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. They are a wonderful destination to relax and soak up the sun! I was always amazed at how few crowds there were on the islands. This guide will help you take advantage of that. Go, relax, get a tan, and enjoy!
Accommodation – There are a lot of cheap hotels and guesthouses on the islands, with prices starting at about 150,000 IDR in the low season. Having kitchen access is quite rare, but since food is so cheap that shouldn’t be an issue. For a double room with a private bathroom and air-con, expect to pay 300,000 IDR. Airbnb is available throughout the islands, with shared accommodation starting around 130,000 IDR per night. For an entire home or apartment, expect to pay at least 400,000 IDR per night (though prices can be as high as 2,000,000 IDR).
Food – Most meals are between 30,000-75,000 IDR. A meal at a mid-range restaurant will cost around 75,000 IDR while a nice seafood dinner will be around 135,000 IDR (without drinks). A beer will cost around 30,000 IDR while a week’s worth of groceries will cost between 275,000-400,000 IDR. For the cheapest food, shop at the local markets. If you eat at any more luxurious hotels or restaurants, keep your eyes open for hidden taxes. They are usually between 5-25%, and are not explicitly mentioned.
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 25,000 IDR per ticket. Take the time and explore by foot! Bikes are available for rent for as little as 20,000 IDR per day.
Activities – Simple activities such as a pony cart ride are about 27,000 IDR. Diving is around 500,000 IDR for a fun dive, but can cost less if you get a discount or bring your own equipment. Snorkel rentals are just 15,000 IDR for the day, and bike rentals are about the same. Most of the activities on the island revolve around the beach and ocean.
Suggested daily budget – 400,000 IDR / $30 USD (Note: This is a suggested budget assuming you’re staying in a hostel, eating out at the cheaper restaurants, minimizing your drinking, and using local transportation. I wouldn’t expect to spend much less than this. If you want nicer accommodation, better food, and more drinks, you’ll spend around $50 USD)
Money Saving Tips
- Bike rental – Rent a bike for as little as 14,000 IDR per hour and is a great way to get around and see as much as you can of the islands.
- Street stalls – There’s a wealth of stalls selling delicious food at around 13,000-21,000 IDR. Eat here instead of the more expensive sit down restaurants and really get a sense for the local culture.
- Bargain hard – Nothing is ever at face value in Indonesia. Bargain with sellers as most of the time the price they’ve quoted will not be the price you’ll pay if you bargain!
Top Things to See and Do in the Gilis
- 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. In my opinion, the diving here is better than Bali (it’s cheaper to learn here too!). An Open Water certification, for example, will only cost around 6,000,000 IDR.
- 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. Renting the gear is quite cheap, usually costing just 15,000 IDR (or less).
- 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.
- 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, wakeboarding are available activities here. Prices will vary, but activities like wakeboarding and parasailing generally cost around 800,000 IDR per person.
- 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. A guided day trip will cost around 300,000 IDR per person.
- Go 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. They have lessons for all experience levels! If you want to stay at a surf camp, expect to pay around 6,000,000 IDR for a week (includes lessons, accommodation, meals, yoga, and other activities).
- 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.
- Bike the islands – These islands are so small, that it won’t take you long to tour each one by bike. Pack some snacks, some beach gear, and make an afternoon of it! Bike rentals start around 135,000 IDR per hour.
- Try freediving – Some of the dive schools in the Gili Islands offer freediving lessons. Make sure you ask a lot of questions to the divemasters about regulations and safety procedures before booking. Beginner courses last a couple days and will cost around 3,700,000 IDR per person.