Photo: The view from Madak Belo.

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Gili Gede is arguably the best known of the "Secret Gilis" -- a sprinkling of islands off the coast of southwest Lombok far lesser known than the Gilis of the northwest. Gili Gede lies among a group also comprising Gili Layan, Gili Ringgit and Gili Asahan -- about halfway back to Lembar is a second cluster including Gili Nanggu and Gili Sudak. Of all these, Gili Gede has the broadest selection of accommodation.

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At time of writing (mid-December 2014) there was a single midrange resort on Gili Asahan and a long-running spot on Gili Nanggu. We also saw a new resort midway through its build on Gili Layan. With plenty of land being snapped up by speculators on Gili Gede, this is a group of islands that could see a lot of change in the coming years.

A room with a view. Madak Belo, Gili Gede.
A room with a view. Madak Belo (now closed sadly), Gili Gede.
Unlike the better known Gilis to the north, Gili Gede is not a "party" island. The accommodation is low key and the economic mainstays remain as pearl farming and fishing. There is almost nothing in the way of free-standing restaurants and there are no bars. You’ll be most likely eating and drinking where you stay. Gili Gede is home to five villages -- and about as many places to stay. The pace is slow. Very slow.

If you’re looking for a place to party and meet hordes of other travellers, Gili Gede is not for you.
Sunbake to the left please.
Sunbake to the left please.
The beaches are pretty at a distance, but up close they’re badly littered and what once would have been impressive reefs have been smashed to pieces and prematurely deposited on the beach. Yes, we know white sand beaches come from slowly ground up coral, but the active words here are slow and ground. Take a boat trip to Gili Ringgit to see the reefs that may once have ringed the east coast of Gili Gede. Still, the views from a hammock with a gentle sea breeze are more than comforting.

While Gili Gede’s east and north coast is given over to white sand and smashed coral beaches, the west coast is lined by a diminishing stretch of mangroves and mudflats. This really isn’t enticing swimming material, but the views over the mainland, especially in the late afternoon light, are impressive.
A steadier earner than tourists.
A steadier earner than tourists.
Gili Gede is a working island. The five villages here are actively involved in pearl farming and fishing -- nobody is paying them not to fish or exploit the resources around them, unlike in the northern Gilis where fishermen are still paid not to fish -- 2015 being the final year of that scheme. So the beaches in the immediacy of any of the fishing villages are in pretty bad shape. Need to strip the paint off your old boat in those crystal clear waters? No problem! The villages themselves are very well kept with not a dog to be seen on the entire island -- you might be surprised at the contrast if you’ve come from Bali with its many dogs.

Foreign tourists remain somewhat of a curiosity, so you should expect plenty of hellos and curious, but genuine smiles. Don’t be put off by the hordes of kids likely to follow you around for fun. Likewise, tread carefully. Dress conservatively. Swimwear (for men or women) is not suitable attire for walking through a village and any boozing should be kept within the grounds of your accommodation.
Late light on the sunset side.
Late light on the sunset side.
Gili Gede will appeal to travellers looking for serious downtime. Yogis head to Via Vacare for their yoga retreats, but beach bums used to head to Madak Belo, but it has unfortunately closed. Staying on Gede isn’t staying in a tourist bubble and going for a stroll outside you grounds of your accommodation will be confronting for some. We met one traveller who left the island earlier than planned, describing a walk through a village as "depressing and distressing" -- while this is not an impression we’d agree with, this is real Indonesia on an island. For now.

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The five main villages on Gili Gede are interconnected by an on-again, off-again paved trail easily walked or ridden by motorbike. North of Flower Paradise, past the pontoon bridge, there is no proper trail, so you can just walk along the beach all the way around the northern tip of the island. To walk from Flower Paradise all the way south along the east coast to Secret Island Resort and then back up the west coast (and over the spur) to Via Vacare should take three to four hours, depending on your pace. Apparently you need to add another two hours to walk around the top, but we didn’t test that. The trails are clearly marked and easy to follow, but there are few signposts (we saw one!) -- bring water and wear sunscreen.
Take a trip, explore Layan and Ringgit.
Take a trip, explore Layan and Ringgit.
Gili Gede has no ATMs. The closest at the time of writing in December 2014 is in Lembar, where the slow ferries from Bali and elsewhere arrive, about an hour’s drive to the east of Tembowong, the "port" to Gili Gede. We got a semi-decent 3G signal via Telkomsel from the east coast of the island, but it was a lot more patchy on the west. For medical care for anything more serious than a cut or abrasion, head to Mataram or Senggigi. In the unlikely case of a serious injury, get to Bali.


What next?

 Browse our independent reviews of places to stay in and around Gili Gede.
 Check out our listings of things to do in and around Gili Gede.
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