Located to the northwest of the larger Indonesian island of Lombok, the 3 Gili Islands are the place to go for that authentic, rustic tropical island experience. These peaceful gems combine white sand beaches, turquoise waters and coconut trees with still-small crowds and accommodation for a wide variety of budgets and tastes.
The Gilis consist of Gili Trawangan (“Gili T”), Gili Meno and Gili Air. All motorised traffic on the islands, including cars and mopeds, is forbidden by law. This means you’ll have to get around on foot, bicycle or using a regional horse-drawn carriage, known as a cidomo, which looks more like a horse-powered version of an Indonesian bajaj (auto rickshaw).
Since nature is king in this beautiful and still relatively untouched corner of the world, things to do on the Gili Islands are mostly — if not completely — centred on the islands’ pristine and wondrous natural environment. Whether you’re on an adventure holiday, a family vacation or romantic honeymoon, there is plenty to do in this unspoiled island paradise.
While all islands feature beautiful nature, are peaceful, relaxed and laid back in character, they each have their own individual personality. In short, the 3 Gillis could be categorized like this:
- Gili Trawangan, or Gili T, is the most developed of the islands and a centre for nightlife. Come here for a more social, luxurious holiday, replete with lots of restaurants, nightclubs and bars. Nonetheless, the permanent population of Gili T is only 800 so this is no Kuta.
- Gili Air is the nearest to the island of Lombok. It has the most local character, with the highest permanent population of the 3 and a more rural, backpacker vibe. However, make no mistake — it is still a romantic honeymooners’ spot that caters to all budgets.
- Gili Meno is the ultimate desert island destination and easily the most chilled out of the Gilis. Meno is home to the prettiest beaches, the most pristine nature and the fewest people, restaurants and bars. Though Gili Meno has enough creature comforts to satisfy Western tastes, it is a place to get away from it all rather than party it up.
Lately the Gilis have been booming, especially Gili T. However, regulations such as the ban on motor vehicles (and even dogs!) and the efforts of organizations like the Gili Eco Trust, are helping to keep things quaint and under control. Head there while things are still magically quiet!
Here is our list of just a few of the thrilling, relaxing and fun things to do on the Gili Islands.
The Gilis are yet to become a surfing Mecca like Bali, but all 3 islands are home to some incredible breaks. A large amount of right-handers, some great, year-round breaks, and the absence of large crowds all help make the surf so special. Some days you may even have the waves to yourselves.
As is the case in general, each one of the Gilis has its own unique qualities in terms of surfing. That said, all 3 feature gorgeous scenery and friendly locals.
- Surfing Gili T is un-crowded and suitable for experienced surfers who are willing to wait for large swells. Though the dry season of May to October is best, the wet months of January to June provide 1 – 2 metre swells. Surf during high tide for fast waves and steep barrels.
- Surfing Gili Air features a right-hand reef break that is accessible by boat or a long paddle. Also free from large crowds, it is short, hollow and fun when conditions are good. Beware of the reef during low tides.
- Surfing Gili Meno showcases a nice break called Secrets, located 100m off the beach. Secrets lacks consistency, but that means crowds are small to non-existent. Good conditions provide a fast, long, hollow right with barrels and walls that are worth the wait.
See this post for a more comprehensive guide on surfing the Gili Islands.
The Gili Islands are well known for having many great dive spots and the islands’ diving schools have a good reputation for teaching scuba to all levels, right up to some highly respected instructor qualification courses. The majority of dive centres are located on Gili T, but all islands have SSI and PADI-licenced operators. Most are also members of the Gili Eco Trust.
Explore the coral reefs, a World War II Japanese wreck, biorock reefs and great muck diving sites for underwater macro photography. Sea turtle spotting is almost a sure thing in the Gilis, while other aquatic species like boxfish, batfish, stonefish, bumphead parrotfish and reef sharks are plentiful.
Snorkelling is one of the most popular and rewarding things to do on the Gili Islands because of the incredible coral reefs, tropical fish and sea turtles. There are numerous spots on all 3 islands and local dive shops can arrange snorkelling programs as well as rent equipment. Independent snorkelling off some of the beaches is doable as well, but caution is advised due to strong ocean currents and using fins is strongly advised.
Relax and revive
One thing that makes the Gilis so great is that it is the perfect place to get away from it all and simply relax. Since there are no motor vehicles and the islands have maintained such a laid-back atmosphere, particularly on Gili Air and Gili Meno, you should have no trouble finding a nice café or stretch of beach to relax on.
Spa treatments, such as massage, and Yoga classes are available at centres and resorts on all 3 islands to soothe, relax and help you revive.
Eat and drink
Believe it or not, but this age of globalization has brought an Irish pub, a sushi bar, a pizza place, hot dog stand, creperie, plus Italian, Thai, vegetarian and international restaurants — all to Gili Tranwangan. And let’s not forget the local cuisine and numerous bars and cafés. For something a bit different, check out Gili T’s exciting night market, which is perfect for Indonesian specialties and fresh seafood.
The quieter islands of Gili Air and — to a lesser extent — Gili Meno are also equipped with both local and international fare.
While most wildlife that attracts people to the island is underwater, there are also a few sites on land worth checking out. Notably, there are sea turtle hatcheries/sanctuaries on Gili Trawangan and Gili Meno, where visitors can see baby green and loggerhead turtles, which are raised until the age of 8 months before being released into the wild. Sometimes referred to as the “turtle capital of the world”, the natural hatching grounds of the Gili Islands have suffered so the hatcheries are vital for maintaining healthy local turtle populations.
Gili Meno Bird Park is a wildlife sanctuary, which is home to many exotic birds, as well as crocodiles, deer and kangaroos, though obviously not all the animals at the park are native!
Take a boat trip
Several companies on Gili Trawangan offer cruises to Gili Air, Gili Meno and other islands such as Lombok and Komodo. Some firms run cruises and party boats incorporating camping, dining, diving, snorkelling and stops at several regional points of interest.
Besides the above 7 things to do on the Gili Islands, there are more activities to choose from. These include deep-sea fishing, horseback riding, golfing on Gili T, trekking, sea kayaking and wake boarding.