There are three Gili Islands: Gili Air, Gili Meno, and Gili Trawangan. Each Island has something different to offer and attracts a different crowd of people. Based on my preferences I stayed on Gili Air and only day tripped to the other two. None of the Gili Islands have cars or motorbike permitted on them, making them quiet and a great place to clean out backpacking lungs filled with exhaust fumes from wild Asian traffic.
Gili Meno is the middle island out of the three. It is the quieter of the three and known as the ‘honey moon island.’ It has less restaurants and accommodation to choose from and prices for both of these are therefore higher than on the other two islands. The beaches on Meno are better suited to swimmers because, though great snorkeling can be found off of its shoreline, it has less coral close to the shore.
Gili Trawangan is the farthest of the three from Lombok’s Bangsal Harbour. It is known as the ‘party island’ or ‘mushroom island.’ It has gotten this reputation from the crowd of young party-goers it hosts. This is the dirtiest or the islands, less set up for those who want to lounge and relax and more focused on those who want to party late at night, shop, and enjoy a hectic atmosphere. Snorkeling as well is good off this island, but swimming is hardly enjoyable with filthy water, strange tides, and a rocky coastline on the far side of the island.
Gili Air is the island closest to Lombok and the happy medium of the other two. The atmosphere of this island is relaxed and suits backpackers who want a mix of both relaxing days and fun nights. There are parties that rotate between the beach bars on most nights and tons of both short term and long stay travellers to get to know and hang out with. The swimming and snorkeling is great on this island, mostly on the busy East side (port side) for the swimming, and many divers and diving schools are based here.
Where to Stay
7 Seas Backpacker
Many people say that its hard to find a hostel on the island from internet searches, however, the 7 Seas Backpacker & Cottages has a great website where you can book a dorm bed and it is the cheapest accommodation option.
The dormitory has 8 rooms with 3 beds in each, 2 single bunk beds and 1 loft-style double bed. The single beds cost 70,000 IDR in low season and 80,000 IDR in the high season. The double cost 140,000 IDR in the low season and 160,000 IDR in the high season. The rooms are slightly warm so when you book request a lower bunk in the additional comments section. There is oscillating fan for the upper bunks and one floor fan that I aimed directly at myself on the lower bunk. The rooms are very clean and the staff does a great job to keep them that way. Each person gets their own small locker with key as well to keep your important documents safe.
The shared toilets and shower may look a little un-kept but rest assured they are cleaned everyday, the toilets function great, and they are always stocked with toilet paper. With almost all facilities on the island, the bathrooms here use purely salt water, however, it is clean water! It may just give you a bad hair day for a while.
If you want more privacy than a dorm and need some other comforts such as a private bathroom and AC, then your cheapest option on Gili Air is Ali Baba’s. It is a farther walk from the port, located on the North Eastern part of the island. If you want to get a horse and cart here it will cost you anywhere between 50,000 and 100,000 based on your negotiating skills. For 400,000 IDR you can get a bungalow with a bed big enough for two, a large sunken bathroom, AC, and a rooftop hang out. Staff is very friendly here so take the time to get to know them.
The public ferry system is cheap and effective, getting you both to the Gili islands from Lombok and between the islands. Don’t waste your money on getting a private boat! To go one island over (example Gili Air to Gili Meno) the cost is 35,000 IDR one way or 70,000 IDR return. To go two islands over (example, Gili Air to Gili Trawangan) it costs 40,000 IDR one way or 80,000 IDR return.
The boat starts at Gili Air (8:15am leaves), goes to Gili Meno(8.30am leaves), Gili Tawangan(8.45am leaves), and then turns around going back to Meno(9;00am leaves) and Gili Air. The return journey is much the same with the boat starting at Gili T at 4pm.
This schedule will give you enough time on each island to get a feel for whether you are interested in a longer stay on them.
The bars take turns hosting parties in the evening. These usually involve great dance music, tons of locals, and interesting people watching. Parties are annocunced the day of on the menu boards outside, so keep your eyes open. Expect things not to really be getting under way until 11:30pm or midnight.
Paradiso II is staff by some funny guys looking for a chat… and occasionally to share a spliff. A dance party here will go late into the night.
Zipp Café hosted the Christmas Eve Festivities while I was there and it was a blast. The band they offered before hand during dinner, however, left a lot to be desired.
Legend Bar is the reggae bar on the island and hold their own great parties. This place is a bit of a walk from the main stretch of restaurants but, if you are into reggae, or into the type of chill people who are into reggae, then don’t pass up this party.
Snorkelling trips can be planned from all three islands. On Gili Air, check out Nani’s Shop for the cheapest snorkeling price on Gili Air. For 70,000 IDR a person you can rent equipment and get a 4 stop trip from 9:00am-4:00pm. They also take you to Gili Meno for 1.5 hours to have lunch or lie on the beach. Most other offers are around 100,000 IDR for the same experience.
If you want to snorkel on your own and not go for a day trip then you can rent a mask, snorkel, and flippers for 20,000-30,000 at almost every shop.
Walk the island/ bike, but get the big wheeled bikes!!
All three islands are easily walked around in 1-2 hours. Take time to do this on one of your first few days (and bring your camera) because it is guaranteed that after a few days of just wasting the days away you will not have the motivation to leave the places that have become your favourites.
If you rent a bike to get around, splurge on the one with the wide wheels because although in the ‘main drags’ the ground is fairly packed and solid, on the non-busy sides of the islands there is a lot of loose sand to take a spill or two in.
Trivia Night at The Waterfront
This is a great opportunity to have a blast and some laughs on a night when you don’t feel like getting too wild but want to socialize nonetheless. The Waterfront is a dive center midway up the East side of the island and their trivia night features categories like music, geography, movies, and culture. Bring a Brit or two with you for an added advantage. It runs Saturday nights from about 8-11pm. Double check the board out front though.
There are few disappointing options for restaurants and bars on Gili Air, but here are the places I would definitely recommend.
Zipp Bar and Chill Out Bar: Both of these places have a similar feel and similar prices. They are great places to spend a few hours hanging out and lounging around at. They are both pretty budget options with great staff.
Scallywags and The Waterfront: These are two NON-BUDGET options. Their prices are higher but they do not disappoint, thats for sure. Splurge and take yourself out for a nice dinner at one of these restaurants.
There are no ATMs.
There are in fact three ATMs on Gili Air alone. Obviously you probably want to bring enough money for your time here as they are islands and therefore not serviced regularly BUT if things get a little more pricey than you expected, don't fear, you can take some money out.
There is no cell service or 3G
Again, there is in fact both cell service and 3G capability here.
Bangsal Harbour is Tout Heaven
False!! Bangsal Harbour was extremely quiet both times I passed through it. Some people did ask if I wanted transportation, but you will get that everywhere in Indonesia. This harbour has a bad reputation which makes people chose pricey transport options just to avoid it. In actuality it is completely manageable and the port for the cheap public ferry system.
*Opt to take your clothes to be laundered by someone, washing them in the sinks with the salt water will leave them smelly. As well, the island is extremely humid so if not dried fast they may smell a little moldy too.
*Book your return ticket before you go to the islands, this will save you quite a bit of money.