The Gili islands: Which is the right one for you?

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First published 29th July, 2012

Gili means "little island" in Sasak (the native language of Lombok) and while there are "gilis" all around the circumference of Lombok, when people talk of "the Gilis", they're not trying to showoff their Sasak prowess, but rather they're referring to three little islands off the northwest coast of Lombok, Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno and Gili Air.


The Gilis feature regularly in "The next hot thing"-style travel articles you'll see in your Sunday newspaper and have (somewhat deservedly) a reputation for heavy partying. Not all that surprisingly, it's a little bit more complicated than that and it's a mistake to consider the three Gilis as being one and the same -- each has its own distinct vibe.


Relaxing away from the hordes on the northern tip of Gili T.
Relaxing away from the hordes on the northern tip of Gili T.

So which Gili is for you?

Gili Trawangan
This is the largest and most heavily developed of the three islands. Affectionately referred to as Gili T, Gili Trawangan has the largest number of guesthouses, hotels and resorts (more than 100) and enough bars and beach shacks to keep even the most dedicated party-goer well satisfied.

Gili Trawangan has the greatest supply of cheap(ish) rooms (which are mostly in the village near the main boat landing) of the three Gilis. This combined with the oversupply of bars and party atmosphere make it the most popular among budget travellers and those out for a good time -- your typical "sun, sand and sex" crowd.


Enjoy the sunset with a heap of new friends.
Enjoy the sunset with a heap of new friends.

Bear in mind that when we say cheap, in most cases you're still going to be looking at at least 200,000 rupiah a night -- 300,000 in high season -- for a cheap room in the village. Elsewhere, really very mediocre bungalows are going for 600,000 and up -- at least double what you'd pay elsewhere in Indonesia.

The party scene has two main flavours -- the immediate area around the boat landing has plenty of beach bars and pubs (often charging Bali prices) and then the northern tip of the island has more secluded beach shacks and bars, which may appeal to those looking for a more laidback scene.

Despite protestations otherwise, drugs remain commonplace on the Gilis, especially on Gili T. Mushrooms are often signposted and the dealers proffering (mostly pot and cocaine) along the walk down to the pier area can get downright tiresome. Bear in mind that pot and coke are absolutely illegal in Indonesia, and while there is a common meme that the Gili T authorities turn a blind eye, we'd advise not risking it.


Take me to that other place...
Take me to that other place...

Aside from boozing, the main activities here are riding around the island and doing a snorkelling trip. There is a turtle hatchery on the island and you'll have a good chance of seeing turtles offshore. If you're in the market for postcard white sand beaches, you're in the right place.

Recommended places to stay on Gili Trawangan
Budget bed: Alexyane Paradise
Flashpacker fancy: Danima Resort
Leisurely luxury: Desa Dunia Beda Beach Resort

Browse more places to stay on Gili Trawangan through Agoda.com

Gili Meno
This is the Gili the Gilis forgot. Gili Meno smallest of the three, with a brackish seawater lake towards its western coast, this is arguably the quietest and most peaceful of the three islands.


Lombok views.
Lombok views.

The selection of accommodation is far more limited (as is the bar supply) but there is still an adequate selection for most, regardless of budget.

Of the three, this is arguably the most family-friendly. It lacks the crowd, drugs and racket of Gili T and remains more laidback than Gili Air. The beaches, especially on the coast facing Lombok, are very safe for swimming and there's plenty of sand for empire-building.


Snorkelling trip off Gili Meno.
Snorkelling trip off Gili Meno.

Meno has some good snorkelling off the south and west coast and the beaches, while not as glorious as Gili T's, are certainly not shabby.

Recommended places to stay on Gili Meno
Budget bed: Amber House
Flashpacker fancy: Sunset Gecko

Browse more places to stay on Gili Meno through Agoda.com

Gili Air
This is the most popular after Gili T and is the only one of the three islands that has an indigenous population. You'll notice almost immediately how much greener it is than the other two -- that's thanks to it having its own water supply.


Glorious Gili Air with Lombok in the distance.
Glorious Gili Air with Lombok in the distance.

While it has a solid full range of accommodation, Gili Air has successfully pushed itself as the more "sophisticated" of the three islands. You can still party here as you can on Gili T, but the scene is a tad more upmarket and the crowd perhaps a little bit more grown up (physically if not mentally).

Gili Air's best beach (in our humble opinion) runs along the west coast. This is also the least developed beach so bear in mind that most of the accommodation on Air is not actually on the best beach on the island.


Just another Gili Air sunset.
Just another Gili Air sunset.

Recommended places to stay on Gili Air
Budget bed: 7 Seas Backpackers
Flashpacker fancy: Island View Bungalow
Leisurely luxury: Kai's Beach House

Browse more places to stay on Gili Air through Agoda.com

So which Gili is for you?
Young, single and looking to party, with some snorkelling thrown in? Look no further than Gili Trawangan. A little older, still enjoy a good night out and possess a slightly fatter wallet? Gili Air. Travelling with kids in tow, or just looking for a real getaway from all the distractions presented on the other two islands? Gili Meno should be on the money.


Which island today?
Which island today?

Bear in mind the islands are within a short distance of one another, so there is no good reason to restrict yourself to one -- try all three!


About the author:
Stuart McDonald co-founded Travelfish.org with Samantha Brown in 2004. He has lived in Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia, where he worked as an under-paid, under-skilled language teacher, an embassy staffer, a newspaper web-site developer and various other stuff. His favourite read is The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton and he spends most of his time in Bali, Indonesia.


Read 3 comment(s)

  • My wife and i went to gilli trawang and were not impressed at all.To many drugs,we spoke to a lot of people who had had there drinks spiked particularly females, so be wary of this.We were also not impressed by the scant regard that visitors gave to the marine environment breaking of and standing all over coral etc.The islanders themselves are very friendly , but be prepared to be bombarded by offers of drugs where ever you are! I even got offered drugs while swimming in the beach.Summing up ok for young or young of heart but not mine or my wifes idea of a good holiday island We were 54 when we stayed on gilli trawang.PS.Most accommadation only have salt water showers,due to lack of fresh water on island

    Posted by michael on 31st July, 2012

  • We spent a week on Gili Meno and found it to be so relaxing and welcoming. We had to go via Trawangan on the way back and couldn't believe how developed and busy it was.

    If you're making the effort to get to the Gilis, it surely must be Air or Meno! Also, agree sunset gecko is an excellent place to stay - we spent a happy week there!

    Barry

    Posted by Barry on 23rd June, 2014

  • stayed in the Gili's for 11 days.. never done such a long trip before.

    wrote about my experience here:

    http://www.limbonis.com/2014/06/the-gili-islands-of-lombok-indonesia.html

    Posted by ian on 24th June, 2014

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