Huddled together between Bali and Lombok, the Gilis are three much smaller, but certainly no less enjoyable, islands that form part of the Indonesian archipelago. Of the three islands, Gili Trawangan is the largest and most popular with backpackers. Approximately 3km long by 2km wide, the island is the perfect combination of beaches and bean bags, lively nightlife and world class diving or snorkeling.
Most boats arriving on the island pull up on the beach or near the small pier. The best backpacker accommodation and restaurants are on the same side of the island- you’ll be greeted by plenty of touts straight off the boat. The far side of the island is home to larger (and more expensive) resorts. The best beaches are also along the strip where the boats pull up. Further around the island, they get a little stonier.
Prices on Gili Trawangan are fairly similar, regardless of where you stay and eat/ drink. Prices for diving have been agreed across the island- shops all charge IR37000 for one dive, although you may be offered discount for multiple dives.
Local Gili Trawangan residents…
Places To Stay
Aquaddiction: A Dive shop with their own bar and accommodation, Aquaddiction has a relaxed yet lively atmosphere. Staff are really friendly and are all dive (and drink) enthusiasts, so you’ll feel at home as soon as you arrive. The bar has bean bags and cold beer, and is a great place to start a night out. The dorm room is clean, with aircon. There’s also a ‘no lights on’ rule after 9pm at night (there are small night lights above each bed) which means you avoid being disturbed by people partying even later than you! There are also private bungalows set back off the main road.
Wrapper Snapper: Bungalows are again set back from the main road, behind the restaurant. Accommodation includes free breakfast (the food is amazing). Staff are pleasant and also provide a laundry service.
Homestays/ guesthouses: The road that runs inland behind the night market, and the road that runs right, parallel to the beachfront road, are littered with cheap guesthouses and home stays. Standards vary, but it is possible to get a clean room with a fan for slightly less than the guesthouses right on the main road.
Things To Do:
- Diving: Diving in Indonesia is some of the best in the world, and the Gilis are no exception. There are around 40 dive sites that can be reached easily from Gili T, home to reef sharks, turtles, manta rays as well as a plethora of smaller marine life. Whether you are an experienced diver, or are thinking about doing a ‘Try Dive’ or your Open Water course, you’re guaranteed to see something exciting here. Almost every other building on the main strip is a dive shop, so you’re spoilt for choice. Aquaddiction and Manta Ray are particularly fun to dive with, with experienced instructors and discounts available for multiple dives. If you’ve never dived before, head to Aquaddiction to do a ‘try dive’- they’ll then discount this from the cost of your Open Water course if you choose to continue.
- Snorkeling: If you don’t fancy diving deep, you can still enjoy the stunning corals, turtles and fish just meters from the beach. Snorkels and masks are cheap to hire (there are signs at most restaurants and cafes) and you can just swim out from the shore. One of the best sites is just in front of Mango café – snorkellers often see turtles here!
- Explore the island by foot: Gili T is small enough that a stroll around the island takes about 1 ½ hours. Set off on foot to enjoy pleasant views of the other islands, ocean and locals working. Don’t bother with renting a bicycle, once you get passed the main street, the path regularly becomes no more than a sandy strip- as you walk, you’ll spot plenty of people pushing their hired bicycles or getting stuck in the sand. At various points on the walk, there are beach bars offering cocktails or cold beer – set off in the late afternoon, so you can stop and enjoy the sunset on your way.
- Yoga & Free Diving: The Yoga Centre has walk in yoga classes every evening. It also runs two-day free diving courses – you can see free divers practicing out on the corals near the beach.
Food and Drink:
Night Market: Satay, fried rice, BBQ fresh fish- whatever you fancy, you should be able to find at the night market. It starts getting busy around 7pm most evenings, with queues at the most popular stalls. The satay stall just by the right hand entrance is possibly the best, if there’s a queue, stick it out. It’s slightly cheaper to eat at the night market than the beach front restaurants.
Day Market: Head inland and search out the local market during the day. Here you can ask for dishes like Nasi Goran (a spicy fried rice) to come at the price you want – tell them you want a 15000IR (roughly $1.50) meal and they should be able to make it for you, even if it is not listed on the menu.
Western food: There are so many restaurants offering just about every type of food on Gili T, you really are spoilt for choice. BBQ fish is particularly popular along the beach, you can literally walk along until you see a fish that catches your eye! For other types of food, try Wrapper Snapper (amazing breakfasts and giant sandwiches) Manta Café (by Manta Ray Diving, the falafel and taziki wrap is a particular highlight) and try pizza made by a real Italian with a real moustache – the road that leads inland next to Wrapper Snapper will take you up to an amazing pizza restaurant (also serves take away).
Fly to Bali (DPS) and then get a boat across to Gili Trawangan. Taxi’s from DPS airport to Padangbai cost 400000IR (set fare) and the fast boat takes from Padangbai costs around 250000IR (most places start the bargaining at 600000IR for a single trip- please don’t be fooled, the agencies only pay 200000IR themselves, anything above this is commission).
The fast boat takes roughly 2 hours from Padangbai. There is also a slow boat, but don’t bother with this- it takes 4-5hours to get the local ferry from Bali to Lombok, then you have an hour bus ride to a fast boat from another part of Lombok to Gili T, and still costs 100000IR.
It’s also possible to fly into Lombok or Flores and arrange a boat to the Gili Islands from there.
Where To Go Next:
If you’ve had enough of busy beaches and lively bars, jump on a boat and head to either Gili Meno or Gili Air, both smaller islands about 30mins away from Gili Trawangan. Popular with honeymooners or couples on holiday, they offer paradisiacal beaches and quiet accommodation. It’s also possible to dive and snorkel here.
Or arrange a boat back to Bali, (roughly 225000IR one way if you barter, departing several times a day) and explore what the mainland has to offer.
By Laura Richards
Photos by Laura Richards, Jenny Lloyd & Nikki Scott