Huddled together between Bali and Lombok, the Gili Islands 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, mostly due to its lively nightlife scene.
Approximately 3km long by 2km wide, the island is the perfect combination of beaches and bean bags, buzzing nightlife and world-class diving and snorkelling.
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, the beaches get a little stonier.
Where To Stay in Gili Trawangan
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 490,000 IDR for one dive, although you may be offered a discount for multiple dives.
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 9 pm 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 from the main road.
La Boheme: Another hostel from the La Boheme family, this one lives up to all the bohemian expectations… Imagine communal areas scattered with giant beanbags perfect for lounging, simple clean dormitories and private rooms, which all come complete with their famous free breakfast of pancakes and fresh fruit and bottomless cups of coffee. But it’s the staff that make La Boheme truly special. Prices start at 135,000 IDR per night. Read the full review of La Boheme Gili T on our Best Hostels page.
Gili Castle (formerly know as Gili Backpackers): If you’re looking for fun, then Gili Castle is the place to stay. With a climbing wall, jumping tower, huge chill-out zone, a swimming pool and air-conditioned three-bed dorms, it’s a backpacker hotspot (that’s cool at night!).
Wrap A 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 in Gili Trawangan:
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.
Freediving: Ever wanted to dive without the hassle of oxygen tanks, face masks and dive watches? Gili Trawangan’s the place to attempt the art of free diving. With clear waters, amazing underwater life and a relaxed pace, try a course at Freedive Gili and see how far your lungs can take you.
Snorkelling: 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 – snorkelers often see turtles here!
Explore the island by foot or on a bicycle: 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 past 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 a cold beer – set off in the late afternoon, so you can stop and enjoy the sunset on your way!
Yoga: In between all the partying and socialising, why not take a little time out to practice yoga on the beach? There are plenty of wellness centres and yoga houses to choose from, including The Yoga Place.
Food and Drink in Gili T:
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 7 pm 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 tzatziki 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 400,000 IR (set fare) and the fast boat takes from Padangbai costs around 250, 000IR (most places start the bargaining at 600,000 IR for a single trip- please don’t be fooled, the agencies only pay 200,000 IR 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 4-5 hours 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 100,000IR.
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 30 mins 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 Lombok, (roughly 225,000 IR one way if you barter, departing several times a day) and explore what the mainland has to offer. If Gili Trawangan is too touristy for you, why not instead check out the secret Gili Islands from Lombok? These islands see much fewer tourists and you can even camp overnight on one of the islands!
By Laura Richards. Photos by Jenny Lloyd
Updated by Georgia Wilkinson & John Reed