The Ultimate Travel Guide To The Gili Islands In Bali
Updated: Oct 5, 2021
Guest post by Jason @jason22_88
The Gili Islands have always been a place I wanted to visit. I’m not quite sure why they appealed, maybe it was the lure of the crystal clear water or the thought of being no more than a few minutes’ walk to the beach from anywhere on the islands. So, when I was going to Borneo and Bali on holiday, there was no question that I had to visit the Gili Islands.
The islands are split into 3 and are just off the coast off Lombok or a couple of hours boat ride from Bali itself. Gili Trawangan, or Gili T as it is known, Gili Meno and Gili Air. We had booked 2 nights at a villa on the north side of the Gili Air island and could not wait to see what the place was all about.
After departing Padang Bai harbour on Bali, we endured what can only be described as a beautiful but very bumpy boat journey to the islands. Gili T was our first stop. This is a party island which is visited mainly by Australians as their version of Ibiza. There are quiet places, but it is known as the party island. So as the groups of party goers got off the boat and collected their luggage from the top deck, we then went onto Gili Meno. The middle of the 3 islands, is also considered a mix of them. Part party, part relaxing and a bit of a mixture of everything. This island is suitable for people who don’t want the full relaxation experience of Gili Air but don’t want the full-on part island of Gili T. We then left Gili Meno for Gili Air. When we arrived, we got off the boat and made it onto dry land. There are no motor vehicles on the islands so the only transport to your accommodation is either on foot or a horse and cart which is relatively cheap.
Arriving at our accommodation, we immediately dropped our bags and went exploring. You can walk around the whole island in maybe 1 hour, but we hired bicycles for our stay.
Whilst cycling around, in 35-degree heat isn’t ideal, the local corner shop (if a round island has any corners ha-ha) provided some nice cold drinks to continue on our journey. Whilst riding around we booked 2 trips. The first was a trip to go sub winging (I will explain this later) and the second was a sunset boat trip around the islands which included snorkelling and visiting the local snorkelling and diving hotspots.
Our first evening was spent on the beach, at one of the local bars. They had bean bags on the beach and there was a singer performing who was fantastic. We chilled and took in the sunset before leaving to go back to our accommodation for the first night. The vibe on the island is super chilled and relaxed and friendly. If you are after getting drunk on the beach and partying into the early hours then make sure you are booking Gili T, as Gili Air is the opposite. Most bars close about 10-11pm, and all of them offer a relaxed atmosphere.
The second day was the day of our trips. First up was sub winging. This is one of only a few places in the entire world where you can experience this. You are pulled behind a boat and are holding onto a wing. You control it by twisting your hands which makes you turn left or right or go up and down. You must know your limits doing this as you are holding your breath under the water. However, you are in control of yourself. You can stay on top of the water with the mask and snorkel and experience the amazing sea, or you can hold your breath and go as deep as you want and if you are lucky may even get to move through the water like a dolphin alongside turtles! This was a major highlight for me and is one of the reasons I would go back. There is nothing I have ever experienced like it to compare, except flying but underwater. If you like snorkelling and love marine life, this is something you must do. After experiencing this thrilling activity, we soaked up the sun for the day in preparation for our sunset snorkel trip. It was just us 2 on the boat. The guides took us to the famous sculptures under the sea. We swam with turtles (again after we did in the morning sub winging) and swam through a massive load of non-stinging jelly fish which was pretty weird. We then settled back on the boat to watch the sunset for our final night on the island.
Our final day was spent cycling around the centre of the island, where we had not been before and visiting some of the shops. We stopped at a great little restaurant and had a great meal surrounded by locals. The centre of the island is like a different world. All greenery and hidden tracks and locals all around. After stopping for an early evening meal on the beach, we waited for our boat to take us back to Bali. In those 2 nights / 3 days on Gili Air, I knew I needed to go back and spend longer on this amazing island. I would like to experience the other 2 also, but Gili Air is where I know my heart is and I can’t wait to get back.
A few tips –
· If renting bikes, try, and get big tyres. If you just get normal bikes, you will spend a lot of time pushing them as its really hard riding them on sand.
· If coming from Bali, get the fast boat which will cut the journey time in half.
· Pack light – you don’t need to take everything and the kitchen sink. They have small supermarkets and even souvenir and clothes shops.
· Stay as close to the coast as you can. There is nothing like waking up to the sound of the ocean.
· If stopping in the centre, be aware there is a mosque that plays out calls for prayer. Some people like the sound and some may not. Just something to consider.
· There are loads of hotels, but you can get cheap rooms on AirBnB for as little as £8 per night.
· Make a note of your accommodation on your phone. Its VERY easy to get lost going around the island, especially if you journey into the centre.
· Take a torch. There are some parts of the island that have ZERO lights and it is pitch black. There are no streetlights, so the only lights come from the bars and restaurants and hotels.