"Where to go on vacation or for the weekend if you're ALREADY in paradise?" This question occasionally pops up for Bali-goers. An excellent option is to explore the Gili Islands. Here, you can take a break from bikes, lounge on the turquoise water as smooth as a yoga mat, and slow down to the maximum.
The Gili Islands are three small islets located several dozen kilometers to the east of Bali. Around Lombok, there are over four dozen islands with the name "gili." However, Trawangan, Air (or Aír), and Meno are the favorites among tourists.
To the west is Gili Trawangan, the largest and liveliest. In the center is Gili Meno, the most tranquil, and to the east is Gili Air (or Air), often chosen by family vacationers. Further east lies the island of Lombok.
The rainy season here runs from November to April, while the dry season spans from May to October. The Gili Islands, situated in the Bali Sea at the border of the Pacific Ocean, have a unique microclimate.
Nestled between the mountainous Lombok and Bali, they are generally drier during the rainy season compared to Bali and Lombok. Even when storms rage over Lombok with thunder and lightning, the Gili Islands often manage to avoid the downpour.
How to get to Gili
Getting to these wonderful corners can be done by water or by air. The choice of method depends on your budget and the time you have available.
Beautiful, fast, and convenient, but not the most budget-friendly option. Sometimes the waves can be serious, making your trip full of excitement. Speedboats are the most popular means of travel to the Gili Islands.
Usually, tickets to the islands are purchased with a transfer from Bali. This means you are picked up from your hotel, taken to the port, and then boarded onto the boat. On the return journey from the Gili Islands, you are transported back to Bali and then by car to your hotel.
If you opt for tickets with a transfer from the hotel, you won't have to:
1) Take a taxi (which, for example, from the south of Bali to Padang Bai, can cost around 250,000 rupiahs).
2) Leave your bike at the port, where no one will personally vouch for its safety. Near the pier, however, there is a paid parking lot.
Boats usually depart from Bali to the Gili Islands, most often from Padang Bai on the east side of Bali, or less frequently from Sanur and Amed.
Once you arrive in Padang Bai and are ready to set sail to the Gili Islands, find the office of your boat company and check in for your journey. They will provide you with your ticket and a sticker to attach to your clothing. You can wait in nearby warungs until the manager signals that it's time to head to the pier and board the boat. It's advisable to keep the manager in sight, as they won't wait or search for you for long.
Boats have luggage compartments where company staff assist in loading heavy items. You can bring suitcases to the Gili Islands – they will help load and unload them. Fragile items should be taken into the cabin with you.
There is no transfer provided by boat carriers on the Gili Islands themselves. You'll either need to walk to your hotel or take a horse-drawn carriage at the port. Some tourists opt for another option. If the hotel doesn't offer free bicycles, they rent a bicycle near the port, transfer some luggage onto it, and either ride with their luggage or push it on the bike.
Several companies operate transportation to the Gili Islands. Some of the main ones include:
From Padang Bai: Eka Jaya, Gili Gili, Marina Srikandi, Ganggari Express, Marlin, Golden Queen, Ostina
From Serangan: Eka Jaya, Gili Getaway, BlueWater Express
From Amed: Arjuna fast boat, FreeBird Express
From Sanur: Scoot Cruise – in this case, the boat journey will take longer, and the ticket will be more expensive.
Don't be swayed by offers with very large discounts from questionable carriers. Purchase tickets only from recommended companies that maintain their boats in good condition and prioritize the health and safety of their passengers.
A budget-friendly option is the "Manta Express" speedboat. The journey from Bali to Gili and back will cost 500,000 rupiahs, excluding transfer. However, if you find a group, you can share a car. The carrier offers to deliver you to the port from the south of Bali for 450,000 (tip: a Grab or Gojek might be cheaper).
Ostina is one of the most affordable options, especially if you make your way to the port on your own. The boat departs once a day at 9:30 from Padang Bai, returning from Gili Trawangan at 11:30. The round-trip price is 550,000 rupiahs. Transfer from Ubud, Canggu, Kuta, or Bukit will cost an additional 75,000 per person.
Eka Jaya offers round-trip tickets with transfer to Padang Bai port for 725,000 rupiahs. The child's ticket is 675,000. The transfer is paid separately, around 90,000 per person. Eka Jaya has a huge and comfortable speedboat. Opt for tickets on it if you want to minimize motion sickness even in high waves.
Blue Water Express departs from Padang Bai. The round-trip price, including transfer on the island of Bali (to and from the hotel to the port), is 790,000. The speedboat departs once a day at 10:10 from Bali and at 12:10 from Gili Trawangan.
Gili Getaway offers round-trip tickets with transfer for 1,520,000 rupiahs. The price includes transfer from the hotel to the port and back (on the island of Bali). Boats from this carrier depart from Serangan port. It's faster to reach Serangan from Canggu (1 hour and 15 minutes) than to Padang Bai (1 hour and 50 minutes). However, the boat journey may take more time, so the overall travel time is roughly the same.
It's a nice offer from Gili Gili fast boat. For 1,550,000 rupiahs per person, they provide tickets for a speedboat to Gili and back, two nights in a hotel on Gili Trawangan, and free snorkeling. Bali transfer (from and to the hotel) is included.
It's a bit pricey, but a good option if you want to save yourself the hassle of organizing everything. It's best to buy on the official website of the chosen company.
Just be careful not to confuse it with agent sites; they often mimic the carrier.
If you decide to buy tickets at the port, be persistent and try to bypass all the helpers and intermediaries who will surround you as soon as you are in their line of sight. Look for the company's counter.
1) Tickets to Gili are sometimes purchased with a fixed return date, and sometimes with an open one. If you decide to change or fix your departure date on the Gili Islands, you need to go to the office of your boat company and inform them two days in advance. All offices are located in the island ports within 100 meters from the pier.
2) Be attentive on Meno! Among the major boat companies transporting from Bali to Gili, only Ekajaya company has an office on Meno. This means that there is no Gili Getaway office on Meno, and if you are on Meno, you won't be able to change the dates of your tickets from these companies. Only when you are on Trawangan or Air (Aire).
3) On the way back at the Padang Bai port, at the pier, you may encounter individuals who will assure you that your buses with paid transfers to the hotel
1) are canceled;
2) will take 3-4 hours to reach the hotel;
3) are in poor condition;
4) have already left.
