If you are traveling around Indonesia, chances are you’ve heard of the Gili islands. The name is a bit of a misnomer as ‘Gili’ means Island in Indonesian, but that’s just like calling something Chai Tea or what have you.
These three tiny islands are off the northwest coast of Lombok. In order of size from largest to smallest they are: Gili Trawangan (aka Gili T), Gili Meno, and Gili Air. Each of these islands offers something different so I hope this guide will help you choose which one is right for you.
Before we begin though, I will mention that you can easily take a water taxi to hop from island to island which makes day trips extremely easy. The islands are only 10-15 minutes apart from each other by boat so you can easily base yourself in one island and explore all 3.
This is the most popular of the Gili islands, and is also the most developed. It is known as a party island and there are no shortage of beach bars/pool clubs to suit any of your party needs. Gili T is the largest of of the Gilis and the one furthest from Lombok. If you are coming from Bali on a fast boat it will most likely be your first stop, however if you take the local ferry you will first stop in Lombok.
There are tons of places to stay in Gili Trawangan, from backpacker hostels to more high end resorts, and prices are much less than what you’ll pay on Bali. Do note though that the northwest end of the island is where the large generator is located, so you will be able to hear the noise if your accommodation is close by.
The best place to stay in Gili Trawangan in my opinion would be the west side. This opinion holds true for all of the Gili islands in fact because that way you can more easily see the beautiful sunset.
This is one of the most popular things to do on Gili T and is full of fun people and great food. You can buy other souvenirs as well like hats and sarongs, and you can haggle for good prices.
You can rent a bicycle for 30-50k IDR (with negotiation) and bike all around the island to see tons of stuff. As there are no cars on the island this is a popular way for tourists and locals alike to get around.
It seems like every island in South East Asia has a place that shows movies on the beach, so of course you’ll find that here. We actually saw ours on Gili Air where we were staying (Disney Pixar’s Coco) but if you are staying on Gili T you can of course find a beach movie.
What may be my favorite thing about all of the Gili Island locations is that you can get the most beautiful sunsets from the west side of all the islands. All the beach bars have comfortable bean bag chairs, or sun loungers that you can use if you buy a drink. I suggest finding an awesome spot about an hour before sunset to plant yourself and enjoy the relaxing evening (before the parties start).
Now this option is not for everyone, but for those that it is, they probably already know about this. Gili T, keeping up with their party reputation, has quite a few places selling “magic” mushroom shakes. If this is something you want to do, you will be able to find it, just ask the bartender.
I would suggest not riding the “sea”horses if you see that they are poorly treated. Before I came to the Gilis it was something I really wanted to do, but after arriving I saw that the horses looked in pretty poor condition (on Gili Air). I decided against riding them because I didn’t like they way they seemed to be treated, but of course you can make that decision when you get to the island. Although on Gili T the “sea” horses looked more healthy.
Gili Meno is the least developed out of all three islands, and is also the quietest. What it does have are some of the best snorkeling and scuba spots. From beaches all around this island you can see colorful tropical fish, and huge green sea turtles.
There are less choices of where to stay and what to do here, so it is best for family groups in my opinion. I personally would not suggest to stay here unless you wanted to stay at a nice hotel and fully isolate yourself. However the beaches are good for kids and there isn’t a party atmosphere so if you are coming to the Gilis with your children, this is probably the best option for you.
In the middle of the island is a huge salt lake as you can see in the picture down below. Also off the west coast are the famous underwater statues. While they are an entirely tourist attraction, it doesn’t take any real effort to get there (boat taxi, or just swim from the beach if you are a strong swimmer) and is something to check off your tourist list.
This is where we stayed because we thought it would be a happy medium between Gili T and Gili Meno. That assumption was quite accurate and we enjoyed our time staying on this island. It has tons of beach bars and restaurants around the whole island, and an overall chill atmosphere.
We went during the off season so things were pretty dead, but that just made hotel prices much cheaper. We stayed at Lucky’s Bar & Cottages (read my review here) and pretty much did everything on the island within 3 days.
As the list of stuff to do here is pretty similar to the stuff at Gili Trawangan, here’s some places to eat that we enjoyed on Gili Air.
1. Warung Sunny: If you are looking for great local Indonesian food, then this is the place for you. Prices are incredibly affordable, and the quality and taste of the food is better than what you get at some other warungs.
2. Classico Italiano: This is an authentic (well as much as can be expected) pizza place right in the middle of Gili Air. They have a traditional pizza oven and use high quality ingredients. We actually intended to just get 1 pizza to share, and after we finished…we got another.
3. Gili Bliss: This is a cute place to get breakfast, and the food is fantastic. Gili Bliss has a good selection of both vegan/vegetarian as well as normal options, so something for everyone. I got poached eggs on avocado toast and Cody got (another) smoothie bowl. The prices here are on par with other health food places, and the breakfast here was much better than at our hotel so we were happy.
4. PinkCoco Hotel Restaurant: I don’t usually recommend hotel restaurants in South East Asia as they are usually just overpriced inauthentic food. However, this place was seriously good. PinkCoco also has the most famous sea swing on the island so if you want to get a cool picture there you might as well grab some lunch and drinks. We started with a papaya salad, then I got the Pork Belly Burger and Cody got the Spice Island Ribs. Both choices were fantastic and had huge portions. The ribs were fall off the bone tender and full of flavor. I didn’t even know that Indonesia was known as the Spice Islands until this trip (my third time here).
PinkCoco is also one of the best hotels on the island. Check the rates here, or click the picture down below!
5. Pachamama: If you want vegan then this is the place for you. They have the best vegan options on all of Gili Air. While we didn’t get a chance to eat here, some of the other tourists we met raved about the place. We went to a vegan place the week before in Ubud so that was my quota for the month. Maybe next time to Gili Air I’ll give Pachamama a try.