Where to Stay in Gili Islands

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Updated: September 22, 2020

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The Best Areas to Stay in Gili Islands

Gili Trawangan

Gili Trawangan, Meno, and Air off the coast of Lombok are surrounded by beautiful sandy beaches.

About the same size as neighboring Bali, Lombok island is delightfully different and often ignored. Just off the northwest coast of Lombok and rivaling parts of Bali for visitor numbers are three idyllic islands with turquoise waters and white sands known collectively as the Gili islands. Each is small enough to circle on foot; in fact, the only way to get around is by walking, cycling, or cidomo (horse-cart).

In early August 2018, this slice of paradise changed dramatically and, perhaps, irreversibly for tourism. During a severe earthquake (and subsequent aftershocks), many hotels, especially those in the lower category, and a lot of cafés and other facilities built out of wood and tin were destroyed. The number of tourists plummeted by two-thirds and those seeking a tropical getaway off the coast of Bali flocked to Nusa Lembongan island instead. By late 2019, much on the three islands had recovered, with little evidence of the past tragedy and no further tremors recorded. With fewer tourists these days, prices for everything have often been slashed, so the Gili Islands remain great value – especially compared to overpriced, overbuilt, and overcrowded Bali.

Less than a mile apart, the ‘Gilis’ as they’re known (gili means ‘small island’ in the local Sasak language) are delightfully dissimilar. Gili Trawangan is justifiably regarded as the ‘Party Island’, where sections of the east coast are reminiscent of Kuta on Bali. The closest island to the mainland of Lombok, Gili Air offers a more authentic village vibe, while on the smallest island of Gili Meno, there is little to do but snorkel and snooze, which appeals to most but may bore some.

Facing the sandy beaches and among the nearby backstreets on all three islands is a variety of accommodations. Most are family-run guesthouses consisting of simple but comfortable bungalows, while an increasing number of cozy resorts are being built – though certainly not with the size and amenities of those on Bali.

There are several important things to note for all three islands:
• Facilities are limited. There are minimarts, but no banks – only a few cash machines and moneychangers offering poor rates.
• Blackouts are not uncommon and only upmarket places have backup generators. Take a torch after dark because there are few (and, often, no) street lights.
• During peak seasons (July, August, and mid-December to late January), hotel prices can double and finding a decent room is difficult, so always book ahead.
• Smelly bore water is used in most guesthouses for showering, while expensive places usually have to ship in freshwater from the mainland at great expense. So, use water sparingly.
• Expected amenities like air-conditioning and hot water are not common at lower-priced hotels.

The Best Places to Stay on the Gili Islands

Gili Meno Island

Among the three Gili Islands, the waters off Gili Meno are particularly wonderful for snorkeling and scuba diving.