Do not trust these people. Their goal is to prevent you from getting your prepaid transfer and make you use their service. From Padang Bai, for example, to Changgu, the car ride takes 1.5 hours, not 4, as port taxi drivers claim. Look for representatives of your transport company in branded clothing and your vehicles with branded logos. Do not give your tickets to free transfers to strangers.
By ferry through Lombok
This route will be much longer and more challenging, but on the bright side, it's budget-friendly, adventurous, and rich in experiences. A major plus is the option to bring your own motorbike, saving on taxis in Bali and between ports on Lombok. Ferries depart from Padang Bai in Bali every hour, 24/7, heading to the Lembar port in Lombok. The ferry journey takes 4-5 hours.
Adult: 62,200 rupiahs
Child: 5,900 rupiahs
Motorbike: 160,000 rupiahs (includes driver's ticket)
Car: 1,127,000 rupiahs (includes driver's ticket)
On Lombok, you'll need to travel to the Bangsal port, about 60 kilometers north of Lembar. The journey through Lombok from port to port promises to be beautiful, with the coastline on one side and mountainous terrain on the other.
From Bangsal, you can take a public boat to Gili. The boat ride takes half an hour, and the ticket costs 22,500 rupiahs. However, you'll need to leave your bike in a paid parking lot in Bangsal. It's not possible to transport a motorbike to Gili since gasoline-powered bikes are prohibited there. You can only ride bicycles, horse-drawn carriages, or electric scooters on the island.
At first glance, it seems like this option is faster and more relaxed. However, airplane tickets are much more expensive, and you still have to travel from Lombok airport to the Bangsal port and then take a boat to Gili.
Tickets from Denpasar to Lombok airport and back start from $132. The flight is only 40 minutes, making it a quick option. It's a good idea to search for tickets in advance on local search engines.
Transfers from Trawangan to Lombok airport for 250,000-300,000 rupiahs per person offer convenience. The same price should apply from the airport to Trawangan. Just look for a transportation company at the airport that provides transfers from the airport to Gili at this rate. The boat price from Bangsal to Gili should be included in the overall cost (200,000 rupiahs per person).
There's even such an option. Naturally, it will be a bit pricey, but if you have the means, why not? The flight takes only 45 minutes from the south of Bali to the Gili Islands. You can inquire about booking with MyBaliTrips.com.
Try to plan your trip to Gili not on the first or last day of your arrival in Bali. Sometimes, boats to or from the islands may be delayed by an hour or two, and if you have a flight on that day, it could cause stress or lead to missing your flight. Also, in July, due to strong waves, boats may be canceled for several days to avoid risking the lives and well-being of passengers.
Transport on the Gili Islands
Between the three Gili Islands, there's a public boat service known as the island hopper. Large, slow boats operate twice a day, connecting Air (Aire) through Meno to Trawangan, and vice versa from Trawangan through Meno to Air. Small, high-speed boats run eight times a day.
One of the most convenient transportation options on Gili is a bicycle. It will be especially useful on Trawangan, since this island is the largest of the three. Some luxury hotels provide bicycles for free.
Bicycles are available for rent everywhere right on the street. The standard price per day is 50,000 to 75,000 rupees. If the bike is really cool, with wide tires for riding on sand, they might ask for 75,000 rupees. If you take a basic bike for 2 days, you could negotiate a price of 80,000 rupees for the pair. For 3 days, it's 100,000 rupees for the trio. If you're renting for a longer period, ask for an even more impressive discount. If your hotel rents bikes for an additional fee based on the age and condition of the bike, it could cost you anywhere from 20,000 to 25,000 rupees per day.
In addition to the bike, in Travanca and Aire (Air), they provide a bike lock. On Meno, nobody bothers to lock up their bikes. Typically, they don't provide a flashlight, but you might need one for riding in the dark through some unlit streets in Travanca and Aire (Air).
Bike rentals usually don't ask for a deposit. They just take down your name and your hotel's name.
If you want to bike around the island, Travanca is the easiest place to do it, as the road around the island is the most suitable for cycling. There are only 3 places along the entire perimeter where the sand is too loose, and you'll have to push the bike for about 30-60 meters. On Air and Meno, there are more areas with loose sand around the perimeter, but the streets that pass through the center of the islands are perfect for cycling.
Even if you live near the main hangout spots on the islands and planned to walk, rent a bike and explore the island and its surroundings. It's a great way to bring back the carefree and playful atmosphere of childhood. Plus, you'll end up with some very atmospheric photos.
On the islands, there are horse-drawn taxis that can take you around the island, with prices ranging from 50,000 to 150,000 rupees per trip. Typically, the carriage can accommodate three passengers without luggage. An additional person will require an extra payment of 25,000 rupees.
The rates on Travanca are fixed and calculated based on the route from the pier to a specific villa or hotel. The price tag is usually displayed right on the carriage near the driver's seat.
To villas and hotels:
- Unggul, Almarik, Vamana Resort, Coral Beach II, Danma Resort, Nero, Woodstock, Villa Ombak, Kokomo Resort, Hari Puri, The Trawangan, Pondok Santi: 50,000 rupees.
- Kokita, Casabonita, Coral Beach I, Windy Beach, Villa Tera, Villa Kelapa, Trawangan Oasis, Coconut Garden, Belukar, Wahana Resort, Pantai Karang, Sama Lama, Luce Daima, Otalia Villa, Lamumba, Sunset Paradise, Sunset Bar, Pink Coco: 75,000 rupees.
- The Excile, Bamboo Villa, Gili Teak: 80,000 rupees.
- Alam Gili, Gracia, Ociano Resort, Wilson, Karma Kayak, Eco Villa, Dunia Beda, Sunset Beach, Le Pirate, Julius Villa, Laco Kotre, Gili Kumba, Sunset Palm, Eden Cottages, Five Element, Ombak Sunset, Mala Garden, Aston Sunset, Pandawa, Light House: 100,000 rupees.
Around the island – 175,000 rupees.
On Meno, there are fixed prices as well, but the drivers don't display them prominently; instead, they hide them under the roof lining, charging a universal rate of 150,000 rupees. On Air, drivers claim there is a rate card, but it's kept in the village chief's office, and they also charge 150,000 rupees per trip. If your hotel is close to the pier, try negotiating for 50,000 to 100,000 rupees.
