No trip to Gili islands is complete without snorkeling in Gili Trawangan with the famous turtle residents!
Also called Gili T for short, the largest of the Gili trio – Gili Trawangan, Gili Air, and Gili Meno – is a popular destination for its pristine white sand beaches, vibrant sunsets, fun island vibes, and clear turquoise waters perfect for a variety of marine activities. If you are planning a trip to Indonesia, you need to head over to the Gilis for a slice of paradise heaven!
Before I share with you my experience on Gili T, I need to make a confession.
Even though I had been living in Bali for five years and I had traveled extensively throughout Indonesia, I had always resisted going to Gili Trawangan. Gili T has a reputation for being a “party island,” and I had always imagined the island to be full of massive crowds with their selfie sticks, drunken tourists puking on the side streets, obnoxious club music blasting along the beaches, and hawkers harassing you at every turn.
But months after the earthquake of 2018 which had killed and injured hundreds of Indonesian residents, I was curious to explore how the islands had recovered from the devastation. So I decided to put aside my preconceived judgments and discover the island with an open mind.
What awaited at the end of my 4-hour journey from Ubud were some of the most powdery white sand beaches and crystal clear waters I had seen in Indonesia. I spent glorious 6 days traveling between Gili Trawangan and Gili Air sipping on fresh coconuts on the beach, walking along the shore at sunset, catching the sunrise over Mount Rinjani, paddle boarding along the shallow reefs, and splashing around in the warm, tropical waters of the Indian Ocean.
I had never been so happy to be wrong! And I am thrilled to share with you all the wonderful discoveries I made on the island including the best snorkeling sites, things you can expect from snorkeling in Gili Trawangan, and essential travel tips to help you make the most of your paradise vacation!
Gili Islands or Nusa Islands?
Gili islands and Nusa islands are both made up of 3 small islands located between Bali and Lombok. As both trio-islands are popular hot spots, many people have asked me which is a better destination, Gili islands or Nusa islands?
This is nearly impossible to answer, as I love both Gili and Nusa islands for different reasons. They both offer similar tropical island vibes but differ in so many ways.
Perhaps the biggest difference is that on Gili islands, white sand coastlines wrap around the islands and you will run into a beach in whichever direction walk. On Nusa islands, the majority of the coasts are cliff drop-offs – the views are stunning, but if you want to find a beach you will need to have a specific beach location in mind.
If you want to sit back in bean bags with a Bintang in your hand, dip your toes in powdery white sand, and gaze out into the turquoise blue horizon for a perfect beach vacation, then Gilis is the better option!
Related Post: 5 Best Nusa Lembongan Beaches
Choosing whether to head to the Gilis or Nusas also depends on what types of marine activities you are interested in. If you are an avid or experienced snorkeler/scuba diver, I would recommend Nusa Lembongan or Nusa Penida over Gili islands. Even though you are likely to see more turtles around Gili T than Nusa islands, the corals and fish life are much more colorful and vibrant around Nusa islands.
Related Posts: Snorkeling in Nusa Lembongan
If you are a surfer, this is a no brainer – you need to go to Nusa Lembongan. Although I was told that you could surf on Gili T, I didn’t see any surfers nor any surf schools on the island.
To sum up, below is my guide for helping you choose your island destination.
White sand beaches
Colorful reefs & fishes
Worth noting here is that day trips from Bali are only available to the Nusa islands due to the distance. So if you are on a limited vacation schedule and want to find a day trip package to one of the paradise islands, then check out this post for some of the best tours to Nusa islands.
Things to Know about Snorkeling in Gili Trawangan
Overall, I found Gili Trawangan’s water conditions to be mild, flat, clear and warm, and nearly perfect for snorkeling. I will share more about the best sites for snorkeling in the next section, but stay away from the west coast, as there is a shore break that forms waves along the coast, making it difficult to swim out into the ocean or see anything underwater.
At the time I visited the island in May, the water temperature was about 30°C (86°F), and visibility was easily 30 meters (98 feet). Even though I had to swim 150 to 200 meters (164 to 219 yards) from the shore at some parts of the island to reach the reef, the conditions were excellent, and I didn’t have any problems swimming out from the beach.
