With every new trip to Indonesia, I find a new favorite in this country of islands. It started with Bali, then came Komodo and Padar Island and this time around it was all about Lombok and Gili Islands. Gili Islands, Indonesia in specific, stole my heart with its tranquil beauty and fun activities. All it took was a day trip to Gili islands from Lombok to discover how unmissable this destination is. The soft white sands, the pure sea breeze, clear waters that reflected every possible shade of blue, the carefree atmosphere and enough to do but none that hurries you – you get the drift, don’t you? With that as a teaser, let me share my experience and travel tips for Gili Islands.
Lombok is not the only destination from where you can do a one day tour of Gili Islands. You can, in fact, do a day trip to Gili Islands from Bali. The accessibility of the isles is one of the main reasons that make it a popular addition to your list of things to do in Bali. The other reasons you will decipher as we go along. Let’s get started – shall we? – with a brief introduction to what is this place about and what are the things to do on Gili Islands.
About Gili Islands
The word Gili means a small island. There are many such islands in and around Lombok which have the prefix of Gili. However, in popular tourism terms, Gili islands refer to an archipelago of three islands in the Lombok Strait. These three islands are Gili Air, Gili Meno and Gili Trawangan. Of these, Gili Trawangan (also, referred to as Gili T) is the largest of the isles, covering an area of 3 km in length and 2 km in width. Trawangan refers to Terowongan – meaning a cave tunnel. There does lie one such tunnel that was built by the Japanese during World War II.
The islands are sparsely populated but are extremely well known for its beaches and clear water that teems with exotic marine life. Owing to this, they are also, known as the Maldives of South East Asia. I am yet to visit the Maldives but having seen the Gili Islands, I am sure that whenever I do and if I find the similarity, Maldives will be rechristened as the “Gili Islands of Indian Ocean”. ;- )
How to get to Gili Islands from Bali?
Bali is just 35 km from the Gili Islands. It is no wonder that heading here is one of the most popular day trips from Bali. The easiest way to get here is to make use of the fast boats. It takes around 1.5 hours by these boats to get to the islands. There are many fast boat companies that have regular departures from Bali. Depending on where you are staying, you can opt for one of the two departure bays in Bali.
If you are looking at getting to Gili Islands from Seminyak or Nusa Dua, then you should opt for Serangan as your port. The same will hold true if you are looking at getting to Gili Islands from Kuta.
Book your fast boat ticket from Serangan right here through this link. The link offers you a free pick-up from your hotel in Bali and a small discount too!
In case you are looking for a Padang Bai departure from Bali to Gili Islands, then you will find this link useful. Again, you will be able to get a small discount as well as a pick-up from your hotel.
However, if you are looking at a Gili Islands tour from Ubud, then your exit port would be Padang Bai. Either way, you can book your tickets for your day tour to Gili Islands through your hotel or through the links I have shared above. The booking through these links will not cost you anything additional but will help me sustain this website through the commission I earn from it.
How to get to Gili Islands from Lombok?
This is how I visited Gili Islands. I flew into Lombok from Bali and as a part of my Lombok itinerary, headed out to Gili Islands for a day. It takes only 20 minutes to reach Gili Islands from Lombok. Besides the fast boats that are available to take you to the islands, you can opt for public ferries. These are the cheapest among all the sea options and depart from Bangsal harbor near Pemenang. Most of these depart before 11 am to Gili T. A few of them offer stops at Gili Air. There are ïsland hopping” ferries too, that travel between the three Gili islands.
Since we were a private group of media and bloggers, we were taken on a private glass-bottom boat to the Gili islands. You too can charter one if you are in Lombok.
A typical Gili Islands Tour Package
The fast boats and the public ferries are just a drop and pick system for your Gili Islands visit. In short, they are just your means of transport. This might work great if you just want to head to the islands and stay there or plan to have an open itinerary to take things as they come. A better option for those keen on trying various activities along the way is to opt for a Gili Islands tour package.
A typical Gili Islands tour package includes a pick up from your hotel, a fast boat ride, stops for snorkeling near each of the Gili Islands, halt at Gili Trawangan with enough free time to enjoy the island and a shuttle back before sunset to Lombok/ Bali. Some of the packages also, include free time on each of the islands instead of snorkel times. Depending on your preference, you can book one online or at your resort.
