First thing I need to do is caveat this blog post with the fact that the Gili Islands are in fact not in Bali. Yes, they reside in Indonesia, about an hour and a half to two-hour boat ride from Bali mainland but they are actually a part of Lombok, just resting off the Northwest coast of Lombok island.
Nonetheless, it is still 100% a must if you are travelling to Bali at any point. Each island offers something a little bit different. If you are here for some serious chilled out vibes, you need to hit up Gili Meno. If you are more interested in a much busier party scene – Gili T is a must. Gili Air is a good halfway point between the two – not as busy as Gili T but still offers some very good bars across the island as well as some more secluded and chilled beaches.
Some Things No One Tells You about the Gili Islands
Before we get into how you get there and my top recommendations of places to go/things to do… I want to be upfront with the realities of the islands and discuss a few things you might not be aware of. Don’t let this next section be a dampener on your expectations for what the Gili Islands will entail, I did enjoy my time there and would 100% return.
The beaches are beautiful to look at and sit on with a book…swimming in the water may not be as fun
Majority of beaches which are dotted around all 3 islands are beautiful and scenic with white sands. However, be careful when you step into the water as it is covered with coral and rock. Gili T was one of the worst for this. There is also a high chance of sea urchins especially in Gili Meno…which are not at all fun things and can cause much pain. We didn’t invest, regrettably so in water shoes whilst we were there so we just avoided a lot of the water after my boyfriend managed to get bitten by something in the water of Gili Air. My top tip would definitely be investing in a pair of water shoes. You might look/feel like an idiot, but it will definitely save your feet.
Horse-drawn carriages and bikes rule in the Gili’s
There are no forms of motorised transport on the Gili’s. This is something I actually really enjoyed about staying there. It is 100% worth renting a bicycle. I would, however, forego this in Gili Meno as the dirt roads around the island remain very underdeveloped which makes it impossible to cycle in most places. You will generally be able to rent a bike for 50,000 IDR per 24 hours. You will also experience some patches in Gili Air in which you will have to get off your bike and resort to pushing it along as it is impassible otherwise.
The other side of this is that bikes and horse-drawn carriages rule the road so listen out carefully for bike bells ringing to tell you to kindly get out of the way.
Be prepared to be woken up at 4am on either Gili Air & Gili T
This was probably one of my least favourite experiences of Gili Air. I heard from other friends that this also affected those in Gili T but we didn’t experience this given where our hotel in Gili T was situated. I understand that Lombok is a Muslim country, but numerous times a day, as early as 4am, prayers would be blasted throughout the island on a loudspeaker around the island. Our first night sleeping in Gili Air, we were woken up at 4am and it was so loud it genuinely felt like they were in our room with us. For some reason, it lasted most mornings for about 45 – 50 minutes. This lasted for the duration of our stay. I do personally think that we were just located in a very unfortunate space which was very close to one of the loudspeakers. My takeaway from this was next time I will be very careful about what location I stay at on the island.
This did not affect us in Gili T though. We stayed on the main strip close to the harbour. Nonetheless, if you are staying on the main strip be prepared for some nights of loud music. Our hotel was nice enough to supply us with earplugs.
Be prepared to be bitten
For some reason I seemed to get bitten 10 times more on the Gili’s than I did on the mainland. So bring some form of bug spray. If you do get bitten though, don’t panic…white tiger balm is the healer of all.
Be prepared to be soaked on the boat on the way over
We didn’t go up on deck on the boat from Bali to Gili Air, however if you go…be prepared to be soaked. As well as this if you have a rain/water cover for your haversack I would advise placing it on your bag. The bags are just stored on the main deck of the boat and they tend to get soaked.
If you are travelling from one Gili to the other, be prepared to be soaked. They are usually open sided boats.
The Gili’s are hotter than Bali
Although the Gili’s just rest off the coast of Bali and Lombok we found the weather to be significantly hotter on the islands than in Bali. Take heed to this warning and do ensure you drink plenty of water and keep yourself hydrated.
Generally no where accepts card payments
Aside from the hotels we stayed in, generally no where on any of the islands accepted card payments. ATMs are not as plentiful as they are in Bali so make sure you always carry cash on you. This is something we failed to do a lot!
How to to the Gili Islands from Bali
So we decided to travel by boat from Bali to Gili Air. We were staying in Ubud just beforehand so we organised with our hotel to get a boat from Pedang Bai which is a small coastal town located in East Bali. If you are staying anywhere in the northern region of Bali this harbour will most likely be your most convenient to travel from. Our ticket also included a shuttle from our hotel in Ubud, to the harbour. I would advise getting the boat in the morning time as the water is much calmer at this time. Trust me! We travelled back from Gili T to Bali in the afternoon and it was by far THE WORST boat journey I have ever experienced.
We used a fastboat company. I would recommend booking your ticket in advance either online or through your hotel. Do your research beforehand as a number of companies will just operate smaller fishing boats which are unable to sustain the ferocity of the waves i.e. you do not want to travel across on one. The cost of a return ticket for us was approx 600,000 IDR. When you are returning and arrive back at Pedang Bai, make sure that you do not speak with any of the people who board the boat saying that they are your transfer to the hotel. Just ensure that you go directly to the companies office and you can get your official shuttle from there.
