Gili Islands – When to visit, for how long & what to do

What are the Gili Islands and where are they located?

The Gili islands belong to the Indonesian archipelago and there are hundreds of them along the coast of many islands. In the Sasak local dialect of Lombok, Gili means small island and for that reason, that is the name given to any small island or detached piece of land around the coast of Lombok. The most known Gilis and the ones I’ll talk about are Air, Meno & Trawangan, which are located on the northeast side of Lombok.

What’s the best time to visit them?

Being located in Indonesia, the climate on the islands is warm all year round, being only two different seasons to consider: the dry season and the rainy season. In my opinion, there’s no such thing as a bad time to visit the islands, since (unfortunately and due to climate change), the seasons are not so strong nowadays. For example, I visited them in late November, considered the rainy season, and we only caught some hours of light rain. However, if you prefer to have fewer probabilities of rain and visit them in warmer months, the best time to do it is between June and September. The rainy season occurs between November and March and the advantage of visiting these islands in this period is that there will be fewer tourists, so the islands will be calmer. A good balance would be to travel there in April or in October since the weather is still quite warm and you’ll not catch the tourism high season, so you can find lower prices. The temperatures are always around 21º and 31ºC (70ºF and 88ºF) all year and the water is always pleasant at 28ºC (82ºF).

How to reach them

None of the islands has an airport, so the only way to access them is by boat. You can go from Lombok (shortest way) or from Bali. In this last option, the journey can take 2 to 3 hours, depending on the company you choose and how many stops there is on the way.

On our way to the Gilis, we went from Lombok and we decided to used a private boat that our hotel booked for us, however, you also have a public boat. We didn’t choose this option since the public boat was relying on the tide to work or not and they only do the cross if they have a minimum of 20 people. Since we didn’t see many tourists during our journey, we didn’t want to take the risk. If you decide to take the public boat, it departs from Bangsal harbor and costs around 1,50€. Ask advice about this in your hotel, since many times they can arrange a transfer and a boat for a very affordable price. The journey from Lombok to Gili Meno takes around 25 minutes.

On our way back we went from Gili Meno to Bali and that was a 3 hours journey. We used the company Eka Jaya because they have big boats and we thought we would feel less turbulence (it was not the case, you can feel every huge wave, so we don’t advise it for people with seasickness). This company stops in several places like Nusa Penida and Nusa Lembongan and has several stops in Bali. The advantage of choosing them is they include on the boat ticket a transfer from the harbor to several cities or to the airport. However, you have to be careful once you reach the harbor; there will be a lot of people pretending to be working for the transfer company, so you have to be very sure where to go and ask the boat staff who you should meet. Even our transfer driver tried to ask us for more money saying he could take us to our drop off point faster if we go in a private car and we went in our normal group transfer and we didn’t take half of the time he said it would take.

If you have seasickness I would rather recommend the company Scoot Fast Cruises, which we used from Bali to Lombok. The boats are smaller, but they use higher velocities, so you don’t have the feeling of big waves like you do in Eka Jaya! The only problem is that they stop in beaches where there are no harbors so you have to enter the water to get on and off of the boat, so make sure to take some flip-flops and a short dress or shorts and you’ll be fine.

I attached the company links on their names here so you can see their schedules, prices, and stops.

Some general information on the islands

The first thing you will notice when you leave the boat is that there are no engine vehicles on the island (in any of them), so all the trips you make have to be done by foot or by bicycle. They also have a lot of horse-pulled cars, but I don’t advise them for several reasons: they are not always well treated, the weather is really extreme to be carrying people and heavy luggage under the sun and, besides that, you can easily do an entire island by walk, it’s all flat and, for example, it takes less than 2 hours to walk the entire island of Gili Meno.

The second thing you notice and you will be probably informed of it by your hotel is the existence of a lot of animals like bugs, geckos (a common lizard in Indonesia), and snakes! In Gili Meno, we only came across snakes in a shallow water area, but we had no problem. The locals told us the snakes there are not poisonous, but be careful just in case. In November there were not many bugs, but it’s always good to take a good repellent.

The Gili Islands, such as Lombok, and in contrast to Bali, are Muslim islands, so it is normal for you to listen calls for prayers throughout the day.

If you travel to Gili Meno make sure you have some cash with you since there is no atm on the island. Some places accept cards, but some small shops might take only cash.

In the 3 islands, there is only a 24 hours doctor in Trawangan or you have Lombok doctors, so try to avoid injuries as you will have to be transported to be assisted.

Do not swim alone between the islands, since the current there is pretty strong and it can get dangerous. If you’re afraid of sharks also avoid snorkeling alone in deeper areas, since you can find them in some spots (although it’s rare). If you love sharks there is a shark point where you will luckily find them.

Since these are remote islands the internet might not work good on the entire islands and the electric power can go off during the high season for some hours.

What is the difference between the 3 islands?

The 3 islands can be very different from each other and these are their main characteristics:

Gili Meno – This is the calmest of all of them and it’s the perfect island for honeymoons or be in a place with fewer people to relax more. This is the smallest island and also the less developed one. 

