Gili Meno, Gili Air, Gili T, so much to do, so much to see. This idyllic trio of islands off the coast of Lombok, Indonesia, are close in radius, but vastly different when it comes to personality. Before we went we had many conversations about which one to go to? How long to stay on each one? So what is the difference between the three islands and which one is best for you? Here is my run-through of what to expect from each island. Hope it helps!
Otherwise known as Gili T, they put the T in party! Sorry, that was bad, I know! Anyway, this is the place to go for a night out. You’ll find loads of bars and clubs, live bands and dance floors. The party starts at Happy Hour with cheap cocktails and discounted beers. Because of this, this island caters towards the backpackers. You’ll see groups of friends on their first holiday together and ‘lads lads lads’. Cheap accommodation comes in abundance with plenty of hostel and hotel choices.
There is a quieter side to the island that is away from all the bars and restaurants. I’d recommend hiring a bicycle, slap on the sunscreen and get peddling. It takes approximately one hour to cycle round the whole island (two hours to walk it) and there are some beautiful places to stop. You’ll see the famous Bali swings in the ocean, gorgeous white sands and crisp, tropical waters. We stopped at one of the luxury hotels and sat on the beachfront with a fresh, fruit milkshake. Heaven.
Gili T is a great base for snorkelling tours too. We paid 150,000 each (£8.50) and this included three stops on the tour, two of which included swimming with turtles! You know how happy this made in The Philippines. We also saw plenty of fish and coral, as well as the underwater sculpture ‘Nest‘.
One other thing to be aware of is that Gili Trawangan is known for magic mushrooms. You could be walking past a cafe and here ‘you want a drink? Ice cold beer? Mushrooms?’ One hotel has a mushroom-shaped pool!
Good For: Backpackers, nightlife, cheap accommodation, livelier atmosphere.
Not so good: Couples, families, people wanting a slower pace.
Known as the island of love, Gili Meno is the honeymoon, paradise island. This is the smallest of the Gili island’s at only two kilometres long and one kilometre wide. It is said to be the perfect place to feel like Tom Hanks in castaway. Gili Meno is famous for its stunning, sandy beaches and it’s slowed down pace. The west side of the island is still pretty much deserted, so you can have the finest beaches all to yourself. And to help you relax further, you can find yoga and mediation centres on the island too.
Like the other Gili’s, there are no cars or even motorbikes, so you aren’t hounded by the constant horns found in other areas of Indonesia. You can rent a bicycle or walk around the island, which should take about an hour and a half. You can also take a famous Cidomo. Heavily decorated and very colourful, you’ll find this tradition transport of horse and cart on each of the Gili islands.
Meno is also great for snorkelling, you can hire equipment (around 20,000 IDR – £1.10) and visit the Meno Wall coral reef, whilst keeping your eyes open for wild turtles that live just off-shore.
This is the least developed island of the three, so Gili Meno is the one to visit to feel truly off the beaten track. You can find a mix of backpacker dorms, bungalows and villas all on the island. There are a handful of restaurants selling local and western food, plus fresh fish and BBQ options.
Good for: Honeymooners, luxury hotels, relaxation
Not good for: Party nights, backpackers groups
As they say on Gili Air, ‘no cars, no motorbikes, no problem.’ Like a Caribbean drinking rum, this place is pretty chilled. So much quieter than Gili T, but still with plenty to see and do to keep you entertained. There is a wide choice of restaurants and beach bars with live bands, but overall the island is famous for its white sandy beaches and snorkelling sites. So like Goldilocks, many think this island is ‘just right’, it’s the best of both worlds. You can spend the day lounging on the silky beaches, or sleeping under a bamboo beach-hut. Then at night, go for a meal, listen to some music and kick back. There are livelier bars by the port (south side), or you can stay on the quieter, north side for a peaceful break. Take a walk around the island along the dusty, sandy tracks to see picturesque views across the horizon. The whole walk should take under two hours, longer when you have to stop regularly to soak in the views, or drink a cheeky cocktail.
Because Gili Air attracts different types of people, from budget backpackers to happy honeymooners, there is a wide array of accommodation types. You will find home-stays and hostels next to luxury resorts with infinity pools. If you stay on the northwest side of the island you’ll see stunning sunsets, which paint the sky in vibrant colours. Gili Air is developing fast, so at the moment it boasts the perfect balance between the Gili’s, However, this may not be the case in a few years time.
Good for: Friends who want a chill, families, people looking for a quieter pace
Not good for: Party nights, luxury hotels
How to get to the Gili Islands?
We got to the Gili islands by taking the fast boat from Bali. A return ticket cost us just under £40 each (after haggling). We were staying in Seminyak and the overall journey from there to Gili T took around five hours. First we were on a mini-bus for two hours driving to Padang Bay port. Then an hours wait at port, which in the typical Indonesian style, felt a little unorganised but was all in hand. Then onto the fast, and extremely choppy, boat. So choppy in fact, that they had to hand out plastic bags for people feeling uneasy. Make sure you take this trip on an empty stomach! The same goes for the boats between the islands. They are even worse! On more than one occasion I felt like the boat would capsize. But again, in the laid-back Indonesian way, the boat drivers found it all very funny and kept going. This type of journey is what they do everyday and we were in safe hands.
Even though the journeys were testing, they are a must for anyone visiting Indonesia. The Gili Islands have been the best part of our trip to Indonesia so far!