If you’re looking for paradise, you’ll certainly find it in Indonesia. Three small islands between Bali and Lombok are no secret to seasoned backpackers. The Gili islands are known for their sparkling, crystal-clear waters, incredible coral reefs, and the hoards of sea turtles that surround them. Most travellers stay on Gili Trawangan, dubbed the “party island”, but it has much more to offer than just a thriving nightlife. Read on for the ultimate guide to Gili Trawangan for backpackers!
Need a hostel in Bali? Mad Monkey is opening a brand new hostel in Gili T in 2019
Sunset views on Gili Trawangan, Lombok, Indonesia © Courtesy of Kirsten Muolic/Mad Monkey
THINGS TO DO ON GILI TRAWANGAN
GET IN THE WATER
The main activity you absolutely can’t miss while visiting Gili Trawangan is snorkelling. The dazzling warm water generally has fantastic visibility and is home to diverse marine life including colourful coral reefs and plenty of sea turtles. Head to Turtle Point on the east side where you’re guaranteed to spot multiple turtles, or for the brave backpackers out there, check out Shark Point on the west side to search for some white or black-tipped sharks.
Chasing sea turtles on Gili Trawangan © Courtesy of Kirsten Muolic/Mad Monkey
There are plenty of other water activities you can partake in on Gili Trawangan as well. The beach front is dotted with places that rent out snorkels and fins, kayaks, stand up paddle boards, and even surf boards. There are also tour companies that do parasailing, wakeboarding, water skiing, subwinging (underwater “wings” that allow you to “fly” underwater as you get towed by a boat), or tubing. Scuba diving is also huge on the Gilis and you’ll find many dive shops along the beachfront as well. If you prefer to enjoy the view of the water, you can find endless bean bag chairs and umbrellas to lounge under while enjoying a coconut.
SUP + chasing sea turtles © Courtesy of Kirsten Muolic/Mad Monkey
GET SOME EXERCISE
If you’d like to take a break from the beach life and get a change of scenery, venture up to the Gili Trawangan viewpoint for a lovely trek. There are no cars or motorbikes allowed on the Gili islands, so be sure to rent a bicycle to explore the island. You can bike the entire perimeter, although there are a few areas where you’ll have to push your bike through sand. There are also a few studios for the yogis; check out Gili Yoga for daily Hatha or Vinyasa classes, Fly Gili SUP Yoga offers sunrise stand up paddle board yoga, and Sunset Beach Yoga has fly-high yoga where you use suspending straps to assist you with various poses.
SUP yoga © Courtesy of Kirsten Muolic/Mad Monkey
ENJOY THE NIGHTLIFE
Every night of the week, there are drink specials and live music at the various bars around the island. The west side is known for their sundowners as travellers flock here to watch the vibrant sunset colours. The east side is known as the “party side” and has one bar every night that stays open extra late for travellers and locals to congregate at. You’ll see a large banner alongside the bar of the night every day, directing the sober and inebriated alike to drink specials and crowded dance floors. Be sure to check out live music at Sama Sama (Saturdays are the big nights here), dance the night away on Tuesdays at Jiggy’s, and listen to both live music and a DJ at Tir Na Nog (the Irish Bar) on Wednesdays while enjoying 2-for-1 espresso martinis.
Beer pong at Jiggy’s © Courtesy of Kirsten Muolic/Mad Monkey
OTHER THINGS TO DO ON GILI TRAWANGAN
You can’t go to the Gilis and not take a photo at one of the famous ocean swings (the ones at the Ombak Sunset are the OGs). For more cliches, go horseback riding on the beach (bonus points for doing it at sunset), and sit around a bonfire while drinking Bintangs — they’re stereotypically popular for a reason! For a more mellow night, watch a movie on the beach (Pesona and Villa Ombak on the east side host nightly movies, along with Aston Sunset Beach Resort on the west side). Many places, including Pesona and Egoiste, also have shisha and large tables to socialize with friends. If you’d like to help keep Gili T clean, join a beach cleanup every Friday organized by Gili Eco Trust (you’ll even get a free Bintang for your hard work!)
