If you are traveling throughout Bali, you will inevitably run into countless groups gearing up to head to the Gili Islands. These three tiny tropical islands are fringed with picturesque white sand beaches and sit in crystal clear, turquoise water. Gili Trawangan, Gili Air, and Gili Meno are visions of paradise in their richest form.
Although their popularity has exploded over recent years and thus can be very busy during peak season, there are still many months where you can have parts of the islands all to yourself (like the month of Ramadan for example, which is when we spent a week and a half hopping around the islands). Just a couple of miles East of Gili Air is the much larger island of Lombok. This island has so much to offer and is often skipped over by folks who come to this area just to hop around the Gilis. We could easily have spent a couple of weeks trekking through the vast jungles in search of waterfalls, surfing off of the white sand beaches, diving to the countless reefs off the coast, and exploring all that this diverse island has to offer.
Getting To Lombok And The Gili Islands:
Lombok is the largest of the cluster of islands surrounding the popular destination from Bali, the Gili Islands (Gili Trawangan, Gili Air, and Gili Meno). It has its own airport, but can easily be reached from Bali via Padangbai, or from the various surrounding islands by boat (about 10 minutes from the closest of the Gilis, Gili Air).
You can easily book a shuttle and fast boat from Ubud (check out our Ubud guide here) for 200-300k IDR per person. The car ride is about an hour and the boat takes an hour to an hour + a few minutes depending on what island you’d like to go to. The typical circuit goes from Bali to Lombok before heading over to Gili Trawangan (the largest of the Gilis). Pro Tip – keep your pack towel or sarong in your day pack so that you can use it to shield you from the wind and sun should you choose to sit on top of the boat! The top of the boat is the most comfortable place to sit and take in your beautiful surroundings, just be sure to hold on!
Another great option if you are okay with a slower journey is to take the large ferry from Padangbai which leaves every hour (or so they say) and takes about 4 hours to reach Lombok. This is by far the most economical option as it only costs about 46k IDR per person. Pro Tip – make sure you pack snacks or purchase from the many vendors running around trying to sell you food. You will get hungry on the ferry and the concession stand has only chips, candy, and maybe some instant noodles. Also, explore! Walk around, see the beds and floor mats where people are sleeping, climb to the top of the ship and let the sun kiss your face. Also, don’t be surprised if this journey ends up taking way longer than expected. When we made the voyage, our boat sat in the bay off the coast of Padangbai for over three hours after the initial 4-hour crossing. Just remember to stay positive!
Once you are on one of the islands, the best way to hop around is to take the public boat (this is the way the locals get around) which will cost about 12k-20k IDR depending on which island you are coming from. Pro Tip – follow the locals. It can be difficult to figure out exactly where the public boat will depart from once you purchase your ticket. A surefire way to know? Public boats typically pack 35-50 people on them so look for the large group of locals walking along the beach with a ticket the same color as yours. Get ready to squish as they like to pack the boat tight for the short ride to the next island.
Accommodation In Lombok:
Our group opted to stay about 20 minutes outside of Senggigi at a quiet little hostel called La Boheme Lombok. This affordable spot (found on Hostelworld) was the perfect gem for our short stay in Lombok. Upon arriving we were greeted by a kind, and as we soon learned always smiling, man named Abdul who served us banana pancakes within ten minutes of checking in. He told us pancakes are available free of charge 24/7 and that he personally makes breakfast for the entire hostel each morning (or whenever people get hungry). He was quite the character and was constantly adding comedic relief to our stay.
Dorm beds were relatively cheap by Indonesian standards (about $10 USD per night), beds were clean, there were multiple fans in each room, and there was even a projector for watching movies (of which they had many) as you laid out on one of the many bean bags scattered about the top floor lounge area.
You can rent scooters from the hostel for 75k IDR (just make sure you know what you are doing so you avoid a scooter fiasco like I had). They can also assist with getting to and from other islands and help book other excursions for you (like the 3-day trek on Mount Rinjani). Pro Tip – They will even give you free passage to Gili T if you stay at their sister hostel there!
Things to do in Lombok:
- Spend a day surfing in Kuta Lombok or Sengigi.
- Take an off the beaten path trek to Air Terjun Guripak.
- Rent scooters and spend a day cruising along the beautiful coastline make sure to stop at the Malimbu Hill viewpoint.
- Check out the less popular Mawun Beach with sprawling white sandy beaches in an almost enclosed bay.
- Spend 3 days and 2 nights (or whatever amount strikes your fancy) trekking through the majestic Mount Rinjani.
Accommodation in Gili T:
On the more cosmopolitan of the tree islands (also the party island), Gili T, our group stayed at a peaceful and spacious hostel called Gili Klapa (klapa is coconut in Bahasa). They have a beautiful pool surrounded by lounge chairs and bean bags, a full-size volleyball court, and cheap bicycles that you can rent for the duration of your stay (30,000 IDR/day).