Where to Stay in Gili Islands for…

  • Best Area on the Gili Islands for Sightseeing: Gili Meno (all over)
    With no cultural, historic, or religious attractions, the Gilis are simply about swimming, snorkeling, sunbathing, and having a damn good time. Although easily the smallest and least developed island, Gili Meno does offer several mildly interesting attractions: the salt lake in the northwest interior is flanked by a crumbling boardwalk and popular for spotting rare birds and scary-looking (but harmless) monitor lizards; the Turtle Sanctuary, which is smaller but more informative than the one on Trawangan; and the eerie remains of the abandoned Bounty resort with the wreck of a pier that is just offshore and fabulous for snorkeling.
  • Best Area on the Gili Islands for Beaches: Gili Meno (all over)
    Each island is completely surrounded by sand, but not all beaches are perfect for swimming or even sunbathing – some are rocky, dirty, and/or choked with seaweed, especially in the more remote areas. Residents of Trawangan and Air islands grudgingly admit that the finest beaches are along the coasts of Meno: the sand is often powdery-white underfoot; there is less trash from tourists; many beaches are uncrowded and, sometimes, even deserted; and most of the angled palms haven’t (yet) been cut down for development. And being positioned in the middle of the trio, there are lovely views of the other islands to the east and west.
  • Best Area on the Gili Islands for Scuba Diving: Gili Trawangan (East Coast near the Boat Terminal)
    The major attractions for some tourists are underwater: 3,500 species of marine life (double the number at Australia’s Great Barrier Reef) that includes harmless sharks and giant protected turtles among shimmering reefs. What’s more, the waters are warm and clear, and there’s even a submerged pier encrusted with coral to explore. Diving trips and courses can be arranged on any of the 3 islands, but most of the agencies offering the finest array of competitively-priced facilities and itineraries are on the most populated and developed island, Trawangan. Best to use reputable, international-standard and Western-run companies like Manta Dive, Blue Marlin Dive, and Trawangan Dive. The Gili Eco Trust implements a tax on all divers to help protect the underwater delights across the islands.
  • Best Area on the Gili Islands for Snorkeling: Gili Meno (all over)
    Some of Indonesia’s most pristine coral and remarkable marine life (including giant turtles) is within swimming distance of the coasts of all three islands – but be wary of tides and currents which can be surprisingly strong. Masks, snorkels, and fins are easy to rent from stalls where the owners can also suggest the prime locations. With fewer tourists and, therefore, less trash and development on the beaches, the snorkeling on Meno is especially impressive and includes a submerged pier encrusted with coral on the west coast. Otherwise, join a trip on a glass-bottom boat from any of the 3 islands. These provide easier and superior access to the reefs and include snorkeling equipment.
  • Best Area on the Gili Islands for Surfing: Gili Trawangan (East Coast near the Boat Terminal)
    Many are surprised that the Gilis offer fairly decent surfing, and while the waves are not as enticing or accessible as those in Bali, they are certainly less crowded. The hassles of bringing a surfboard to the Gilis by boat can be avoided by renting one at the handful of specialized agencies on Trawangan where lessons and repairs are also available. Surfing is best from January to June.
  • Best Area on the Gili Islands for Water Sports: Gili Trawangan (East Coast near the Boat Terminal)
    The choice of water sports is surprisingly limited and not nearly as broad as Bali. Availability often depends on the season (best from May to October) and the overall demand especially. Tourists are most likely to find fun activities – kayaking and paddle-boarding, but not jet-skiing or parasailing – on the most populated and developed island of Trawangan. Nothing much is organized, however; just look around near the boat terminal or ask at the scuba diving agencies listed earlier.
  • Best Area on the Gili Islands for Boat Trips: Gili Trawangan (East Coast near the Boat Terminal)
    Even getting to the islands is an adventure in itself, and other boat trips are also available. These include cruises for admiring the sunset, boats for spotting dolphins (not guaranteed), or swimming and snorkeling among coral reefs from a boat with a glass bottom. All trips need a minimum number of passengers before leaving, which is much more likely on the most popular island of Trawangan. Numerous travel agencies around the island sell tickets but it’s better to book directly with one of the boat companies near the terminal. Chartering a boat with a boatman for a private cruise is also possible, but fares are fixed and outrageous.
  • Best Area on the Gili Islands for Nightlife: Gili Trawangan (East Coast near the Boat Terminal)
