Get me to the Gilis: A trip to the Gili Islands

The Gili islands was a place I hadn’t heard of before. I stumbled upon it after a little research on destinations to visit from Singapore. As soon as I saw pictures I was desperate to go. I mean if you saw photos of this (see below) you would want to hop on a plane and get right to it. Right?

Where are the Gili Islands?

So where exactly are the Gili Islands located? Gili means small islands in sasak, the native language of Lombok. And so the main three Gili islands belong to Lombok, one of the main islands that form Indonesia. Located in the Lombok strait between Bali and Lombok, the three Gili islands can be reached by boat from either island. They are only visible from mainland Lombok from Sengiggi, resembling 3 flat pancakes in the sea.

The Gili islands are a relatively new discovery for tourist, experiencing their first backpacker visitor only 30 years ago. 

Things to do on the Gili Islands

Although very small in area there is now quite a lot to do on the 3 small islands. The most active island is Gili Trawangan or as the locals like to call it ‘Gili Tra-la-la’, in reference to its reputation as the party island.

Bike rentals

Firstly  there are no cars or scooters allowed on the island.   Therefore  to get around the island people either rent a bike or pay for a cidomo – a pony/horse drawn wagon. And so bike riding is a popular activity.

Snorkelling and Diving.

The main attraction for the gilis is the reef. Gili Trawangan has become a popular place to obtain a PADI certificate with over 40 diving schools on the island. Diving and snorkelling are both popular activities when visiting the Gili Islands. The reef is known for its rich marine life and is definitely worth seeing.

Get in touch with more nature

With a bird park and a turtle sanctuary on Gili Meno, there is great opportunity to get up close and personal with nature. From Gili T or Gili Air you can take a private boat to Gili Meno. 

Horse riding on the beach

On the sunset side of the beach, it is possible to live out romantic notions of horse riding on the beach. 

Market

Every evening there is a local food market at 6pm in the main square. Located across from the main jetty, it is a great way to sample some local food.

How to get there?

.Ok so here’s the catch to enjoying the beautiful aqua blue waters. Getting to the Gilis is tricky. This isn’t because of logistics but well… I guess  because of tourist hassle. I had researched how to get to the Gilis before our trip however many articles couldn’t give a straightforward price on how much the boat from Bali was. 

The lack of information on boat ticket prices made it difficult to budget this side of the trip but also hard to identify if/when we were being ripped off.  

The other issue with getting to the Gilis by boat was the safety issue. Many boat operators functioned on a “pay and pack ’em in”. Determined to avoid this situation,  I had a plan all worked out. 

Unfortunately my plan didn’t materialise. The price of our tickets were decent compared to others (we paid 500,000 RP per person one way). However the safety was a huge concern. Our first boat was small for the number of people boarding.  Worst of all the boat crew chucked luggage into a small cabin room where our life vests lay underneath. The trip took longer than we were told and most people felt ill by the end of it.

Great way to access life jackets!

As we had already booked our boat back with this company, we were expecting the same back. Luckily the boat was bigger on the return trip and the life vests were above us and more accessible. 

Which boat company?

Personally I would avoid Sumaya boat operators from our experience. We had a more civilised trip using Mahi Mahi from Lombok. Another recommendation from our accommodation on Gili T was Gili gateway. Boat operators running out of Padang Bai in Bali are the worst offenders for safety, so do your research.

Travel tip: Don’t take the boat back from Gili Islands and try and connect with a flight out of Bali on the same day. The boats don’t always run to schedule and you could miss your flight. At the very least you will feel absolutely exhausted from the boat ride so best to give yourself a day of chill. 

Also, getting off the boat at the Gilis requires climbing down a ladder and jumping onto shore. 

Where to stay?

There are plenty of options for accommodations from hostels to 5 star hotels. We stayed on the Sunset side of Gili T which is much quieter than the centre. The beach itself isn’t great for swimming with all the dead coral on the shores. You would need water shoes to navigate through the water. 

We stayed at Le Pirate. A cute little eco hut resort and loved it. Except for the outdoor showers which caused mozzie bites to appear in undesirable locations!

Secrets

If the three main Gili islands aren’t enough for you, head to mainland Lombok to Setokong. From there you can catch a chartered boat to the secret Gilis and enjoy more secluded beaches and underwater activities. 

Have you been to Gilis? Would you like to go?

