As many of you may know, I recently visited Bali, Indonesia, and I wanted to put together a little series about my time there. I visited Ubud, the Gili Islands and Seminyak. After I went to Ubud, I stopped over at the Gili Islands.
About the Gili Islands:
Technically the Gili’s aren’t actually part of Bali, they are part of Lombok, but they often get lumped in with Bali. There are three islands: Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno and Gili Air. Gili Trawangan, or Gili T as it’s colloquially known, is considered the ‘party island. Gili Meno is the quietest of the three, and Gili Air is often regarded as a perfect mixture of the two. There’s no motorised transport on the islands so people travel by horse and cart, bike or by foot. The majority of people living on the Gili Islands are Muslim so you will notice some differences between here and Bali. The Gili’s are especially well known for having excellent diving spots where you can see rays, sharks and sea turtles.
I stayed on Gili Trawangan at a hotel called the Pearl of Trawangan. It’s right on the beach front and has a beautiful bamboo structure in the restaurant that people often photographed on the way past. It had a nice pool area with a swim up bar, lovely food and a bike rental service which was really useful. The location was great, down the south part of the island which is supposedly a little quieter, and not far from the sunset bars.
What to do:
• Cycling: There are bikes to rent everywhere and cycling around the islands is a must do. It took me around an hour to cycle around Gili Trawangan and it was a great way to see the island and get my bearings. Plus it’s a good way to scope out good restaurants and bars without having to trawl around in the evening trying to find somewhere.
• Horse Riding: There are two stables on Gili Trawangan: Sunset Stables and Stud Horse Riding Adventures. I went with Stud and had a great time! The horses seemed well cared for and most weren’t in stables when I arrived but were roaming free around the grounds. They offer sunset rides on the beach for beginners and in the morning you can request for a more advanced ride. I used to ride when I was younger so I requested an advanced ride, and had the option of saddle or bareback. I chose bareback and got to gallop on the beach and play in the sea! Definitely a highlight for me.
• Find a Swing: Gili Trawangan has several swings in the sea dotted around the shore which have become insta-famous. They are mostly connected to different bars on the beach; I don’t think you have to buy a drink to use them but I chose to because the views were beautiful and a great place to sit with a cocktail. If you do want to go and take some good photos make sure you plan it as it gets dark quickly and the tide changes how visible the swings are. Other than wanting a nice photo, I genuinely really enjoyed swinging out in the sea for a while looking out at the sunset.
• Snorkeling/Diving: If you don’t dive already there are a few places where you can get your PADI certificate – the Gili Islands have lots of diving hotspots around. There are lots of different boat trips daily which include snorkelling trips and diving trips, and some offer night diving for those who are more advanced. Snorkelling trips are very cheap, around £5 for a public boat, but private tours are also very reasonably priced. Most trips will take you to swim with the sea turtles on one of the stops which is a must do!
• Water Sports: There are a few places dotted around the shore offering activities like kayaking and paddle boarding.
• Sunbathing: Relax! You’re on island time and there’s no pressure to squeeze in lots of tourist sights. Its beautifully hot and there are lovely patches of beach to lay down and soak up some rays.
• Visiting Other Islands: There are boats that go to the other islands twice a day and you might also stop at them on diving or snorkelling trips. Tickets are very cheap, around £3 or so.
Where to eat and drink:
• Pearl of Trawangan, Gili Trawangan: The Pearl isn’t just a hotel but also has a beachfront restaurant. If you want dinner on the beach you need to book a table, but they usually have walk up space in the restaurant. There were loads of veggie options to try all of which were delicious! There is nothing quite like sitting on the beach having a candlelit dinner. It also does amazing breakfast.
• Scallywags, Gili Trawangan and Gili Air: Scallywags is a diving company and also has accommodation as well as a bar. I only went to the one on Gili Trawangan but they did lovely cocktails and it has a nice atmosphere.
• Coffee and Thyme, Gili Air: This was a really cute little lunch spot that has milkshakes to die for. It has lots of great veggie options too and the grounds were pretty.
• The Exile, Gili Trawangan: This is a bar connected to one of the many famous swings in the sea. The cocktails were yummy and there were lots of nice beanbags to sit on on the beach. There is a minimum spend to sit on them but it was only around £5 each which is easily done if you’re having a couple of drinks. This bar and the surrounding bars are also in the area where the sun sets so if you go at the right time you’ll get a front row seat.
Things you should know:
• You can get to the Gili Islands either by flying to Lombok and taking a short boat trip (approximately 20 minutes) to the islands. Alternatively you can take a boat from Bali. There are a few different ports you can go from depending on where you are starting from. There are also a couple of different options when travelling by boat from Bali as you can take a fast boat which takes around three hours or less depending on where you are travelling from; or take a boat that has lots of different stops and can take up to eight hours. This is obviously often the cheaper option so you need to weigh up whether you value your time or money more. I chose time, so I took a fast boat from Serangan which is about an hour and a half from Ubud and a further couple of hours on the boat. There are a few different companies offering transport to the Gili Islands but be careful as some of them have a terrible reputation. I used Gili Getaway who were fantastic.
• The majority of people who live on the Gili Islands are Muslim. Although they are used to lots of scantily clad tourists milling around the hotels and beaches, if you want to go further inland to the villages you must dress appropriately.
• A dinging bell means a horse or a bike is coming! The horse and cart will not move for you so be careful.
• It takes around two hours to walk around Gili Trawangan, and less than this to walk around Gili Air and Gili Meno.
• You will be offered drugs as much as you are offered taxis in Ubud (which is a lot); usually mushrooms or cannabis. Take them at your peril; drug use is illegal in Indonesia and tourists have been known to get the death penalty as recently as 2015.
• Locals will occasionally approach you on the beach to sell things like speakers and jewellery. A polite “no thank you” will usually suffice if you’re not interested.
• The north of Gili Trawangan is not overly bike friendly and there is a point where you have to pick your bike up and take it along a narrow wall to cross. It’s doable but I definitely wasn’t prepared for it!
• There will be places that you have to push your bike as it is too sandy to cycle through.
• There are little stalls on the island selling clothes but not many. If you’re planning to visit Bali then wait until you get there to buy anything as it will be cheaper once you are not on the Gili’s.
As with Ubud, some of the best things to do are either super cheap or completely free! I initially planned to visit Gili Trawangan for just a few days as from what I had read there wasn’t going to be much to do, but I definitely wish I stayed a lot longer, especially to explore the other islands more. There isn’t the pressure to squeeze everything in like I found there to be in Ubud, but there is certainly enough to keep you busy for a week at a more relaxed pace.
Check out my Instagram for more photos and I hope you’ll return for my next post about Seminyak!