    The range of things to do after dark on Trawangan is truly impressive for such a small island – from casual beachside bars with Bob Marley on 24-hour rotation to Irish pubs offering rollicking bands playing passable Western music. It’s also easy to stumble across an open mic show, quiz night, or outdoor movie. Thankfully for those staying along the more serene north and west coasts, these bars and clubs are jammed into a compact area along the foreshore and lanes near the boat terminal.
  • Best Area on the Gili Islands for Yoga and Spa Retreats: Gili Trawangan (Village Backstreets)
    The selection of boutique hotels/retreats and specialized companies on Trawangan offering classes in yoga and Pilates is far more modest than on Bali. Also among the serene backstreets distant from the nightclubs on Trawangan are a few cafés serving meals with home-grown and organic ingredients; spas offering massages, scrubs, and facials; and special places for meditation and all things spiritual. Particularly wonderful are Soraya Yoga Wellness Center, Gili Yoga, and Sunset Beach Yoga Gili Trawangan.
  • Best Area on the Gili Islands for Food and Restaurants: Gili Air (Village Backstreets)
    For 3 tiny islands, the range of places to eat and the choice of food is quite amazing – from classy Italian bistros to pizza joints, European-standard restaurants serving seafood, and casual eateries selling Mexican cuisine (the latest trend). The variety is widest on Trawangan though many restaurants insist on loud background music, while dining on the quieter island of Meno is often marred by slow service. What makes Gili Air special is the chance to try authentic Indonesian and local Sasak food such as ayam taliwang (marinated chicken) and beberuk terong (eggplant in tomato sauce) at traditional warungs (food stalls). Learn more at Gili Cooking Classes.
  • Best Area on the Gili Islands for Vibe and Culture: Gili Air (Village Backstreets)
    As the only island with a source of freshwater (air means ‘water’ in Indonesian), Gili Air has long been populated by indigenous Sasak people and immigrants from other Indonesian provinces. So, unlike Trawangan and Meno, there is a genuine village with schools, markets, mosques, and cheap eateries designed for locals rather than tourists. Many island folk still graze cows on prime undeveloped land near the boat terminal and practice traditional fishing methods using brightly-painted jukung boats lined along parts of the shoreline.
  • Best Area on the Gili Islands for Walking: Gili Meno (all over)
    One of the many attractions of visiting the Gilis is the complete absence of motorized transport (with the exception of an increasing number of annoying electric bicycles.) So, the only way to get around is by rented bicycle (see below), on chartered (and overpriced) cidomo (horse-carts), and, of course, by foot. Each island can be walked around via coastal paths in less than 2 hours, and strolling is most pleasant on Gili Meno. Around the smallest and least developed island are several secluded beaches, some ideal snorkeling spots, and a few mildly interesting attractions (see above).
  • Best Area on the Gili Islands for Cycling: Gili Air (all over)
    With no vehicles (except some electric bicycles) or public transport (other than overpriced horse-carts), cycling is often the best way to get around any of the islands. Bike rentals are easy to arrange on Trawangan and Air (less on Meno), but paths on Trawangan can be too crowded in places with walkers and too sandy on Meno. With the largest population of local people, Gili Air offers many paths around the coast and among the village.
  • Best Area on the Gili Islands for Shopping: Gili Trawangan (Village Backstreets)
    Nobody really comes to the Gilis for shopping. There are some minimarts with adequate supplies, a couple of chemists, and a few boutiques selling clothes and jewelry for tourists, but nothing remotely like a shopping center/mall – so, come prepared with medications and anything else difficult to buy. Trawangan features the best selection of shops, mostly around the backstreets.
  • Best Area on the Gili Islands for Views: Gili Air (West Coast)
    The only island that is not pancake-flat is Trawangan, where a steepish path leads to Sunset View Point, though all hotels on that island are at sea level. Views from all coasts along the 3 islands are superb and include at least one other island and/or the mainland of Lombok – or even Bali on a clear day. From the isolated west coast of Gili Air, views of the sunset and islands of Meno and Trawangan are especially photogenic.
  • Best Area on the Gili Islands for Serenity: Gili Meno (North Coast)
    On parts of Trawangan, the ‘Party Island’, some tourists exit the loud nightclubs only a short while before the muezzin (pre-dawn call to prayer) from one of the mosques. Gili Air is dominated by a bustling and, inevitably, noisy village with a mosque, school, and market. In contrast, Meno is considerably quieter, especially its north coast, which is distant from the more developed area around the tiny boat terminal.
