Why Is This Place so Great?
The Gili Islands are comprised of three isles: Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno, and Gili Air. Just 21 miles away from Bali and 9 miles away from Lombok, travelers can easily access these islands via a short boat ride to enjoy some of the best diving and snorkeling in the area. While the three islands have many similarities, including its powder white sand beaches and jungle-esque landscapes kept pristine through its motorized traffic-free environment (locals and visitors travel by foot, rented bikes, or horse-drawn cart taxi services), they each hold their own charm.
Gili Trawangan, often called Gili T, is the largest of the three islands and is known as a party paradise in the south whilst being a romantic escape for honeymooners in the north. Unlike the party central region Kuta in Bali, Gili T is known for having a much more relaxed vibe with treehouse bars, boat parties, live reggae music clubs, and the occasional full moon beach parties. Those who want to avoid the party scene can absolutely do so since the island is also known for yoga, spas, and horseback riding on the beach.
With a population of just 400 people, Gili Meno is the more luxurious island of the three providing its visitors with a quiet secluded getaway with loads of fresh fish barbecues at their beach-side cafés. This is the perfect island to lounge around and be waited on hand and foot or head to the beach for some unguided water sports. Experienced surfers will especially love this island since good weather conditions provide breaks located around 330 feet away from the shore and provide impressive walls and barrels that come at a fast pace.
Gili Air’s atmosphere is the median between its two sister islands. Due to its close proximity to Lombok, it tends to get a high influx of tourists (especially during the day) for snorkeling and diving trips since the island is one of the best places to spot sea turtles that tend to hang around the northeastern parts of the island. Gili Air is also lined with numerous coconut groves, which is the island’s main trade, so make sure to purchase a fresh one from the stalls and local warungs during your visit!
Where Should You Stay?
For Luxury Choose: MAJO Private Villas – Gili Trawangan
MAJO Private Villas is a small resort located right in the middle of Gili T, making it a convenient 15 to 20 minute walk away from beachfront shops, bars, and restaurants and a quiet oasis at night. The resort only contains nine identical guest rooms, all featuring a sizable private swimming pool with an outdoor lounge space, a large pool bed for two, and an open-air shower complemented by locally made organic shower products. While the villas more often cater to couples, which is reflected in their romantic décor including oil burning lamps, the hotel does also cater to children with the option for a pullout trundle bed on request.
Even though the resort doesn’t have a restaurant on property, it does offer a fine dining room service option with complimentary breakfast included in all room rates for guests to enjoy by the pool or even in bed. Facilities are also on the minimalist side with a boules ground and complimentary use of bikes, but this just means guests have more time to explore the island.
For Lifestyle Choose: Blue Marine Dive Resort Gili Air
Blue Marine Dive is known on the islands as one of the best water sports centers in Gili Air. Since its establishment, they have also created four basic garden bungalows for guests to stay in that are modernly furnished and equipped with a satellite television, mini bar, air conditioning units, and hot water showers. Although the rooms are nice, spacious, and clean, most people who stay here don’t come for the rooms, but for the activities instead.
Most well known for diving, the company offers a wide range of diving courses from guided fun dives, NITROX dives, and PADI certification dives (to be fully qualified in 3-4 days!) in sites of your choice. If you’re not interested in scuba diving, the dive center also operates guided snorkeling and stand up paddle board excursions as well. In addition to its water sports center, Blue Marine Dive also has an onsite yoga studio right on the beach, which operates a wide range of meditations including vinyasa flow, fly high yoga, and even SUP yoga out in the ocean.
For Boutique Choose: Villa Pulau Cinta Gili Meno
Villa Pulau Cinta is one of, if not the, nicest accommodation that can be found on Gili Meno. The villa once operated as a vacation rental estate and consequently has six vastly different room types constructed from 200 year old antique Javanese wooden houses. The rooms are all very boutique chic equipped with modern technology including a Sonos sound systems, monsoon showers where applicable, and Moroccan floor tiled bathrooms. The estate can also accommodate families with the option to rent their family room containing two bedrooms (one with the capacity to house 4 children in bunk beds), or the possibility of renting out the entire facility which sleeps up to 16 people.
The villa has some communal spaces for its guests which include an 18-yard swimming pool, state-of-the-art theater with a selection of over 500 movies, a cigar lounge, and an office space complete with an apple desktop. In terms of activities, the villa has two double kayaks, a selection of boardgames, beach volleyball equipment, a paddle board set, and frisbee, but if you would like to arrange excursions the villa also has a butler who can handle these reservations on your behalf. Whilst this is an estate, Villa Pulau Cinta also has its own chef who cooks daily complimentary breakfast and afternoon tea served pool side for its guests.
What Should I Do?