Start of our boat ride to Gili Isles
Following a scenic drive from our hotel on Senggigi beach, we hit the Bangsal harbor. A pretty red and yellow boat lay in wait on a black sand beach. Most of my trip mates were not very keen on getting into the water. It was me who could not wait to get started. So much that even before our boat ride started, I decided to jump into the sea. 😉 Well, actually the jump was more of a rescue mission for my sunglasses which I accidentally dropped into the water. With everyone settled in, life jackets on, sunglasses secured, hats fastened, our boat set off against the energetic waves of Lombok Strait.
I watched the navigator with envy as he sat unfazed on the nose of the boat, while the rest of us were cocooned under its roof. All I needed was one little prompt to jump up and out onto the deck and enjoy the sea breeze. It just took a small nod from our guide to get me out and about onto the boat deck – but a little late as we slowed down to reach our first snorkel point near the smallest of the Gili Islands – Gili Air.
Island one – Gili Air
Air (pronounced as Ai-yar) means water in Indonesia. This island is the only one of the three that has an underground freshwater source. The island is a perfect place for those looking for some solitude and me-time. While we did not land on Gili Air, we did get to explore the waters around it and what an experience that was. Our boat anchored at a snorkel spot called the Garden of Fish.
The spot sure lived upto its name. The first dip underwater had me encounter a shoal of bluefish. I did not even have to float any further before I saw hordes of Bat Fish and Butterfly Fish. I was actually stunned by the colorful experience that I forgot to breathe (the cardinal rule of snorkeling and diving), resulting in me gulping in a mouthful of water. That shocked me into exploring the rest of the garden – all filled with vibrant corals. I chased a Moorfish that led me to a sea anemone – not too deep on the ocean floor. A quick free dive let me say hello to our favorite clownfish Nemo 😉
Check out my video of my day trip to Gili Islands from Lombok. You can see the underwater world for yourself and see the various activities on the island too.
Snorkeling at Gili Meno
It was time to head to the Turtle Capital of the World. Gili Meno is the middle isle and the smallest of them in the Gili archipelago. It is a favorite of the honeymooners for its secluded beaches. The island is known for its turtle hatchery and as a natural extension has the surrounding water filled with Green turtles and some hawk-billed ones. Now you know why it has earned the sobriquet of being the turtle capital.
We did not dock on the shores but went to the very spot that was filled with the largest population of the island – turtles. This is where I went green with envy. Bubbles exploding into the surface and the sight of my diver fraternity below made me so jealous of not being able to do the scuba myself. I wish I could have but I did have a flight to catch back from Lombok the next day.
Another rule of Scuba Diving is that you cannot fly within 24 hours of a dive. This is where I missed scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef. You can read all about my exploits on Lady Elliot Island through this post. It will also, give you pointers in case you are planning a dive or a trip to the Great Barrier Reef, Australia
However, even from the surface, I had plenty of sightings. In fact, I got to swim with not one but at least two of these friendly creatures. One of them was the biggest Green turtle that I had ever met – possibly the Granddaddy of Splash, who I met in Mirissa, Sri Lanka. The snorkel point was more of a deep dive area and was good for slightly experienced swimmers. Even if you don’t qualify as experienced snorkeling, I would still recommend the Turtle point near Gili Meno as a must-visit on this day trip to Gili Islands. You can enjoy spotting the turtles as they regularly break to the surface to catch a breath or even find them through the clear surface of your glass-bottomed boats.
The other popular snorkel point near Gili Meno was called the Statues of Gili Meno. The point is filled with actual life-sized sculptures, kept underwater to encourage a reef development. Not only has the objective been achieved but snorkeling and diving here have become unique owing to the marine life that has sprung up around the statues. We did get to the point but could not snorkel there owing to a turbulent tide. I guess that is one part of this day trip to Gili Islands that remained unfinished for me and maybe, I will be back to just see this.
Tour of Gili Trawangan
Gili T is the biggest of the Gili islands and is known as the party island. This is where we docked and spend the remaining part of our day trip to Gili Island. I instantly fell in love with the white sandy beaches that overlooked the turquoise blue waters. The island can be covered along this quaint path that is devoid of any motor vehicles. In fact, none of the Gili islands have any vehicles. The only way to get around is on foot, bicycles or by cidomos.
Cidomos are basically horse carriages that take you around the island. A few of my fellow travelers did get a ride of around 3 km for 150,000 IDRs. As for me, I love cycles and could not help but rent one. The official price for a day is IDR 50000 but since we needed it only for a couple of hours, the rental guy charged us IDR 25000.