  • Best Area on the Gili Islands for Families: Gili Trawangan (West Coast)
    The Gilis are not a great destination for families and the islands certainly cannot offer the sort of family-friendly resorts and children’s activities found in the southern regions of Bali. Options for accommodations are mostly limited to booking adjoining rooms that probably won’t have connecting doors – and special family rooms are very rare. Although Trawangan has a deserved reputation as the ‘Party Island’, it is possible to escape the noise and drunken patrons by staying along the west coast where there is space for some sizable resorts decent enough for families.
  • Best Area on the Gili Islands for Value: Gili Air (Village Backstreets)
    In yet another way, the 3 islands are surprisingly dissimilar. As the most popular island attracting more high-end and free-spending tourists, Trawangan can be overpriced. Far smaller, and with less competition among hotels, restaurants, and shops, Meno can also be a little pricey. In contrast, Gili Air is closest to the mainland (thereby reducing transport costs) and many facilities are designed and priced for locals and Indonesian visitors rather than foreign tourists.
  • Best Area on the Gili Islands for Transport: Gili Trawangan (East Coast near the Boat Terminal)
    The only way to reach the islands from Bali or the mainland of Lombok is by public speedboat (most common) or a boat chartered privately or provided by a resort. All boats (sometimes called ‘ferries’) stop at Gili Trawangan; in fact, some only stop there, necessitating connections (often overnight) for guests traveling to/from Air or Meno islands. From Lombok, almost all boats stop at Gili Air before finishing at Trawangan – again, ignoring Meno. Boats for ‘hopping’ between the islands leave from the same terminals once or twice a day. Chartering a boat with a boatman from an island to one or two others provides more flexibility, but costs are fixed and outrageous.
  • Best Areas on the Gili Islands for the Airports: Gili Trawangan (for Bali Airport) and Gili Air (for Lombok Airport)
    Of course, no airports are remotely possible on any island, so there are really only 2 options for reaching the Gilis. Fly to Bali and then get on a speedboat from Sanur (near the airport) or more remotely from Padangbai or Amed on Bali’s east coast. These speedboats always stop at Gili Trawangan and often continue to Gili Air, but usually ignore Meno. Alternatively, fly to the international/domestic airport in southern Lombok, then arrange shuttle bus/taxi connections to Bangsal or Senggigi. From these 2 terminals, all speedboats stop at Gili Air, often continue to Gili Trawangan, but, again, usually ignore Meno.
  • Best Area on the Gili Islands for First-Timers: Gili Meno (all over)
    While not nearly as crowded and noisy as most tourist regions on Bali, the ‘Party Island’ of Trawangan may overwhelm some visitors, especially during the peak seasons of July, August, and mid-December to late January. And, perhaps, the more authentic island of Gili Air, with its mosques, markets, and schools, may not be the tropical paradise some are searching for. So, those traveling to the islands for the first time may prefer Meno which is significantly quieter and smaller and, therefore, less developed and crowded than the other two.
  • Best Area on the Gili Islands for Romantic Holidays: Gili Meno (all over)
    For the reasons mentioned above, Meno is ideal for those on a honeymoon or romantic getaway. With several cozy resorts and clusters of delightful bungalows, this island offers the sort of seclusion, intimacy, and scenic beach frontage usually not possible at the other 2 islands.
  • Safest Area on the Gili Islands: Gili Meno (Interior)
    Many possible dangers are self-inflicted, e.g. drug-taking and excessive drinking, while other major potential hazards are linked to surfing, scuba diving, and other adventure activities. On the ‘Party Island’ of Gili Trawangan, physical and sexual assaults in and around the nightclubs and bars are possible, although rare. Several years ago, some tourists suffered (and even died) from drinking illegally-made alcohol, but this has virtually stopped – always take care, however. Meno is the quietest and least visited island, so potential problems are minimal.
  • Least Safe Area on the Gili Islands: Gili Trawangan (East Coast near the Boat Terminal)
    The Gilis are probably far safer than where tourists have come from. Obviously be careful when visiting nightclubs and bars, especially on Trawangan (see above). On all 3 islands, street lights are usually inadequate or often absent, especially along village lanes and remote coastal areas, so carry a torch after dark and don’t walk alone in unlit areas. With no police station on any island, security is usually under the auspices of local community ‘guards’.