For Luxury Choose: See the Ocean in a Different Light During a UV Night Dive
Encounter a magical universe several meters under the sea. Scientists have discovered that over 200 marine life species glow in the dark under UV lighting, transforming an under water excursion into an unworldly experience. In the Gili Islands, people have found glowing anemones, crabs, bream, eels, scorpionfish, gobies and lizardfish during this dive, but who knows – you may discover something new that reflects differently under UV lighting too!
For all who hope to take that brag-worthy picture whilst on this excursion, we recommend taking the PADI Digital Underwater Photography course prior to this trip to learn how to select the best camera system that suits you best in order to get those perfect shots.
For Lifestyle Choose: Subwing like a Manta Ray
Experience a new water sport that was just created in 2010 – Subwing-ing. The Gili Islands is one of the few places in the world that currently offers travelers the opportunity to fly through the ocean whilst holding winged paddles and being gently dragged by a boat to give you speed that snorkeling and scuba diving never could. With the ability to tilt the wings, excursionists have the flexibility to spin and let their inner stuntman shine.
The great thing about subwing-ing is that you don’t have to be a world class athlete to enjoy it. The guides give you a choice of pace and difficulty to ensure that you’re comfortable throughout your entire journey. Just remember to apply sun screen and you’re all set!
For Boutique Choose: Cooking Class at Sweet & Spicy Gili Cooking School – Gili Trawangan
If you’re interested in learning how to cook some local Indonesian cuisine whilst at the Gili Islands, we recommend visiting Sweet & Spicy on Gili Trawangan for a fun experience filled with music, a little dancing, and some cold Bintang beer.
During this two hour class, students will learn to cook seven dishes, including Mie Goreng, Satay, Gado Gado (traditional Indonesian vegetables), and Klepon for dessert. Come with an empty stomach! Portions here are quite generous and it is rare for anyone to finish eating everything that has been cooked, but you can always take the left overs home with you to savor throughout your trip.
With five cooking stations, the school hosts up to 10 people per class – so expect to be paired up with people from your party.
Where Should I Eat?
For Luxury chose: Ko Ko Mo Restaurant – Gili Trawangan
Ko Ko Mo is one of the few fine dining establishments on the Gili islands and is where the majority of its travelers celebrate their special events whilst visiting the isle. The restaurant spans across two floors overlooking the southern beach of Gili T, with a couple tables set right out on the sand to invoke a romantic atmosphere.
Ko Ko Mo’s specialties lie in its seafood dishes by using the freshest seafood paired with local ingredients. Due to this, we highly recommend their sashimi-grade tuna steak, BBQ’d Canadian Scallops, or any of their numerous lobster dishes. Conversely, if someone in your party does not like seafood, the restaurant offers a wide variety of prime meat dishes imported from Australia, which are prepared in either Indonesian or Western styles. For such dishes, we recommend ordering the Taliwang Chicken, Rijsttafel for two, or their succulent Beef Wellington served with a red wine demi glaze.
If someone in your party has dietary restrictions, the restaurant will do their best to accommodate them. Ko Ko Mo’s menu already denotes items that include nuts, pork, or are gluten free (and even serves homemade gluten free bread!) or vegetarian, but if your allergy is not listed then their server will do their best to talk you through the menu.
For Lifestyle Choose: Pachamama Organic Café – Gili Air
Pachamama serves fresh, delicious, and nourishing food and drinks that your body will thank you for. From freshly made juices or smoothies, to in house brewed Kombucha or coffees, every type of lifestyler can get their daily fix here.
In terms of food, the café serves a wide range of options including all day breakfast items of yoghurt bowls or egg dishes, veggie based starters like mung bean falafels, to mains including a healthy red rice Nasi Goreng, spicy beef bowl, or gluten free Australian beef burgers served with cucumber chips. All dishes served here use ingredients that are sourced from local and organic farms where possible and are free from palm oil as well as MSG, which is 100% guaranteed considering all sauces (including their peanut butter,
“nut mylk”, jamu, and yoghurts) are made in house.
If you’re still looking to find a place to stay in the Gili Islands, consider booking Pachamama’s Private Pool Villa on Air BnB. The villa includes two bedrooms fit for a maximum of 4 guests, and comes equipped with a full kitchen. Each booking includes breakfast with options between the yogi or granola bowl and tea or Lombok coffee.
For Boutique Choose: Ana Warung – Gili Meno
Out of the three islands, Gili Meno is most well known for its seafood barbecues. Visitors can find numerous of these establishments by the coast, but out of all of them Ana Warung is the most popular. This is especially so during lunch hours, when tour guides bring their excursionists to this restaurant as a pit stop.
The warung receives fresh fish from their local fishermen on a daily basis, making their seafood barbecues and seafood curries amongst the best on the island. With coconuts growing in abundance in Indonesia, patrons can expect to have fresh young coconuts and even a refreshing coconut milkshake to accompany their meal. If someone in your party is adverse to seafood, the restaurant also serves chicken curries and pastas as well.