Gili Trawangan, or Gili T as they are known to locals and regulars, has been hailed as the cool, more chilled out alternative to Bali. Indeed, Gili Trawangan is a very tiny island, part of the three islands that make up the Gilis. Measuring only 3km long and 2km wide, you will not find the glamor and glitz that can be seen in Bali – the Gilis are not for that. Instead, you will find that life tends to be slow and simple here. Read on to see if visiting the Gilis is worth your time!
I first visited Gili Trawangan back in 2015. I had heard about Gili Air from my Airbnb flatmate when I was solo-traveling in Tokyo. Fast forward a year later, my Singapore roommate, Jess, and I found out we get an extra long weekend in August for Singapore’s 50th birthday, so we immediately went on the prowl for cheap tickets to any worthy destination. August is the monsoon season in most of South East Asia, so a lot of places got crossed off immediately before we settled on the Gili Trawangan – our research says it’s great to visit all year round.
Since then, I’ve been back to Gili Trawangan again, most recently in the last week December 2018. A lot has changed on the island over the years but I still think it’s worth visiting if you are looking to experience the slow and simple island living. There still aren’t any motorized vehicle on the island, not even a scooter, so most people take bicycles or simply walk to explore the island.
Visiting Gili Trawangan after the 2018 earthquake – is it safe?
Lombok and the Gilis were unfortunately hit by a devastating 7.0 earthquake and a couple aftershocks on August 5, 2018, which prompted a chaotic island-wide evacuation and tsunami warning. Although thankfully the tsunami didn’t happen, Gili Trawangan island was still damaged by the earthquake. You can read The Truffle Journal’s account on it, someone who was on the island when it happened. Most of the damage and death happened in the main island Lombok. Every local we’ve met here told us they have lost family members in Lombok from that earthquake.
Despite that, they were quick with the clean up and recovery. By the time I visited Gili Trawangan in December 2018, a mere 4 months later, I hardly noticed anything amiss. Around the shores, aside from the pile of rubble that used to be the small pier and a few buildings that are still being rebuilt, there are no mess or fallen structures. Restaurants, fast boats, and amenities have all reopened for business. It’s as if the earthquake had never happened (But it did, and it was horrible. I don’t mean disrespect to victims and those affected).
2018 has not been a good year for Indonesia – there had been earthquakes, fatal airplane accident, tsunami and volcano eruptions. The country is sitting on top of the ring of fire after all. The last week of December is supposed to be high peak season, but there seem to be fewer tourists on the island compared to my visit in 2015. This drop in tourism is probably the only lasting effect of the earthquake. Obviously, I cannot predict future disasters but I hope people will consider coming to Lombok and Gili Trawangan again. We tend to view increasing tourism with negativity, but to this island, it is such a huge source of their livelihood.
From what I’ve seen, the island has recovered back to normal. If you want to visit Gili Trawangan – well, now is as good of a time as ever.
How to get to Gili Trawangan
There are two popular ways of getting to Gili Trawangan, from Bali and Lombok. I’ll list out the details below:
1. Fly to Lombok Airport
The best option to reach the Gili Trawangan is, of course, to fly into Lombok International Aiport (Code: LOP). From Lombok Airport, take a 1.5 – 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 (US$17-20). Bonus: On the way to Bangsal, you will pass by a stretch of forest-y area, where you might see monkey families by the side of the road. They look adorable, but still, they are wild animals so please don’t try to approach them as they may not be so friendly.
Once in Bangsal, you can then take the public fast boat to any of the three Gili islands, which will cost you Rp 85,000. However, the public fast boat only runs roughly every hour from 9 AM to 4:30 PM, so the latest you can probably make it is if you touch down in LOP by 2 PM.
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.
2. Take a fast boat from Bali
If you cannot fly to LOP, another option is to fly into Denpasar (Bali) and take a fast boat from one of the Bali ports. If you are planning to take the Bali fast boat route, then I’d advise staying in Bali on the first night before taking the boat to Gili Trawangan the next morning.
