The Gili Islands in Lombok are a very popular destination in Indonesia: Gili Air, Gili Meno and Gili Trawangan. These three Gili islands are mainly visited from Bali and all have their own charm. But which island is the best? It’s understandable that due to a shortage of time you cannot visit all three of them. I traveled the country for a total of 5 months of which a 2 month itinerary in Indonesia and more than 3 months on Lombok. I made a regular trip to the Gili’s and that’s why I can tell you exactly which Gili is the best!
As I mentioned before, the Gili Islands is the archipelago northwest of Lombok: Gili Air, Gili Meno and Gili Trawangan. The word “Gili” means “small island” in Sasak, the locally spoken language in Lombok. But these three small islands are not the only Gili islands in Lombok. There are also small islands in the east and southwest, including Gili Nanggu, which is increasing in popularity.
There is no motorized transport on all islands, which ensures a wonderfully peaceful atmosphere. The distances are absolutely not great and walking is the most common option. You can also rent bicycles everywhere and some locals ride around on an electric scooter. In addition, a horse carriage, known as Cidomo, is a widely used means of transport. However, it is not recommended, because the horses are often not well cared for.
The Gili islands are characterized by a flat landscape with beautiful beaches. People who want to see nature and beautiful landscapes, can better travel to the Nusa islands instead of the Gili’s. However, the underwater world is very beautiful and snorkeling and diving are popular activities. It’s possible to book a tour from any of the island. Thanks to the fairly constant water temperature of around 30 ° C, many types of fish occur, including small sharks. Sea turtles are also easy to spot in the waters around the Gili’s!
The island closest to Lombok is Gili Air. I can best describe this island as a place with a super relaxed atmosphere, where you can occasionally enjoy a nice party on the beach and enjoy delicious food and drinks at small cafes and restaurants. It has very nice beaches, but these are not as paradisy as on the other Gili’s.
Every night you can enjoy (live) music somewhere, especially on the south coast. Most restaurants and cafes are also located here. A great party takes place three times a week in one of the beach clubs. It’s often pleasantly busy with tourists and locals dancing on the beach.
The main activities on Gili Air are snorkeling and diving, yoga and just relaxing on the beach.
Accommodation tips: On Gili Air there are hostels, guesthouses, relaxed bungalows, but also villas that you can rent. If you have a large budget (€ 70 – € 120 p.n.), Pinkcoco Gili Air and The Koho Air Hotel are one of the best choices. For a budget between € 30 – € 70 p.n. Jago Gili Air and Cinta Palanta, both with swimming pool, are very chill options. But there are also dirt cheap double rooms of around € 12 at, for example, Gili Ku Bungalow with super good local restaurant and Matahari Bungalow 3. The best hostels with dorms are Begadang, Tipsea Turtle and Gili Buana, all with swimming pool.
For whom: Rest seekers, solo travelers, couples, friend groups, families, people who like to party occasionally.
Gili Meno is the smallest island of the three. This island is also called the honeymoon island because mainly couples travel there. The beaches are very beautiful and there are no noisy clubs. You visit Gili Meno purely for rest. Stroll around the island in about an hour and relax on the beach.
The famous images in the sea are located off the coast of Gili Meno, but actually you go here with every snorkeling tour. You don’t have to go Gili Meno for this.
Accommodation tips: There are only a few hostels with dorms on Gili Meno, namely Gili Meno Eco Hostel and The Rabbit Tree Hostel. The rest of the accommodations are guesthouses, bungalows and resorts. As a solo traveler it is best to go to Gili Air or Gili Trawangan.
For whom: Rest seekers, couples, families.
Of the three Gili islands, Trawangan is the largest. The island is popularly known as Gili T. Gili Trawangan is the only island with a small hill on it. The beaches are very beautiful with white sand and crystal clear blue water. Unfortunately, there are boats in the water in many places. The island is also fairly full with (low) buildings, especially the east coast.
Gili Trawangan is known for the party island and little has been lied about that. It’s also by far the busiest island with the most tourists. Sometimes it seemed like I was in Bali. There are parties every night on Gili Trawangan where the biggest party is every night in a different club, mainly in clubs on the east coast. The only evening that the parties won’t continue until early morning is on Thursday.
In addition, you can also walk around the island, follow yoga classes, but also try stand up paddle boards on the east coast. The best place to spot sea turtles is on the north coast. Here you can walk straight into the water and find yourself in no time among the turtles that feast on the sea grass.
On Gili Trawangan you can enjoy the most beautiful sunset of the Gili’s. From Trawangan you have a great view of Bali with clear weather. One of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen was on Gili Trawangan. Go to the west coast and plop down on a bean bag at one of the beach clubs.
Accommodation tips: The accommodations on Gili T are the cheapest of all three Gili islands. If you would like to stay in the hotspot, the east coast is the best option. Most hostels with dorms including Atlas Gili, My Mate’s Place (party hostel) and Compass Divers Hostel are popular here. But there are also plenty of cheap bungalows, guesthouses, expensive resorts and villas.
For whom: Party animals, solo travelers, couples, friend groups.
How to get to the Gili islands
- From Lombok: All three Gili’s are very easy to reach from Bangsal Harbor in northwest Lombok. You can buy a ticket at the official public ferry ticket office for 15,000 IDR (€ 1). Don’t be fooled by fast boat ticket sellers. And for Gili Air, it is best to buy your tickets elsewhere. When you walk out of the street and enter the parking lot, you go to the right, instead of to the left. On the beach is a small house where you can buy your public ferry tickets cheaply for Gili Air. It’s around here.
- From Bali: There are several ports from where you can take a fast boat to the Gili’s, namely Padang Bai, Sanur and Serangan. The easiest is from Padang Bai because it is the fastest and has no stopover.
- From the Nusa islands: Also from the Nusa islands you can easily reach the Gili’s with the fast boat. The boats usually go directly from Nusa Lembongan and with a stopover from Nusa Penida.
My Favorite Gili Island
But which Gili is the best? What I found relaxt during my trip in Indonesia was to alternate the islands, but my personal favorite is Gili Air. It’s not as touristy as on Gili T and the parties are all on the beach and also a bit more alternative which I like a lot. Gili T I often found too touristy and Gili Meno is very quiet. So Gili Air is a nice middle way!
The nicest island to celebrate New Year’s Eve is in my opinion also Gili Air. It’s then pleasantly busy. There’s not much to do on Gili Meno and Gili T is ridiculously busy and the whole island is packed with people around that time.
Can’t or don’t want to choose, no worries! Of course you can also visit three Gili’s! Every day there is a public boat with which you travel between the islands very cheap. It’s often cheapest to go back to Bangsal in Lombok and buy a ticket from there, but that is a bit more hassle.