Situated just off the coast of Lombok in Indonesia, the Gilis are made up of three small islands: Gili Air, Gili Meno, and Gili Trawangan. Over the years, these sleepy little islands have become a huge destination for backpackers and budget travelers. Though they are not as tranquil and cheap as they were in the past, if you are looking for a quiet alternative to Bali with even better beaches and seafood, come to the Gilis. I enjoyed them a lot more than Bali. It’s a good “chill out” spot.
Accommodation – There are a lot of cheap hotels and guesthouses on the island. Prices start at about $10 USD in low season and go up from there. Double rooms with private bathrooms and A/C start at $20 USD.
Food – Most meals are between $3-5 USD. A nice seafood dinner will be around $10 USD without drinks.
Transportation – There aren’t any cars on the Gili islands, so you can walk everywhere. An island hopping boat will take you between islands for $1.50 USD per ticket. Take the time and explore by foot!
Activities – Simple activities such as a pony cart ride are about $2 USD. Diving is around $35 USD for a fun dive, but can cost less if you get a discount or bring your own equipment. Most of the activities on the island revolve around the beach and ocean.
Money Saving Tips
Bike rental – Rent a bike for as little as $1 USD per hour and is a great way to get around and see as much as you can of the islands.
Street stalls – There is a wealth of stalls selling delicious food at around $1-1.50 USD. Eat here instead of the more expensive sit down restaurants and really get a sense for the local culture.
Top Things to See and Do
Scuba diving – All three islands have scuba diving training centers. Lionfish, scorpion fish, cuttle fish, octopus, and different types of rays litter the waters around the islands. The diving here is better than Bali, in my opinion. It’s cheaper to learn here too.
Go snorkeling – You can take a private boat if you are with a large enough group or join other people or you can rent snorkeling gear for half a day from one of the centers near the beach. The three-island snorkel trip will take in the tropical fish, turtles, and various wildlife of the waters.
Check out the local bars and nightlife – Gili Trawangan is the party island out of the three, whereas Air is the quietest. Party nights are regular and are rotated between the bars, which usually stay open until 4 am. When the islands are busy, the famous Full Moon parties are held on the beach on the southern part of Trawangan with a DJ playing beats to sunrise.
Lounge on the beaches – The Gili islands have beautiful beaches and you can find most people each day sitting on the beach getting some sun. The sand is white and soft, the water clear and warm. There is no doubt that you will want to spend most of your time here.
Get involved in water sports – You can hire a fishing boat for the day or if you want something a bit different parasailing, water-skiing, wake-boarding are available activities here.
Go kayaking – On the northern side of Trawangan you can rent kayaks or take a guided tour of the island by kayak. Karma Kayaks is a good place to rent them from. On your trip you’ll probably encounter rays, turtles and other wildlife.
Try your hand at surfing – The Southern tip of Trawangan is the area to go to if you want to surf. The waves here are pretty decent all year round. You don’t have to be an experienced surfer. Beginners and children can enjoy the waves as well.
Take some time and just relax – One of the main luxuries of being in an environment like this, is that you are completely free to just sit back and watch the day roll by. There is little more than the sound of the ocean to distract you from the pleasure of your hammock and a good book!
Visit the sea turtles – Gili Trawangan and Gili Meno have hatcheries that lie right on the island’s big beaches, but you can also go snorkeling around the turtle populations. Check with your hotel for the best spots of the moment for catching the sea turtles, and rent some snorkeling gear.
Cycle the islands – These islands are so small, that it won’t take you long to tour each one by bike. Why not pack some snacks, and maybe some beach gear, and make an afternoon of it? Bike rentals start around $1 USD per hour.
Spend the day on Lombok – If you haven’t yet, you should consider spending some time on Lombok. This island is easily accessible by boat from the Gili islands, and makes for a simple day trip. Lombok has good opportunities for trekking (Mt. Rinjani), surfing, and cultural sightseeing.
Try freediving – Some of the dive schools in the Gili Islands offer freediving lessons. If you’re already an experienced diver and are looking for a challenge, this may be something to consider. Make sure you ask a lot of questions to the divemasters about regulations and safety procedures before booking.