From Bali, the fast boats leave from Padang Bai (southeast of Bali, 1.5 hours drive from Seminyak) in the morning from 8-9AM and go straight to Gili Trawangan for US$32-44 one way. The boat journey takes about 1.5 hours. Aside from Padang Bai, they have other boats leaving from Amed (North Bali) or Serangan. On high seasons, there might be a boat leaving in the afternoon as well from Padang Bai.
I used Gilibookings.com to book my tickets – They have the schedule of boats so you can use them to check the boat timing. The operators I went with were Gili Gili Fast Boat and Blue Water Express, and I highly recommend them both for the swift communication (via WhatsApp) and professionalism. I needed to change my booking last minute and they were able to assist me very quickly. Gili Gili Fast Boat, in particular, offers free pick up from Seminyak which saves you about $25 of taxi costs to Padang Bai.
Also take note that the boat ride can get very rocky if the weather isn’t good. As for me, I was quite lucky when I took the boat in December. It was a very clear day and the boat ride was so calm that we were able to sit on the roof and enjoy some fresh air. However, I have heard horror stories where the boat ride was not enjoyable at all and caused people to vomit. If you are prone to seasickness, I suggest taking seasick tablet BEFORE getting on the boat.
Gili Trawangan Accommodation
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. I recommend staying around the main jetty as it is a convenient place to stay – that’s where most shops, amenities and restaurants are located.
Here are a few places I’ve personally stayed in:
- Black Penny Villas – While it was a bit pricey, the location was great, only 3 mins walk from the jetty, and it came with our own private dip pool. They also have a massage parlor right outside the villas.
- Abdi Bungalow – This is a new establishment and literally right in front of the main jetty area too. The room is basic with a minimalistic decor, and there is a very nice common pool right in front of the bungalows.
If you want a quieter place away from the crowds, there are plenty of resorts on the west and north side of Gili Trawangan. But it’s a bit harder to reach and you probably would have to hire one of the horse carriages from the jetty for Rp 75,000 – 100,000 one way. You could also walk, but it would take 20-30 mins and not ideal when carrying luggage
What to do in Gili Trawangan
1. Rent a bicycle and cycle around the island
This was my favorite thing to do! To give you a picture of just how tiny Gili Trawangan is, it took us just about an hour to cycle around the circumference of the island. I recommend doing this on your first day, as this gives you a good overview of the island. We rented a bicycle for Rp 50,000 a day (or Rp 15,000 an hour) and just kept cycling. There is only one main road on the island so you’re bound to circle it if you just follow the road.
The island does not have motorized vehicle, so no motorbikes or cars around here which makes cycling easier. The road is mostly paved on the east side but on the west side, you might have to get off your bike and push it for a bit since there are a few stretches of the road that are covered with loose soft sand.
Aside from biking around the shore, you can also explore the inland area and see how locals live and visit some of the best restaurants on the island. However, if you decide to do this, please be mindful that locals in Gili Trawangan are predominantly Muslim. I don’t recommend biking around in just bikinis or swim trunks! Bring a scarf or a shirt to cover up – these will also be useful in protecting your skin from the sun.
2. Walk along the East side of Gili Trawangan
The east side of Gili Trawangan is where the main jetty is located and where all the boats are parked. While the beach looks nice, but it isn’t ideal for swimming because of all the boat activities. The “main” road is actually just a very narrow, partly paved road. If you are a pedestrian you need to watch your back since there are people on bikes and horse carriages passing through. The walk from the South all the way to the North beach should not take you more than half an hour, and it gives you an overview of what shops, restaurants and bars are available on the road.
This wasn’t my favorite part of Gili Trawangan though – it gets kind of annoying with all the people selling snorkeling tour or mushroom, but they aren’t very aggressive and easy to ignore.
3. Lounge by the beach at the North of Gili Trawangan
Follow the main road straight north and you will be greeted by a wide white sand beach. You can go swimming here, but the best time to go 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.
