When talking about travel in Indonesia, Bali deservedly gets a lot of the spotlight. But there is so much more to Indonesia than just Bali – in fact, this stunning archipelago has around 17,000 islands for you to choose from! To make the selection process a little less daunting, why not zone in on the three Gili Islands located between Bali and Lombok? Though similar in many ways, each of these three islands also has its own unique charm. So which one should you visit?
The Gili Islands – Orientation
The three Gili Islands, Gili Trawangan, Gili Air and Gili Meno, are small tropical islands scattered off the coast of Lombok in Indonesia. The three islands are a popular addition to many a traveller’s Bali itinerary. There is no airport on the Gilis, so you’ll need to fly to Lombok or Bali and catch a boat to the island of your choice. It’s difficult to find any official numbers, but all together the Gili Islands are estimated to have a permanent population of some 3,500 people.
The Gili Islands are the perfect destination if you’re after an authentic, toes-in-the-sand, tropical island kind of holiday. The islands are minuscule in size with no motorised vehicles – this goes for cars as well as the motorbikes which are omnipresent on the neighbouring islands of Lombok and Bali.
The Gilis are a popular destination for travellers looking to relax in a hammock and to explore the deep blue seas, with plenty of opportunity for epic snorkelling and diving. Though the Gili Islands definitely retain that laid back island feel, you can also enjoy the finer things in life, with boutique resorts, villas and spas offering world class pampering, often with an imported European twist.
Gili Trawangan or Gili T for short is the largest of the three islands and also draws in the largest crowds (which are still miniscule compared to those you’ll encounter on the most popular beaches in Bali). Gili T has a reputation as a party island and you really can’t throw a coconut without it landing in the middle of a lively beach party. That is if you stay on the island’s eastern shore, close to the port. Gili T is also famous for its bohemian ocean swings.
Though the island is petite in size, the atmosphere is completely different if you make the effort to cycle ever so slightly away from the harbour area. The northern and western beaches are much calmer (and arguably better) than those in the west and you’ll still have a great selection of restaurants and accommodation options at your finger trips. All in all, Gili T might be your best bet if you don’t mind a festive atmosphere and also want to have a decent selection of restaurants and accommodation to choose from. We love Villa Coral Flora for large groups and Sunset Palm Villas for romance.
Sandwiched between the other two Gilis, the petite Gili Meno is the smallest in size and definitely also the most demure of the three islands. This is the perfect place to stay if you want to get away from it all for a bit. It’s also the best place to stay if you’re looking for the best beaches, as the beaches on Meno are arguably nicer than those you’ll find on Gili Air and definitely better than those on Gili T.
Gili Meno still has that desert island feel to it and it’s also a great destination for honeymooners and other love birds. After all, what could be more romantic than being cast away on a paradise island with your boo? Though the island is small and the vibe is very low key, there are still some restaurants and accommodation options to choose from. The boho chic villas of Les Villas Ottalia capture the laid-back feel of the island perfectly. Though quiet, Gili Meno is not a complete snoozeville – it even has its own beach club in the fabulous Karma Beach.
In many ways, Gili Air is the proverbial third bowl of porridge of the Gili islands: not too rowdy and not too quiet but juuust right. The middle child of the bunch, Gili Air doesn’t get the same hard partying rep as Gili T but it isn’t quite as quiet as Gili Meno, either. There are plenty of restaurants and accommodation options on the island (we’re not the only ones who love the boho vibes at Slow Gili Air).
Gili Air also has gorgeous beaches and like the other two Gilis, it’s a popular destination for travellers looking to do snorkelling and diving. Adding to the island’s chilled out vibe, Gili Air also has a nice selection of well-rated yoga studios, including H2O Yoga and Flowers and Fire Yoga.