a bit awkward.
Which island is for you
All of these islands are extremely beautiful so it can be hard to pick which one(s) to go to. If you have time it’s a good idea to head to all 3 as they all have a different feel, but if you’re stuck for time this guide should help you decide.
If you are looking for peace and quiet with a local feel and aren’t bothered about not much going on head to Gili Air.
If you are looking for peace and quiet with a good selection of local restaurants and great snorkelling opportunities head to Gili Meno.
If you are looking for a lively atmosphere and a selection of local and western restaurants head to Gili Trawangan.
Gili Air: 1 night
We decided to head to Gili Air first as we had read it is the most undiscovered and least visited of the three islands. It also has the highest permanent population of the three, of about 1,800. We didn’t book anything before arriving so we ended up in a random homestay but it was nice enough. We enjoyed a walk around the island, and a beautiful sunset on the beach. While it is a beautiful island, we felt it isn’t really set up for tourists like the other islands. There was lots of rubbish around which was disappointing. We soon decided to head over to Gili Meno the next day to see some travellers we had met at Bangsal harbour.
You might also like… Guide to Lombok
Gili Meno: 2 nights
Gili Meno is the smallest of the 3 islands, you can walk around it in just 2 hours. When we arrived we immediately found it much cleaner and a nicer atmosphere than Gili Air. The best meal we had was at Ya Ya Warung, which serves up tasty Indonesian food at affordable prices. The setting is tranquil and relaxing, you can eat dinner in your little hut while gazing out at the ocean in front of you.
Where we stayed: Putri Homestay
Some travellers we met recommended this home stay and it ended up being one of our favourite accommodations on our South East Asia travels. For £15 per night you get a lovely room with air conditioning and a comfortable bed. Each room comes with a great patio area outside which is the perfect place to relax after a hard day at the beach. A delicious breakfast is also included where you can choose 2 options (omelette/pancake/fresh fruit) and a drink. The staff are super friendly and made us feel very welcome. I loved the countryside feel of the surrounding area and would definitely stay there again if we go back.
Things to do on Gili Meno
Walk/cycle around the island
As it is such a small island, it is very easy to explore. There are lots of places to rent bicycles, so take one out for the day and see what you can find. Don’t worry if you get tired, there are lots of beach bars to stop at along the way! If cycling isn’t your thing, then walking is also a viable option. On the north-western part of the island there is a saltwater lake which sounds like an interesting place to see. We didn’t make it there but definitely would if we go again.
Perhaps what this island is most famous for is its amazing snorkelling and scuba-diving opportunities. With crystal clear water all around it’s easy to see why. Whether you opt for snorkelling or scuba-diving depends on your budget and how adventurous you feel. We opted for snorkelling as the more affordable option, but I’m definitely eager to try scuba-diving in the future!
At the beachfront there are lots of people offering snorkelling trips in their glass bottom boats. We paid around ~£15 (250,000 IDR) for 2-3 hours. We were taken to about 4 different spots in that time. We visited a shipwreck of the Bounty Ferry and a couple of spots with so many incredible colourful fish. I was pretty amazed because I’d never been snorkelling in such a beautiful location before. The best part was visiting the Meno wall where there are loads of turtles. It was so surreal to see one just swimming along within arm’s reach. This experience was definitely one of our highlights of Indonesia.
While we really enjoyed chilling in Gili Meno, Christmas was fast approaching so we wanted to head over to Gili Trawangan for a more vibrant festive atmosphere.
Gili Trawangan: 2 nights
Famed for being a party destination, Gili Trawangan was the first of the Gilis to start attracting tourists back in the 1990s. Magic mushrooms are readily available so don’t be shocked if you are offered some. While our partying days are (mostly) behind us, we still wanted to see what Gili T was all about. It definitely isn’t as crazy as I imagined, and although there are tons of tourists, you can still find places to escape and enjoy the peaceful island vibes.
Where we stayed : Balumba
This accommodation is situated in a very quiet area and it’s only a 5 minute walk away from the tourist area. The man running it is very friendly and happy to help. For £14 a night you can get an air-conditioned room with breakfast included. The room we stayed in was upstairs and downstairs there is a seating area to chill out in.
Things to do on Gili Trawangan
Walk/cycle around the island
Despite being the biggest of the three islands, you can walk around it in just 90-120 minutes. And if you fancy cycling then you can explore even more. Expect to pay around 60,000 IDR per day for bike rental. We enjoyed a relaxing walk south along the west side of the island, and it seemed the further south you went the less people were around.
Chill on the sea swings/hammocks
As you walk south you will soon find many beach bars filled with cushions which are the ideal place to stop and have a refreshing drink. We found some that led out into an area with lots of sea swings and hammocks. They are the perfect photo opportunity, as you probably already know from seeing 1000s of photos on Instagram. If you really want to get a Instagram worthy photo, head here at sunset. We loved the sea hammock in particular, and having a drink while lying on it was a definite ‘This is the life!’ moment.
Climb up to the Hilltop Viewpoint
In the south-west of the island you can find a stunning viewpoint, a 15-20 minute walk up from the shore. This was used as a lookout post when the island was used as a naval base in the WWII era. The island’s name actually originated from the Indonesian word for tunnel due to the cave tunnel constructed by the Japanese. On the way up to the viewpoint you can see the remnants of a machine gun bunker. At the top you can admire incredible views over the island, as well as the neighbouring island Lombok and its highest peak, Mount Rinjani in the distance. We really enjoyed venturing up to take in the views and also to get some peace and quiet, we only saw a couple of people when we were there.
Spending Christmas on Gili Trawangan
After spending our first Asian Christmas in the surprisingly cold Hanoi winter, we were very excited to experience some tropical style festivities. Christmas Day started off as it should with a nice refreshing mojito at a cool hostel we found called Broken Compass. Filled with cushions it was a great place to chill out and kick off the festivities.
Next on the agenda was finding somewhere to have the all important Christmas dinner. We knew this wouldn’t be a difficult feat on such a touristy island. We walked up and down the east side of the island and found plenty of options serving up delicious Christmas feasts. After weighing up the options we decided on a beachfront restaurant with a buffet including all the Christmas dinner essentials: meat, roast potatoes, veg and gravy. It was a delicious meal and after we kept to another one of my Christmas traditions with a glass of Baileys. They weren’t playing any Christmas music, but Ryan soon got up and plugged his phone in for some Christmas classics which definitely made us full of the festive spirit.
I have to say it felt kind of strange to be strolling around in shorts and T-shirts in 30 degree heat on Christmas Day but it was definitely a Christmas to remember. I am looking forward to spending this Christmas at home with my family, and then who knows where we’ll be the next Christmas.
Where is the best place you’ve spent Christmas? Have you been to the Gili islands? Which one was your favourite? Let us know in the comments, we’d love to hear from you!
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