Ombak Sunset swings on Gili Trawangan © Courtesy of Kirsten Muolic/Mad Monkey
Gili Meno and Gili Air are just a hop, skip and a jump away, and are certainly worth a day trip, at the very least. Jump on the public boat to these islands at 9:30 a.m. or 4 p.m., which will only cost IDR 35,000 ($2.50 USD) to Meno and IDR 40,000 ($2.80 USD) to Air. Gili Meno is known as the “honeymooners island” while Air is the chill island. The Gili Meno statues exhibit is our favourite snorkel spot and definitely worth checking out. This underwater installation consists of 48 life-size statues forming a circle on the ocean floor. Along with being an amazing photo spot, these statues were designed to be a home for coral and will eventually be a fully-established man-made reef.
WHERE TO EAT ON GILI TRAWANGAN
Dig your toes into the sand while enjoying some fresh seafood. There are a multitude of dining options on Gili T, many of which will have you sat right on the sand while eating. For breakfast, there are plenty of cafes to choose from. For beautiful smoothie bowls with beach views, check out Hellocapitano Lifestyle Cafe. If you want a typical French breakfast, grab a pastry and coffee at La Boulangerie. Vegetarians and digital nomads will feel right at home at Banyan Tree, with its lovely terrace overlooking the beach. For a unique option, Pituq Wareong offers tapas-style Indonesian food with a modern twist. Casa Vintage is another favourite, and serves reasonably priced food in their ultra-chic cafe.
Smoothie bowl at Hellocapitano © Courtesy of Kirsten Muolic/Mad Monkey
For lunch and dinner, try The Roast House, Jali Kitchen or Tir Na Nog (the Irish Bar) for a reliable menu that never disappoints. Pizza lovers should head to Regina Pizzeria and for more Italian food, Diversia Cafe will hit the spot. For small bites, try Karma Kayak on the north side of the island or Tapaz Bar Gili on the east side. To end a perfect day on the beach, order dessert and watch sunset at Casa Vintage Beach on the west side (the Snickers cake is to die for). To dine on a budget, be sure to check out the night market where you can find various Indonesian dishes and barbeque skewers to satiate you.
Tapas at Karma Kayak © Courtesy of Kirsten Muolic/Mad Monkey
HOW TO GET TO GILI TRAWANGAN
The tiny Gili islands don’t have an airport (or even motorbikes and cars) so you’ll have to venture to Gili Trawangan by boat. There are three islands: Gili Trawangan to the west, Gili Meno in the middle, and Gili Air to the east next to mainland Lombok. You can make the trip from either Bali or Lombok with relative ease.
From Bali, the shortest boat ride will be from Padang Bai port. About an hour drive from Ubud and two hours from Canggu, the “fast boat” from Padang Bai to Gili Trawangan will take about an hour and a half and cost around IDR 650,000 ($45 USD) roundtrip. This usually includes pickup from your hotel in a van that will also pick up other travellers. You can arrange your ticket through your accommodation or at one of the many tourist agencies that line the streets in Bali.
As the Gili islands are technically part of Lombok, getting here from mainland Lombok only takes about 30 minutes on the public boats. You’ll have to first get to Bangsal Port and then you can take the cheap local boats for around IDR 15,000 ($1 USD). For more information on how to get from Lombok or Bali to Gili Trawangan, check out our Gili Islands transportation guide .
Boats at Gili T © Courtesy of Kirsten Muolic/Mad Monkey
GILI TRAWANGAN ACCOMMODATION: WHERE TO STAY ON THE GILI ISLANDS
There are a range of accommodation options on Gili Trawangan, from lavish resorts to traditional homestays. Every type of traveller is sure find something to their liking. “Backpacker hostels” are technically forbidden, but you can still find plenty of budget accommodation options with a social atmosphere. For those trying to save money but still wanting to stay in a modern room with top-notch facilities, check out M Box. If your main goal is to meet other backpackers and enjoy some spectacular drink deals, My Mate’s Place will be ideal. For a more traditional style bungalow, Deep House has cozy rooms and as a bonus, the best beats are always playing at the pool. For more backpacker options, read our Gili Trawangan Accommodation Guide
Deep House Bungalows © Courtesy of Kirsten Muolic/Mad Monkey
For couples or travellers wanting to stay at something a tad bit more luxurious, Le Pirate on the west side has adorable white and turquoise bungalows and a pool that’s perfect for watching sunset. The yogis out there will love both Coco Cabana with their incredible studio overlooking lush greenery, and Villa Sunset Beach with its stilted ocean-facing yoga shala.
Need a hostel in Bali? Mad Monkey is opening a brand new hostel in Gili T in 2019 .