We quickly found that bikes were key for getting around on the island. Although it is easy enough to walk everywhere (about two hours around the entire island), it is much more fun and will save you heaps of time to travel by bike. This hostel is located near the center of the island and is a quick 3-5-minute bike ride to the beach on either side. Note that while they provide fans, this is the hottest hostel we have stayed in yet. Slept fine at night, but you’ll want to be outside during the day. Pro Tip – Check out the amazing sunsets with a tasty cocktail or watermelon juice and a bean bag chair on sunset beach. You may even see some horses go galloping by.
After a few days, the night owls of our group decided to switch over to a new hostel, Gili Castle, which is renowned for its social vibes, themed parties, and wait for it… a 30-foot rock wall that towers over the pool (honestly probably the coolest hostel pool we have ever seen). Our group started each morning with a leap from the tower to wake up and get our adrenaline pumping for the day. Although slightly more expensive than Gili Klapa, The Castle as it is dubbed by guests easily makes up for the extra cost with its great facilities: full bar, amazing swimming pool (bridge with a platform for doing flips and cannon balls in addition to the rock wall tower), cheap food, free breakfast (or a free beer if that’s how you like to start your day), modern rooms, and a friendly atmosphere great for meeting new friends.
Things to do in Gili T:
- Snorkel at Turtle Cove! Rent snorkel gear for around 30,000 IDR, find some bean bag chairs and post up for the day on this beautiful white sand beach.
- Rent bikes and spend the day exploring the island. You can easily bike around the island in 45 minutes, but with countless shops, sights, and the inner jungles to explore this can easily turn into a whole day affair.
- Get your Open Water Diving Certification or take a fun dive with one of the friendly dive shops.
- Rent a glass bottom kayak and go searching for turtles and tropical fish.
- Enjoy sunsets on Sunset Beach.
- Stand up paddle board all around the island and if you are feeling extra spry you can even give SUP Yoga a try.
- If catching big fish is more your thing, there are daily deep sea trips from the island (though be prepared to spend a fair price).
- Dance until sunrise at one of the many party bars across the island. Not all bars are open late though as there is a rotation each night for which bar gets to stay open until 5am, so check in with your hostel to get the details on which spot will be popping off each night. If you go during Ramadan most places will be closed much earlier.
- Eat at the night market! Huge variety of food options and by far the cheapest meal you can get on the island. Pro tip – Pick out a freshly caught fish (snapper, tuna, and others) and have it grilled right in front of your eyes with a serving of veggies and rice. Delicious!
- Don’t feel like going out, but still want to socialize and have a few drinks? Even if you are not staying there, the doors of Gili Castle are open until around 11:00PM and there are almost always groups of people hanging out, playing games, and having a good time.
Accommodation in Gili Air:
After an action packed 5 days on Gili T, it was time to chill out and relax, so we hopped on the public boat over to the less developed and much more laid-back, Gili Air. We stayed at an open-air backpackers hostel called Begadang.
When you walk through the large wooden gateway you emerge into a wide grass courtyard with a volleyball net, mushroom shaped pool (inspired by the mushrooms Mario likes to munch on, which many of the locals will also try to sell you), a giant game of connect four, and a dozen or so bamboo huts. There are even a ping pong table and a slack line which we spent a lot of time enjoying during our stay. This hostel is a great place to relax and chill by the pool while meeting super friendly laid back folks from around the world. Note that the bamboo huts here are mostly open air (unless you splurge for an air-conditioned room) so you’ll have a twin mattress covered by a large mosquito net. It was actually one of Alli’s favorite places to stay as she loved being cocooned away from the bugs.
If hostels aren’t quite your cup of tea, there are a plethora of villas on the island to choose from. Our friends stayed at the Susan Villa and said it was quite nice. If you are new to Airbnb then here is a link that will give you $33 off your first booking!
Things to do in Gili Air:
- Get some morning exercise and take a 30-minute jog around the perimeter of the island. Best to do it before it gets too hot (one of our friends got a pretty nasty heat rash, but he ran during the heat of the day)!
- Snorkel at Hann’s Reef which is suitable for all ages and a great opportunity to see a wide variety of unusual marine life.
- Rent bikes (although not necessary to get around this island and far less convenient as there are a lot of sandy sections that are difficult to bike through). This island is smaller than Gili T and does not have actual roads around its full coastline.
- Visit the Insta famous Gili Island Swings (there are some neat hammocks nearby too).
- Play some Beach Volleyball with a group of friends from your hostel. There are a couple of nets around the island, but you can also just use the one at Bagadang hostel.
- Spend a day walking around the interior and exterior of the island. You’ll be amazed at the lush, inner forest and the sandy white beaches on the coast. Take your camera for some epic photography!
We had an absolute blast during our two weeks hopping around the Gili Islands and Lombok and definitely recommend making the trip to anyone heading to Indonesia. Feel free to ask us any questions you have in the comments, we are always more than happy to help 🙂
Stay tuned for more adventures and guides for all of the exciting places we will soon be visiting during our year long journey throughout SE Asia!
Share this: Let us know if you have any questions in the comments and be sure to share the stories of your adventures with us on Facebook and Instagram (tag @LifeIsMeantForExploring we will see it). Have fun exploring the Gilis!
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