Gili Trawangan – a little island paradise. Where the water is crystal blue, and the days are slow. You may have heard of the Gili Islands, just off Lombok in Indonesia. Of the three, Gili Trawangan (or Gili T) is known to be the party island. Backpackers flock to this little slice of paradise, because of its slow-paced life, abundance of marine life and apparent lack of regulation or police presence.
But there’s another side to Gili T other than mushroom shakes & all-night raves, one that is filled with pink sunrises, organic healthy food, morning snorkeling, yoga, beachside massages and more. We loved our 4 days spent there, riding our bikes around the island and finding the best snorkel spots. You learn how to slow down and go with the flow. There are no cars or motorbikes, just horse & carriage and bicycles. Which really helps you get into the slow-pace vibe a lot faster. And while we didn’t partake in the crazy parties, we felt like we got the gist of what life is like on the island.
We visited Gili Air over three years ago and fell in love. Long story short – We couldn’t quite make it to Gili T during our time then because of the volcano on Lombok erupting (classic Indonesia), so we were thrilled to be able to visit this time around. I completely forgot how blue the water was until we drove up to shore on our boat, and I was again dumbfounded at the colours. It is such a magical part of the world.
What to do on Gili Trawangan
How To Get There
Boat or Fly?
You can either take a fast or slow boat from Bali to the Gilis. Fast boat takes about 2 hours, and slow boat is 5+ hours. This depends on the swell, and sometimes doesn’t run. Or you can fly to Lombok, get a 1.5 hr taxi from the airport to the pier and then take a short 15-min boat ride from the pier. But flying is dependent on volcanic activity. Typically it’s fine though 🙂
We’ve done both the speedboat from Bali and flying to Lombok. We prefer the flying method, even though it’s more expensive. It’s just way more comfortable than 2 hours on the fast boat from Bali. Even on good days with the swell, it can still be really uncomfortable.
There are daily flights from Bali to Lombok. We paid 400k IDR for the private driver from Mataram Airport to the pier. Then 350k IDR for a private speedboat from the pier to Gili Trawangan. During peak season, you can expect to pay around the same, maybe a little more.
Where to Stay on Gili Trawangan
Island Beach Bungalows
We stayed at Island Beach Bungalows. This is about 400m inland from the main strip of beach and nightlife on the East side of the island. There were about 10-12 bamboo lumbungs (traditional indonesian structure) with outdoor showers and a big balcony. The A/C & wifi were pretty good. The saltwater pool was suuuuper refreshing, and the staff were really friendly. Can’t wait to visit you again soon Andy! Only drawback is it’s close to the mosque, so you will hear it during the day and night. But to be honest, you can’t really escape the sounds as the island is so small. We got used to it, and I actually ended up really liking the sounds. We paid around $80 AUD/night, inclusive of breakfast for two.
Best Activities on Gili Trawangan
You can’t be on an island a couple kilometers long and not expect to go to the beach every day. That is the main, if only, attraction really. But what an attraction it is. The water is the bluest water I’ve ever seen in my life. It’s teeming with turtles, fish, corals and more. My first snorkel out and I saw two turtles. It’s nearly impossible not to see a turtle, that’s how common they are. You can hang near a beach bar/restaurant and if you order food or drinks they will let you hang on their beach chairs or cabanas all day.
Our fave beaches/spots to hang:
- Moomba at the north end of Turtle Beach – this is where we saw turtles every time. Decently priced food & drink and offers big umbrellas & comfortable day beds.
- Sunset beach – Any of the spots on Sunset Beach are pretty good! Opt from one with a bean bag and stay until sunset.
- Main beach on east side of the island – This side has the most options for food, and is the hub for nightlife. It’s also where all of the boats dock up and come/go from the pier, so it’s a little busy, but central.
Snorkeling and diving are the main activities. You can snorkel off nearly every beach on the island (just be careful with rocks). It’s much calmer on the east and north ends of the island though. The West gets hit with wind sometimes so just make a call. If you think the marine life is remarkable from the shore, just imagine what it’s like 18 meters deep. There are sharks, turtles, rays, eels, octopus, bright colored fish & coral, along with some really unique macrolife as well. We didn’t dive on Gili T as Sam was preparing for 2 months of diving every day on Gili Air, so we can’t personally recommend a dive operator. But don’t miss out! Many operators offer introductory dives, so even if you don’t have a license, you can still give it a go!
