The Gili islands Indonesia are three small Islands (Gili actually means small island in the local language of Lombok) off the coast of Lombok in the sea between it and Bali. These three islands are complete paradise, no cars, continuous immaculate beaches, crystal clear turquoise waters filled with corals and amazing sea life, little cottages to stay the night in and beach shacks to grab a drink and watch the sunset! It’s pretty much perfection! To make it even more appealing, its dirt cheap too! Forget the Maldives, here is a backpacker budget paradise that caters for all travellers with each of the islands offering something different!
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Gili islands Indonesia
Gili Meno: The chilled out honeymoon island!
Gili Meno is in the middle of three islands and is often the most overlooked with it having a reputation for being the quietest of all three islands. However the smaller island is the ideal chill out place being the most underdeveloped and most serine. Here you can enjoy swathes of endless white sand beaches lined with palm trees and calm ocean waters to yourself! It is by far the most relaxed of the Gili islands Indonesia.
There is definitely a honeymoon vibe on the island too with many newly weds preferring the peaceful atmosphere and privacy of the less populated island. Here most of the accommodation caters to the mid range crowd and there is really only one small main strip offering restaurants and some shops. The western side of the island is pretty much completely deserted other than a few small local shacks. It really does have the unspoilt island paradise feel you head over to these stunning islands to find and provides that remote sense of isolation away from the crowds which is the real draw of the Gili islands Indonesia.
Gili Meno also has some great turtle diving and snorkeling spots along the coastline facing Gili T so there is some great things to do here. But really Gili Meno is all about rest and relaxation so if you prefer live a little faster paced then you could also get bored here after a day or two and head to one of the other Gili islands Indonesia.
Gili Air: The hippy island that combined the best of all
Gili Air is the island closest to the mainland of Lombok and as such has a more developed community and sense of local life with many little villages and farming communities still living in thatched bamboo huts. The island also seems to combine all that is good about both Gili Meno and Gili T in the most perfect way and is often considered to be a backpacker island with a hippy vibe amongst the Gili islands Indonesia.
Along the beaches it is common to see many wooden shacks as restaurants and even cool little camping spots and many more ramshackle beach bars. Here the laid back vibe continues from Gili Meno but there is also more of a sense of happening. People hanging out around campfires on the beach at night drinking Bintangs and strumming guitars before retiring to their rustic bungalows or even an island hostel, it’s a fun place to be!
Gili Air combined the peaceful nature of Gili Meno by still having many pristine unspoilt empty beaches along its less developed side whilst at the same time feeling a lot less isolated and with more going on. For us it was the best of the Gili islands Indonesia as a result!
Gili Trawangan: The bigger party island that’s surrounded by turtles!
Gili T is the largest and most developed of all three Gili islands Indonesia and has a reputation for being a party island! Don’t let that put you off though as it is big enough and well developed enough that you can pick and choose when to join in the party and there are certainly still areas of the island that are very chilled out! Over here there is much more activity and life, more build up resorts and places to eat, they even have some outdoor cinemas! It’s still got a laid back island vibe, palm trees swaying in the wind and of course, no cars or motorbikes!
There is a real friendly atmosphere in Gili T and there is always someone who want to get to know new people and mingle! It’s got a fun loving and open feel to it but still isn’t overbearing. There is even a food market near the harbour and main strip and a huge hotel made entirely of bamboo! Pretty cool and just another one of the unique things that make the Gili islands Indonesia such a special place.
Gili T is also the best place to spot some of the amazing wild turtles that live in these waters. There is even a small sanctuary where you can see some of the small ones being looked after until they are old enough to be released. Just further on from the harbour is the aptly named “Turtle beach”. Here, and on many parts of all the islands, you can rent snorkels and fins for very cheap and head off into the waters. Be patient and keep your eyes peeled and you might just find yourself swimming with these beautiful creatures! It is best to go early in the morning before the tour boats or later in the afternoon once they have gone!
Must do on the Gili Islands!
The Gili Islands are a magical place that really do leave a lasting impression. Once you visit they will be one of those places that you often look back on with such warm memories of such a relaxed, beautiful and unique place that somehow seem to just evaporate your worries away!
But… there are some must do things on the Gili islands:
Walk around each island on foot: circumnavigating the amazing beaches takes an hour on the smaller islands and two hours on Gili T. This really gives you a sense of how small they are and you also get to see some really cool things along the way including some fun little tree houses and beach shacks!
Find all the beach swings: Searching for that perfect photo on one of those trendy beach swings, well this is the place! The islands are dotted with them and each of them are a little different! See how many you can find!
Rent a bike: There are no cars or motorbikes on the islands so the locals use either bikes, horses or their own two legs! Stay away from the horses however as they are badly treated and instead take a bike out and explore all the little sandy lanes!
Stay in some unique accommodation: From tree houses to resorts the islands have them all, make sure to stay in a traditional bungalow and splash out for a night in one of the amazing cottages too, or even camp on the beach!
Be sure to visit all three: It’s easy to get carried away with Gili T, but in order to experience what the islands are really about you need to take them all in and see how they differ!
Go SCUBA diving or Snorkelling: The waters around the islands are amazingly clear and feature some of the most amazing corals and marine life. It is also one of the cheapest and safest places in the world to learn to dive! Swimming with wild turtles was a real dream come true for us!
Party! You can’t come to the Gili islands without at least having one party on the beach, mushrooms or no mushrooms! The party vibe here is world famous and so much fun!
Have a beer in a shack watching the sun set: This is the typical Gili experience, chilling out in one of the beach shacks, having some food and some beers and the sun goes down and the Bob Marley starts on the speakers!
Transport, Accomodation and Practicalities
Transport to and from the islands is easy and simple. Gili Air is the closest to Lombok and Gili T is the easiest to get to and from Bali. Getting between each is quick and cheap, the local slow boats taking around 20 mins and costing between 15,000 – 30,000 depending on which islands you are travelling between. We did a more in depth post about travel between Bali, Lombok and the Gili’s here: How to get the ferry from Bali to Lombok and the Gilis
Navigating the islands is easy and everywhere is within walking distance with very few roads! Try to avoid using the horses if you can as they are not well treated.
Accomodation is widely available on each island and is pretty cheap. You can book using the usual online sites and get some really cool bungalows for a great price. There is also a good range of accommodation available from backpackers to resorts.
There is at least one cash machine on each island and a few more on Gili T. Most places on the island still work off cash only but some of the resorts do accept card. There should be no major issues with regards getting cash out but it would be wise to carry at least some extra cash just in case.
Crime on the islands is really low despite there not being any police! The Gili islands are quite different to the rest of Indonesia with casual drug use, such as weed and mushrooms, being open and accepted despite the rest of the country having a hard stance on drugs. This is reflective of the laid back attitude on the islands.
Internet and phone service on the islands isn’t too bad considering their location. Don’t expect super fast speeds but most accomodation and bars come with decent WIFI.
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