It's not possible to circle the entire island of Travanca on a horse-drawn carriage. The road is interrupted in the northeast around the La Moomba bar-restaurant area, and to bypass it on a carriage, you'll need to take an alternative path. If you're on a bike, you'll have to ride about 100 meters along the beach. On Air, in the far north, there's also a stretch where the road is interrupted for about 200 meters before starting again. On Meno, the road goes around the entire perimeter of the island.
The history of the Gili Islands' settlement is relatively recent. About 200 years ago, fishermen from Sulawesi, specifically representatives of the Makassar, Bugis, and Mandar tribes, arrived on the Gili Islands. They started staying on the islands periodically, drawn by the abundance of fish and the availability of fresh water on Gili Air.
The name of the island reflects this, as "air" in Indonesian means water. By the way, foreigners often mispronounce the island's name as "air" because in English, "air" means the atmosphere. However, in Indonesian, "air" is pronounced as "ah-eer" and translates to "water."
Gili Trawangan got its name from the Bugis language, where it meant "premonition" or "weather forecast." For the Bugis, who were fishermen and sailors, this word held significant symbolic and important meaning. Another explanation is that in Indonesian, "terowongan" means "tunnels." During World War II, Japanese forces, which occupied the island, dug tunnels on a hill for shelter in case of danger.
Gili Meno is more accurately pronounced as "meno" in the local language, meaning "the same as always" or "constant."
For a long time, both Trawangan and Meno were uninhabited, and residents of Air would travel to them by boat to cultivate plantations. These islands lacked fresh water, and all drinking water had to be brought from elsewhere.
Settlers started cultivating the land, planting peanuts, tapioca, corn, and continued fishing, selling their produce on Lombok. Coconut palms were always present on the islands, while mango, papaya trees, and banana palms were introduced by farmers.
During World War II, Gili Trawangan became a military base for the Japanese army. Prisoners were held on the islands, and locals were forced to work for the Japanese occupiers. A six-meter artillery gun was located on a hill in the southern part of the island, now preserved in the central mosque. Remnants of a Japanese bunker can also be found near the hill.
The first foreign tourist set foot on the Gili Islands in 1984. In the 90s, as Bali gained popularity as a tourist destination, Gili Islands were increasingly mentioned as a hidden paradise.
Among the three Gili Islands, Gili Air is considered the most traditional, as it is home to the majority of the indigenous Gili residents. It boasts good infrastructure for long-term living. The head office for all three islands is located there, and it typically did not have a police presence because law and order issues were traditionally resolved by the local community.
A permanent tourist police post is present in the port of Trawangan. It is said that Trawangan was decided to be developed for tourism because it is the farthest from Gili Air. This way, the music and tourist-related issues from Trawangan would have minimal impact on Air. Interestingly, on Meno, the music from Trawangan is noticeably audible at night due to its proximity, overcoming the strait from Trawangan's beach bars. On Trawangan itself, stepping a few blocks away from the discos already brings tranquility.
Recently, there was a campaign to demolish bars and restaurants within the beach area on Trawangan and Air. The government aimed to clean up the beaches and make them more accessible to tourists.
This campaign took place in the fall of 2017 on Trawangan and in the spring of 2018 on Air. So, don't be surprised if, after a long absence, you arrive on Trawangan or Air and don't recognize it. By the way, the removal of bars and restaurants did indeed make the beaches more pleasant and opened up views of the ocean from the circular road. However, in some places, former owners haven't completely removed the remnants of the structures. Now, only temporary and mobile tables, chairs, ottomans, and gazebos are allowed near the beach, which can be removed at any time.
Sometimes, tourists who have visited the islands try to advise against staying in hotels located near the mosque or on an island with a mosque. In reality, all three islands have mosques. Trawangan even has two. The islands are so small that from any point, you will hear the call to prayer, which occurs five times a day.
And now for some good news. If you set yourself in a positive mood and realize that the prayers from the mosques are an integral part of the Gili charm, just like the friendly atmosphere and magnificent beaches, you can perceive everything without negativity and prejudice.
It's believed that Gili Trawangan has the highest percentage of Sasak people, residents of Lombok who come to Trawangan for work. On the islands of Gili Meno and Gili Air, the percentage of indigenous people, specifically the Bugis, is slightly higher.
The Gili Islands are the kind of place you won't want to leave. When you find yourself back in the traffic jams of the touristy south of Bali, you'll inevitably start missing the tranquility of the Gili Islands. The islands are small, so after a couple of days, you'll become acquainted with a multitude of people, and when you meet, you'll greet each other with not just a customary but already a genuinely warm smile.
The islands exude a village spirit in the best sense of the word. On Meno, due to the limited tourism development, local residents can be a bit reserved. They might either walk by or greet you upon meeting, possibly accompanied by a shy smile, immediately hiding their eyes after the greeting. On Air, you'll find the most friendly locals. Many might even shout "Welcome home!" if they see you on the street with a suitcase or backpack on your way from the port.
Gili is a place for relaxation. It's about pleasant strolls through small streets, quiet and cozy beaches, and breathtaking seascapes with the peaks of Bali and Lombok volcanoes. The atmosphere of streets without cars and motorcycles, but with bicycles, creates a playfully joyful mood that instantly infects anyone arriving on the Three Gilis.
At the same time, Gili has everything you need for a vacation—hotels, restaurants, cafes, and bars, ATMs, currency exchange, internet, diving centers, and water sports.
Tourists on Gili and which island to choose?
Gili Trawangan attracts a diverse crowd. The eastern part with the port and lively nightlife is suitable for partygoers, young people, and solo travelers looking to socialize. The western and northern parts are for those seeking a peaceful retreat, honeymooners, and again, party enthusiasts willing to bike from their hotels or villas to the entertainment hubs. Within a couple of blocks from the nightlife area, you won't hear the parties anymore, as building walls absorb the sounds. So, there's no need to worry about nighttime noise if you've chosen accommodation a bit away from the port area.
Trawangan is also a paradise for divers, as there's a vast number of truly high-quality dive centers. Before the earthquake, there were 28, and by the end of September, 12 of them had reopened.
Gourmets and vegans will find Trawangan appealing. There are truly conceptual restaurants and cafes catering to both vegans and meat lovers. Some places here will even surprise seasoned foodies.
There's a fairly common and mistaken belief that only drug enthusiasts visit Gili T. Yes, someone at a bar might approach you and offer "weed" or "mushrooms." However, it's done in a non-intrusive manner, and visually, you won't notice people under the influence on the island. Moreover, the pleasant atmosphere of Gili makes for a wonderful vacation even without additional "enhancements."
