This post was last updated on September 6th, 2014
The Gili Islands are known for being some of the most beautiful islands in Indonesia, having managed to preserve their pristine beaches and authenticity despite growing tourism to Bali and Lombok. And by authenticity, I mean the only form of land transportation is horse carriage or bicycle! Ah-mazing, especially after living in Taiwan where I’m constantly trying to avoid collisions with incompetent scooter drivers. There’s a reason why the three islands have such a good rap—with white sand beaches, amazing snorkeling and diving, and easy accessibility, they really are a must for any Bali/Lombok visitor.
One awesome thing about the Gili Islands is that each island caters to a different kind of tourist, promising a match for any traveler personality.
Gili Trawagan is the party island, and has morphed into a Kuta wannabe. It’s easy to get your dance moves on til sunrise, or rent a boat and drink the night away under the stars. Gili T is the largest and most developed of the three islands, and has many five star resorts, reliable dive shops, and classy restaurants. The beaches are still quite nice-not as secluded as some you might find on the other Gili Islands but still rather clean despite the hung-over foreigners that dot the sand here and there. Gili T is perfect if you are traveling with a group of friends, or if you want a lot of options in terms of things to do. Also, if you need a doctor for any reason, Gili T has a great 24-hour clinic with English speaking doctor. Unfortunately I speak from first hand experience and a 103-degree fever. Yeah. Not fun. Other than our time at the clinic, we only spent a brief afternoon on Gili T to follow the snorkeling and biking route explained in the Frommer’s Bali Guide Book. (We wouldn’t recommend this route to others, as the biking is primarily over sand and the snorkeling only average.) In addition to snorkeling, scuba is one of the main attractions across all three islands. Dive shops are extremely popular on Gili T, but prices are fixed across the Gilis.
Gili Air is the middle island in terms of size and development. We didn’t get the chance to check it out firsthand, but it seemed like a popular choice with travelers looking for a toned down Gili T. All we can say is we’ve only heard good things. It’s also the closest to mainland Lombok, making it an easy day trip.
Gili Meno is the honeymoon island, and naturally where we decided to settle down for a couple of days. We’re suckers for all things mushy and romantic, so how could we possibly say no to candlelit dinners on secluded beaches? It is definitely the smallest and least developed of the three Gilis—there isn’t any fresh water on the island, and you can circumnavigate the whole thing by foot in an hour! Not quite as remote as staying on a personal island, but pretty darn close. We understand why honeymooners would choose Gili Meno; it’s easy to spend hours relaxing under your private beach gazebo, sipping on cocktails and watching the gentle waves lap across the sand, all the while without another soul passing by. Other than the lovely waiter bringing you your Mai Tai, of course. Although basic, Gili Meno has everything you need: unspoiled white sand beaches, stunning snorkeling (with the opportunities to see lots of turtles), and decent beach warungs serving everything from burgers to nasi campur (fried rice) to fresh fish. And just in case you didn’t get enough sunsets on the rest of your Bali trip, you can rest assured-they’re incredible here too.
Accommodation on Gili Meno is great, with lots of different options. If you are actually honeymooning, look no further than the MAHAMAYA Boutique Resort. It’s beautiful, and we couldn’t help but feel a bit envious every time we passed by. Butttt unfortunately our pockets don’t run that deep. If you’re a traveling couple on a budget like us, than Meno Dream is for you. We accidentally stumbled upon it when we arrived, and immediately fell in love. Consisting of 5 bungalows, Meno Dream is well designed, with boutique rooms, comfy beds, and a well-manicured garden. It does get a little hot at night in the rooms with no A/C, but the adorable outdoor shower compensates. What really sets Meno Dream apart from the rest is the hosts, Bernie and Made. Not only did they ensure we were comfortable, they made us feel as though we were their good friends whom they’d known for ages. Bernie and Made can help you with any information you need, and will cook up some of the best food you’ll eat during your entirety in Bali. Trust me—eat the gnocchi. It’s mind blowing. The only hesitation some might have is that Gili Meno isn’t beachfront. But don’t let that change your mind—the five-minute walk to the beach is easy and quite enjoyable provided you don’t have a fear of cows. They like to block the path and just stare at you, mindlessly swatting at the swarms of flies across their back. I think they’re harmless… On a sidenote, Meno Dream didn’t compensate us to say any of this. We just loved them that much!
Transportation to the Gili Islands is available from either Bali or Lombok.
If coming from Bali, you will have no trouble arranging your transfers as everyone wants to sell you their super-discounted-one-time-only ferry tickets. Definitely negotiate. Prices will vary depending upon where you are coming from in Bali, but most fast boats depart from Padangbai. Once in Padangbai, prices vary depending upon operator. Often you will initially be told around $60, but most people don’t end up paying more than $35, if they’re willing to book ahead and don’t mind a bit of bargaining. Total travel time is about 2 hours. If you are really on a budget, the slow ferry is also an option; however, it’s definitely not desirable as travel time is 8 hours, and list ticket price is about $30. Finally, travelers can also choose to hire a local fisherman from the east coast of Bali to take them over. Prices should range between $20-$30, and trip time is around 3 hours. We arranged our transportation from Ubud, or else the latter would have been our preferred method.
Travel between the Gilis and Lombok is quicker and cheaper. The public ferry costs a mere $1 and takes around 40 minutes. Be sure to check the schedule ahead of time as often the ferries only shuttle people twice a day. Private charters can also be hired should you miss the public ferry, but the cost will be around $20-$25.
Travelling as a couple is always rewarding, but that doesn’t mean it’s always easy. If you’re looking for a place to throw the backpacks down and flirt with your significant other, then look no further than the Gili’s. Especially Gili Meno, where romancing is made easy.
Have you ever visited the Gili Islands? What is your favorite island paradise?