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Gili islands

18 Comments

    • Ah amazing! What was it like there? Everyone seems to gravitate towards Gili T or for a second choice Gili Air. I was curious about Gili Meno. Especially as it was just right there in plain view! Almost looked like you could swim right there… but we were warned against doing that… not that I’m a good enough swimmer anyway.

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    • It really was a nice discovery for me, despite since learning it has been on the backpack circuit for a while. I was slightly disappointed by the throes of backpacking singlets and backwards cap wearers but it was still an amazing place to check out. If I went back again, I’d want to check out the secret gilis.

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  1. Great tips – and so important to know about the practicalities for boat schedules and safety etc. I’m also very intrigued by the ‘secret’ Gilis! Possibly heading here in 2018, so will be back to pick your brain! 🙂

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    • Thank you! I felt like I spend hours trying to figure out how to get there without getting scammed or drowning and was a disappointed to be defeated by my efforts. And it is hard to find information out there. When we were in Lombok, we weren’t there for long and thought that Mt Rinjani was on lock down after a recent eruption. So we asked locals (hospitality staff) where we should go and they suggested Sekotong. We didn’t end up going only because it turned out we could go to Mt Rinjani but I would’ve loved to head there. It is in the complete opposite direction to the 3 main Gilis. I’ll be here when you’re ready for more info 😉 xx

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  2. Lovely photos…an island holiday is just what I would like right now, when it’s freezing and grey in Germany and I’m full of a cold! But I went here 15 years ago and it’s one of my ‘happy places’ – not sure if going back with the family would be a good idea! The journey there from Lombok was scary – overpacked boat, spent the whole time doing deep breaths! But just gorgeous islands and fantastic diving…hope it still is, so sad when the coral gets destroyed and the beaches fill up with plastic

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    • Thank you! I know the feeling. My computer wallpaper tends to turn to beach scenes in Winter when I lived in London. I think I would agree with you about going back with a family. The boat ride was off-putting and it was then I realised I would make the worst survivor if my option was to flee by boat! On the way back I had a handheld fan and this peppermint oil roll on that I had on my wrists to stop the nausea. The beaches haven’t filled up with plastic but it is Indonesia and sadly they are not taking care of their beaches. I feel like the Gilis are trying to be more eco-aware (there are many eco lodges to stay at) but at the same time I saw a lot of piles of plastic bottles/rubbish on the sides of the roads. I’m glad I went and curious about the secret gilis. They don’t seem as far away from the shore and not located in such a treacherous part of the ocean.

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    • I don’t blame you for being put off by the boats. In all honesty they are not great. But for a part of Indonesia that looks like the Caribbean…. I dunno. I’m terrible for turning off my curiosity and on this trip it got the better of me. I think if you get on the right boat and bring a fan, bottle of water and something for nausea just in case you’ll be ok. One of my friends went on a boat that showed a movie the whole time! I believe the shortest distance on the boat from Bali is from Amed, so maybe look up boats from there? I think I had to do it over, I would avoid Padang Bai. Definitely stay on the sunset side of Gili T. It’s a unique place to visit. Good luck!

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    • You should now that you are closer 😉 Easily tagged on to a trip to Bali! Just make sure you check best time to travel because if I’m not mistaken, Nov-Feb is the wet season in Bali so not really sure what The Gilis are like during that time. But I know in the summer months (Aug) Bali is lovely so maybe a nice escape from the Australian winter!

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    • Thanks for reading it and for your feedback! I was curious about Gili Air mainly for the H2O yoga studio. Maybe if I ever go again I’ll stay there. I have to admit the beaches on Gili T weren’t as fantastic as the ‘good’ side for the beach was where all the boats were. Thanks for sharing your experience of the Gilis!

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    • Thanks Ian! haha that’s what I thought when I discovered it. Just when you think you know where you want to go for the year… you find a beauty like this and have to add it to the list!

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  3. Haven’t been to these Gili islands but I get what you meant about the boat safety part. I won’t be able to help worrying about the first boat you took, with the crowds and weight and restricted access to life jackets, sheesh. Hopefully the authorities will be able to regulate the boat vendors better!

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    • I know! It was really worrying, especially after reading how dangerous those waters were. What was funny was that in December we took a boat trip to the Hong islands from Krabi and the boat safety checks there were vastly different. I hope the authorities get involved and improve the situation but somehow I feel like money will get in the way of that.

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