Gili Trawangan – This is without any doubt the party island! You will find here a lot of clubs and bars and amazing restaurants by the beach. It’s great if you’re traveling with a group of friends, but if you’re looking for some authenticity I would not recommend this one.

Gili Air – This one is a balance between Meno and Trawangan. It’s a nice island to enjoy some peace, but you can also find some areas with more structures and things to do.

How many days to stay and what to do

We stayed 5 days on the islands and I think that’s enough time to visit the essential and still relax and enjoy the beaches. If you’re more into diving maybe you can stay more days, since there are many diving spots in these areas and also driving schools where you can learn and have a diving certificate. We decided to sleep in Gili Meno and we did a half-day trip to Gili Air (you can walk the full island in 2 hours) and another half day to Trawangan. There are public boats to take you to both islands and they run twice a day each direction with the price of 2,30€/journey. To visit Trawangan we decided to stay there to see the night and we ended up coming back to Meno with a boat arranged by a local company (Blue Ocean Boat), but we don’t advise this if you don’t like rough waters at night!

I will focus more on what to do in Meno since I’ve spent more time there, but I can give you some ideas to do on the others.

As I said before Gili Trawangan is the party island. They party so much that we could even listen to their music in our room in Meno island! So if you like sunset parties and to dance in and enjoy music in the middle of paradise, this is your island! It is super pretty to walk on the beach with all the horses and the amazing sea swings and you have an enormous amount of beach bars and restaurants to relax and see the sunset. In Trawangan, you can see Mt. Agnung (in Bali) over sunset and Mt. Rinjani (in Lombok) at sunrise, so the views are breathtaking! One thing we did here was a massage since you have a lot of options to choose from that you don’t have on the other islands and it was great! At the end of the day, you can stop in the night food market to enjoy some typical street food, which is really great.

On Gili Air island we found as well a lot of amazing swings and beaches and you have a lot of stores with souvenirs, which was really amazing! You also have plenty of restaurants and bars to enjoy their peaceful beaches. If you walk around the island you will find a “turtle spot” where you can easily snorkel by yourself and find some giant turtles. If you decide to sleep on this island I recommend you the hotel PinkCoco. 

On Gili Meno, we enjoyed our time walking around the island and doing snorkeling by ourselves almost everywhere! Please take some water shoes, because the sand is full of dead corals and it hurts to walk! If you want to see some snorkeling spots better we recommend the company Blue Ocean Boat. They’re a local company and by 10€ we had a 3 hours boat tour to snorkel in the statues, in a shipwreck, in a choral garden, and we swim with the giant turtles. They provide you all the equipment and they have a great spirit. The boat goes only with 8 people maximum, so it’s a very nice experience and you can enjoy it more. This was the company that also brought us from Gili Trawangan. While they’re not doing tours they can take you anywhere you want or need.

To eat on the island I recommend the Rust Warung restaurant, which is located right on the harbor and it has amazing typical food made by locals. Warung means local in Indonesia, so every time you see one it’s probably a good place to eat.

Two different things we found on this island was an enormous lake at the center of the island, where you can see some forest and find even more peace and a turtle conservation center. This last one surprised us since it is just a group of 3 water tanks where a local keeps baby turtles until they get around 6 months old. The local collects the baby turtles from the sand so they don’t get eaten by predators and then he releases them at the sea. There were no big turtles trapped here and the place lives on the base of donations that they use to feed the turtles. It’s just a local trying to save the local species and that is beautiful and should be supported!

The biggest island of them all is Trawangan and you can walk it in 2 to 3 hours, so any island is easily explorable by foot.

Some sustainability tips for when visiting the Gilis:

The first tip I will give you is not to use the horse pulled cars. It is so easy to walk around the island, even with luggage, so there is really no necessity to put the animals into extreme situations. 

Choose local restaurants and use local services. In some areas of the Gili Islands, especially in Trawangan, we saw a lot of foreign companies and they had most of the clients due to their more modern services. I am not saying you should not use them, of course, every business needs an opportunity, but try to find a balance and use as well local places, so you can help the local community growing. 

Going to the Gili islands and not diving or snorkeling is almost impossible, so I advise you to take a sunscreen “reef save”, that doesn’t do much harm on the chorals. Of course, don’t touch them or step on them when you’re on the water and don’t take any piece of them or any other animal as a souvenir. Unfortunately, there are already a lot of dead corals on the islands, so everything we can do is a big help.

Since the weather is always good try to visit them in the low season. You’ll be helping the tourism companies on their lower months and you also help to release all the pressure the islands have on the high season.

Take your bottle of water! When I was planning this journey I thought I had to be buying water every day, since their water is not drinkable and they don’t have many infrastructures. However, at least in Gili Meno, a lot of establishments have water dispensers and you can fill your own bottle by paying only 0,30€! This is great because there is no recycling, so most of the trash ends up being burned or some locals collect plastic bottles to sell to recycling companies in Java Island.

I hope you liked this post and that you find some useful tips for you. 

Please let me know if you have any doubt and keep traveling to the green!

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