From my experience, I’d say the Gili Islands are the Indian Ocean’s version of the Caribbean. Though Indonesia has over 18,000 islands in all, only 922 of which are actually populated, the Gilis are some of the most popular islands to visit due to their relatively close proximity to Bali.
If white sand, hot-as-hell weather, calm turquoise waters and relaxed beach bars are your jam, head to Gili Air for some sexy sweaty swimmin’ time.
Gili Islands Fact Sheet:
- The Gilis consist of a group of 26 islands, all surrounding Bali’s neighbor island of Lombok.
- Of these 26 islands, 3 in particular are popular travel spots, including Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno and Gili Air, all located just off the northwest coast of Lombok.
- The easiest and quickest way to get to the Gilis is by fast boat from Bali.
- Gili Trawangan is the largest, craziest and raunchiest of the 3 islands – if you’re looking for a full moon (or any moon) beach party, and the idea of questionably legit DJ sets till sunrise sounds appealing, Gili T’s just the place.
- Gili Meno is the smallest of the 3 islands and by far the quietest, known as ‘the honeymoon island.’ Come here to relax, catch up on R&R, and do other sexy shit in the sand.
- Gili Air is the happy medium of the other two islands, with pumping beach parties for some, and peace and quiet for the rest. Since we live just down the street from the shit show club scene that is Kuta, Bali, we chose Gili Air. We’ve seen enough shirtless, sweaty Aussies to appreciate not rubbing up against them for a few days.
- There are no dogs on any of the 3 Gili Islands – only horses, cats, cows, lizards, goats, chickens, and a shit ton of bugs and mosquitoes. Suck it, rabies!
- There are no motorized vehicles, including cars or scooters. Transportation methods include your feet, a bicycle, or a cidomo, aka pony cart. While the ponies are adorable, apparently they’re extremely mistreated – as in given ocean water for drinking, made to stand all day in the sun, used to transport extremely heavy loads of concrete and tools, and only live an average of 2-3 years, among other bummers – so unfortunately we can only recommend walking or biking.
- There is also no police station, and therefore no police officers, unless they decide to make a visit from Lombok. Because of this, drugs are widely available and widely advertised, including mushroom shakes in many of the bars. Weed and ecstasy are also offered by locals, though you need to remember that you are still in Indonesia, which has some of the harshest drug laws in the world. If you are ballsy enough to partake, do not (I repeat, DO NOT!) under any circumstances get caught.
- On this same note, bars on Gili T, including Rudy’s Pub and Sama Sama Bar, have been known to top off their liquor bottles with methanol, which has directly led to multiple deaths by methanol poisoning. Even scarier, you can’t taste or see methanol in a cocktail, nor is there any reliable emergency healthcare facility on the island should you become deathly ill and unable to travel. For this reason, I highly recommend sticking to bottled beer, and absolutely skip any bars offering super cheap discounts on liquor. The same goes for arak, the Indonesian form of moonshine. Big ole NOPE.
- Since the Gilis are not part of Bali (the only Hindu area of Indonesia), the Gilis are Muslim islands. Nude sunbathing is a no-no. Pack those extra pair of speedos, Europeans.
- Gili T and Gili Air have ATMs, but Gili Meno does not. Bring plenty’a cash money!
- Also, many of the fast boats, especially during slow season, do not go to Gili Meno at all, meaning you’ll have to pay a local boat, or wait for the public one, to make the quick ride over once you’re dropped off on one of the other two islands.
- Gili Air was perhaps the hottest place I’ve ever been, I kid you freakin’ not. For the first time in my life, I got extremely sunburnt whilst sitting under a beach umbrella. Under, damnit! Fellow pale-skinned humans – please remember to bring sunscreen, wear sunscreen, bathe in sunscreen, consume sunscreen, and repeat!
- Compared to Bali, the Gilis are ever so slightly more expensive, for everything from accommodations to nasi goreng to Bintang.
Gili Air Activities:
I’m stoked to report that we spent the majority of our time on Gili Air in the ocean. As opposed to Bali, where the waves can be somewhat intimidating, the Gilis are as flat as my 7th grade chest. You can do some surfing off the southern tip of Gili T and Gili Air when swells and tides are in your favor, but for the most part, relaxed swimming, snorkeling, scuba diving and SUP are your solid go-to’s.
We witnessed some incredible local marine life, including clown fish, hawksbill turtles, green sea turtles, mantis shrimp, and a feather duster starfish just offshore. And as usual, sir boyfriend captured some incredibly gorgeous underwater shots.
We also opted to do the pimp thing and hire our own private boat for a multi-hour snorkeling tour of the best spots around each of the 3 islands, all for around $40 USD, or around half the cost of one of my student loan payments.
Besides drinking beers in kickass beach huts and inadvertently increasing your risk of skin cancer, I highly recommend walking through the interior section of the island, which is funky and gorgeous and a great place to stumble upon the bamboo restaurant of your dreams, and (bonus!) a fun toilet of foliage.
During the daytime, Scallywags Beach Club is a good hangout with a slightly fancy food menu, comfy beach chairs and annoying trance music, though you’ll find a stretch of similar options all along the eastern shoreline.
While Lucky’s Bungalows have the best sunset views on the island, along with the occasional rockin’ beach party, yummy dinner and cocktails can be enjoyed nearby at Mowie’s, with surprisingly lovely live music entertainment afterwards at Safari Beach Bar.
Overall, I’d go back to Gili Air in a heartbeat, though the journey to get there and back is somewhat of a pain in the ass. I’ll miss you, dear sweet calm-ass hot tub ocean water! Till next time.