We travelled from Ubud to Gili Air – Gili Meno and then Gili T. The boat from Pedang Bai to Gili Air was direct and took approximately 2 hours of travel. When we arrived in Gili Air, we got off the boat and onto the jetty and made our own way on foot to our accommodation. As I mentioned, on our way back our sea conditions were very rough…but we did travel back in the afternoon.
Gili Air is the best of both worlds. It is the closest to mainland Lombok. Air is a very popular destination for couples as it is quiet and relaxing but still offers a decent enough bar scene. Gili Air is 5km in circumference and is located off the north west cost of Lombok. For water lovers, there are a lot of water activities on the island such as scuba diving, glass bottom boats trips or paddle boarding. We waited until we arrived in Gili T to partake in any water activities but nonetheless there are a variety of options available.
We hired bikes to cycle around the island …be warned though you will have to get off the bike and push it along at most points as the thin tires will quickly lose traction in the deep parts of the sand on parts of the island. We stayed very inland when we were in Gili Air, but be warned though, we stayed beside one of the megaphones and we were woken up every morning from about 4am onwards. Personally, I think 3 days and 2 nights is a perfect amount of time to spend on Gili Air, you could easily spend more time if you wanted a slower more relaxed holiday but I would not recommend staying longer than one week.
Some of the things I would 100% recommend for Gili Air would be:
Coffee & Thyme – good brunch spot and very cute cafe, located right beside the jetty so you can grab a drink and relax straight after you hop off the boat.
Scallywags Beach Club – very good beach spot, you can rent two sunbeds and an umbrella for the day for 50,000 IDR. Great spot for food and drinks also!
Outdoor cinema – a must, we ordered some desert from our local bakery to take away and sat on bean bags on the beach and watched Pirates of the Caribbean.
Pink Coco – home to one of the infamous Gili swings and one of the best sunsets in Bali
Le Cirque – great spot for breakfast, you can sit on one of the benches bamboo seating areas and look out along the coast.
Pockets & Pints – exactly what it says on the tin – pitta pockets and pints. You can go with the menu options or choose your own filings!
Mowies Bar – excellent spot for late night music and drinks!
Gili Meno is the middle of the three islands and is by far the smallest and least busy. It offers some serious chilled out vibes. This island is a must for anyone who is looking to switch off and take a break away from civilisation. With that said, dependent on what you want I wouldn’t recommend booking a stay in Gili Meno for more than a couple of days! You should only come here if you plan on firmly planting yourself by a pool or on a beach with a book in hand.
Personally, we spent all of our time on Gili Air at the Seri Resort and I regret nothing!! It was absolute divine luxury with a private beach and pool. When we arrived after walking from the Jetty we were handed a welcome drink and ice cold face towels to cool us down. Whilst there, we ran a tab with the hotel and paid for everything just before checking out! So we got to just live the best life and lounge by the beach and pool for a couple of days and be waited on hand and foot. The cost of staying here wasn’t too outrageous either. We stayed for 2 nights and 3 days. I wouldn’t recommend for staying any longer as the island itself is very small with not much activity. It is however a top destination for those who want to relax and switch off for a couple of days!
On our last night we had a candle lit BBQ dinner on the beach and it was just amazing!
Gili T is the largest of the islands and is by far the busiest and most developed with a much bigger night scene than the other two. Whilst there we stayed in the Blue Marlin hotel which is connected with Blue Marlin Dive. It was an ideal spot for us as we chose to book in for a Discover Scuba session with Blue Marlin. We chose the Discover Scuba option as we didn’t have time to do more than a half a day and had no interest in gaining a certification at the time. The Blue Marlin diving centre itself was top class and they went above and beyond to look after us. Sounds a bit ott but its true as they assisted us in navigating the shoddy healthcare system of the island when one of us fell ill. Aside from this, our instructor Sarah was fantastic! I would 100% return to Blue Marlin again.
Like Gili Air we rented bikes, cycling in Gili T turned out to be a more fruitful experience and a great way to explore the island. The island is much more developed than Gili Air so most places were easy to get through by bike. In total the island is about 7km in circumference. With regards food and places to eat some places I would 100% recommend are:
- Kayu cafe – for brunch/tea & coffee and cakes
- Tiki Grove – for dinner, this place does insanely good tacos and other mexican foods, the staff are also extremely friendly.
- Banyan tree – super nice brunch spot
- Coffee & Thyme – same as Gili Air and a winner for brunch
- Psycream – unbelievable rolled ice cream
Aside from that Gili T as a whole is packed full of things to do such as scuba diving (100% recommend); snorkeling – the Gili’s are known as turtle heaven; glass bottomed boats and paddle boarding. If you are there for more of a party vibe Gili T party scene packs quite the punch. On the main strip alone a party travels from one place to the next each night of the week. Blue Marlin Mondays are when Blue Marlin host the island party so you can party, literally right on your doorstep if you opt to stay there.