The Gili Islands: Bali’s best escape


Why we love the Gili Islands

As Bali’s most popular island escape, the Gili Islands trio of tropical isles, each with distinctly different personalities, is where every traveller finds their perfect fit.

Each island nurtures a distinctly different scene, 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 plush, beachfront resorts on Gili Air.

Beach life Gili Islands. Image David Bristow.

Choosing where to stay on the Gili Islands is a bit like reading Goldilocks and the Three Bears. One will be too hard, one will be too soft and one will be just right, and that’s was makes this destination so universally appealing.

For me – 40-something, mother-of-one – Gili Trawangan was a bit hard-core, crammed with backpacker bars instead of bungalows, beaches crowded with longtail boats and touts.

Local inter-island transport, Gili Islands. Image David Bristow

On the far side of the islands, Gili Air was a bit too resorty, but right in the middle, crowd-free Gili Meno was just the right fit offering us a poolside room in a gorgeous little French-run resort, 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.

Tagged the romantic isle, Meno Gili Islands. Image David Bristow.

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.

There’s no car or motorbike traffic - everyone cruises around Meno by bicycle, Gili Islands. Image-David Bristow

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.

Best Bed on the Island

Of the twenty-odd places I checked out on the island, Les Villas Ottalia was absolutely the most charming resort and a great deal at just 300,000 rupees (AUD$30) a night (off-season) for a double poolside room, two-course breakfast included!

Our room was positively decadent for the price – think flower petals on the pillows, plush white bedding, fluffy towels, a private patio – all about three steps from the pool.

Bikes were provided free-of-charge and the huge, cooked-to-order breakfast with juice, tea and coffee included got us through every day.

This resort earns top points for their super-friendly staff and for letting our six-year-old stay and eat for free.

This resort earns top points for their super-friendly staff and for letting our six-year-old stay and eat for free.

Shade Parasol Les Villas Ottawa Gili Islands, Image David Bristow.

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 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 your Bob Marley in the background while you sink some chilled beachside beers with plenty of company, if you want to 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.

Uninterrupted views of Lombok’s looming mountain peaks from Gili Islands, Image David Bristow.

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 form 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. On our pre-Christmas (off-season) trip we paid 150,000 rupees to get from Padangbai to Gili T (AUD$15), plus another 85,000 rupees (AUD$8.50) for the five-minute transfer to Gili Meno. Expect higher prices in peak season.

Top Tip

If you are returning to Bali, booking a return trip will save you money. We bought our return ticket on Gili Meno and despite some serious bargaining and hunting around, ended up paying 400,000 rupees (AUD$40), 250,000 rupees more than our trip out.

Beachside bar and restaurant Gili Islands, Image David Bristow.



There are 9 comments

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  1. Arthur Page

    Catherine they should give you a freeby for the wonderful picture story you have presented.A truly amazing adventures you as a family give to all of us Congratulations

    • Catherine & David

      Thanks Arthur! We only report on what is truly worth seeing, and since this island is so popular, it helps to point travellers in the right direction to smooth their journeys. Thanks for the vote of confidence!

    • Catherine & David

      Hi Leonie, Yes they are statues! Strange, but very Indo!!! If they are going to put concrete underwater, at least it should look interesting to the fish!

  2. Anonymous

    Hi Catherine and David, After your advice please, we a staying in Bali in September and would love to visit the Gili Islands, I really want to see the underwater statues, are they located in Gili Meno? also is it possible to visit one of Islands and get back to Bali all in one day ?

    • Catherine & David

      Hi there,
      Yes, the statues are on Gili Meno, very close to the shore on the western side of the island just in front of the new hotel Bask. It takes 2 hours by boat to reach the islands from Padang Bai, plus the travel time by taxi from wherever you are staying, so I wouldn’t try to tackle it in a day or you will have very little playtime on the islands. Stay overnight at least – you will love it!

        • Catherine & David

          There are some well-priced beachfront bungalows on the northeast side of the island, but the place we liked the most was Les Villas Ottalia. Really lovely little French-run resort with poolside rooms (aircon, ensuite) with breakfast included. At the time (November), we paid 300,000 rupees (AUD$30) which was an absolute bargain. We found them on They have free bikes you can ride to easily get around. I can really recommend them but you might wish you had stayed two nights!

  3. Anonymous

    Thanks, we are staying 4 nights in Ubud and then 4 nights in Candi dasa, so will try and get to Gilli when we are in Cani Dassa

Love to hear from you!