This past weekend I visited the tiny little island called Gili Trawangan, which has been hailed as the cooler alternative to the over-touristed Bali. Here’s my take on the small paradise!
When Jess and I found out we get an extra long weekend in August for Singapore’s 50th birthday, we immediately went on the prowl looking for cheap tickets. Living in Singapore, we are never short on places to go but since it’s the monsoon season in most of South East Asia, we settled for Gili as they are great to visit all year round.
How to get to the Gilis
I’m not gonna lie here… it was quite a hassle to get to the Gilis, even from Singapore which has direct flights to Lombok. It still took us 12 hours to get to Gili door to door.
The best option is to fly into Lombok International Aiport (Code: LOP), the closest airport to the Gilis. From Singapore, there is a direct flight to Lombok via Silk Air and there are flights with layover in Jakarta.
From the Lombok Airport, you then take a 90 min to 2 hours taxi ride or hire a private car to a small port called Bangsal, which will set you back about Rp 260,000 – 300,000. Bonus: On the way there you will pass by the monkey forest where you can see adorable monkey families by the side of the road. Adorable, but wild so please don’t approach them.
From Bangsal, you can then take the public fast boat to any of the Gili islands, which will cost you Rp 85,000. However the public fast boat only run roughly every hour from 9AM to 4:30PM, so the latest you can probably make the sharing fast boat is if you touch down in LOP by 2PM. If you miss the fast boat, you can either stay at Lombok for the night or hire a private boat for Rp 180,000 per person (do a price check yourself). The fast boat shouldn’t take you more than 20 minutes.
If you cannot fly to LOP, another option is to fly into Denpasar (Bali) and take a fast boat from there, but I have no experience on this. I imagine the boat ride would be way longer.
Where to stay in Gili Trawangan
What I didn’t realize when I looked at the map for Gili Trawangan is that the island is actually really tiny, much smaller than I expected. So any option halfway to the left or right of the main jetty is a convenient place to stay – that’s where most shops and restaurants are located.
We stayed at Black Penny Villas and I would totally recommend it! While it was a bit pricey, the location was great (only 3 mins walk from jetty) and it came with our own private dip pool. They also have a massage parlor right outside the villas.
The Google Maps above is the location of Black Penny Villas. If you are keen, you can book Black Penny Villas here
If you want a quieter place away from the crowds, there are plenty of resorts on the west and north side of Gili T. To get there you probably would want to hire one of the horse carriages (Rp 75,000 – 100,000 one way). You could also walk, but it would take 20-30 mins.
What to eat in Gili Trawangan
When you are on the eastern side of Gili you will be spoiled for choice of food, especially western ones targeted and priced for tourists. However, there are some great options for cheap and tasty local food too! While walking on the main road to the north of the jetty, keep your eyes out for small stalls (called Warung) serving local food like Satay, Soto Ayam, or Gado-gado.
Also on the main road look out for street vendors selling grilled corns and, one of my favorite indonesian meals, Bakso (meatball noodle soup).
What to do in Gili Trawangan
1. Walk along the Main / Eastern side of Gili T
The eastern side of Gili T is where the main jetty is located, and is also the side of the ocean where all the boats are parked. While the beach looks nice, it isn’t ideal for swimming because of this. What you should do here is walk along the main road of Gili T, where you will find most shops, restaurants, and dive shops.
The “main” road is actually very narrow road. If you are a pedestrian you need to watch your back since there are tons of people on bikes and horse carriages passing through. The island does not have motorized vehicle by the way, so no motorbikes or cars around here!
The walk from the southern side all the way to the North beach should not take you more than half an hour. Unless of course you make pit stops at the many shops that line up this road.
2. Snorkel and tan at the Northern Beach
If you are looking to snorkel and just lie around on the beach, make your way up to the Northern part of the island. Follow the main road straight north and you will be greeted by a wide white sand beach.
The best time to go snorkelling is when the tide is high, otherwise you have to walk quite a bit out of the beach to get some depth and the wave can be quite choppy out there.
3. Watch the Sunset from the Western beach
It’s a no brainer, but of course the best spot to watch the sunset would be from the Western beach. There are tons of places you can do this from with my personal pick being the Ombak Sunset Hotel since it’s located at the most western point of the island.
Try to get here about an hour before sunset, otherwise the place gets really packed and you won’t have a good seat to enjoy the show. Even if the sun hides behind clouds, don’t be discouraged – get out there anyway. I witnessed the most unreal sky with blue, purple and pink hue even though we couldn’t see the sun. The sky color gets really vibrant for only about 5 minutes before it turned dark.
4. Find Sea Hammock and Swings
Again, this is probably better to do when the tide is high because it would really show that the hammock and swings are actually in the sea. Just make your way up or down the western part of Gili T, and you are bound to see these sea hammocks and swings on the side of the road.
The swings at Ombak Sunset is pretty popular so chances are you would have to queue to get a picture here. The queue at Sunset were pretty crazy, but if you get here early enough you won’t have to wait very long. I think early morning is has better lighting to take pics anyway since the sun would still be on the east side. The sea hammock and swings at The Exile next door is a less popular option, but still makes for a really cool picture.
And no, you don’t have to be a guest / stay at Ombak Sunset Hotel or The Exile to take pictures at the swing!
5. Do a few dives!
Gili isn’t really a place people specifically go to for diving, but while you are here you might as well get a few dives in since it’s still pretty great diving, especially if you are a beginner. The visibility is really good (I have been told it can be as clear as 25m) and you will have higher chance of seeing sea turtles for reasons I will cover in the next point.
It will cost you Rp 490,000 per dive including equipment rentals. This is the standard price for any dive shop around the island so you don’t have to “shop” around for lower prices. I went with Blue Marlin as my dive operator. The dive spot I would recommend is Sunset Reef and Secret Reef, but I have to caution that current can get pretty strong on these spots so please be extra careful!
6. Visit the Turtle Sanctuary
In Gili T, sea turtles are protected animal. They have a turtle sanctuary located to the right of the main jetty on the northern side of the island along the main road. At the sanctuary you can see (but you can’t touch) baby sea turtles of varying sizes waiting to be released to the ocean once they are of age. If you are lucky enough, you might be able to witness this “release” ceremony of these baby turtles!
7. Rent a bike and go around the island
To give you a picture of just how tiny Gili T is, it took us about an hour to cycle around the circumference of the island. Rent a bike for Rp 50,000 a day (or Rp 15,000 an hour) and just cycle on either side of the road. There is only one main road on the island so you’re bound to circle it if you just go straight. I recommend doing this on your first day, as this gives you a good overview of the island before deciding what you can do!
I hope that helps! Happy exploring and I hope you enjoyed the island life as much as we did!
What else can you do while visiting Gili?
If you are spending time in the area for a long time, you can also consider going back to Lombok and challenge yourself to climb Rinjani, the second highest volcano in Indonesia. You can read about Climbing Rinjani here!