Gili Air is chosen by families with children, settled couples, vegans, yogis, and older individuals. There are still parties and acoustic concerts, but they are noticeably fewer than on Trawangan. Air boasts many conceptual cafes and healthy food restaurants, along with two yoga schools, making it an appealing destination for those seeking spiritual experiences.
People who seek seclusion in nature often choose Gili Meno. There are few hotels on Meno, and transportation is limited. Many honeymooners visit Meno, seeking a quiet retreat where they can simply be alone with each other and nature.
Internet on Gili
Local residents say that the most stable and fast internet on the Gili Islands (as well as in most of Bali) is provided by Telkomsel. Some use XL internet on Gili, but it tends to be less stable. Wi-Fi is also available in hotels, but the speed can vary.
On Meno, XL has poor internet connectivity, so Telkomsel is commonly used for internet access. However, the internet quality is somewhat weaker than on Trawangan.
On Air, the northern part has a relatively weak internet signal. If you need reliable internet, it's advisable to find accommodation closer to the south.
There are ATMs and currency exchange offices on the islands, mainly concentrated in the port areas. To find the nearest ATM, simply type "ATM" into Google Maps, and you'll see the locations. If you're heading to Gili Meno, it's advisable to bring cash in advance. After the earthquake, only one Mandiri ATM is operational on Meno, and as you can imagine, the availability of bills in it cannot be guaranteed 100%.
The islands offer a variety of accommodation options catering to different budgets and preferences. Expensive and luxurious options are primarily represented by four-star hotels and villas. Some noteworthy and elegant choices on Trawangan include Kokomo Resort (starting from $147/night), Gili Treehouse (starting from $242/night), Villa Luna (starting from $452/night), and Villa Almarik Resort & Spa (starting from $54/night). Eco-villas along the coast, such as Kuno Villas, Insana, Gili Eco Villas, and others, provide their own pristine beaches, are away from the bustling central areas, and are perfect for romantic couples or solo travelers seeking solitude.
There's a range of budget options, including hostels and private clean rooms in guesthouses with basic amenities starting from 80,000 rupiahs. In peak season, prices might fluctuate. On Trawangan, where options are most diverse due to its size and development, you can find affordable stays like Little Woodstock Homestay ($5/night with breakfast), Lima Bintang (bungalow with breakfast for $9/night), and Lita Homestay ($11/night, 150 meters to the ocean).
For upscale accommodations on Meno, consider Meno House (villa with a private pool starting from $261/night), Mahamaya (family suite for $300/night), and Gili Meno Mojo Beach Resort (villa with two bedrooms for $210/night). Seri Resort, located on a picturesque beach near Turtle Point, is an option, but some visitors have raised concerns about the service quality, so factor that in when planning your stay.
Meno also offers very affordable lodging with decent basic facilities. For instance, Turtle Bungalows near the port provides a clean room without breakfast starting from $12 per night. Even more budget-friendly is Sari Laut, where you can stay for $9/night, including breakfast, and it's only 300 meters from the ocean.
It is most convenient to book accommodation through a booking company, so that upon arrival you do not have to run with backpacks from one hotel to another.
Booking online is much more convenient, saving you time and effort compared to exploring options in person. Prices on booking platforms are usually the same as those in real life for accommodations. However, if you plan to stay in a guesthouse or villa for an extended period, you might be able to negotiate a discount directly with the owner.
For diving enthusiasts, consider staying in a dive resort. This way, you'll be surrounded by like-minded people, and the dive trip departure point will likely be within a hundred meters of your room.
On Gili Air, for luxury accommodation, you can consider Sunrise Resort (signature luxury from $228/night), PinkCoco (villa with two bedrooms for $234/night), and Ama-Lurra Resort with an ocean view (85 sq. meters villa with breakfast for $162/night).
Most recommended luxury villas are situated either in the northern part or in the center of the island.
Someone is convinced that there's nothing to do on the small islands of the Gili Islands for more than two days. This is a deep misconception. If you don't limit yourself to snorkeling and photographing sunsets, you can engage in diving, freediving, kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, surfing, riding an inflatable tube, wakeboarding, horseback riding, subwing, yoga, meditations, ecstatic dance, try out excellent restaurants and cafes, attend culinary masterclasses, and of course, enjoy the stunning beaches with white sand and usually calm waves.
Of course, in bars or right on the street, you may be offered mushrooms and "herbs," but on any of the islands, you will also find the overwhelming majority of people who came to the Gili Islands not for that and are enjoying their time without prohibited substances.
On all the islands, there are numerous locations where there's a high probability of encountering turtles. However, it is believed that there are more such spots on Gili Meno. Hunting for turtles on the Gili Islands is prohibited, so they feel quite free, and you can swim alongside them.
Turtles are a distinctive feature of the Three Gili Islands, which divers refer to as the "turtle paradise." If you're a turtle enthusiast, it's definitely worth visiting the Gili Islands.
Turtle spots are located on Meno, opposite the Seri Resort. This place is called Turtle Heaven and is situated about 100 meters north of the Seri Resort. There's a high likelihood of encountering turtles while snorkeling in front of the Mahamaya Hotel, where they can be seen in coral gardens at a depth of 2-3 meters below the water surface.
On Air, there is a significant, though not 100% guaranteed, chance to see turtles while snorkeling slightly north of 100-200 meters from the 3W Dive dive center. They may swim very close to the shore and sit on the bottom at a depth of about a meter from the surface.
On Trawangan, you can see turtles by snorkeling from the shore opposite the former turtle breeding center. However, these turtles are not inclined to venture into shallow waters and tend to stay at depth. Nevertheless, you may be fortunate to spot a reptile near the shore, especially at Turtles Beach.
If you go on a snorkeling excursion, one of the points will likely include a turtle spot. Of course, no one can guarantee a 100% chance of seeing a turtle, but the likelihood is very high. Typically, tourists are taken to Turtle Heaven, where guides find a turtle sitting on the ocean floor, dive down to it, touch it, and coax it to the surface to amuse the tourists. It's important to note that touching turtles is potentially dangerous to their health. After such an encounter, a crowd of tourists may rush towards the unfortunate turtle, eager to capture videos, and some may even attempt to ride on it. Please remember: touching turtles is strictly prohibited as it can introduce infections to them. However, being near them and swimming alongside them is generally acceptable.
