Planning a trip to Indonesia or a short getaway from Bali? These 3 tropical islands just off the northwest coast of Lombok are worth checking out! From the most remote to the most popular, there is for sure one of them that suits your taste. Here are some good informations that should help decide which one of the three island is for you and get a chance to swim with the turtles.
1. HOW TO GET TO THE GILIS
2. THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE 3 ISLANDS
3. WHERE TO SEE THE TURTLES
Before planning anything you should be aware
The three islands are motored vehicle free. Walking or renting a bicycle would be your only options to get from a place to another. PLEASE DO NOT USE THE HORSE CARTS! I’ve seen very sad situations where the horses are in most case bad treated and pushed to run all day under the sun overloaded with people and suitcases. This horrible business needs to stop and the only way to make it happening is by tourists refusing to use them!
Stay not too far from the pier for a convenient location and travel light, all the islands are pretty small and can be covered by walking or cycling.
The Gili Islands are predominantly Muslim and you might hear prayers on loud speakers throughout the day. Would you have sensible noise ear and don’t want to be awaken at 5am stay away from the mosques, just read the reviews of the hotels on Booking.com or TripAdvisor before making your booking.
1. HOW TO GET TO THE ISLANDS
By boat from Bali:
There are several companies offering transfers from Bali to the Gili Islands and you should be aware that some of them are not reliable. When I moved to Bali, I was recommended by a friend to use the Patagonia Express fast boat service and we’ve booked each of our trips with them ever since. Boats are always on time, staff is helpful, they also have a nice top deck and great air conditioning on board. They even provide transport sickness pills and essential oil to apply onto your nose if the sea get rough, just speak to the crew if you’re not feeling well.
Boats depart daily from either Benoa harbor or Padang Bay in Bali. Hotel and airport transfer are also included, click here to more info, timetable and to make your booking. The journey can take up to 4 hours, depending on which harbor you’re departing from.
For those going straight to Gili Meno note that the Patagonia express doesn’t stop there, I’d recommend to use a different ferry company from Bali or use the public boat from Gili Tarawangan or Gili Air, it only takes a few minutes to get from one island to another.
By air to Lombok:
You can fly to Lombok Airport (Lombok is the large island that you can see on the map located on the east side next to the Gilis) Once you arrive you’ll need to get a taxi to Bangsal harbor, I haven’t done the trip myself however I heard that the trip should cost around 300k IDR and shouldn’t take more than 2 hours. The driver will drop you off at the pier where you can buy boat tickets to the three Gili Islands which are accessible by a slow public boat or by speed boat.
2. THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE 3 ISLANDS
Aka Gili T is the most lively destinations. There are all sorts of accommodations all around the island, diving schools, shops, dayly boat parties and loads of bars. Perfect if you’re backpacking, travelling alone or just looking at sunbathing in the day and partying at night. It is also the largest of the three islands, grab a bike and explore the beaches all around, some are rockier than others, try yoga sup on paddle boards and take a photo on the famous swings of Ombak (although nowadays you can find swings everywhere, even on Gili Air).
My top pick on Gili T: Pearl beach lounge, the kind of place that worth more than one visit. Beautiful bamboo design, good food and great service. It also has a private beach area where you can rent sun loungers and umbrellas for just 100k IDR per person for the day and redeemable towards food and drinks. There is also a pool however it is for hotel guests use only.
Gili M is the most laid back and remote of the three. It is still untouched and ideal for a calm and enchanting holiday. There is a small selection of luxury accommodations to budget cottages so booking your place in advance would be a preferable, you don’t want to walk all around with your luggage. There is also a couple of small groceries that only sell the essential but it’s easy to get a taxi boat to the next island if you need anything during your trip. Gili Meno is also the tinest, you can easily walk through the paths and visit the whole in a day (pack sunscreen and water, it can’t get really hot and hasn’t got much shade). Highly recommended for honeymooners or those in need of a quite holiday on a remote island with the beach for themselves. If you’re staying in the other Gilis, you can use the public boat and just go for a day trip, trust me it worth the visit!
Make sure you stop by the Turtle Sanctuary, it is a small place near the public boat pier where you can admire the baby turtles and get informed on how to protect them. You are welcome to donate before you leave to help the owner looking after the sea turtles. They are so tiny and cute, I could have stayed hours just watching them moving around.
My top pick on Gili M: Karma Beach (Sister of Karma beach in Bali).
Lovely accommodations, beautiful beach and tasty food. I’d recommended checking out if you’re planning to stay on Gili Meno or on your day trip, it’s only a few minutes walk from the harbour, if you’re not a guest you cam still use their comfy sunloungers as long as you spend money on food and drink throughout the day, no minimum spend is required.
Gili A is a cocktail mix of the other two. It has most of the amenities that you can find on Gili T while it has a more peaceful and hippie vibe. Great option for couples, families or anyone who wants a chill holiday away from the big nightlife. It has nice beaches, great massage shops , yoga classes and incredible sunsets in the evening. Make sure you head to the west side of the island after 5pm to watch the spectacle over the active volcano Mt Agung while sipping fresh fruits cocktails.
Be aware of the building work going on! On my last trip to Gili A in April, some places were undergoing constructions as per new coast line regulations. Hotels had to relocate their infrastructures which have caused noise and closed areas for tourists. I’m not sure when the work is due to finish so messaging the hotel before making a booking might be a good idea.
My top pick on Gili A: Dolce Mare restaurant.
You won’t find any of the traditional Indonesian dishes but delicious homemade italian food. I’ve travelled a lot in Italy and believe me the pasta there are unbelievably good! The place is tiny and very romantic, they only have 6 tables so booking your table is a must, send them message on Facebook to make a reservation.
ATMs are available at any of the three islands (only 2 on Gili Meno) however bringing some cash with you is hilghly recommended just in case the machines run out of notes. There is also a selection of money exchange desks on Gili T and Gili A but you’re better changing you’re cash on the mainland and avoid these ones, they overcharge comissions.
3. WHERE TO SEE TURTLES
Swimming next to these beauties was an exceptional experience and was definitely my favorite thing to do on the Gilis. Please remember not to touch the sea turtles and not to bother them as any of the other sea life, just admire from where you are and leave enough space for them to come up to the surface and breath.
The main turtle point is in Gili Meno by ‘Sunset House’ however if you keep an eye out you’ll see some wondering around in the north east coast of Gili Air near ‘Scallywags Beach Club’ or at the north of Tarawangan near ‘villa Alamarik’. Check out the map below or just ask the locals, they are super friendly and have the best recommendations. Always carry a mask and snorkel with you when you go swimming, I’ve spotted a couple at the shore one day, going deep is not necessary. If you need a snorkeling gear and fins you might ask your hotel or rent a set from one of the huts by the beach for about 50,000 IDR a day.
Going around by boat is also a great option for turtle spotting, you can go on a shared snorkelling trip which is usually overcrowded or a on a private tour. We inquired by the pier of Gili Air and after bartering the price we got a glass bottomed boat for 3 hours just for the two of us for 700,000 IDR. The magical was there, many turtles around us, way more than what we expected to see. A day to remember!
“The Gilis are getting more popular among travellers, go soon before it will be overrun by commercial structures.
Have a lot of fun, relax and say hello to the turtles from me!