Palm trees swaying in the island breeze, crystal clear blue waters splashing against the shore, the fresh taste of chilled coconut water, and the salty smell of the ocean mixed with the sweet scent of coconut oil… the Gilis are the definition of #islandvibes. With no motorized vehicles allowed the islands have a rustic, bohemian vibe as soon as you arrive. It’s a place where the simple pleasures in life take priority. Low tech and laid back, the entire island’s population flocks to the ‘sunset side’ every evening around 5PM to celebrate the jawdroppingly beautiful sunsets that decorate the evening skies on the daily.
Welcome to the Gili islands.
There are three islands that make up this unique place…
Gili Trawangan is known as the party island and attracts boatloads of backpackers and other young people looking to live the island life with a cold Bintang in their hand.
Gili Meno is known as they honeymoon island and there’s not much to do there besides enjoy the beach and um, honeymoon things.
Gili Air, my favorite, is a little bit of both. It’s got the laid back island vibe going but it’s not as in your face busy as Gili T yet still has some bars and restaurants unlike Gili Meno. Check out my post: a day on Gili Air here.
You can take the public boat from any of the islands to any of the other islands in the morning for about $3-4 and get a return boat later in the afternoon. You can also hire a private boat for a few more dollars.
*A little honest disclosure about Gili Trawangan: Gili Trawangan lives up to it’s reputation as the party island. There were a lot of backpackers and young people around and it definitely does veer on the side of a little trashy. That being said Lewis and I are by no means ‘party people’ and would much prefer a quiet evening in than to be out at 3am sipping our 13th Bintang. I am glad I got to see Gili T but I am EXTREMELY glad Lewis and I were staying on the significantly more quiet western side away from all the craziness. I was a little taken aback by the amount of litter everywhere on the island and I kind of wish I had been forewarned about it. While I am glad I had the opportunity to visit Gili T I know the next time I choose to visit the Gili Island I will be staying on Gili Air which has a more of the untouched island beauty that one can really only find on the western side of Gili T.
The Gilis are accessible only by ferries coming from either Lombok or Bali. From Bali, ferryboats depart from either Serengan or Padang Bai and tickets will generally include pick up from towns in Southeast and west Bali. If you’re departing from Serengan the ride should take you about 2 hours. If you’re beginning your journey in Padang Bai… about 1.5 hours.
We used Blue Water Express to get to Gili Trawangan and had a pleasant experience. BWE is considerably more expensive than most other ferry companies (we each paid about $120 AUD return trip) but Lewis gets really seasick so we did a lot of research on finding safe, reliable and comfortable transport and BWE seemed like the best choice. It’s British owned and has a 100% safety record which, apparently, is rare enough in Bali to be considered boast worthy.
A lot of our friends who had been to Bali before advised us that it was totally possible (and way cheaper) to just book a ferry out of Gili while you’re already on Gili. So that is also an option.
Bikes: You can rent bikes from all around the island for as little as $3 a day. It takes about an hour and a half to do the loop around the whole island but that’s only if you can resist stopping for an endless amount of photo opportunities or the dozens of beach bars each claiming to have the island’s best mojito. I definitely recommend renting bikes for the duration of your stay on Gili T. It’s a fun and convenient way of seeing as much of the island as possible and saves time from getting place to place.
Cimodos: Besides walking and biking, Cimodos, retro-style horse and buggies, are the only other method of transportation. I don’t recommend using these unless you absolutely have to because the horses are treated terribly. They’re forced to carry around unreasonably weights in extreme heat with no water breaks. However, if you’re staying on the ‘sunset side’ of the island like we were you may have no choice but to take the cimodos on your first and last days on the island because lugging your suitcases on the dirt roads isn’t an option.