After the earthquake, the turtle conservation centers on Trawangan and Meno were closed, and the turtles were released into the sea. Divers argue that this is even better for the turtles. The reason is that in conservation centers, turtles are raised in shallow waters and confined spaces. This can lead to underdeveloped lung capacity, making it difficult for them to dive to depths in adulthood. Turtles raised in such conditions find it challenging to adapt to life in the wild.
Snorkeling with underwater statues
On the beach of Gili Meno, about 50 meters from the shore, there is a statue called "Nest" or "гнездо" (in Russian). This proved to be a clever marketing move by the owners of the soon-to-be-built Bask Hotel. While the hotel itself is not yet in existence, this place acts like a magnet, attracting tourists to its charm.
You can reach here from Trawangan by boat, possibly as part of a snorkeling excursion, but then you'll have to navigate through the "tourist soup" where everyone wants to take selfies simultaneously.
Typically, such excursions approach the statue around 11:00–12:00 and 13:30–14:30.
If you rent a private boat from the port, you have a chance to approach the statue when there are fewer people around.
However, the best option is to simply sail to Meno, arrive at the beach, and snorkel from the shore. The statue is located directly in front of the Bask sign, in the center of the construction fence. The signage is very contrasting, and you can always spot it, even from Trawangan. If you arrive during low tide, you'll have to walk about 20 meters over the coral to reach the water, and then swim in shallow water. In this case, wear fins or coral shoes to avoid injuries.
Another statue in the Bio Rock complex consists of underwater scooters. This is a new creation, although there is information circulating that these scooters are antique, Japanese relics left on the island since the time of Japanese occupation. Wires extend from the Bio Rock structures, carrying a weak electric current to facilitate the attachment of corals to the framework. Divers place dead corals on these structures, and the corals start attaching and recovering.
The scooters are located opposite Villa Ombak hotel. Right in front of it on the beach, there is a pontoon dock, and about 50 meters from it, there is a square pontoon approximately 2x2 meters in size. The scooters are positioned directly beneath it. The challenge is that boats pass by and park near the pontoon. While they are attentive to spotting snorkelers in the water, if you decide to dive in this area, please be careful not to suddenly surface beneath a passing boat. During low tide, the scooter handles are about a meter below the water surface, making it relatively easy even for beginners to dive down and pose with them.
On Trawangan, the Bio Rock complex structures begin around this point and extend to the northernmost part along the eastern beach. Of course, not all of them are as intriguing as the underwater scooters. Most of them are spheres or "tables" made of grids, providing hiding spots for fish. Opposite the former turtle center, there is a Bio Rock structure shaped like a turtle.
There is also Bio Rock on Gili Air, right in front of Manta Dive Gili Air. The structures there are primarily in the form of grids, but the location is very popular because it consistently attracts a large number of fish.
For snorkeling, there are various options available. If you're looking for a more budget-friendly choice, you can find offers in the roadside stalls on Gili Trawangan for around 150,000 Indonesian Rupiah for a tour covering 3 points. If you're departing from Trawangan, the tour may also include an additional hour for walks or lunch on Gili Air. The boat can accommodate up to 35 people, although the actual number of "neighbors" is not guaranteed. The excursion typically starts at 10:30 and finishes at 15:30, with the cost inclusive of a mask, snorkel, and fins.
The route of such an excursion may vary, but one possible itinerary on Gili Trawangan could include the spot with the "Nest" statue, Turtle Heaven turtle point north of Meno, and a fish point south of Air.
There's also an option for a more expensive excursion priced at 200,000 to 250,000 Indonesian Rupiah. This one usually starts at 13:00 and accommodates fewer people in the boat.
From Meno, snorkeling excursions are offered for 150,000 Indonesian Rupiah on a boat with a capacity of 20 people. The tour covers four points without wasting time at cafes on neighboring islands — the Turtle Heaven turtle point, strangely referred to as Christmas Tree, Meno Wall, the "Nest" statue, and the site of the Bounty shipwreck off the shores of Gili Meno.
You can arrange snorkeling on Meno, as well as other water activities, at the port in the center of Atta’s Travel. There's a manager there who speaks English fluently, knows the history of the Gili Islands and Lombok, and is generally a kind person.
If you're staying at an upscale resort, most likely, they will provide you with snorkeling equipment on-site. If you're at a budget guesthouse, you can rent snorkeling gear at any beachside location for 50,000 Indonesian Rupiah for a full day, including a mask, snorkel, and fins. Separately, a mask and snorkel cost 25,000 to 30,000 Rupiah, and fins alone are also priced at 25,000 to 30,000 Rupiah.
Safety rules for independent snorkeling:
1. Do not swim into areas where the coral abruptly ends and the depth begins, as there is nothing to see there, and you may encounter strong currents.
2. Do not attempt to swim across the strait between Trawangan and Meno or Meno and Air.
3. Always dive with a buddy.
4. If snorkeling in strong wind, it may result in strong currents, so avoid swimming far into the ocean during such periods.
5. If diving for extended periods in an area with a high concentration of boats, always look up before surfacing to avoid emerging under a boat's propellers.
6. If snorkeling during low tide in shallow areas, wear fins or coral shoes to avoid injuring your feet.
7. Preferably choose times during low tide, as it will be easier for you to reach a point from where you can start snorkeling.
Diving and freediving
On the island of Trawangan, there are numerous dive centers offering both single dives and diving courses, including certifications for scuba diving and freediving. Three centers on Gili Trawangan even offer a course in technical deep-sea diving.
There are approximately 25 dive sites around the islands, providing more than enough opportunities for enthusiasts to explore. Among the best and currently active dive centers on Trawangan are Manta Dive Gili Trawangan (which has a Russian instructor), Blue Marlin Dive Gili Trawangan, Trawangan Dive, Dive Central & Pesona Dive Resort, and Gili Divers Gili Trawangan. All of them offer pool sessions before dives and accommodation in their own dive resorts. On Gili Air, Oceans 5, 3W Dive, Blue Marlin Gili Air, and Manta Dive Gili Air come recommended.
Diving prices in all dive centers are uniform. All Gili Island centers that are part of the GIDA association are obligated to adhere to fixed prices for dives and training. Therefore, it makes no sense to hop from one center to another in search of cheaper rates.