After a quick shower (there are only salty water showers on the island), we grabbed one of the best vegetarian meals in Lombok. Nasi goreng made without meat with tofu and vegetable spring rolls on the side, the Black Penny restaurant made sure our bellies and taste buds were well satiated. Post the meal, we set off on our rented bikes to explore the rest of the island.
I loved the laid back charm of the place. It was like everyone who visited there had a smile on their face and were happy to wave and joke around as they passed by. Tattoo parlors, dive shops, souvenir carts and beachwear boutiques kept enticing me to visit on one side while on the other side the everchanging blues of the sea got me to make unscheduled stops to just enjoy the view.
There are charming cafes by the beach, playing the choicest of tunes. Some of them had quirky decor in their beach space while others made it comfortable to enjoy the sandy shores with their pillow bean bags, hammocks and of course, the famous sea swings.
The Gili Sea Swings are just lovely to sit around. No doubt they have emerged as one of the most popular Instagram spots, but there is a strange charm that you feel when you have your ankles in water and the sea as your backdrop. They are ideally great during sunset but we made the best of them even without the sunset.
Personally, I wanted to stay back on the island for one more day but well, you got to do what you go to do. I somehow feel that I might go back there one day to stay and complete the few things that my heart desire. I sure hope so but most importantly, I do wish that you guys get to Gili Islands soon – maybe for a day tour or maybe for a stay. And if you are still wondering what are the other things to do on Gili Islands, check the list below – but not before you pin this to your board!
What to do on Gili Islands?
Depending on your interests, you can add one of these many Gili Islands activities to your day tour or plan for them in case you stay back on one of the isles. I have, of course, tried a few of these on my day trip but the rest of them are enough to entice me to return to the calm atmosphere of Gili Islands.
Common activities on all Gili Islands
Rent a bike and circle the islands
This was honestly, one of the best things that I did on Gili T. However, the same activity is available on all other islands. I loved the idle ride by the sea, stopping whenever I wanted to, taking the bike onto the sands and well, just pedaling around in the fresh sea breeze. The rent for the bicycle is IDR 50000 for an entire day and it is worth every penny.
Snorkeling at Gili Islands
Besides the Garden of Fish, Sculpture point and turtle point that I visited, there are several other snorkel reefs around the Gili Islands. Some of these are really close to the shore and perfect for beginners. You will be amazed by the variety of fish that you can spot even in the shallow areas. In most cases, it is common to spot a turtle or two around. There are several dive shops on these islands that can take you snorkeling into the deeper waters.
Learn to Scuba Dive on Gili Islands
Staying on Gili Islands is a perfect opportunity to learn scuba diving. You can enroll with one of the many PADI shops on any of the isles and become a certified deep-sea diver. For the ones who are already certified, you can pick from the many exotic dive spots and go for your diving expedition. It is quite a treat to be able to see the enormous Mola Mola fish around the island. The other interesting dive sites include Shark reef, Manta Ray point and Simon’s reef. I believe, there is a shipwreck dive spot too, around Gili Trawangan.
An approximate rate for Scuba Diving on Gili Islands would be IDR 1,500,000 for 2 fun dives as a day trip from Lombok.
Paddleboarding, Kayaking and Kite surfing
Pick your dose of adrenaline and get going on the gentle waves around the Gili Islands. You can rent a single-seater or a double seater Kayak at your island of choice. In fact, some of the shops offer you a day tour of the islands on the kayaks – along with a guide and a meal.
Kitesurfing is something that I still haven’t tried. I always imagine that thrill of flying with the wind on the bouncy waves! It definitely gives me an adrenaline rush. Bet you can experience it at one of the Gilis.
Paddleboarding here is an unusual activity as it is not everywhere that you get a chance to cover an entire island on a Stand-up paddleboat (SUP). The activity is becoming trendier by the day and with the affordable rates at Gili Islands, trying it out here is a good option.
Selfies and Street art on the Gili Islands
For the small place that each of these islands is, there are just numerous points for that perfect selfie pose. No doubt the sea swings top the list but the walls around the fun cafes and shops are no less. Not only are they artistically painted but one can find a prop or two around them, making them perfect photo points.
Shopping, Spas and Tattoos
No time is a better time for a relaxing massage than when at Gili Islands. The soothing sound of waves ensures that you need no other music to relax while the sore spots on your body are put to ease. For those who like relaxing with retail therapy, there are plenty of shops to browse on each island. From pretty beachwear to junk jewelry and sophisticated pearls, you will have ample choice.