From the last time we visited the Gilis in 2015 to now, there has been a tremendous effort across all three islands aimed at conserving the environment and educating both locals and tourists. There are many ways to get involved while you’re on the island, and we highly recommend doing so. With it being such a small island, gaining more and more popularity every year, it is struggling to cope with the rubbish us tourists leave behind. And with little help from the national government, it’s up to the locals (both Indonesian & foreign) to keep their little home as pristine as they found it
There is typically a beach clean up on Fridays starting at 5 pm, which is a great way to get involved. You get to meet other travelers and help clean up so other travelers can enjoy the island as you have. Reach out to locals & business owners to find out how you can help. On an individual level, be sure to clean up all of your own trash when you’re at the beach. Never throw anything in the ocean. Refuse plastic cups and straws, and always bring your own water bottle with you. There are LOADS of water refill stations around the island. Lastly, just because a restaurant offers “potato” or “bamboo” plastic-like straws, doesn’t mean those straws bio-degrade quickly. It still best to refuse the straw, unless it’s 100% reusable.
We didn’t go surfing because there wasn’t big enough waves, but if you’re lucky to be there on a good day, you can go surfing off the west side of the island. There are a few vendors there who rent surfboards and offer lessons. Again be careful of the coral and rocks below.
Cycle around the island
Our favorite thing about the island is that there are no motorized vehicles. There’s something so child-like about jumping on your bike to meet your friends for dinner or to get to the next beach. Island Beach Bungalows offered are bicycles for both of us during our stay, and we rode around the island everywhere. One day, we rode around the entire island, scoping out our fave spots to snorkel & grab some food and drink. Recommend doing this on your first few days to get a feel for the island. It took about 2 hours total, because we stopped to take photos and jump in the water.
No doubt this is one of the main things to do on the island. And by “do”, I mean sit down, relax and enjoy the natural show. You’ll want to head to the West side of the island. You’re spoiled for choice when it comes to beachside bars to choose from. Find one that suits your fancy, sit down on a bean bag and crack open a Bintang (or Coconut water for me!) If you’re lucky you can get a glimpse of the sun setting behind Mount Agung over on Bali. It’s a truly magical show of pinks, purples, reds and oranges over the sky. Or you can wait in line to take one of those classic Gili Islands swing/hammock photos one the water. Neither Sam nor I had the patience for that haha But the end result is beautiful 🙂
Where to Eat
Quick rundown of places to eat, with bolded favourites:
- Tapaz Bar – delicious tapas style food, vibrant music, best location & the best manager on the island 😉 Tell Bobby & Carmen we say hi if you go!
- Keyu Cafe – super, healthy options here, tasty smoothie bowls & juices
- La Moomba – on the beach, decent prices, typical indo dishes
- Green Cafe – this is in the heart of the food market, right next to the pier. You’ll be able to tell which one this is based on the long line. The wait is worth it. You choose as many portions of different dishes as you want, and then are shocked by how little you’re charged. Food is all indo-classics, and all delicious
Quick things to note:
There are ATMs on the island, but they don’t always offer as much cash as you may need. It’s best to make sure you have cash with you before you go.
Island Transportation – Horse & Carriage
Our first reaction to these little horses carrying tourists & their luggage in the sweltering heat was one of complete revulsion. But we talked to a lot of locals & business owners about this. For the most part, the horses are treated really well. The horses are on a rotation system so they don’t work too many hours in a row, and the owners typically really cherish their horse. While we didn’t choose to ride one, opting to walk the 2km to the pier from our bungalow, I held more respect for the owners than I previously did.
You may have read my post on what the Lombok Earthquake was like while we were on Gili Air. Gili Trawangan was hit directly by a few of the large aftershocks, causing a lot of destruction. They are rebuilding & loads of businesses are back open now, but they still need our help. If you can donate, please send some love to this amazing woman’s Go Fund Me. Carmen is one of our close friends, who lives on the island with her husband Bobby. They will not stop until the Gilis and Lombok are back and better than ever.
There is a lot of positivity coming from everyone who is still on the island. The sun is out, the tremors are slowly dissipating, the ocean is teeming with marine life. Tourists are making their way back. And that’s the important part. If you have ever thought about visiting, do it. That is how we can help these beautiful islands that have brought so much light, love & happy memories to thousands. If you want to visit, please go. Tourism is what will bring these islands back to life. We can’t wait to get back in December : )