Due to the high concentration of dive centers, there is intense competition among them. This competition doesn't manifest in discounts but rather in the provision of very high standards in training and safety. In most cases, the diving instructors on the Gili Islands are foreigners who thoroughly check equipment multiple times before each dive.
After the earthquake on Meno, two dive centers opened, among which Blue Marlin Gili Meno can be recommended. It is located on the beach street on the eastern side of the island.
On Trawangan and Meno, you can go horseback riding. You can arrange a horse ride at the reception of your hotel - the island is very small, and everyone knows each other, so your staff will likely easily organize it (this also applies to other entertainment, by the way). In this case, the price may slightly increase as the intermediary will take a percentage.
If you want to negotiate better terms, contact the stables directly. The most well-known ones are Stud Horse Riding and Rescue Stud horse riding adventures, Horses of Gili on Trawangan.
On Meno, there's Gili Meno Stable Horse Riding Adventures. You can find their phone numbers on Google Maps and message them on WhatsApp. They'll pick you up directly from your hotel.
The price depends on the duration. An hour-long sunset ride will cost around 500-600 thousand rupiahs. If you just want a photo for Instagram, bring the horses to the beach at sunset; there will surely be horses, and they will make you a great photo at a very affordable price.
On Trawangan, of course, there are no yoga spaces like in Changgu or Ubud. The studios here are simpler, but the views and atmosphere make up for it.
1. Sunset Beach Yoga Gili Trawangan:
Excellent classes on the beach with a view of the sunset. They teach Hatha and Fly Yoga. The sessions are in English, but everything is intuitively understandable.
Price: 200,000 Indonesian Rupiah.
2. Gili Yoga:
Classes also take place in a special pavilion, in the morning and evening. Conducted by an English-speaking Hatha instructor. The space is equipped with a fan, making the practice enjoyable.
Price: 150,000 Indonesian Rupiah.
Additionally, on Trawangan, you can stay at Soraya Yoga Wellness Center. Here, there is a vast space for yoga, and several classes are held daily, including Hatha, Kundalini, and Acro yoga. Stretching lessons are also available, free for residents, and for others, the cost ranges from 150,000 to 250,000 Indonesian Rupiah per class.
On Trawangan, you can even play golf. However, it's not a full-sized golf course, as that would require the entire island, but rather a mini golf course.
At Gili Golf and Bar, you can use a small club to hit balls into the holes, all while enjoying a couple of bottles of beer. Becoming a regular and going every day is unlikely, but for one evening, it can be a very entertaining activity. The venue also offers billiards, table tennis, and a streetball court.
Price: 50,000 IDR per game of mini golf.
Well, where in Asia can you go without a massage? On Gili, just like on Bali, there's no difficulty finding massage parlors in the central part of the island. You can find simpler options or those with a "spa" flair, and accordingly, prices will vary. The services of massage therapists here, by the way, are a bit more expensive than on Bali. The cheapest is around 100,000 rupiahs for an hour of Balinese massage. However, if you've decided to relax with a group, and the salon is not very busy, you can negotiate for a discount.
One of the best spa salons working with their own cosmetics is You Spa. The interior, professionalism, and friendliness of the staff can certainly compete with the best salons in Seminyak. However, the prices are accordingly higher, around 500,000 rupiahs for an hour of traditional massage.
There are simpler salons, but also quite good: Gili Flower Bath Spa, Azure Spa, Samba Villas.
In the evenings, the central street of the east beach in Trawangan pulses with the sounds of diverse music. Somewhere, DJs play house, while small groups perform concerts, playing reggae or well-known rock and pop hits.
Typically, musicians and DJs set up in open beachside restaurants or bars along the road, so all you need to do is walk about 10 minutes along the central street, from the port to the north and from the port to the south, to figure out where the real action is tonight.
On the western part of the island, parties are held near The Exile beach club. It has a pleasant sunset atmosphere with swings for taking photos. Right after sunset, a drum orchestra performance begins.
Parties here have a very pleasant and relaxed atmosphere, where people simply enjoy the music.
Key concert and party venues in Trawangan:
- Wednesday: Tir Na Nog (Irish pub), Sand Bar (reggaeton in a beach bar), Ombak Bar (electronic music from house to techno), Jiggy Bar (hip-hop parties).
- Saturday: Sama Sama (reggae bar).
Sunday — Evolution — features an acoustic concert and DJs.
Every night — Warung Warna — popular hits performed in a rock style in a beachside restaurant.
On Meno, there are no regular parties. Occasionally, but not every night, Sasak Cafe on the west coast of Meno hosts live music concerts. At night, beats from Gili Trawangan can be heard here. They are not too loud, but still audible until around 3 am.
On Gili Air, concerts take place either on the west coast at bars like Cheeky Monkey and Lumbung, or on the northeast coast at Legend Bar. On Mondays from 19:00 at the Mexican Kitchen restaurant, there are salsa classes and salsa parties. Entrance is free; you just need to purchase some food and drinks.
Excursions to Lombok
In many roadside tourist bureaus, you can book a tour to Lombok. It costs 350,000 rupiahs (a minimum of 3 people is required) and includes visits to the Benang Kelambu waterfall, a traditional village, and rice fields.
You can also get to Lombok independently. The cost to reach Bangsal Harbor from any of the Gili Islands is 20,000 rupiahs. However, this boat departs when it reaches 40 passengers, so you may need to wait until it is filled. Alternatively, you can take a speedboat (fast boat) from Karja Bahari, which runs 8 times a day. Inquire about the transfer on the fast boat at the ticket counter. Or, you can negotiate with private boatmen if they offer a more favorable price, perhaps lower than 85,000 rupiahs per person.
You can find the departure times and book tickets on the website.
Tour to Komodo
You can also book a tour to Komodo for 4 days and 3 nights at the tourist offices along the road. The tour includes snorkeling equipment and food. The final point of the tour is the port city of Labuan Bajo on Flores.
If you've decided to go all out on Gili, here's what else you can try in these seemingly peaceful waters:
- Parasailing — 750,000 rupiahs per session.
- Kayaking — 100,000 rupiahs per hour for one person, 150,000 rupiahs per hour for two.
- Wakeboarding behind a boat — 500,000 rupiahs per hour, 900,000 rupiahs with an instructor.
- Subwing — 350,000 rupiahs.
- Yoga on a stand-up paddleboard in the sea — 200,000 rupiahs per session.