Where to eat:
Dining in Bali is very casual. Nearly none of the restaurants there require reservations and the dress is ‘beach chic’ at best… meaning you can show up barefoot and in a beach cover-up and no one will bat an eye. On Gili Trawangan the dining options seem endless and here were some of my favorites:
The Banyan Tree: Located right in front of where the ferry boats roll in, The Banyan Tree was my favorite little cafe in Gili. Offering fresh salads, smoothie bowls, pressed juices and so many more healthy options I stopped here for lunch more than once. The wifi here is strong so if you have work to do this would be a great spot. There is air conditioning in one area, or choose the 2nd floor porch area that looks out over the busy street below. I really liked the Sushi bowl here and the acai smoothie bowl and the carrot cake was spot on.
Kayu Cafe: Similar to The Banyan Tree, Kayu offers a hearty array of healthy salads, wraps, smoothies and breakfast dishes right in the center of the main strip on Gili T.
Regina Pizzeria: I have to admit I felt kind of weird going out for pizza when I felt like we should be indulging in local culture BUT this pizza place was SO GOOD. It’s a little off the beaten track (but not too far) and you’ll know it as soon as you see it because this place was packed. If you’re on the main strip look for the bright yellow Gili Yoga & Freedive sign, turn down this street and keep walking until you see a store called Casa Vintage. From there, turn left and keep walking until you see Regina’s Pizzeria on the right. Lewis and I found that portions in Bali tend to run small but the pizzas are massive and you’ll want to eat the whole thing. Definitely pay this place a visit.
Scallywags BBQ: Scallywag’s was probably my favorite meal I had on Gili T. Dine beachside with incredible views of Lombok’s coastline and Mt. Rinjani with the soft island breeze keeping you cool. We went for Lewis’s birthday dinner and it was the perfect spot. You pick from a selection of fresh seafood or meats from their market… choices ranged from lobster to chicken and veg skewers to steaks to ribs…then you pick how you’d like it cooked and what side you’d like (baked potato, fries or rice). Then, while they’re barbecuing it up fresh for you, you can indulge in their gigantic and delicious organic salad bar. The salad bar alone is enough for a meal (and you actually can choose that as an option if you’re not meat-inclined).
Where to sleep:
Ombak Sunset Hotel: Our beautiful stay at Ombak Sunset really made the trip to Gili Trawangan for me. Lewis and I stayed in a gorgeous Sunset Villa at the Ombak Sunset Hotel. Ombak Sunset is located on the quieter Western side of the island. The Western side gets treated to a unobstructed view of the infamously stunning Gili sunsets. It’s also home to those famous swings that you just have to have a photo on.
The Sunset Villa was lovely with a gigantic comfy bed, an outdoor seating area, and a large outdoor bathroom. The room was quiet and comfortable and the service here was extremely hospitable. It’s also home to the largest pool on Gili Trawangan with a great swim up bar.
Villa Ombak: The sister hotel to Ombak Sunset, Villa Ombak is located much closer to the center of town. With a big pool and swim up bars.
Le Pirate Beach Club: I love Le Pirate! We spent a day there soaking up the sun at their beach club and restaurant. The little teal and white beach cabanas are adorable and so photogenic. These “beach boxes” have all you need for a mellow island stay: a big comfy bed, air con and a hammock with an ocean view.
P.S. If you’re not staying here, you can visit their lovely little outdoor restaurant, great salads!
What to do:
➳ Watch an epic sunset
➳Explore the night market
➳Get your PADI certificate
➳Luxuriate in a spa treatment
➳Visit the turtle sanctuary
➳Go island hopping and spend the day at Gili Air or Gili Meno
➳Rent snorkels and swim with the fishies
➳Lounge at a beach club
➳And of course… just chill on the beach
Where to drink:
There is no shortage of beachy waterfront bars to enjoy a happy hour cocktail or Bintang. One place that always caught my eye was Casa Vintage on the sunset side of the island. With shabby chic decor of hammocks, beachfront swings, and a super chilled out atmosphere this place was definitely my pick for an afternoon pina colada.
Thank you Ombak Sunset Hotel for a lovely stay. As always all opinions are my own.