There’s a Gili island to suit every traveler
THEY say things come in three and the Gili islands off the north coast of Lombok, Indonesia are examples of that.
The world-renowned Gili islands are made up of Gili Trawangan (Gili T), Gili Meno and Gili Air. Each is surrounded by turquoise waters and fringed with golden sands.
The islands also have a strict no-car policy, offering a beautiful contrast to the busy streets of nearby Bali and Lombok.
In recent years the Gili islands have become favorites among tourists and are progressively becoming more established as a vacation destination in their own right.
The islands aren’t quite in the same league as Bali’s Kuta beach in terms of party-going atmospheres yet, but there’s no telling how many more tourist boat crossings will be added to the already high number.
As it stands, the three islands still ooze local charm and offer travelers the authentic island getaway they crave. However, each island does have its own characteristics which set it apart from the others.
From throngs of sunset happy hours on Gili T to undisturbed sunbathing on Gili Meno, and the best of both worlds on Gili Air, this is your guide to picking the perfect Gili island for you.
But before we get to that, there are a few things you should know about the Gili islands.
The islands don’t have any motorized vehicles, so the only transport is horse and cart (cidomo), bicycle, and foot. This should be something you consider when packing your bag unless you’re comfortable with using a horse and cart, as many are not.
A little research will reveal the poor conditions the horses are kept in and made to work in. If you can, use a bike or walk.
Also, all three Gili islands have ATMs, although Gili Meno only has one and Gili Air has two and they’re frequently out of service due to storms or simply running out of money. It’s best to withdraw cash before you reach the Gili islands just in case of a faulty ATM.
For the drinkers, as is the case on Bali and Lombok also, the Gili islands offer a cheaper, locally-brewed alcohol called arak. Don’t drink it unless you see it poured from an unopened, branded bottle. Even then, try to stick to known brands.
Now onto picking the perfect island to suit you.
The biggest of the three islands and the one with the most outgoing atmosphere.
Gili T has come to be known as the party island out of the three. Travelers from around the world are drawn to this island for its buzzing atmosphere and opportunity to meet new people.
There are plenty of bars offering sunset happy hours, small clubs offering music into the early hours and more local bars towards the center of the island.
Besides from it being a haven for party lovers, Gili T is one of the safest and cheapest places in the world to get your diving license. There are loads of diving schools dotted around the island where you can train and become PADI certified.
For those enchanted by what lies beneath the water but don’t want to try scuba diving, head to the north of the island (20-minute walk from the south) to discover abundant snorkeling spots.
The baby brother of the three islands and the one which has retained the most local culture is Gili Meno.
Gili Meno is the answer to tranquillity with its nearly empty beaches, handful of restaurants and accommodations, and a circumference walkable in less than an hour.
Gili Meno is all about relaxation, so don’t go expecting to find any “Top 10 things to do on Gili Meno” lists on TripAdvisor.
However, the crystal-clear waters which surround the island offer excellent snorkeling and the Gili Meno bird park is a great way to see beautiful birds in their natural environment.
Gili Meno would make for a great one-day trip from Gili T or as a romantic stay for lovebirds.
If you’re looking for both secluded beaches and a party atmosphere, head to Gili Air.
Gili Air is the closest to Lombok and provides unobstructed views across the ocean to the mountainous island. It’s also perhaps the most undeveloped and doesn’t boast any five-star resorts.
Because of this, Gili Air is perfect for those who want to get off the beaten track. While there are still bars and restaurants (more than Gili Meno, fewer than Gili T), none of them are geared toward all-night raves.
There are also plenty of dive centers on Gili Air with participants learning to dive in some of the clearest waters in Southeast Asia.
Gili Air is almost entirely surrounded by coral reefs too, so those wanting to snorkel will be spoilt for choice.
The island is also walkable in around two hours using the beach tracks. You can cycle using the routes that weave through the island, but we wouldn’t recommend cycling on the beach unless you have a thick-wheeled beach bike.