If you are looking to head over to the tropical islands of Gili Trawangan, Gili Air, or Gili Meno, let me just tell you that you will be blown away by the pristine white sand beaches and some of the clearest and the bluest waters you have ever seen. A trip from Bali to Gili islands is a must if you are looking for an ultimate tropical paradise vacation!
In this post, I will share with you essential tips about the Gilis including top things to do, what to expect on the islands, and transportation guide to the islands and beyond.
Why Gili Islands?
First of all, if you are unfamiliar with the Gili islands, the sister trio is made up of Gili Trawangan (also known as Gili T), Gili Air, and Gili Meno. Gili T is the biggest island known for its vibrant social scene, Gili Air is most popular among mature travelers and families, and Gili Meno is the hot spot for couples and honeymooners looking for a secluded getaway.
As there are no cars or motorbikes on any of the Gili islands, most travelers flock to the tropical paradise for the quiet, laid-back beach vibes.
Located between two main Indonesia islands Bali and Lombok, Gili islands make an ideal stopover during your Indonesia itinerary as they are easily accessible on several fast boats from either popular island destinations. Whether you are looking to relax after a challenging trek on Mount Rinjani or busy cultural and nature tours around Bali, Gili islands are the perfect place to unwind, work on your sun-kissed tan, and soak in the turquoise horizon while sipping on a cocktail!
I spent 3 days on Gili Trawangan and another 3 days on Gili Air during my solo travel, and found the islands to be the perfect paradise to escape the busy tourist scenes in Bali!
Which Gili Island Should I Visit?
Even though I had lived in Bali for many years, I had resisted going to Gili Trawangan because of its reputation as a “party island.” I had imagined something similar to Kuta where the streets would be full of drunken fools, beaches full of young backpackers, locals selling you drugs, and street hawkers harassing you while you are trying to relax on the beach.
But I am happy to inform you that I was pleasantly surprised by Gili T and had an amazing time. I am not sure if the earthquake of 2018 changed the landscape of the island, but I felt a very chill island vibe even on the so-called party island. Despite the island being predominately occupied by the young 20 to the 30-something crowd, I saw a diverse range of visitors from older couples to families with young children.
The “downtown” area on Gili T was a bit more congested compared to the rest of the island with loud with club-like music blasting along the beaches during the day and live-music bands playing at night – but there were no mob scene or obnoxious drunks that I had envisioned.
Since I prefer a quiet, peaceful location removed from large crowds, I stayed on the northeast part of the island it was absolutely perfect. No hawkers, no loud music, no mosque prayers, and most importantly, stunning powdery white sand beaches! The north end provided a perfect balance of fantastic beach scene and accessibility to all the shops and restaurants a girl could ever want.
I traveled to Gili Air in 2014 and remembered the island being a perfect paradise – a quaint, rustic destination with beachside bungalows and bean bags and hammocks where you can sit and gaze into the perfect blue horizon.
But when I returned in May 2019, about half the island was still destroyed from the earthquake of August 2018. There were several abandoned resorts and homestays, with piles of rubbles and logs throughout the island. Honestly, it was heartbreaking to see the aftermath of the earthquake still so evident nearly 10 months later.
That said, many old establishments had been rebuilt, new businesses had opened, and the locals were as welcoming and eager as ever to bring tourism back to the island.
The beaches in the southeast, north and west coasts were just as stunning as I had remembered and I particularly loved the view of Mount Rinjani at sunrise from the east coast of the island!
I have always heard that Gili Meno is a romantic destination that is mostly frequented by couples – and as a solo traveler, I never felt the desire to go there alone. Besides, unlike the sister islands of Nusa Lembongan, Nusa Ceningan and Nusa Penida where each island offers unique attractions, Gili islands are mainly known for the beach scene. And since I traveled to the two other Gili islands on either side of Meno, I didn’t think I’d be missing out that much!
But I’d be sure to update this section once I find a travel companion to enjoy Meno with ;-))
Things to Do on Gili Islands
The main attraction of the Gili islands are the beaches, the crystal clear waters, and the reefs surrounding the sandy coastlines.
Snorkeling or scuba diving around the islands is a must, especially if you love turtles – but there are other activities worth checking out too! Here are some of the things I loved about Gilis!
There are no shortages of local tour companies offering you a snorkeling trip (half day or full day) which you can easily find and sign up once you are on any of the Gili islands.
The cost of a snorkeling tour starts at IDR 100,000 (USD 7) per person but be sure to confirm with the staff about inclusions (snorkel rental, lunch, drinks, etc.) and which snorkeling sites you will be taken to. Depending on the tour package, you may pay more.
If you prefer to hire a private boat rather than joining a group snorkel tour, you can book one for about IDR 900,000 (USD 63) for the day!
The reefs around the Gilis are not as colorful or vibrant as what you will see around Nusa islands, but if you are a fan of turtles, you are in for a treat!
Gili Trawangan, in particular, is turtle heaven!
For a detailed guide on snorkeling in Gili Trawangan including the best snorkeling sites on the island, check out this post.