The 11 Best Areas on the Gili Islands for Tourists

Gili Air Beaches

Some cafés and hotels along the east coast of Gili Air offer stunning views of the mainland of Lombok.

Gili Trawangan

The largest of the 3 Islands, Trawangan is geographically and culturally the closest to Bali. Most activities revolve around the water during the day and the bars after dark. This island is popular with the younger set, so those older and seeking some peace and authenticity may consider staying on the other two islands or, at least, far from the area near the boat terminal on Trawangan. As the most visited and accessible island, with frequent speedboat connections to Bali and the mainland of Lombok, Trawangan offers far more facilities than the other 2 islands combined.

1. Gili Trawangan – East Coast near the Boat Terminal

Most hotels, restaurants, shops, and, especially, nightclubs and bars are along the east coast where the terminal is located for boats to Bali, Lombok, and the other 2 Gili Islands. This area is very crowded and noisy, so don’t expect much sleep until about 3am, but it is very convenient for transport and organizing scuba diving trips, surfing, boat cruises, and water-sports. Most visitors appreciate the array of places to eat, drink and, to a lesser degree, shop, and the choice of accommodations is the best anywhere across the 3 islands.

2. Gili Trawangan – Village Backstreets

Some are surprised that only a few lanes behind the nightclubs and bars along the east coast shoreline is an entire village with homes, mosques, eateries designed for locals, and inviting shops for tourists. While a few boutique hotels, villa complexes, and yoga retreats have been built in this area during recent years, most accommodations are family-run guesthouses offering simple but comfortable rooms. Air-conditioning and hot water may not be common in the cheaper places, and choose carefully because some hotels still suffer from noisy nightclubs 100m or more away.

3. Gili Trawangan – North Coast

The serenity and remoteness along the north coast suits many and it does feel a little isolated, but it’s really only 15-20 minutes’ walk from all the action along the east coast near the boat terminal. There are a few luxury hotels and villa complexes but most accommodations are moderately priced and simply furnished, yet they offer the sort of seclusion and beach frontage not possible along the east coast.

4. Gili Trawangan – West Coast

Many ignore the west coast because of its isolation as it is at least 30 minutes’ walk from the boat terminal and all amenities are along the east coast. Resorts are more spacious and suitable for families who would appreciate the distance from all the noisy bars on the other side of the island.

Gili Air

This island was the first to be permanently settled because of its proximity to the mainland of Lombok and source of freshwater. (Oddly enough, air means ‘water’ in Indonesian.) As the most populated island, Gili Air offers authenticity around a genuine village, so some lanes and beaches are a little dirty in places. Despite increasing development, the island is quieter than Trawangan and accommodations in all ranges are far better value – and many hotels, even those moderately priced, offer beach frontage.

5. Gili Air – South Coast near the Boat Terminal

The most convenient area for amenities is along the south coast near the terminal for boats to mainland Lombok, the other 2 islands, and, less frequently, Bali. This area is the most crowded on the island (although not nearly as bad as Trawangan), but some sections remain remarkably undeveloped and cows still graze on prime land. Decent range of accommodations, but nothing recommended for families.

6. Gili Air – Village Backstreets

Of the 3 islands, Gili Air is the most populated (but still only about 2,000 people) and offers the most authenticity among village streets and lanes branching north from the boat terminal. There are very few upmarket hotels in this area, but the simple and comfortable family-run places in the moderate and budget ranges offer excellent value. Also, the many cafés set up for tourists and warungs (food stalls) designed for locals serve a fantastic range of western, Indonesian, and local Sasak food.

7. Gili Air – North Coast

Just like the other 2 islands, the north coast of Gili Air also provides more space for accommodations and has fewer people on the beaches. Yet this area is still easily accessible via a path ideal for cycling from the boat terminal and from majority of amenities in the south.

8. Gili Air – West Coast

Again, like Trawangan and Meno, the west coast of Gili Air is also the most isolated and least crowded part of the island. There is more space for sizable resorts as well as an impressive range of well-priced homestays where guests seem to stay for weeks. In the area are also a couple of scuba diving agencies, and there’s little to do but admire the sun setting over the other 2 islands.

Gili Meno

Many prefer the party action on Gili Trawangan or the village vibe and convenience of Gili Air, so Meno remains comparatively very peaceful, despite the recent construction of boutique resorts and bungalow complexes. The smallest island of the trio, Meno’s beaches are particularly inviting and uncrowded, and snorkeling just offshore is possible. The downside is the poor cycling paths and lack of direct speedboats from Bali and Lombok (often necessitating an overnight connection on Trawangan or Air islands). And note: some cheaper hotels may not have air-conditioning and/or hot water.

9. Gili Meno – East Coast near the Boat Terminal

The area around the terminal for boats to Trawangan and Air islands is the busiest on Meno, but it’s still remarkably uncrowded compared to the other 2 islands. Offering a decent array of accommodations in all ranges, it is possible to stay here without being affected by noisy nightclubs (like Gili Trawangan) or busy village life (like Gili Air). Also, it’s convenient for the lovely beaches, modest array of sights, and snorkeling spots on the west coast.

10. Gili Meno – North Coast

The most isolated coast along the least developed island offers the most serenity, but is still within 20 minutes’ walk of the limited array of amenities in the south of Meno. Particularly good for first-time travelers and those on romantic holidays, the north coast offers an undeveloped beach that’s often empty, as well as proximity to snorkeling spots on the west coast and the modest sights elsewhere on the island.

11. Gili Meno – Interior

Unlike the other 2 islands, some amenities are dotted around the interior of Meno, including family-run guesthouses among the meandering lanes. This area is particularly handy to the pristine and often deserted beaches on all coasts and the salt lake packed with birds.

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