4. Watch the Sunset from the West Side of Gili Trawangan
It’s a no-brainer, but of course the best spot to watch the sunset would be from the western part of the island. A popular pick is Ombak Sunset Hotel since it’s located at the most western point of the island. But I’ve also enjoyed The Exile, Malibu Beach and Le Pirates Beach Club.
Try to get to the west side about an hour before sunset (around 5 PM) so you can pick a good seat by the beach. Even if it seems like the sun is hiding behind clouds, don’t be discouraged – get out there anyway! I have 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 about 5 minutes before it turned to night time, so don’t leave before dark!
5. Take a photo at the famous Gili Swings and Sea Hammocks
This is probably better to do when the tide is high because it would really show off the unique point about the swings and hammocks – that they are actually out in the sea! To find the swings, just make your way up or down the western part of Gili Trawangan, and you are bound to see a bunch of these sea hammocks and swings.
The Swings at Ombak Sunset is very popular and is probably the one that started this “swing in the sea” trend. Nowadays there are plenty of other beach clubs that have a swing too. The Sea Hammock and Swings at The Exile and the swings at Malibu Beach Club right next door are both also a good option for photos.
No, you don’t have to be a guest or stay at any of these places to take pictures at the swings. You can visit them even if you are staying somewhere else – you just might have to queue if there are a lot of people around.
6. Get underwater – do some Scuba diving!
The Gilis 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! It’s still pretty good diving, especially if you are a beginner. The visibility is good (I have been told it can be as clear as 25m) and you will have a higher chance of seeing sea turtles, for reasons I will cover in the next point.
One dive here will cost you Rp 490,000 (US$33) 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 the current can get pretty strong on these spots, so please be extra careful!
7. Visit the Gili Trawangan Turtle Sanctuary and Hatchery
In Gili Trawangan, sea turtles are protected animals. They have a turtle sanctuary located to the right of the main jetty on the northern side of the island along the main road. Sea turtles lay and bury their eggs in the sand, where it is exposed to dangers from human and other animals. As such, many of the eggs never made it to become adult turtles. The Turtle Sanctuary is a non-profit organization that helps the turtles increase their chance of survival. They use donation money to buy turtle eggs from locals in Lombok, where they would otherwise be eaten.
At the sanctuary, you can see (but please, don’t touch) baby sea turtles of varying sizes waiting to be released to the ocean once they are of age – approximately 6 months. If you are lucky enough, you might be able to witness this “release” ceremony of these baby turtles!
8. Go on a Snorkeling tour around the three islands
If snorkeling off the beach is not your thing, you can also go on snorkeling tours that will take you to good spots in the three Gilis. There are lots of operators around the island – you don’t even have to look for them, they’ll start offering snorkeling tours even when you pass by.
If you go on the snorkeling public tour, you’ll have to share the boat with other people for 4 hours and costs you Rp 150,000 / person (but you should always bargain this down). We opted to get a private tour so that we don’t have to share the boat with other people. Originally the price quoted for this private boat was Rp 750,000, but I bargained it down to Rp 600,000 total for the two of us (honestly it can probably go a bit lower).
The snorkeling takes you to multiple sites where you can see underwater sculptures by Jason deCaires Taylor, a well-known underwater sculptor whose work has been featured in the Caribbeans. You’ll also most likely get to see sea turtles since there are many of them around Gili islands.
I booked our snorkeling tour from the guy in front of the Turtle Hatchery, but if you can’t be bothered to bargain, don’t worry! You can book a private snorkeling tour online here.
9. Visit Gili Air and Gili Meno
As I said before, the Gilis are made up of three islands – Gili Trawangan, Gili Air, and Gili Meno. Gili Meno is mostly for locals but Gili Air is the more quiet version of Gili Trawangan. You can easily visit the other two Gili islands by getting on a short boat ride from the main jetty of Gili Trawangan.
I have not been to Gili Meno, but I visited Gili Air. The things to do here are similar to Gili Trawangan, but Gili Air is an even smaller island – more quiet but somehow cleaner and feels more organized.
