Gili islands are an archipelago of 3 islands situated close together in the Lombok Strait of Bali in Indonesia. The word Gili originated in the Sasak language belonging to Sasak, a native ethnic group that populates the Lombok region. Gili means “Small Island” and this term has been used to name several other islands. Gili Meno, Gili Air and Gili Trawangan form the archipelago. All three islands are famous tourist destinations. Each one has several hotels, resorts, and other tourism-related businesses. All the islands are heavily dependent on tourism with little or no means of other earnings.
Of the three islands, Gili Trawangan is the largest and most populated as well. The total population is estimated at 700-900. Even being the largest of the three, it’s just 3km long and 2km wide. You can imagine how small it is, and that’s the beauty of it. With not much population, it’s a nice secluded habitat in the middle of nowhere. Perfect for backpackers, honeymoon, vacationing couples, group of friends, etc. Gili Trawangan has a very youthful vibe to it, and thus most of the visitors are young and mostly backpackers.
How to reach Gili Trawangan
To get to Gili Trawangan, you can take a ferry or speedboat from Serangan or Padang Bai harbor. All the ferries and speed boats usually cover all the 3 islands before returning to Bali. The journey will take approximately 2.5 to 3 hours, depending on the speed and weather conditions.
As soon as your boat nears Gili islands, you will notice the distinctly clear waters and the beautiful shades of blue waters around you apart from the clear skies. Since it is away from all major pollution sources, the sky near the Gili islands is exceptionally clear. From the moment you step off the boat, Gili Trawangan is a world of surprises. You will hardly hear any noises around, and that’s because there is a complete ban on motorized vehicles. The only voices you will hear are the people around you hurrying to pick up their bags or horses and their carriages. Yes, you are right, horse-driven carriages, called Cidomo, are the only means of transport around the island part from bicycles and your own two feet. It feels as if you are in a different world and have maybe gone back in time by 200 years when these were the only means of transport. It feels wonderful. The beautiful white, the soft sand under your feet, and the lush green environment surrounding the sea welcome you to Gili Trawangan.
Gili Trawangan is where the action is. Meaning you get the best of the restaurant, pubs, nightlife, shopping, dining, snorkeling activities, and a lot of things to do. All these options will ensure you are busy all the time or just plain relaxing on the beach and drinking the vibe. If your hotel is far away, either they will send a pickup or negotiate with a horse carriage to take you there. Almost all of the hotels and properties are accessible, but not on foot if they are 1-2 km away.
There are enough paths and alleys to traverse the island and also there is a ring road that goes around the island, literally on its edges at some points. This ring road is the heart of the entertainment, and the best way to explore is to grab a bicycle on rent and go check out everything there is on offer. So the best thing to do after you check-in is to grab a bicycle and go riding on the island.
They are available for 60,000 Indonesian Rupaiya (IDR) for an entire day. You can ride around the entire island in 1 hour at a leisurely pace. But I am sure you will stop now and then to enjoy the view, dip in the sea and just sit and marvel at the sights. The ride is easy except for a few spots where you will have to move through sand or a tiny track near the sea. I told you, the cycle tracks sometimes literally are on the edge of the island but not dangerous. It’s a flat path all through and easy for riding. Let’s discuss the activities to be done on the island in detail.
Things to do in Gili Trawangan
Exploring the island on the bicycle you will notice shops selling souvenirs, people lying on the beach, boats arriving with more travelers, booking offices for activities, pools where people learn scuba diving, others cycling with you, tourists clicking pictures are the famous Bali swings, or locals approaching you with some deals. Do take your own time to explore and stop whenever you feel like it. It’s a small island but full of surprises. You will never know what’s at the next turn. Since it’s an island, it’s completely covered by beaches, but you will notice some differences as well. You can also take the Cidomo for a short, fun ride.
2. Snorkeling or diving:
One of the best activities you can do here is to go snorkeling or diving. The sea off Gili islands is extremely clear all through the year and very calm, which makes it ideal for snorkeling as well as diving. You can pay 500-600,000 IDR for 5-6 hours of snorkeling with a group of tourists or book your private tour. The tour organizers take you to 4-5 different snorkeling points where you will find turtles and a lot of other fishes and sea life. With the clear waters, you can see everything. However, if you are more adventurous, you can try out the Scuba dive. The divers are trained, and they take you through several dive spots in the vicinity of the islands, and you will experience underwater sea life from a whole new perspective.
