The Gili Islands are surely one of the most breathtaking destinations in Indonesia. That’s really saying something! But there are pristine sands of pure white, turquoise seas filled with turtles, coral gardens, and pockets of lush palm trees stringing along the coast, so it’s all justified. Here, we’ll answer are the Gili Islands worth visiting with seven reasons why you should have them on your Indo itinerary.
The Gilis are a chain of three islands: Gili Trawangan (affectionately known as Gili T), Gili Air and Gili Meno. All offer something unique. One (T) is a pumping party mecca with bamboo-built reggae bars spilling out onto the shoreline. The others are much, much quieter affairs, with sleek resort hotels hidden between their jungles and unbusy beaches offering proper R&R.
Lots would say that an Indonesian island-hopping adventure simply isn’t complete without adding a trip to the Gili Islands. You can whiz across here in just a matter of hours from Bali or Lombok and there’s plenty to enjoy once you have, whether that’s bumping nightlife or some of the best beaches in Southeast Asia…
The beaches are simply awesome
Let’s face it – most people come to the Gilis for the beaches. It’s easy to see why. Fringing the whole of every single one of the islands from tip to toe, the sands here are unquestionably the best in the whole region (sorry, Nusa Penida, but it’s true). They’re soft and powdery and come topped with clusters of gnarled sea grape trees and palms. Everywhere, they slope into a sandy ocean that’s perfectly clear and bath warm, while the waves lash against the coral reefs in the distance. It’s the closest thing you’ll get to the Caribbean in Southeast Asia.
We’d actually recommend that the most dedicated beach lovers ditch the uber-popualr island of Gili T in favor of either Air or Meno. The reason? Gili T’s coastline is now very built up. Restaurants, bars, and hotels spill out onto the sands, and there are long stretches on the east shore especially that are dominated by moored up boats, so you can’t really swim there.
An alternative would be to head across to the western side of the islands. The resorts there tend to be a little pricier but they’re almost all fronted by a wide sliver of sand. The north of Gili T also has some fantastic coastline, with soft-sanded lagoons where sea turtles often make an appearance (more on those guys later, though).
To boost the IG grid
If you’ve been following those influencer social feeds, filled with dreamy shots of Bali and Southeast Asia, then you’ve probably already glimpsed the Gilis. Yep, a trip here is a sure fire way to boost your Instagram game. Expect to find eye-catching frames around pretty much every corner, on every beachfront, and on the terrace of virtually every hotel.
There are overwater swings just about everywhere across the Gili Islands. One of the best and most photographed is on Gili Trawangan at Hotel Ombak Sunset. You can also seek out some stunning vistas by heading over to the less-popular west coast when the sunset hour approaches. There are a few chilled cocktail bars there that gaze across the Bali Sea to Bali itself, and you’ll watch as the light fades behind the hulking silhouette of Mount Agung.
Meanwhile, fishing boats line the shoreline next to charming beach huts, providing some of the best backdrops to any snap worthy of your grid. Then you get the Caribbean-styled sands of Meno and Gili Air, where photos could be of swinging hammocks above the coral-dashed coastline, or coconut husks punctuating the beach.
While Gili Meno and Gili Air prefer chilled beach cocktails and sunset viewing, Gili Trawangan is all about hardcore hedonism. The island is the party island of the chain, and even gives places like Kuta, Bali, a run for its money when it comes to no-holes barred evenings on the Bintang.
All of the main bars are located on the central roadway that runs the length of the Gili T east coast. They’re all within walking distance of each other and the main beach, so planning a night out isn’t hard at all. What’s more, there’s a regular schedule on Gili T that ensures there’s always a good crowd. Basically, each bar has one agreed-upon night to open and the others promise to shut early so they don’t compete. The plan changes occasionally, but the general rule of thumb is:
- Monday – Blue Marlin, a dive school that transforms into a bar at night, this one’s got a pool outside and a cavernous upstairs dance floor.
- Wednesday – Irish Bar (also known as Tír na nÓg), a very welcoming bar with a Gaelic twist and fantastic iced-fruit cocktails.
- Friday – Sands Bar, a pumping EDM club with big DJ sets.
Insane diving and snorkeling
Just as surfers flock to Canggu or Nusa Lembongan, divers go weak at the knees when thinking about the Gili Islands. The reefs surrounding the three islands are diverse, vibrant, and full of life. Gili offers some of the best diving and snorkeling opportunities in the world.
What you’ll see here will take your breath away. These dive sites are world-class and should be on every keen diver’s wishlist:
- Shark Point
- Deep Turbo
- Meno Wall
The best dive schools are found on Gili Trawangan. Here you can complete your PADI certification, learn all the basics, or perfect your skills even more. The dive schools are exceptional and provide a Western standard of service and quality.
