Much debate is always circulating the travelling community about which Gili Island to visit, for how long, what the vibe is like, is there anything to do and just how crazy is Gili T, just to name a few.
Well we thought in true exploratory fashion we would go to all three and spend time discovering and experiencing the fabled sands, seas and nightlife.
Here is our little guide on all three;
Size; The middle sized of the three Gili’s, it takes around an hour and a half to walk around the whole island. Or, do as many do and hire a bicycle! From the South East of the island where the majority of accommodation is located, however, everything is generally within walking distance (even with a backpack). Reach the beach in ten minutes, the restaurants and cafes on the South coast in ten and sunset point on the West coast in 20 minutes.
Vibe; Laid-back/chilled. Everyone is chilled here, so much so to the point where not a lot actually gets done but that, for us, just adds to the charm! From arriving on the island and into your, likely, quite peaceful accommodation you will quickly unwind and settle in to the island way of life. For somewhere with so many visitors now, Air maintains the feel of secludedness and you can walk around the outside of the Island without bumping into too many people at any time of the day. The evening atmosphere on the island also reflects this. There are many happy hours along the main stretch but they are filled with groups winding down from a day on the beach rather than winding up for a night of raving. Things generally closed up around 12pm, however, we did visit during Ramadan and heard that outside of this there is generally one ‘party’ night a week and this revolves around the different bars.
Things to do; Hire a bike and cycle around the island to get your bearings and visit the beaches on each coast. Sunbathe in the morning on the South East coast and hire a snorkel. This was some of the best snorkelling we have done, just 10 metres off the coast, thousands of fish and even a few turtles! In the afternoon take a stroll to the West coast for some more sun or find yourself a beanbag and await the setting sun. There is also an abundance of diving schools on Gili Air as well as places to hire kayaks, paddle boards or book onto snorkelling or glass bottom boat trips. Basically if the sun and sea are your thing then this is the place for you! In the evening soak up the chilled beach front restaurants and bars with a happy hour cocktail or beer!
Recommended stay; Easily done in 2-3 days, but if you really want to relax into it then we would say 3-4. Seemingly we got far too relaxed and spent six nights…oops!
Summary; Gili Air is a really chilled island with some nice strips of beach and plenty of water activities to keep you entertained. Definitely more of an island to chill with a group of friends, as a couple or for backpackers to re-charge their batteries.
Size; Gili Meno is the smallest of the three islands and can easily be walked around in an hour (we managed it even at our terribly slow ‘holiday pace’). From wherever on the island you are staying, most things can be reached in around 10-20 minutes.
Vibe; Very Quiet/ultra-chilled. If you are looking for a complete getaway to somewhere secluded then this is the place for you! Walking around the island you will be lucky to bump into anyone! Most people are congregated on the main beach on the South East of the island and even then you can find a nice big stretch of white sand to yourself or take shade under the scattered trees. Head to the North West beach for even fewer people (and probably the most turquoise sea we have ever seen!) If the days are tranquil then the evenings are even more so…don’t stay out too late or, if you do, take a torch as there are only a few lights on the ‘main’ road, leaving you often plunged into darkness! Scaryyy!
Things to do; Being such a quiet island there really is little to do here other than soaking up the rays. But, when you see the beach with its white sand, dreamy blue water and the mountains of Lombok rolling in the distance it would be hard to do anything else. There are still a few dive shops here and snorkelling trips are also run from the island so if you manage to tear yourself away (we couldn’t) then there is a morning or afternoon to be filled. There is also a salt water lake on one corner of Gili Meno which is nice for a breezy afternoon stroll. Spend the evenings at one of the few warungs dotted around the island – most notably Diana’s Cafe which is the most perfect sunset spot!
Recommended stay; If you are not pushed for time and simply want to worship the sun from a beautiful beach then a few days is fine. We stayed for 2 nights and this was enough time to see Meno in all its beauty and unwind in a few warungs. For people who like a bit more going on, especially in the evenings, then 2 days would definitely be enough or even a whistle stop day trip!
Summary; Its a great island to get away and completely unwind. Most suitable for couples as a romantic getaway or possibly families for a short stay.
Size; The biggest of all three islands. We of course walked around the whole island which took us around two and a half hours, however, we did have a few cheeky stops along the way for a Bintang or two! Cycling seems to be the most common mode of transport, however, this can be tricky in places where it is all sand and falling tourists are common. From the heart of the island on the East coast most of the entertainment is within 15-20 minutes walking distance, however, if you choose to stay on the quieter North West coast then walking to the East would take more like 30-40 minutes or would require some transportation.
Vibe; The island could really be split into two completely separate halves. The East coast which is very very busy, hectic and a melting pot of families, tourists and backpackers looking for their next Bintang or mushroom hit! Or, the North West coast which holds more upmarket resorts, near deserted beaches, some more funky beach bars and the famous sunset swings. We visited both sides on each day we were there and for us much preferred the quieter West coast if only to escape the main strip where you are constantly beeped at by horse and carts and run over by the hundreds of people on wobbly bicycles.
Things to do; On the East coast during the day the tide means that there isn’t the widest stretch of sand to enjoy and so it becomes pretty overcrowded with people squeezed onto tight rows of sunbeds. Whereas the West coast beaches, albeit more coral than sand, were much quieter. At night is when this island really comes alive and where it gets its reputation as the party island. The main strip is lined with bars, complete with beer pong competitions, free shots and all you can drink Magaluf style deals on offer. It picks up around 11ish and carries on well into the early morning. The most popular spots seemed to be Ombak bar, Rudi’s or the all too familiar Irish bar. Now, we didn’t visit the West coast late at night but from the looks of things it is largely more for wiggling down in a beanbag and watching the sunset! Similar activities can be done from Gili T with diving as the main focus as well as the snorkelling trips but we heard they were very overcrowded with up to 70 people on any one trip! There is also the chance for horse riding and day trips to the other islands. Something we took the time to do was to walk up over the centre of the island, up to the viewpoint and down through the quieter back streets in the centre of the island. This was surprisingly quite peaceful and was a welcome change from walking up the busiest road you’ve ever come across for a place with no motorised vehicles!!
Recommended stay; For those looking for paradise this maybe isn’t the place for you but if you want to visit then 2-3 days should be plenty! For those who enjoy the wilder side of life then turn up and see how long Trawangan can reel you in for…our bet is a while!
Summary; Depending on what kind of getaway you are looking for you really could choose a side of the island and stay there. Just beware that if you are looking for a more chilled out island paradise it is all very well staying on the West side of the island but you will likely need to visit the East coast at some point (all boats arrive and depart from here) and this may be a shock to the system…as it was to us after peaceful little Gili Meno! If you are a backpacker looking to meet lots of other people or you love a good party then this is basically your Indonesian Koh Phangnan. Tour shops line the main East coast road and you will be asked 100 times to go snorkelling or diving so if that’s what you’re looking for get your negotiating shoes on and take a wander. Most of the dives we saw started at 900K for a single dive (pretty pricey!). Gili T is a haven for backpackers looking to party the night away and largely forget their time there, however, the West coast of the Island is beautiful and there are many awesome beach front bar’s and shabby restaurants to get your teeth stuck into! This island seems to be growing up too quickly and trying to replicate other party islands around Asia, however its not there yet! Its still relatively tame and good natured, offering some amazing beaches, sunsets and good times so get there quick if you can!
Enjoy your island hopping and let us know which Gili you liked best!
C & J