2. Scuba Diving
If you are a well-traveled scuba diver or have dived elsewhere in the Coral Triangle where you have seen a tornado of fish and an abundance of healthy coral reefs, you will likely be disappointed with scuba diving around Gilis.
However, if you are new to scuba diving or have always wanted to learn to dive, Gili islands’ warm tropical waters, perfect visibility, and calm conditions make them ideal locations to explore the underwater world. Blue Marlin has dive shops on all three Gili islands, and Manta Dive is a reputable dive center on Gili T and Gili Air.
3. Cooking Class
Since Gili islands are closer to Lombok than Bali, I noticed that the local food on the Gilis taste a bit different from what I was used to in Bali. Check out some cooking classes to learn the various spices and cooking styles of the local cuisine!
On Gili Trawangan, you can book a cooking class at Egoiste; and on Gili Air, be sure to check out Warung Sunny – even though I ran out of time to take a cooking class with chef Hero, the food was so delicious that I ate there twice in three days! You can sign up for a cooking class with Hero though, so be sure to head to Warung Sunny if you’re interested.
4. Get Your Hands on the Best Ice Cream in Town!
Honeyst on Gili Trawangan serves honey flavored and coconut flavored soft serve ice creams that you can enjoy on a homemade Belgian waffle, pancake, or croissant. I chose to go with affogato, which is coffee and local Indonesian honey poured over the soft serve ice cream.
Let me just tell you that it was pure heaven. It was one of the best things I had on the island!
The interior of Honeyst is beautiful, but the most appealing part of the shop was that it was air conditioned! The AC and the ice cream were a wonderful relief from the intense heat of the island!
Don’t miss this hidden gem located in Gili T’s town center.
5. Paddle Board or Canoe around the Islands
You can rent a paddle board or canoe by the hour. On Gili T, the rental fee was IDR 100,000/hr, but it was a bit more expensive on Gili Air with IDR 150,000/hr.
Whichever island you end up on, the east coast is the best location for paddle boarding or canoeing, as the water is flat and calm. The west coasts are more prone to waves and choppy surface due to the shore break.
I took my mask and snorkel on my paddleboard, paddled my way out to the blue, and snorkeled along the drop-off on Gili Air – the visibility was easily 30 meters when I traveled in May, and the view above and under the surface was simply spectacular!
6. Catch Stunning Sunrises & Sunsets
Gili islands are small enough that you can easily access both east and west coasts on foot, or if you prefer, on bicycles. So head over the shorelines and watch the sky light up in beautiful pink and orange hues.
On Gili Trawangan, the southwest corner offers the best sunset view! On Gili Air, my favorite spot was the north end by Legends Bar – they have comfy lounge chairs and bean bags where you can enjoy a cold Bintang to wrap up the beach day while watching the magnificent sunset!
For sunrise, my favorite view was watching the sun come up over Mount Rinjani on Gili Air – the scene was so serene and breathtaking – I don’t normally wake up when it’s still dark, but THAT view was worth getting up for.
Gili Island Day Trips
Although I would recommend that you stay at least a couple of nights on any of the Gili islands, if you do not have enough days on your itinerary you can consider a day trip from Lombok.
Unfortunately, there are no day trips from Bali, as the distance is too far. If you want to do a day trip from Bali, you can sign up for one of the day trip tours to the Nusa islands instead.
For a private snorkeling tour around the Gili islands on a local Bangka boat, check out this tour!
Transfer from Bali to Gili Islands
How long does it take to get to Gili Islands from Bali?
The duration of your Gili speed boat ride can vary between 1.5 to 4 hours depending on the departure point and the number of stops the boat makes along the way.
For example, the route to Gili islands from Serangan generally makes stops at Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Penida, which can add to the transportation time. Even some ferries departing from Padang Bai will make a stop in Lombok first, before heading to Gili islands.
If you are sensitive to seasickness, do some research on the ferry routes to pick the shortest route possible. Also, not all ferries are created equal – ferries come in various sizes (or capacities) which makes a difference in how much it moves at the surface.
If you are getting picked up at your hotel, you can expect to add additional 2-3 hours to the trip depending on your pick-up location in Bali. For my trip from Ubud to Gili islands, for example, I was asked to be ready for a 06:30 pick-up for my 09:00 departure from Padang Bai port.
In reality, I was picked up a bit after 07:00 in Ubud, and arrived to Gili Trawangan around 11:00 which ended up being a total of 4 hours.
Another thing to note is that the ferry departures and shuttle service to/from your hotel will almost always be delayed. Get used to the “island time” while in Bali – it would be better for your sanity ;-))
Things to Know about Fast Boat to Gili Islands
- Even though some fast boat companies claim to offer you “free” land transportation when you buy your fast boat tickets, sometimes they drop off all the guests at one central location such as a gas station or a supermarket in your town (Kuta, Ubud, Canggu, etc.). Be sure to clarify if a pick-up or drop-off service at your hotel is included in your fare.
- As you will need to hand over your luggage for storage during the crossing, be sure to lock and secure your suitcase or backpack. I have heard of cases where things were stolen during transit. Keep all your valuables on you and be sure that you put a padlock or a band around your suitcase/backpack with a lock.