I mention tattoos in this section for not only did I hear but also, see numerous tattoo parlors on Gili Trawangan. Interestingly, I believe there are one or two on the other Gili islands too. Guess maybe, it is cool to be inked here.
Enjoy the sunsets and white beaches
This is something that, unfortunately, most of us on Gili islands day tours miss out on. However, from all that I have seen and read, it is a divine setting to see that big ball of orange drown into the bed of the sea. And as I mentioned, the sea swings are your best vantage point.
Party with some live music
Gili Trawangan maybe nicknamed as the party island but that does not mean that the other isles are any less. You will always find a bar or two offerings you live music of your choice at any of the islands. Some of them are open till late in the night.
Things to do on Gili Air
Yoga on Gili Air Beach
With the tranquil settings of this island, a little meditation is bound to bring out the best in you. There is one or two Yoga retreat on Gili Air that you could check into. I believe, they even offer you Aqua-Yoga – something that might be uniquely Gili Air.
Join an Indonesian Cooking Class
There is Gili Cooking Class on Gili Air that teaches you the best and the popular dishes on an Indonesian menu. This was one of the first few things that I noticed when I did research on the island. Not only do they introduce you to the authentic Indonesian flavors but also, treat you to the little known nuances of the Indonesian culture.
Things to do on Gili Meno
Try the outdoor gym on Gili Meno
Even if fitness is not your thing, the outdoor gym on the tiny island will entice you to try it out at least once. Made with the natural tree wood, the gym will challenge you to try your hand on some pull-ups and dips in the salty sea breeze.
Visit the Gili Meno lake
The Gili Meno lake is a saltwater attraction in the middle of the island. As I understand, a sunset around the lake is absolutely divine. You can even spot some unique birds visiting this saline water pond.
Walk down to the Gili Meno Bird Park
Speaking of birds, Gili Meno has a small bird park of its own. A short visit here will introduce you to its winged residents like peacocks, pelicans, pheasants and more.
Head to the Turtle Hatchery on Gili Meno
Witness the conservation efforts made on the island by visiting the turtle hatchery here. You can see how the eggs of the turtles are kept till they hatch and how the babies get released into the wild. Of course, there is nothing cuter than watching a baby turtle walk and swim around.
Best things to do on Gili Trawangan
Experience the night market on Gili Trawangan
The night market on the Gili T island is a complete delight for the foodies. However, you might only enjoy it if you are a non-vegetarian. The place is infused with barbequed seafood options that are not just tasty but quite easy on your pocket.
Take in the sights at the Gili Trawangan View Point
This is the highest point of the island, somewhere to the south where on one side you can see the mighty Mount Agung of Bali and the other side has Mount Rinjani of Lombok. The viewpoint is said to be yet another sunset point and a lovely spot for photos
Watch an outdoor movie
Relax and grab a bean bag, settle down with some popcorn and watch a movie on the beach. There are quite a few places that offer this and it is almost a daily affair.
Where to stay on Gili Islands?
The first thing that you need to do is choose your island. As I mentioned earlier, it depends on which vibe you are looking for – for a relaxed, solitude atmosphere it is Gili Air, if you need some romantic time – consider Gili Meno and finally, party time with a little laid back feel – Gili T. All the islands have enough choices in each budget bracket. The best part is that you can book them online from here for a discount.
Check the respective links below for a list of top 10 hotels on each of the islands based on traveler reviews. You can use the same link to book yourself into the one that appeals you the most.
- Remember to carry an extra set of clothes on your Gili Islands Day Tour. However, in case you forget, it is easy to buy some clothes at one of the shops on any of the islands.
- There are a few ATMs on each of the islands. However, it is advisable to carry cash from the mainland.
- Don’t forget your sunscreen, hat and goggles
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Popularly referred to as a Restless Ball of Energy. My Mom refuses to entertain my complaints about my equally restless daughter & assures my husband that I was born with a travel bug.
I am a Post-Graduate in Marketing by qualification and a travel blogger by passion. Besides travel, I enjoy photography and if you don’t find me at my desk, I would be out playing badminton or swimming or just running. I believe in planning for every long weekend through the year. And when I cannot travel physically, I travel virtually through this travel blog. My travel stories have also, got published on various websites and magazines including Lonely Planet India and Jetwings.