Travelled in: October 2017
If you haven’t heard about the Gili islands, where have you been hiding… I feel like EVERYONE on my social media has been to the Gilis, so whilst in the area it would have been rude not to go and see what all the fuss was about.
I visited two of the Gili islands off the coast of northern Lombok – Gili Trawangan and Gili Air. There is a third island, Gili Meno, as well as more Gili islands closer to southern Lombok.
All of the islands have something unique to offer, but the main draw is the incredible white sand beaches and crystal clear waters.
I arrived in the Gilis from Nusa Lembongan, there is one boat a day from Nusa Lembongan (Scoot Cruises) which takes you to Lombok and then on to Gili T. The journey takes about 3hours and can be pretty choppy, might want to be prepared if you get sea sick. We negotiated a discounted rate for the boat via our hotel on Nusa Lembongan, so check with your accommodation to see if they can get you a good deal.
To get between each of the Gili Islands there are boats that depart a couple of times a day, these can be booked on the day of departure at the ferry terminal, at or tourist booths along the beach.
On the way back to the mainland I arrived in Padang Bai… if you book a transfer to your onward destination with your ferry ticket be careful of being scammed when you get off the boat by the bus drivers. They will tell you that the journey to your next destination is going to take twice the amount of time that you thought it was going to, then offer you a private taxi service to get more money. DO NOT ACCEPT! The drivers are just trying to earn themselves a bit of extra cash and your journey will take the time you expected it to.
Heading to Gili T I was quite apprehensive having heard very mixed reviews. My expectation was that Gili T was going to be a full on crazy party island along the lines of Koh Phi Phi in Thailand (a place I have been to, and personally didn’t like). What I got from Gili T was completely different, I was so pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed my time on Gili T. Yes, it is a bit of a party island – there are a lot of bars, and there is a party on every night, however there is so much more to discover…
We stayed at Mbox Hostel which is located inland, about a 10 minute walk to the beach, and 5 minutes from the Ferry terminal. We booked a private room which cost £30 per night. I LOVED this hostel, it has such a chilled, but super sociable atmosphere. The drinks at the hostel are a lot cheaper than anywhere else on the island, and the food is really good! I highly recommend their incredible banana milkshakes to cure a hangover.
My favourite thing about Gili T was the night market. The local food here is literally amazing, we ended up eating here every evening! Pick your vendor, fill a bowl, grab a bintang and eat like a king, all for about £3. Some of my favourites were the sweetcorn fritters (get them grilled) and the fried soya – out of this world. For dessert head to Ice Cream Roll Hulala for some shaved ice cream, it is a must try, SO deliciously creamy. There is also a great Frozen Yoghurt shop called Gili Yo, it is a little bit more pricey, but totally worth it. You can find this right at the back of the market.
We spent our (non hungover) days walking around exploring. Trawangan is the largest of the Gili islands, but still walk-able. You can get around the whole island on foot in about 2 hours and by bike in 1 hour. If you choose to hire a bike make sure to ask for a mountain bikes as a lot of the paths are covered in sand, dirt or dust, and the thinner tyres just don’t cut it.
Head to the northern point of the island for what is in my opinion the best beaches (also where you will find the famous Gili Swings) it is much quieter this side, but there are some lovely luxury beach resorts to stay in.
Head to the east of the island to watch the sunset over mainland Bali, on a clear day you will spot active volcano Mt Agung. There are plenty of beach bars where you can grab a beanbag and sit and watch the sun come down.
If like me you came to the Gilis as you heard you might get to see some turtles, a great place to start is at the turtle hatchery on the eastern beaches – a small conservation project and hatchery which focuses on releasing turtles back in to the sea. You can also see turtles back in their natural habitat when you are out snorkeling, there are recommended spots on each of the Gili islands. I have found a map of the best places on Gili T here!
I found some great little shops on Gili T! Head towards the market and the road to the right has some beautiful boutique clothing stores. I also stumbled across a few lovely jewelry stands that lined the southern beaches, a great place to pick up an ankle bracelet or souvenir.
For nightlife you will find this all along the southern beaches. You can’t really miss it! The Irish Bar is great place for a casual drink with live music if you are out for a more chilled night. For something heavier and more lively head to Sama Sama or Ombak Bar.
Closest to Lombok you will find Gili Air. We stayed at Samata Village, a new development which has a beautiful pool, outdoor showers, and sits within close proximity to the beach. This is the perfect place to stay for complete relaxation.
Although much quieter than Gili T, Gili Air still has a great atmosphere, plenty of restaurants to eat at, beaches to explore and a whole load of chilling out to be done.
The island is smaller than Gili T and can be walked around in about an hour. The main commercial area is located adjacent to the ferry terminal, with most restaurants and dive hotels located along the south eastern side, sunset bars on the western side, and snorkeling spots in the north.
The food on Gili Air was really incredible, and offered much better value than the restaurants on Gili T! Nothing quite compared to Gili T night market though…
Some of the best places we ate at were…
Scooperific – A great place to grab a bean bag, eat something sweet and admire the view. I ordered my favourite Oreo Milkshake and sat and read my book in their upstairs seating area.
The Lemongrass – This place doesn’t look like much, but the food is excellent. I had the best Beef Rendang curry I have ever eaten here!
Rubys Cafe – All home cooked food, Rubys is always busy. They serve a fantastic Indonesian curry.
Sharkbites – For a really decent burger and tasty desert this place is fantastic.
For sunset I really liked heading to Mowies Bar. They also do food if you wanted to spend the whole evening there, I didn’t try it, but saw some come out and it looked really good!
Which Gili Island should you choose?
It’s a tough question, especially if you are on a short time limit…
Gili T is great for everything, there is a lot more choice here, and I would go back here just for the food at the night market. If you are worried about it being too rowdy, don’t, the nightlife is really easy to avoid. The island is pretty big and the north side of the island is a lot quieter. I think Gili T offers something for everyone. The only thing I would say is that is is quite an expensive island and there are a lot of tourist traps.
Gili Air is the perfect place to go if you want to completely relax, but also have the option of civilization when needed. It is super chilled, but there are still things to do. Everything was reasonably priced, plus the island is smaller, so much easier to get around. The restaurants are also a bit more quirky and authentic than on Gili T.
Gili Meno – I didn’t go here, but from my understanding this is the island to go to if you want to just sit on the beach and relax, without any interuptions for the duration of your stay.
Whichever you choose, get yourselves to the Gilis, you won’t regret it… 😉