All these activities are available on Gili Trawangan. On Gili Air, you can rent kayaks, although there are fewer places offering this, or sign up for subwing, as the boat picks up participants from both Trawangan and Air.
On Gili Meno, there's a mention of a saltwater lake in the center of the island. The lake stands out mainly because there's a bar and an eco-center called "Brotherhood" on its eastern shore. This center serves as a base for eco-activists on Gili Meno. Decorations in this open-air place are made from recycled materials such as plastic, cans, and bottle caps. Among these materials, there's even a portrait of Bob Marley in the center of the bar.
On the islands, there are no large stores. Trade mainly happens through small supermarkets and local shops. On Gili Trawangan, along the central eastern street, there are numerous minimarts offering essential items.
If you venture about a hundred meters away from the port towards the center of the island in the morning, you might come across small stalls selling fresh vegetables and fruits. In the eastern part, on Ikan Hiu Street (Shark Street), there is a good supermarket called Ida Market.
While strolling through the streets that pass through the center of Gili Trawangan, you can find fruit and vegetable stalls operated by local residents.
Along the central street of Trawangan, there are shops offering beachwear, souvenirs, and water sports equipment. If you decide to buy some diving gear, it can be purchased at the diving centers. However, all the necessary diving equipment is provided during dives.
On Trawangan, near the central street, there are 2-3 stores with pleasant beach sundresses and dresses. The price for them ranges from 250,000 to 300,000 rupiahs, but sellers easily offer a discount of 50,000 rupiahs upon the first request.
Additionally, on Trawangan, there is a very pleasant shop with jewelry and accessories called Yin. This shop has a branch in Ubud as well. Besides jewelry, they offer accessories and organic body and facial care cosmetics.
On Gili Air, by the roadside stalls, it's easy to find fresh fruits and vegetables. In the center of the island, there are 4-5 such shops. One of the most versatile and large supermarkets is Siti Market. In addition, local residents distribute fresh vegetables and fruits around the island in carts.
There are no chain minimarts on Meno. All the shops and stalls are run by local residents. Here, in the stalls and warungs, you can also buy fruits. One of the largest small shops is Rust, located right at the port. It has a wide range of sunscreens and snorkeling products.
Meno doesn't have a central market. Around 10:00, a boat with groceries arrives at the port. You can buy some fruits directly from the boat. However, you can also buy them from the stalls scattered around the island.
Food prices on Gili are approximately the same as in Bali. On Trawangan, there are both elegant restaurants and very affordable local warungs, and they can be located in the luxurious restaurant area between the main street of the eastern beach and the beach itself. Moreover, the price for nasi campur can be as low as 15,000 Indonesian Rupiah.
Among the restaurants on Gili Trawangan, you can confidently recommend establishments such as "Jali Kitchen" — an Asian fusion restaurant that combines dishes from Vietnamese, Thai, Indian, and Indonesian cuisines, prepared in a home style by a Vietnamese chef, and "Pearl of Trawangan" — a bamboo restaurant of a four-star hotel with the same name, suitable for those who appreciate high-end and refined cuisine.
"Tiki Grove" is a restaurant specializing in Polynesian cuisine and astonishing with its tacos, vegetarian dumplings, and the best cocktails on the island.
"Kayu Cafe" is a great place for breakfast. They offer delicious freshly baked bread, good coffee, and desserts. Traditional "Changu-style" breakfasts like avocado toast and smoothie bowls are also on the menu.
"My House" is an unassuming but pleasantly surprising Italian restaurant. They operate for delivery as well, and you can place an order via WhatsApp, and they will deliver food to your hotel. The pizza, pasta, and tartare are excellent—everything is very tasty.
"The Banyan Tree" is a vegetarian restaurant run by a Finnish manager, offering amazing smoothie bowls and vegetarian dishes that dispel the myth that life without meat is not enjoyable.
A visit to the Trawangan Night Market is a must. Even if you don't eat much (which, by the way, can be done very budget-friendly here), you can enjoy the abundance of seafood, various kebabs, and other street food that gives you a taste of the island. It's a genuine Asian food market experience!
A bottle of water in stores costs between 6,000 to 12,000 rupiahs for 1.5 liters. By the way, many dive centers participate in the Refill My Bottle program, allowing you to refill your reusable bottle with water for a small fee or even for free.
Popular spots on Gili Air include:
- "Pachamama," a healthy cuisine restaurant with stunning interiors and a variety of rare, homemade ingredients, including pickled vegetables, kombucha, and jams.
- "Camilla," a restaurant that combines Japanese and Italian cuisines owned by an Italian who adores traditional and innovative sushi. Camilla is located on the sunset side and creates a romantic atmosphere with lanterns in the evening.
- "Pituq," a strictly vegan restaurant on Gili Air offering homemade Indonesian food, featuring favorites like tofu ceviche and vegan rendang.
On Gili Meno, gourmet enthusiasts may find it challenging as there are few notable restaurants. While there are expensive places with high prices, recommending them is difficult. However, it's worth mentioning the restaurant at Mahamaya Resort and Sasak Cafe on the western coast. For those looking to save on food, visit the well-known Warung Pak Man & Bu Ati and order Nasi Campur for a modest 15,000 rupiahs. The place is authentically Indonesian, simple, and perfect for those wanting to experience the spirit of rural Gili.
The sea around the islands is protected from large waves by a coral reef, so even in bad weather it is quiet and calm.
For traveling young parents, Gili is a real paradise, because you can always swim here with your children. The sea is very gentle and welcoming.
On all the Gili Islands, there's excellent snorkeling with plenty of turtles, diverse and charming marine life, and beautiful coral reefs. The average price is 150,000 rupiahs for a couple of hours, which includes visiting 4-5 main and popular snorkeling spots, providing you with a mask, fins, and a water bottle.
Safety and Health
1. Do not drink cheap alcohol in the bars on the Gili Islands. It is dangerous.
2. Consider the presence of currents if you plan to snorkel without an organized tour. Bring friends along.
3. If you are a girl, do not travel alone on the road that goes from west to east through the center of Gili Trawangan without a source of light. There is a stretch without streetlights, and subjectively, it can be intimidating to ride there.
