If you’ve got to decide between two of Indonesia’s most tiny and famous islands, Gili Air and Gili Trawangan, you may be faced with a difficult choice. From white-sand beaches backed by tropical trees to turquoise waters and coral reefs, both islands tick the boxes of a picture-perfect paradise.
Located off the northwest coast of Lombok, the Gili islands are three tiny specks, each totally without cars. The largest and the liveliest of the three is Gili T, the backpackers’ favorite party island. From beach bars to blaring nightclubs to boat parties and pub crawls, this island is perfect for those seeking a night out. Gili Air, on the other hand, has a relaxed, hippy atmosphere that’s perfect for those wanting to dodge the all-night raves.
We’ll explore the most important aspects of traveling to these two Gilis, from how to arrive, the prices you can expect, and what things there are to do, not to mention the beaches and the nightlife. If you want to find out which island is better suited to your needs, read on…
Gili Air or Gili Trawangan: Getting there and around
Gili Trawangan and Gili Air are two of three tiny islands just off the northwest coast of Lombok. There are no airports or bridges suitable for driving to either of them, so the only way to get there is by boat. In fact, cars are banned on both Gili Trawangan and Gili Air, so you’ll be relying on bikes or your feet even when you’re on solid ground.
Gili Trawangan is the largest, the most developed, and the most popular of the three. You can only get there by boat from either Bali, Lombok, or the two other Gilis. Since Bali is by far the most popular tourist destination in Indonesia, most travelers will start their journey there. Direct fast boats from Bali’s Padang Bai will take around 1.5-3 hours depending on the conditions and speed of the vessels.
There are also slower and cheaper ferries from Padang Bai that require a changeover in Lombok, but those will take all day and aren’t the most comfortable of journeys. You can also fly into Lombok and get a ferry or a boat from Bangsal Port, which is around two hours away from the airport.
Getting to Gili Air isn’t much different to Trawangan, but speed boats from Lombok are less frequent. You can also get a speed boat from either Bali or Lombok that will take you a similar time as those to the other Gilis. Apart from speedboats, there is a public ferry from Bangsal Port in Lombok that runs twice a day. Although this is the cheapest way to get to both Gilis, spots fill up quickly in the high season so be sure to pre-book your seat.
Winner: Gili Trawangan, but there isn’t much in it.
Gili Air or Gili Trawangan: Things to do
Having built a reputation of being a budget-friendly party island since it was first discovered in the 90s, Gili Trawangan has seen a lot of development. And even though things have changed here, and the island has seen a rise in prices and a lot more upscale accommodation, the parties have remained. That’s why one of the main things to do here is to hit the clubs. But of course, this tropical island, with its white-sand beaches and coconut trees, has a lot more to offer than a night out. Other things to do include:
- Diving – There are plenty of diving schools around the island that offer some of the cheapest diving courses out there. There are amazing coral reefs, with plenty of tropical fishes to spot and even some shipwrecks for more advanced divers.
- Surfing – Although it’s not as reliable as the popular surf mecca of Bali, Gili T can be a great place to surf when conditions are right. The best spot is by the southern coast of the island.
- Walking and cycling – This is a small island without cars that is perfect for exploring either on foot or by bike. You can get around the whole island in one day without having to use motorized vehicles. Some roads are not suitable for cycling so you will have to push your wheels at times.
- Enjoying the beaches – Gili T is known for its white-sand beaches and turquoise waters. It’s perfect for relaxing on the sand.
Gili Air, meanwhile, has a more relaxed and easy-going atmosphere than Gili T. The island has the largest population of permanent residents out of the three islands and the most authentic feel to it. Although this is a tranquil and relaxed place, there are plenty of things to do. From lazing under the palm trees on the long stretches of white sand beaches to swimming in warm crystal-clear waters, you will not be disappointed with what Gili Air has to offer:
- Yoga – With many schools on offer around the island, Gili Air is slowly becoming the top Indonesian Yoga mecca. Watch out, Ubud!
- Snorkeling – Just like all Gilis, Air has some amazing coral reefs. The best areas are just off the east coast.
- Cooking classes – Gili Air is a great place to learn about Indonesian cuisine. Try Gili Air Cooking Classes at the harbor for the best-rated experience.
- Cycling – Just like Gili T, this is a great place to enjoy on a bike. The island is small, and you can explore the whole thing in around 30 minutes.
Winner: Gili Air.
Gili Air or Gili Trawangan: Prices
Gili Trawangan was once known as a budget-friendly, backpacker party mecca. And, although it’s no longer as cheap as it once was, it still won’t break the bank. But Gili T has slightly transformed when it comes to accommodation. Some luxury villas and hotels have popped up on the western side of the island especially, and those could cost you around $400 a night. But you can still find cheap hostels that could cost less than $20 a night. Prices for everything from food to drink to activities have also gone up in the last few years, but Gili T is still less expensive than popular Bali.
You can expect to spend a similar amount on food, drinks, and activities on Gili Air. However, Air does tend to have fewer budget accommodations available, so for the most basic stays at the lowest cost, you should probably choose Gili T.
Winner: Gili Trawangan.