Snorkel Gear Rentals
If you don’t have your own set, you can find mask, snorkel and fin rental “stalls” or “stands” just about everywhere along the beach on the island, for about IDR 50,000 per hour (USD 3.5).
Determining whether or not the snorkeling is “good” on Gili Trawangan depends on your experience and where you have snorkeled before. As I mentioned before, if you are an experienced snorkeler who has traveled around the world, you will likely be disappointed by the marine life of Gili T (or lack thereof).
But if you are new to snorkeling or love seeing turtles, Gili T is a dream come true.
Be careful of jellyfish that are commonly seen around the Gilis – they are not deadly, but do sting!
Best Snorkeling Sites at Gili Trawangan
One of the best snorkeling sites on Gili Trawangan is at the northeast corner, also known as the “Turtle Point.” And true to its name, you can find turtles everywhere in this area!
Although the corals are less than impressive, the turtles approach shores as shallow as 1 meter to find seagrass beds for feeding. I even saw some peek its head out from the surface while I was laying out on the beach.
The underwater topography here is a gradual slope of sand, seagrass and hard corals that drops off at about 50-70m from shore. With perfectly flat and calm waters, the area is an optimal area for even a beginner snorkeler!
Tip: The best way to snorkel here is to enter in front of Villa Almarik, swim north along the drop-off. I snorkeled about 300 meters north to La Moomba restaurant and back, and saw about 6 turtles in an hour.
What you can expect to see: surgeonfish, moray eel, moorish idol, butterfly fish, angel fish, wrasse, damselfish, needlefish, sergeant major, unicorn fish, boxfish, triggerfish, and of course, the legendary turtles.
Another location that I enjoyed snorkeling in Gili Trawangan is the north end of the island. Although you’d have to swim a bit further out from the shore than the Turtle Point, there is a lot more variety of hard corals to see here. I found the underwater landscape in the north to be much more interesting with ridges and coral bommies and saw much more fish life.
Just be sure to stay north of Le Pirate Beach club, as the west coast is prone to waves that keep pushing you back to shore. With so much water movement at the surface, the west is not enjoyable for snorkeling at all.
Tip: Enter in front of Lutwala Dive Center and swim out about 100m from the shore. Here, you can find a ton of hard corals and marine life.
What you can expect to see: surgeonfish, unicorn fish, red tooth triggerfish, rabbitfish, batfish, trumpet fish, Oriental sweetlips, snappers, schools of sergeant major, and more.
Gili Trawangan Snorkeling Tour
Although you can easily snorkel off the shore on Gili Trawangan, if you want to see the underwater life of other islands and go snorkeling at the Gili Meno statues, you may consider signing up for a snorkeling trip with a local operator.
There is no shortage of snorkel tours on the island – as it is the most popular attraction and activity for the Gili islands, you will see signs for a snorkeling tour just about everywhere you walk. The prices can vary between IDR 100 – 300,000 per person (USD 7-20) depending on inclusions and the duration of the group tour.
If you prefer to hire a private boat only for you and your partner or friends, you can expect to pay about IDR 900,000 (USD 62) for the day.
Gili Trawangan Travel Tips
How to get around on Gili Trawangan
As there are no motor vehicles on the island, renting a bicycle is the most efficient way to get around. East coast has a paved path, but the rest of the island can be bumpy with a ton of potholes. Even some parts are impossible to get through with a thick layer of sand. Sometimes I had to get off the bicycle and push it through.
If you are thinking of traveling during the wet season (generally between January to March), keep in mind that water collects in the unpaved roads (particularly inland) after the rain, making it highly uncomfortable to walk or bike through.
Things to Know Before Visiting Gili Trawangan
- Purchases on Gili T were generally more expensive compared to Bali or Lombok, particularly toiletries. This is understandable, as everything must be imported to the island. It’s best to prepare for necessities such as sunscreen, medications, shampoos, etc. before heading to Gilis.
- Horse-pulled cart costs IDR 100,000 (~USD 7) per ride.
- Transfers between Gili islands (Gili Trawangan – Gili Air – Gili Meno) can be arranged on the island for IDR 100,000 (USD 7) one way per person on a fast boat, or IDR 35,000 – 40,000 (~USD 3) on a public boat. For a comprehensive guide on fast boats from Bali to Gili islands, check out this post.
