Why we love the Gili Islands
As Bali’s most popular island escape, the northern Gili Islands’ trio of tropical isles – each with a distinctly different personality – is where travellers find their perfect fit.
Each island caters for a different kind of visitor, naturally segregating the party-hard backpackers who arrive in droves for Gili Trawagan, from the nature-seeking snorkellers and swooning honeymooners who head for quiet, coral-fringed Gili Meno or one of the beachfront resorts on Gili Air.
Choosing where to stay on the Gili Islands depends on what kind of escape you are looking for.
Gili T is high-energy, Gili Air is for those chasing a beachfront resort with less of a nightclub feel, and right in the middle, uncrowded Gili Meno offers a quiet, natural escape with off-the-beach snorkelling and a string of sandy bars for sunset drinks.
Mellow Gili Meno
Tagged the romantic isle, this stunning little coral-fringed cay with sweeping, white sand beaches and clear, cerulean seas is dotted with boutique resorts and beach bars where you can sip a cocktail with your toes dug into the sand, or lounge in the water with an icy Bintang and watch the sun disappear over Gili T.
Motorbikes and parties are banned on the island, making the pulse of Meno especially mellow, and offering timeout to travellers keen to snorkel, dive and unwind.
There’s no car or motorbike traffic – everyone cruises around Meno by bicycle, cycling off to one of a dozen dive and snorkelling spots that travellers based on the other islands pay boatmen to bring them to.
Dive & Snorkel
Dive trips on Meno visit the Meno Wall and a sunken pier known as the Bounty, and Meno’s northern edge is where boatloads of snorkellers hope to spot hawksbill turtles on the edge of the reef.
Rough seas on our trip to Meno might explain the lack of turtle sightings, so despite all the marketing, I can’t vouch for your hope of seeing turtles. Instead I found the coral to be in pretty poor shape, but admittedly, I’d just spent a few weeks in Flores and faraway Maratua Atoll so perhaps my expectations were high.
What I did love about Meno was the surprising salt lake at its centre where we spotted egrets hunting around the mangrove fringe, and the unexpectedly beautiful sunsets seen from Meno’s eastern shore as the setting sun threw its colours back over Lombok’s towering volcanic skyline.
Booking a bed
Of the twenty-odd places I checked out on the island, Les Villas Ottalia was a charming choice with poolside bungalows from around $90/night (and great off-season deals).
Bikes were provided free-of-charge and this resort earns top points for their super-friendly staff.
Which Gili Island is for you?
Meno offers a good range of accommodation dotted pretty much around the entire island. There are meals and beds for all budgets, and plenty of places renting snorkelling gear and bikes. The lack of nightlife might leave singles lonely, but for couples, families and recluses, Meno is a top choice.
You’ll Love Gili Trawangan
…..if you are young, single or looking to party, if you want to learn to dive and hang with other travellers, if you want to see the sun set over smoky Gunung Agung or squeeze in some shopping once your hangover recedes.
You’ll Love Gili Air
….if you like want to sink some chilled, poolside cocktails, eat great food and be dazzled by uninterrupted views of Lombok’s looming mountain peaks or if you want to relax on beaches without too many towels.
Gili Air rates as a smaller, more refined version of Gili T with room prices a touch higher too.
Getting to the Gilis
Fast ferries take about two hours from Bali to Gili Trawangan (beware the big seas that many bloggers warn about…they are not exaggerating!). For less sea time, leave from Padangbai or Amed rather than Benowa Harbour and Sanur to the south.
From Gili T, transfer to the other islands by local boat.
Boat standards and ticket prices vary widely. Expect higher prices in peak season.
If you are returning to Bali, booking a return trip will save you money.