Three small islands fringed with white sandy beaches and palm trees off the coast of Lombok, you’ll find the Gili Islands. These islets are bursting with popularity and are the perfect retreat from the chaos that is Bali. No mopeds or cars are allowed on the islands, the only mode of transportation is on a horse and cart or by renting a bike. It’s a refreshing escape back to simpler times and I love it.
I had heard so much about Gili T (Trawangan) before I visited but nothing much about the other two islands, Gili Meno and Gili Air. I was extremely intrigued to experience all three and was lucky enough to do so. If you are planning a trip to Bali and thinking of visiting the Gili islands, then I’d like to share my opinions and the differences that exist between each island before you decide where to visit. This is something I tried to research before we went but found very little online, and what I did find online I didn’t fully agree with it.
These islands are exploding with popularity and each has its own special character. So I’d like to share my view of the islands with you. Hopefully it will help in making your decision on which to visit.
Gili T (Trawangan)
Gili T is by far the most developed and lively island. The party scene is vibrant and there is multiple accommodation and restaurant options. Every night a different bar hosts a different set of promotions to attract the crowd, so everyone always ends up in the same spots! Making it perfect to chat with and meet new people, especially for solo travellers. If you’re not the partying type however, the island is famous for its diving, snorkelling and sunbathing spots. Gili T is one of the safest and well recognised places to go diving with several reputable diving hotels and hostels to choose from.
Top Tip: If you are looking for the best snorkel spots head to the northern part of the island. This is where all the turtles tend to chill and definitely has the best marine life.
We stayed on the eastern side of the island just off the main strip, the side where you first step off the boat when you arrive. I’ll admit, my first impression of the island wasn’t wonderful. I found it crowded, dirty and all along the beach looked like a construction site. I didn’t understand what all the hype was about being honest. The horse and cart situation also really upset me. It was obvious to me that the horses were exhausted and not getting the care they needed.
I wanted to give the island a chance so we stayed for 5 nights and during that time my opinions did change. We rented bikes and went out to explore the rest of the island. You can cycle around the entire island in less than 2 hours. This was when we discovered the western side of the island. This side of the island is much quieter and in my opinion much more beautiful and the Gili T I had originally expected.
Top Tip: I would highly recommend staying on the western side of the island rather than along the main strip on the east coast. The beaches here are MUCH nicer, quieter and cleaner with cute little beach bars with fairy lights and bean bags to chill on. However if you are on holidays with a big bunch of lads or gal pals, then the eastern side with a good party atmosphere might be exactly what you are looking for! In that case it’s perfect really. But, if you are looking for the best of both worlds as we were, then the west side is key. It just means you can bask in tropical paradise during the day and then take a short cycle trip over to the main strip at night for the party. It’s a win-win.
The south western part of the island is where you will find the most SPECTACULAR sunsets of all time. Here you will get the famous “sunset swing” snap with your beau or bestie. This island is literally full of swings and hammocks so you will have no problem finding the perfect one.
One of my favourite things to do on Gili T (and what Gili T is famous for) was to go snorkelling with the turtles. This really was AMAZING and there is so many of them that you will have no problem hunting them down. We found a bar called “La Moomba Bar” at the north east of the island where we went every single day! The sunbeds are free here and it’s the perfect spot to find the turtles. We were only snorkelling for 5 mins and saw turtles straight away. Just beautiful! Please don’t touch the turtle’s when in the water, but that goes without saying. Just let them do their thang and enjoy observing.
Where to eat?
One word: Scallywags. It was recommended to me by one of my best friends and it was probably the best meal I’ve had since leaving Ireland! You can get the most DIVINELY cooked filet steak, baked potato and an all-you-can-eat salad bar for 150Rup. It is honestly the best place to eat on the island in my opinion and in the same price range as the other restaurants. Not to mention the dreamy set up of the restaurant itself! It’s located on the beach decorated with gorgeous fairy lights, lanterns and candles.
For budget travellers there is an extremely popular nightly food market selling delicious BBQ complete with sides for as little as 60rp. The social atmosphere here is a massive draw.
The verdict: My opinion of Gili T defiantly changed for the better once I started to explore it properly. The friendly vibes, stunning beach, tropical chic beach bars and snorkelling was enough to convince me. This island is perfect for backpackers, couples and friends looking for a good night out, diving and chilling at the beach.
Gili Meno is the smallest of the Gili islands and known as the “romantic escape” island. The idea of a quiet, relaxed island appealed to me after a few days on the beer in Gili T. It defiantly had a honeymoon atmosphere to it with couples everywhere and stunning coastal beach huts for two along the beach. However If I was there on my honeymoon, I would die of boredom! Something online failed to tell us.
The island arguably has the best beaches of them all, but it is most under developed and in general just doesn’t have a lot going on. The western side of the island is completely deserted, but then again I found most of the island was. It just felt eerie to me. We were walking around the island in the dark looking for somewhere to eat only to find most places closed at 8pm. The island does however have spectacular diving sites namely the Meno wall and the Bounty which is a sunken pier. My advice would be to take a day trip from Gili T to experience this if you wanted rather than staying on the island.
The verdict: Gili Meno is all about escapism and relaxation. If that’s what you are into then you will defiantly find it here. However my opinion is that is doesn’t offer anything Gili T doesn’t. If you get bored easily like we did there, it’s not for you! If you really want to experience it then I’d suggest a day trip or just staying one night.
Gili Air is known as the chill-out island and is described as the perfect mix of the other two. It has a hippy vibe to it with white sandy unspoilt beaches, beach bars, bob Marley tunes and guitars strumming. It has similar facilities to Gili T and is almost as quiet as Gili Meno. Partying is not a top priority here as the bar scene has more of a laidback atmosphere.
Like the other islands it has endless diving and snorkelling opportunities. The accommodation here is basic made up of budget friendly hotels and bungalows. You can already see that development is well under way here so I expect luxury resorts are just around the corner. Gili Air also has a Scallywags so again I would HIGHLY recommend eating here. Steak el fresco by the beach…dreamy!
The Verdict: I really liked Gili Air. It was relaxing yet there was enough going on to keep us occupied. It has more of a local feel to it than Gili T which is something really nice to experience. This island would suit people looking to chill out, go snorkelling and enjoy a beer by the beach.
How to get there from Bali:
Most hotels in Bali will offer this service, however there are plenty of other places around Bali where you can book this. We opted for the fast boat which takes around two hours to get to Gili T. The price of the ticket cost us €18 each and included transfer from the hotel to the harbour and the boat itself. You may be able to get a cheaper rate online but we booked through the hotel just to avoid any hassle (or we were too lazy to look ha).
Top Tip: The transfer from our hotel in Seminyak to the harbour took us nearly three hours! Our shuttle bus also didn’t have any air-conditioning so as you can imagine, this was not pleasant and challenge of endurance ha. Just make sure your transfer will have air-conditioning before you book it.
So that rounds up my experience and thoughts of the Gili Islands. You can read my other posts on Indonesia here. I hope it answers some of your questions and if not, I’d love to hear from you!
As always, thanks so much for reading!