- It is HOT on the island. If your accommodation doesn’t come with hot water, it’s not a big deal as you probably will enjoy the cold shower at the end of the day (I had a hot shower in my accommodation but never used it!). But air conditioning may be something you probably wouldn’t want to be without.
- The tap water on the island is salty. Do not drink out of the tap. I brushed my teeth with the tap water, and it was fine; but if you have sensitivity issues, have extra bottled water for brushing your teeth.
- If you can help it, travel with a backpack instead of a suitcase – it will make your life so much easier when getting to your hotel or to the harbor!
- The island is Muslim, and the main mosque is located on the east coast near the harbor. The call to prayer starts at 5 am, so unless you are a morning person, remember to take good earplugs with you! Or, you can avoid staying in the town center, which leads me to the next section…where is the best place to stay on the island.
Where to Stay in Gili Trawangan
There is a wide range of accommodations on the island including resorts, villas, and homestays along the coastline as well as inland. Whether you are a backpacker, flashpacker or a luxury traveler, there is something for all types of budget.
So what should you consider when looking for an area to stay on Gili Trawangan?
Consider factors such as distance to the town center (southeast region), mosque and the beaches.
Here is a breakdown of the neighborhoods in Gili T:
This area is close to all the conveniences such as shops, cafes, restaurants, bars, and night market. There is no shortage of food options in this area. But the mosque is also located here so you can hear the prayer blaring 5 times a day, starting at 5 in the morning.
Since the harbor (where you will embark and disembark the fast boat) is located here, it’s optimal if you want to stay nearby.
Recommended Hotel: Pearl of Trawangan
North & West
The north and west coastlines are relatively quiet, mainly lined up with resorts and villas. The road is bumpy and I found the beaches to be full of broken shells and seaweed in some areas. The beaches were not as nice or pristine as the east coast, but great for escaping crowds!
Be sure to head to the west coast for a breathtaking view of the sunset though.
Recommended Hotel: Gili Teak Resort
Northeast – I stayed in this area during my trip to Gili Trawangan and found it to be a perfect location, as it was just far enough from the busy town center but close enough to access everything you need. There are plenty of beachside restaurants and bars, but if you want to get to the town center, you can easily get there in 10 minutes on a bicycle.
Also, if you want the best beach on Gili Trawangan, the northeast corner is the place to be, with its beautiful, powdery white sand and clear, calm waters!
Recommended Hotel: Gili One Resort
Where to Eat in Gili Trawangan
After having a terrible chicken sandwich at Pinkcoco one evening, I saw a sign for my favorite food of all times (Thai!) while walking in the town center and decided to give it a try. I had the seafood Pad Thai, and while the seafood was a bit skimpy, the flavor was on point! If you are ever craving good Thai food while on the island, I recommend it.
Located near the harbor, I stopped for a quick caffeine fix when I landed on the island after a 4-hour journey from Ubud. If you are a coffee lover, you have GOT to try their special house latte with a bit of thyme concentrate – it was so unique, refreshing and addicting! I also couldn’t resist trying their baked goods, which is made fresh daily.
Hands down, the best soft serve on the island – if not the best dessert! Honeyst serves only 2 flavors, coconut and honey soft serve ice cream. I love coconut, but my personal favorite at Honeyst was the honey flavor. You can have your ice cream served on a fresh Belgian waffle, pancake, or croissant, all of which looked delectable. But I chose to go with affogato, which is soft serve poured with coffee and local honey – it was to die for! Be sure you head on over to Honeyst before you leave the island!
This cute little café is a must-try when on Gili Trawangan. Their second-floor seating area is adorable and cozy with a fantastic view of the beach, but more importantly, the café serves the most beautiful and delicious smoothie bowls ever!
If you love the tropics with awesome beaches, sunrise/sunsets and island vibes (I mean, who doesn’t?) be sure not to miss Gili Trawangan! I hope you find it just as stunning as I did.
Have you been to Gili T and have your own snorkeling or travel tips to share? Please leave me a comment below and let me know what you thought of the island!
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