- The seas between Bali and the Gilis can be rough depending on the season. If you are prone to seasickness, don’t forget to take some Dramamine before departure!
3 Fast Boat Routes from Bali to Gili Islands
Considering a large number of transportation options available, deciding which is the best ferry from Bali to Gili islands can be tough – the first thing you need to figure out is which port you want to leave from Bali. Below are three main port options:
Serangan Harbor to Gili Islands
Location: 30 minutes east of Denpasar International Airport, just south of Sanur. This is an optimal departure port if you are based in Bukit Peninsula (Uluwatu, Jimbaran, Nusa Dua), Kuta or Sanur.
Departure Time: several options between 08:00 and 11:00 depending on the operator
Travel Time: between 3 to 4.5 hours depending on the operator
Ticket Price (per person/one way): ~IDR 450,000 to 650,000
Padang Bai to Gili Islands
There are numerous operators from Padangbai port to the Gili islands. The prices vary depending on the capacity of the boat.
When I was researching about how to get to Gili islands from Ubud, the cheapest Bali to Gili Trawangan option was Wahana Gili Ocean. So for my fast boat to Gili Trawangan, I booked a ticket online, and I am happy to report that it was a comfortable and smooth experience!
Location: About an hour east of Ubud, and about 1.5 hours from Canggu. Best port location if you are based in Canggu or Ubud.
Departure time: morning departures around. 09:00 – 09:30; and afternoon departure at 13:00
Travel Time: about 1.5-2 hours
Ticket Price (per person/one way): ~IDR300,000 – 700,000. If you are looking for a budget option, check out Eka Jaya Fast Boat, Wahana or Gili Gili Fast Boat. For a “luxury” transportation option, Blue Water Express if your best option.
Scam Alert at Padang Bai:
When you return from Gili to Padang Bai, you will be given a ticket with your final destination (Ubud, Kuta, Airport, etc) to indicate which shuttle bus to get on when you reach the pier. The boat crew will warn you to hide your ticket until you reach the parking lot, because many drivers will approach you to see your ticket, then whisk you away to their private car where you will be charged extra fare for your land transportation.
The crew will inform you to find the company representative in the parking lot who will direct you to the correct shuttle bus.
Now, here are 2 types of scams to watch out for:
- As soon as the boat docks at the pier, people will start boarding the boat asking you to show them your ticket. These are the scammers. Do not show them your ticket. Keep walking to the parking lot.
- When you reach the parking lot (and just where you think you are safe), many men stand next to the company representative who holds the sign for “shuttle buses.” These guys will take your ticket and escort you to the shuttle bus – but during the short walk, the guys will tell you that your transfer will take double the time (3 to 4 hours!) due to traffic, your hotel being the last stop, ceremony causing congestion, etc. They tell you that if you take their private car, they can drive you home in half the time.
Do not fall for this. I was told that my 1-hour ride back to Ubud would take 2.5 hours – but I stuck to my shuttle bus, and I was returned to Ubud in exactly 1 hour.
If you keep these scams in mind when you head back from Gili islands to Bali, you will be fine.
Amed to Gili Islands
There is currently only one operator running a trip from Amed to Gilis (and back). Free Bird Express runs a trip once a day in the morning only.
Departure time: 09:30
Travel Time: about 1 hour 15 minutes
Ticket Price (per person/one way): ~IDR 500,000
When You Arrive in Gili Islands…
When you arrive on any of the three Gili islands – the only way to get to your accommodation on the islands is riding the horse-drawn carts or walking (although once you check in, you can rent bicycles to get around the island). The islands do not have motorized vehicles nor properly paved roads – so lugging your suitcase around the island on dirt roads may prove to be frustrating and exhausting. If you have a backpack, that would be the best way to travel to the Gili islands.
If you choose to hire a horse carriage, expect to pay a flat rate of IDR 100,000 per ride – you should not pay any more than this.
Transfer between Gili Islands
If you want to travel from one Gili island to another, this is arranged with a local boat, and you can easily buy a ticket once you are on the island.
You can either travel on a public boat or a fast boat between the islands.
The fast boat costs IDR 100,000 each way/person (~USD 7) which leaves every hour on the hour. You can buy a ticket from any of the “tour counters” in the town center of the island.
The public boat costs IDR 35,000 – 40,000 (~USD 3) each way/person and operates only twice a day. If you wish to take the public boat, check in with the ticket counter at the harbor on each island.
Having traveled throughout Southeast Asia over the last 6 years, I have seen some gorgeous beaches in the Pacific but Gili islands were absolutely breathtaking!
Since Gili islands have been a popular tourist destination for many years, I was expecting huge crowds, polluted beaches, and obnoxious tourist traps but the lack of cars & motorcycles have managed to help maintain a quaint and untarnished island vibe, perfect for ultimate beach relaxation.
I hope you found this travel guide and tips helpful in planning your tropical getaway on your next trip to Indonesia! Believe me, you won’t want to miss the Gili islands!
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