4. Basic medicines, adhesive plasters, and betadine can be purchased at any minimarket along the road. If you need a more serious approach, you can visit one of the medical centers. There are quite a few on Trawangan now. On the east coast: Creative Medical Centre, Trawangan Medical Service, Ombal. The medical center on Meno is currently not operational. There is a tent near the mosque where medicines are collected, and medications are distributed for free to the sick. However, you can leave a donation. On Air, there are several clinics and pharmacies, but if something serious happens, the patient is either sent to Lombok in Mataram or to Bali.
5. If you plan to travel or walk during the night in deserted areas of the island, bring flashlights or charged phones. There is no public lighting. Light comes only from private homes. It's not unsafe to walk without light; you're unlikely to fall into a pit or hurt yourself. It's just more pleasant to walk with light. The situation with street lighting is best resolved on Gili Air. There, almost everywhere, houses have lights.
A short summary of each of the Gili Islands
Gili Trawangan has gained a reputation as the "party island," although this is a somewhat one-sided view. The main nightlife and party bars are located 200 meters north and 200 meters south of the port — places like Sama-Sama, Evolution, Jiggy Bar, Tir Na Nog Irish Pub, Sand Bar. The street running along the east beach is considered the "central" street.
Parties take place on Trawangan every night, with a specific bar or club assigned to each day of the week, allowing it to party late into the night. Even in the early evening, around 7-8 pm, you can find many performances by musicians, small gatherings, and film screenings on the central street. However, as the night progresses, everyone heads to the main party of the night.
But on this "party island," there's much more than just parties!
Venture away from the central street, and Trawangan becomes more peaceful. Even during the liveliest party, a couple of blocks away from the club, the music becomes almost inaudible. This tranquility stands in stark contrast and becomes a source of annoyance for the locals on Gili Meno.
In the eastern and northern parts of Trawangan, the landscape is adorned with palm groves, as it was half a century ago. Villas with unique designs and rich finishes are nestled amid this splendor. This area attracts tourists seeking peace and tranquility who, at the same time, wouldn't mind taking a bike ride to the eastern part of the island for some excitement.
Apart from parties, the island has a thriving industry offering various entertainment options. Along the central street, you can find places offering diving, snorkeling, freediving, stand-up paddleboarding, kayaking, wakeboarding, parasailing, surfing, subwing, yoga, yoga on a paddleboard, horseback riding, and culinary classes. The island boasts around twenty dive centers, many of which have their own training pools, boats for trips to the most interesting sites, and accommodation options like resorts, guesthouses, or hostels, or a combination of these.
Complaints from people who claim they got bored after arriving on Trawangan and found it dull after just a day are greatly exaggerated.
As the most developed island in terms of tourism, Trawangan offers establishments to suit every taste. There are numerous ethnic restaurants where people from various corners of the world prepare dishes of their native cuisine — Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai, Indian, Italian, and others. Trawangan also has several vegetarian and even strictly vegan restaurants. As you can see, this is another argument against considering the island solely a "party place" since the abundant influences of alcohol do not quite align with a healthy lifestyle.
The eastern part of the island is more suitable for young people, backpackers, and solo travelers seeking companionship. The southern, western, and northern parts of the island are ideal for established couples who wouldn't mind going to a party for some fun or families with older children.
In the northern part of the island, you'll find the most interesting and unusual eco-villas. Among the fascinating ones are Kuno Villas, Insana, and Gili Treehouses, particularly appealing to lovers of wooden architecture.
Gili Air was the first of the Three Gilis to be inhabited by the Bugis people, who became the indigenous population. Similar to Trawangan, Gili Air has a lively and friendly expat community, along with surprisingly welcoming and caring local residents.
The central street of the island extends north from the port to the middle of the island, ending at the office of the head of the Three Gilis. Along this street, you'll find tourist offices, simple cafes, clothing and souvenir shops, clinics, and supermarkets.
Gili Air is home to two popular yoga studios, H2O and Flowers & Fire, as well as a gym called Holiday Fit.
While Gili Air also hosts parties, they tend to be more relaxed compared to Trawangan, and they don't happen every night, ensuring a more laid-back atmosphere.
The island offers a blend of local charm, a thriving expat community, and a range of amenities catering to tourists, making it an ideal destination for those seeking both relaxation and a touch of local culture.
Gili Air is suitable for couples, families, health enthusiasts, and an older audience. It's much easier on Air than on Trawangan to buy fresh fruits in stores. In the central part of the island, there are 3-4 supermarkets selling fruits and vegetables, and street vendors also offer them from carts.
In the northwest part of the island, there is a long sandbar that fills with water without waves during high tide. This water warms up nicely, making it a favorite spot for families with children to spend time.
Gili Air has a solar power station in the center of the island. However, despite this, power outages can occur about three times a week. Usually, cafes, restaurants, and expensive hotels have their own generators to address this issue.
In the northern part of Gili Air, the internet connection can be quite weak, so if you need it for work, it's better to stay closer to the south.
The island is very quiet, even during holidays, there are very few tourists. The locals live somewhat emotionally detached from tourists. Passing by locals on the street, they may greet you or just walk past, which does not necessarily indicate impoliteness or hostility.
If you need help, these same people will be ready to provide assistance, give you good advice, or explain how to get somewhere. It is the least tourist-developed island among the three Gili islands. There is no central street as such.
Life is moderately lively from the port to the center of the island where the village is located. In this area, you can find simple shops, budget guesthouses, and small stalls. The island is remarkably beautiful in its sparseness. The homes of local residents are not separated by concrete fences; there are only living fences made of sticks, and not everywhere.
Therefore, you can observe how people live and what they do in their yards. The accommodation is generally less than on Trawangan or Air, but there is both budget accommodation in good condition and quite attractive high-end hotels. Meno is quite compact. It can be circumvented along the perimeter on a beautiful path along the beach in about an hour. This makes for fantastic morning and evening walks or runs.
The beach path is uninterrupted, unlike Trawangan or Air, but there are quite a few sections with soft sand, so sometimes you may need to push your bicycle. However, biking on the central paths and trails of Meno is very convenient.
Meno is significantly cleaner than Trawangan, although you may occasionally come across plastic bottles lying around. There is also a landfill, but it is small and located at a distance from the road. By the way, eco-activists from the organization Trash Hero are actively working on the island, exchanging empty bottles collected from residents for rice. On Sundays, they gather children and walk around the island in a group, picking up plastic waste. Leading this eco-activity is an Indonesian named Pak Sulman, who serves as a living example that Indonesians can be deeply concerned about environmental issues in the country.