You can try the beginner Open Water course that spreads over 3-4 days, takes you to several dive spots, and earns you a certification. There are around 40 amazing dive spots around Gili islands. They are some of the very best in the world, including the famous Gili Meno Statues, which are hauntingly beautiful and look as if the couples are stranded in time. They are 48 life-size casts of couples in an embrace and forms an incredible photo opportunity. Don’t forget to carry your GoPro or the waterproof case for your camera to click nice underwater pictures.
3. Island Boat Tours:
You can take a boat tour to the Gili Air and Meno islands and explore them. These islands are very different than Gili Trawangan, and you will enjoy them in their natural beauty. Take a day off to explore both, and you can enjoy them thoroughly before returning. Alternately, the snorkeling and diving tours will also take you to Gili Air for lunch, and you can do a mini-tour of the island there itself. You can stay back and reach Gili Trawangan later in the evening. Island hopping is easy, and you can just take one of the ferries or a public boat and be there in a few minutes. Just ensure you know the time for the last boat back to Gili Trawangan unless you plan to be stuck on some other island for the night. The public boats will take you for just 1-2 USD. Cheap right? I am sure you will have fun exploring.
4. Water Sports:
Once you cycle through Gili Trawangan, you will notice that it’s full of snorkeling, diving, and water sports shops. So it’s not difficult to find one who can rent you out a paddleboard or a kayak. Do go early in the morning as there may be a few, and you may run out of luck if they are all rented out. You can also try pre-booking the equipment and the activity. This is a good way to explore the island from the sea, and you should be able to circumnavigate across the island in 3-4 hours at a leisure pace.
5. Yoga class:
Backpacking and hippie culture go hand in hand. So you will also find a lot of Yoga classes on the island. Most of them happen on the beach or a nice spot, and it’s indeed beautiful to practice some Yoga asanas while in Gili Trawangan. You may also find some meditation classes, most of which are usually mentioned on the boards outside the shops, or your hotel would surely know the local schedules.
6. Cheap Shopping:
There is a night-and-day market, and you will find lots of options for souvenirs like fridge magnets, T-shirts, etc., for friends and family.
The island offers street food as well as restaurants on the beach itself, and the same goes for bars and pubs. Imagine yourself having lunch on the beach, with the sea waves hitting the beach nearby. Its paradise. With so many trees on the island, you are never short of shade if the heat gets to you. Food will typically cost you a minimum of 40,000 IDR. You can have a decent meal for around 100,000 to 150,000 IDR. You will the best and wide variety of fresh seafood ready to be grilled just for you. The local street food shops are called warungs and are very cheap, but even the restaurants are not expensive. Remember we told you that it’s a backpacker hangout. Every night on the southeastern coast hosts a large night market with varieties of food.
Since we are discussing food, let’s discuss the drinks as well. This place has a very active and loud nightlife, and this is probably the only noisiest activity you will find there. Party nights are common, and so are regular pub crawls. Pub crawls will set you back by about 12-15 USD depending on the package, whereas off-the-counter beer will cost you 3 USD and cocktails start at around 5-7 USD. Not bad at all. Some several clubs and parties extend well into the night and go on till 2-3 am. So if you are not a party animal, choose a property that is away from all this noise.
Things to note:
- The mobile network is good, and you do not have to worry about being out of coverage. Also, the WiFi in hotels and bars or restaurants is good. So you are not going to be stranded.
- Bargaining is the key to everything, and Indonesians love it and expect it. So put on your best bargaining skill to work and test them.
- There are no large hospitals or a police station. So do be careful and don’t be adventurous enough to hurt yourself as help is going to be far away. Also, keep your belongings safe for the same reason.
- Plan out your stay adequately well as it’s a tiny island, and we don’t want you to be bored or run out of activities during a long stay. Plan and keep yourself busy.
- The party street can be noisy, so if you want a silent sleep, do ensure you do not book a hotel nearby there.