There are public and private boats options. Here are all the option and costs:
- The public slow boat costs Rp 35,000/person one way to Gili Meno and Rp 40,000/person one way to Gili Air. It only operates twice a day, once in the morning to Gili Meno and Air at 9:30 AM, then and back in the afternoon at 3 PM. The boat will stop at Gili Meno first before going on to Gili Air. You should be at the port at least 30 minutes before departure time to buy the tickets. Their schedule might change so make sure you check the latest timing before you go. It takes 30 minutes to reach Gili Air with this option.
- The public fast boat costs Rp 85,000 / person one way and operates four times a day. It takes about 15 minutes to reach Gili Air.
- A private boat costs Rp 100,000/person one way, but it goes straight to Gili Air without any stops. It takes 10 minutes to reach Gili Air.
To take the public boat option, go straight to the ticket counter at the ferry area on the beach itself. Don’t go to the boat ticket counters on the main road. The public boat ticket counter is the only building that is actually on the beach, so you can’t miss it. On Google maps, the pin name is written in Indonesian as “Pelabuhan Gili Trawangan“
What and Where to eat in Gili Trawangan
On the east side of Gili Trawangan, you will be spoiled for choice of food – especially western cuisines priced for tourists. However, there are some great local options for cheap and tasty too!
While walking around the island, keep your eyes out for small stalls (called Warung) serving local food like Satay (grilled skewers), Soto Ayam (Indonesian Chicken Soup), or Gado-Gado (Indonesian salad with tempe, tofu and peanut sauce).
Look out for street vendors selling grilled corns and, one of my favorite Indonesian meals, Bakso (meatball noodle soup). Bakso is a meatball noodle dish that is very popular in Indonesia and can be found throughout the country. Usually, Bakso is sold out of a pushcart on the street in Indonesia. So you should definitely keep an eye out try it while you’re in Indonesia. Food at these places would set you back only a couple of dollars.
Aside from the local options, my favorite places for a meal on the islands are:
- Pituq – This is a vegan restaurant serving food inspired by Indonesian cuisine. As you might have noticed, Indonesian food tend to rely on meat, but Pituq has done an excellent job at providing the vegan options. My favorite is the Jackfruit curry and the Pumpkin Perkedel.
- Jali Kitchen – Just a solid choice for a meal. They have a good blend of local and western options. My favorite was the Mushroom Ravioli and Ikan Pepes – a local dish consisting of white fish steamed in various herbs.
- Tiki Grove – I went here for a drink, but I’ve read reviews that the food is good too. The couple who owns this place is very lovely too! They took the time to chat with us even though they were busy running the bar and kitchen at that time.
- Le Pirates Beach Club – Great option for a spot to watch the sunset, and their skewers were really good too. I loved the tempe and tofu skewers!
How many days should I spend in the Gilis?
This is a difficult question to answer – it really depends what kind of traveler you are. All 3 of the Gili islands are very small and you can do all the things I mentioned above in probably 2 days. If you’re the type of person who needs constant entertainment and something new to do every day, you’ll probably be bored after 2-3 days.
But if you’re just looking to chill out and don’t mind repeating the same thing, then you’ll enjoy your time in the Gilis. That’s why many visitors have ended up staying long-term in the Gilis. I stayed for 4 days and I found it to be just the right amount.
What else can you do while in this part of Indonesia?
- Climb Mount Rinjani in Lombok – If you are spending time in the area for a long time, you can also consider going back to Lombok main island and challenge yourself to climb Rinjani, the second highest volcano in Indonesia. You can read all about my experience of climbing Rinjani here!
- Visit Bali, the island of Gods – Bali needs no introduction – and only a short ferry ride away from Lombok! Check out my complete Bali Guide here. You can spend some time partying in Seminyak, climb yet another active volcano Mount Batur (there are tons of active volcanoes in Indonesia), or go rice-terrace trekking in Ubud.