Gilli Islands beaches
One of Gilli's beaches

Gili Islands in Indonesia: a paradise you cannot miss

This post is also available in: Português

The Gili Islands in Indonesia have already earned the post of one of the most paradisaical touristic destinations in South East Asia. Despite its fame, they still preserve a cosy and tranquil atmosphere typical of those secluded archipelagos in the Pacific. If you are traveling around Bali and want to escape to a lesser known but as beautiful as destination, you have to add the Gili Islands to your itinerary.

*Another MUST in Indonesia is to trek an active volcano at Java Island (also nearby Bali). Read all the details about it here: “Entering the fascinating Ijen Volcano’s crater“. 

Colourful sun shades on the beach of Indonesia
Somewhere in Gili Air

Explaining the Gili Islands: Gili Meno, Gili T and Gili Air

The Gilis are three little islands just off the northwest coast of Lombok, an island just next to Bali:

  • Gili Meno, the smallest one as well as the quietest too. There are fewer people than in the others islands, fewer noise and is said to be the perfect destination for a honeymoon.
  • Gili Trawangan (or Gili T) is party! It is the biggest of the islands and it’s full of bars. Also, it is where you find the greatest number of tourists. If you are not very keen on crowds and group of tourists playing beer pong, this one might not be for you.
  • And last but not least, the Gili Air, our favorite! We loved Gili Air because it’s a perfect mix of the other both. You can find some bars and even parties, but in a calmer and more easy going atmosphere.
Swing in the water in Indonesia
The sunset at Gili T

Why are they called “Gili”?

The “Gili”, as they are famously known, means “island” in Indonesian. For this reason, it is common to find other islands with “Gili” in its name, such as Gilimanuk where there is the port at Bali Island to cross to Java Island. Therefore, Gili Islands is actually a redundant expression meaning literally Island islands. But anyway…

The sun setting in the horizon with a bright red sky in Gili Islands indonesia
The sunset at Gili Air

Why are the Gili Islands in Indonesia so special?

At Gili Islands, the sea water is transparent, the food is fresh and there are no motorised vehicles, only bicycles and carriages. The atmosphere is like a tropical paradise and it is impossible not to receive a big smile in return when saying hi to people passing you by while you walk. At the Gili Islands, there is no prohibition. According to the locals, “the Gilis are free” and you can even buy hallucinogens mushroom shakes at the bars. Everyone does whatever one wants and no one seems to judge anyone.

Sign saying "we have fucking bloody fresh magic mushroom today" in Gili Islands on the beach stall
Sign saying “we have fucking bloody fresh magic mushroom today”

The local inhabitants was one of the highlights of our visit in the two of the Islands (Gili Air and Gili T). They seemed to be extremely conscious with everything and really receptive. They were not some people who stopped in time such as we sometimes see in smaller towns elsewhere in the world. Quite the opposite, they are youths who the majority have attended a university, they are on social network, make use of technology, although they simply chose to live a simpler life.

Someone laying on the beach in Gili Islands
Gili Air

Gili Air: our impressions

Gili Air was our favourite because it suited our interests perfectly. Firstly, the size of the island allows you to walk literally everywhere (actually in 40 min you go around the island). Moreover, everyone seems to know everyone and they are all nice people. Because it was low season, the bars weren’t so crowded, though they were there. Some say it is the perfect place to try their famous mushroom shake and find your spot anywhere to enjoy your high. We did see some people going crazy with the music at night!

A couple enjoying the sunset and playing guitar on the beach in Gili Islands Indonesia
With our friends Rayssa and Sérgio at Gili Air

Gili Trawangan (Gili T): our impressions

The Gili T can be a little more conflictual (even by having more alcohol), but it is most of the time caused by tourist who do not respect locals and travel with the intent to cause troubles. Overall, to witness a fight seems unimaginable. Just to give you an idea of the place’s tranquillity, we did not even see any police over there, neither a problem at all.

Those famous pictures of people watching the sunset on a beautiful swing by the sea are located here 😉

Party in Gili Trawangan
Every night the party is at an specific bar of Gili T and so everyone meets up in one location

What to do at Gili Islands in Indonesia

The transparency of the water makes it perfect for diving and snorkelling to see the corals, the immense variety of fishes as well as turtles. The Snorkelling tour can be taken from any of the islands as the boat goes to all of them. Each island has a specific spot for corals, turtles and fishes. The price goes from 100.000 to 150.000 Rupiahs – 8US$ to 12US$ – (again, bargain skills on you) and take up to 5 hours. It is really amazing and we really recommend it. There are many different diving schools as well as free diving – you can go up to 22 meters in two days with no air galloon. The prices are a lot more accessible than other parts of the world.

*Also read about things to do in Nusa Penida, another beautiful island just a short boat trip from Bali.

Tiago and Fernanda snorkling in Gili Islands
Finding Nemo! Can you see him?

How to get from one Gili to the others

Travel amongst the three islands is super easy and it can be done by public boats which departure at some determined schedule. They go twice a day, one in the morning – around 10am – and one in the afternoon – around 2pm – and costs 40.000 Rupiahs (about US$3). You can also take a private boat at any time. The price varies from 200.000 Rupiahs to whenever your bargain skills goes.

A boat with tourists to travel in between Gili Islands
The public boat from Gili Air to Gili T

Where to stay at the Gili Islands 

What does not lack in the Gilis are options for hotels, resorts, bungalows and one or another hostel. In Gili Air, we strongly recommend The Grand Sunset Hotel, a higher standard hotel with a swimming pool facing the sea! The rooms have roofless bathroom with view to palm trees and rocks flooring it. The staff is extremely nice too!

The swimming pool of The Grand Sunset Gili Air
The swimming pool at The Grand Sunset Gili Air

For the low-budget travellers, it is possible to find accommodation for about 250.000 Rupiahs (US$20). We went on low season and managed to lower the price of a simple room for 150.000 Rupiahs with breakfast included.

Even though you no longer find The Grand Sunset on booking, you can find accomodation in Gili Air here; Find accomodation in Gili Meno here; And find accomodation in Gili Trawangan here.