Gili Air or Gili Trawangan: Beaches
Long stretches of white sands and crystal-clear turquoise waters are what you can expect to see on Gili Trawangan. Although this small island is best known for the parties, there are plenty of beautiful beaches where you can relax after an eventful night.
Gili T, however, is also the most developed of the three little islands, and that means that some beaches may suffer from pollution. The once-pristine stretch of sand by the main village is now mostly occupied by boats and restaurants, so it’s not the best spot for swimming. The southeastern side is where you’ll find the best beaches of all. There, you’ll be greeted by soft powder and calm blue seas.
The scenery on Gili Air is not much different to that of Gili T. From turquoise-clear waters to perfect white sands, the beaches here tick all the boxes of a true tropical paradise. The best are located on the southwestern side, where the sands tend to be brighter. There are also plenty of beach bars and restaurants overlooking the shoreline there. The eastern side is better for clearer waters and has bars where you can sit and enjoy views of the mountaintops back on Lombok.
To sum up: Although both Gili Trawangan and Gili Air have some amazing, picture-perfect beaches, the waters on the latter are generally cleaner and less polluted.
Winner: Gili Air.
Gili Air or Gili Trawangan: Nightlife
If you’re after partying in a tropical paradise, then Gili Trawangan is a place for you. In fact, it’s one of the main reasons why people choose this island over the other two Gilis. From boozy beach bars to bustling nightclubs with DJs, exciting live music shows to party boats, there are happenings of all sorts. The nights are conveniently shared between different bars, with the biggest events on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Check out:
- Jungle Bar – A place to start your bar hopping.
- Paradise Sunset – Best spot for sunset cocktails.
- Sama Sama – A bar with amazing live reggae tunes.
- Jiggy Bar – Best for boat parties.
- Lava Bar – A lively bar where you’ll meet fellow backpackers.
- Evolution Bar – Head here for a game of beer pong.
Gili Air, however, is not a place for you if you’re after a bustling party island. You won’t find many all-night raves or blaring nightclubs, and bars here are mostly laid-back and mellow. But just because it’s not as wild as Gili T doesn’t mean that there’s nothing to do after the sun goes down. From sunset beach bars to live music venues and occasional full-moon parties, there are many cool places here for some nighttime fun. Some of the best include:
- Legend Bar – An atmospheric beach bar that turns into a dancing club on Wednesday nights.
- Pura Vida – A laid-back beach bar with colorful tables and great sunset views.
- Lucky’s Bar – A beachfront lounge with bamboo seats. They do DJ nights on Tuesdays and full-moon parties on occasion.
- Cheeky Monkey – A fun beach bar with beanbags and fluorescent lights.
Winner: Gili Trawangan.
Gili Air or Gili Trawangan for couples?
There’s no doubt about it in our minds that Gili Air is the pick for couples looking to head over to these idyllic islands of Indo. It’s WAY more chilled than its party-loving compadre and has way more in the way of deluxe hotels that ooze romance. The daily routine is mainly about morning yoga sessions, snorkeling and sunbathing, and then relaxing evenings watching the sunset and whatnot. You’ll be able to get that time together that you crave without too many distractions.
Gili T, for its part, is far busier. It also continues to attract the backpacker crowd, which isn’t always so conducive cranking up the R&R after the big wedding day. If you do want to pick this one, then we’d say do it for the easier access and the range of more boutique hotels. You might also want to consider heading to the much-quieter western coast, which is stacks more relaxed and away from the hubbub of it all.
Winner: Gili Air
Gili Air or Gili Trawangan for hotels?
Booking.com reveals that there are over 800 hotels on offer on Gili Trawangan but a mere 145 ready and waiting on Gili Air. That’s nearly seven times as many, so you definitely get more choice on the more popular and more developed of the two here. And it’s true, there’s everything from fancy boutique hotels to backpacker diving lodges on Trawangan. Check it out:
- Gili T Sugar Shack ($$) – This charming little wooden homestay has a pool and great proximity to the Turtle Conservation center on Gili T.
- Cocotoa Boutique Hotel & Villa ($$$) – A boutique stay that channels a touch of Mykonos and Bali.
- Mad Monkey Gili Trawangan ($) – The legendary name of Mad Monkey is a rite of passage for backpackers moving through this part of Indo!
The array of hotels on Gili Air is still pretty excellent. As a smaller island, you’d expect there to be less overall. What we love here, though, is that there are a few places with some serious quality, mainly aimed at the honeymoon crowd that, as we’ve already noted, will find a lot more to love on Air than Trawangan generally. Check them out:
- PinkCoco Gili Air ($$$) – One of the few big resorts on the island, this one is for couples wanting luxury and direct beach access.
- Island View Bar & Bungalow ($$) – A great midrange option virtually on the sand.
- Gili Air Escape ($$-$$$) – Charming bungalows built in the traditional style, all set around a central pool.
Winner: Gili Trawangan because it has WAY more hotel choice.
Gili Air or Gili Trawangan: The conclusion
There are many similarities between Gili Air and Gili Trawangan. But there are also differences. Gili T is widely seen as the party spot of the chain. It’s got the wildest bars and the biggest nights out. There’s also a vibrant dive scene there, and it’s a great place to go and get PADI-certified on a low budget. Gili Air is better for chilling, for cycling untouched coconut groves, for lazing on the beaches, and – most of all – yoga.