Not keen on diving? We urge you to join one of the many boat tours for a snorkeling trip around the islands. You’ll still get to see the incredible marine life that makes these islands famous.
Encounter with turtles
The Gili Islands have been called The Turtle Capital of the World. And it’s true: Pretty much any snorkeling or diving trip guarantees a sighting of sea turtles. But sometimes you don’t even have to go out that far. It’s even possible to encounter one of these iconic tropical creatures while simply swimming off the shore. Head for the northern end of Gili T or Meno, which are particularly popular areas for turtle spotting.
Sea turtles are critically endangered around the globe, yet they thrive in the Gili Islands. Make sure you do your part in protecting these majestic creatures by following a few key rules:
- Never touch turtles. The shell isn’t as hard as you think and acts as a skin to the turtles. Harmful bacteria can be passed on to the turtles if we touch them which can lead to serious illness.
- Maintain a 2-metre distance. Just like us, turtles need room to breathe. Providing them with a little bit of ‘social distancing’ keeps them happy and calm. If there are too many people crowding the turtles, they may get distressed and choose to not come up for air.
- Say no to plastic. Plastic in the oceans causes so many environmental issues and directly kills sea turtles. They mistake bags for jellyfish in seaweed grasses, the most common cause of death in turtles. If we all say no to plastic and pick up three pieces every time we’re on the beach, we are helping these incredible creatures survive.
Like Bali before them, the Gilis are now something of a culinary hotspot. Whether you come in search of international dishes cooked by creative chefs or rustic Indonesian street food sizzled on open-air woks, you can rest assured that there will be something to get excited about.
Every foodie trip to these paradise islands must include a fresh fish BBQ on the beach. You can pick your fish straight from the counter, caught earlier in the day. Gili T has a buzzing night market down the main strip that’s a must for seafood lovers on the lookout for this sort of thing. The island also hosts a few fantastic warung (local taverns that serve affordable, regional food). Be sure to try out:
Warung Dewi – A simple-looking eatery with loads of traditional islander food, including grilled fish, Indonesian curries, and omelets.
Pituq Waroeng – Head to the heart of Gili T, where the prices are less and the food is way more local, to find Pituq Waroeng.
Warung Jaman Now – A more stylish take on a classic warung where you can sample real Indo food in a boho-chic setting.
Besides the amazing seafood, you’ll also find tropical fruits and fantastic vegetarian and vegan options. Sample the tempeh and tofu, or the gado gado salad. They’re on offer next to the meat and fish dishes in almost every local warung. Finally, you can also expect plenty of international food. There are pizza joints with wood-fire ovens, fast-food outlets, and traditional pub grub on offer here too.
Last but not least, yoga. Are the Gili Islands worth visiting if you’re into yoga? Absolutely, 100% yes!
In fact, Gili Air is one of the yoga capitals of Indonesia, along with Ubud in Bali. There are many studios offering retreats that should give that hit of zen that you’re craving. Whether you just want to join single sessions throughout your stay or dedicate 2-weeks to that Vinyasa flow, there are all sorts of packages on offer.
The best yoga studios on Gili Air include:
- Flowers and Fire Yoga Garden Gili Air – Very peaceful yoga retreat with acclaimed instructors and a lovely studio built in the traditional Indonesian style.
- H2O Yoga and Meditation Center – Probably the most famous yoga retreat on Gili Air, H2O is a deluxe meditation escape with a pool and healthy eatery (just wait until you try those Buddha bowls!)
- Soraya Yoga – A luxurious hotel slash yoga retreat in the jungles that has a spa and daily yoga instruction.
Which Is The Best Gili Island To Visit?
One of the beauties of the Gili Islands is you can hop between the three quite easily. However, each island has its own specific perks that will appeal to certain types of traveler. Let’s check them out…
|Gili Trawangan||This one’s great for diving and beach parties, with nightly events on the main strip. Gili T has more of a bustling atmosphere with boutique shops, bars, and restaurants. The bulk of the dive schools are here, offering PADI courses. There’s also a seasonal surf break.|
|Gili Air||Gili Air is slightly quieter than Gili T and a nice in-between for people who like a sunset cocktail without it getting too rowdy. Gili Air is Gili’s yoga center, which creates an overall peaceful vibe across the island. There are several good dive schools here as well, or you can hop on a daily taxi boat to Gili T for more options.|
|Gili Meno||The quietest of the three islands, Gili Meno is also known as the ‘honeymoon island.’ As you can imagine, this spot is very romantic and offers plenty of romance. It’s set at an even slower pace and is limited in restaurants and shops. Gili Meno is not recommended to solo travellers who want to meet new people or groups of friends for a party.|
So, are the Gili Islands worth visiting? You bet they are. From encounters with majestic sea turtles to some of the best dive sites on the planet, beach parties you’ll never forget to serene yoga retreats in the jungles, there’s all sorts on the menu here.