What are the Gili Islands
The Gili Islands are made up of three tiny tropical islands (Gili Trawangan, Gili Air and Gili Meno) off the northwest coast of Lombok in Indonesia. These islands are a quintessentially tropical paradise, without the hefty price tag of other tropical destinations!
These islands are tiny (Gili means small) and are home to everything we love about the tropics including white sand beaches, stunning sunsets, sea turtles, world-class diving, crystal clear water and a laid-back local lifestyle! There are no motorised forms of transport, not even scooters. The only way to get around is by walking or cycling.
If you’re looking to escape the hustle and bustle of mainland Bali and are after a true tropical paradise to relax, unwind or maybe even party hard, then the Gili Islands may be the perfect place to add to your Indonesia itinerary.
After you decide to go to the Gilis, you then need to decide which island to go to! In this post, we’re comparing the two bigger islands, Gili Trawangan (Gili T for short) and Gili Air. We’re going to be comparing the cost, the scenery, things to do, nightlife, places to stay and what the vibe is generally like.
However, when deciding to make a trip to the Gili Islands, you then need to decide which Gili island to visit and/or stay on! In this post, we’re comparing the two bigger islands of Gili Trawangan (Gili T for short) and Gili Air. Once you get there you’ll get a better idea of how small and close together these islands are (it looks like you can swim between them), however, they each have a unique atmosphere and different things to offer different travellers.
We cover things to do, where to stay, how much it costs and more to give you a really good vibe of what each island is. By the end of this post, you will have a really good idea of whether you would prefer to visit Gili Air or Gili T.
Gili Trawangan vs Gili Air: Cost
The cost of things on each island is relatively similar, it’s more the types of accommodation and activities on offer that might make a difference. On Gili T, there are more options for staying in hostels which can bring the price down if you’re a solo traveller, but there are also more options on Gili T for luxury accommodation. Gili Air only has one or two options for hostels but more budget-friendly guesthouses to choose from which can make it more affordable if you’re travelling with a partner or friends.
Overall both islands are very affordable when it comes to everything from drinks, accommodation, activities and food - even cheaper than many popular places in Bali. The thing that will make the biggest difference to Gili Air and Gili T in terms of cost is likely to be how much you want to party. If you’re on Gili T, chances are you’ll have a few wild nights! Alcohol (especially imported) isn’t cheap, so this may be the factor that makes Gili T more pricey for you. Both islands have options for dirt-cheap local food and more expensive Western restaurants so you have control over how much you want to spend.
The Gili Islands were hit hard by the pandemic and so since reopening you can expect the prices to be higher than what they were before the pandemic for everything.
Legend Bar on Gili Air - Image Credit: Chasing Coconuts
Gili Trawangan vs Gili Air: Beaches
The beaches on both islands are quite similar. Each island is set up similarly, Gili T is just a bit bigger. On Gili T you can expect stretches of white sand and beautiful blue water. There are spots on the eastern side of the island where turtles are known to hang out. The north also has beautiful beaches and snorkelling. The western side is quieter but has more luxury accommodations and sunset spots. This is a good place to find a quiet spot to relax. The beaches that are away from the town centre and the port are much cleaner and more pristine. The busy side of the island gets polluted and overcrowded by boats and restaurants which can take away the charm of a tropical beach!
The beaches on Gili Air are a similar story to Gili T. The coast from the south to the north along the Eastern side is populated with boats and restaurants. There is a turtle spot here too however there isn’t any sand to relax on. The north of the island has some beautiful white sand beaches and awesome beach bars to hang out on. The sand on the east and north isn’t as pristine and white as on the western side of the island. The western side of the island is much quieter. Here you can find a spot to relax without any restaurants or shops. Towards the southwest, you will find beautiful beaches and restaurants set up for epic sunset sessions each night.
Sunset on Gili Air - Image Credit: Chasing Coconuts
Overall the beaches on Gili Air are a bit cleaner, especially away from the south and eastern side, just due to the fact it is smaller. If you are planning on visiting the Gilis in 2022 or 2023, you will likely come across many abandoned resorts and restaurants on the coastline due to the pandemic. It can be weird seeing a beautiful tropical beach basically in ruins, but as the islands recover this is just the way it is. Don’t feel disheartened just keep exploring until you find a beautiful spot and continue to support their recovery.
It’s also important to know that the islands are surrounded by reefs. This means that the water is very shallow for a long time, so it can be hard to swim at low tide and even at high tide you can't really swim properly. It’s more like taking a bath! That is just the nature of the landscape.
If you love swimming and the ocean, it is best to hire snorkelling gear or go on a guided snorkelling tour which will take you to the 3 islands. Diving is also another incredible way to get the best out of the sea on the Gili Islands.
Gili Trawangan vs Gili Air: Nightlife
Gili T is a notorious party island. Most people go to Gili T just to party in paradise. This is very important to know when making your decision as this is the BIGGEST distinction between Gili T and Gili Air. If you don’t like partying and being around young people under the influence, Gili T may not be the best choice for you.
However, if you love party islands, beach bars, happy hour, party boats, pub crawls and staying up til sunrise, then you will absolutely love Gili T. On Gili T bars take turns hosting a party each night of the week so everyone goes to the same place, which creates an epic party atmosphere most nights of the week.
If you wanted to visit Gili T but are not so keen on the party scene, choose to stay at a place on the western or north side of the island. These parts of the island are much quieter. The noise of the parties and the call to prayer at the mosque will make it hard for many to sleep.
View from the Port on Gili Air - Image Credit: Chasing Coconuts
Gili Air on the other hand is much more subdued when it comes to nightlife. There are plenty of restaurants and bars to spend an evening and have a few drinks but it's nowhere near as much as Gili T. Gili Air attracts more families, couples and travellers who are 30+ for this reason. If you’re after a mix of relaxation and nightlife, Gili Air can still be a great place to go for balance.
We’d suggest staying at one of the hostels on the island as they organise nighttime activities where you can still have fun. We recommend Tipsea Turtle. It has super cheap dorm rooms, budget private rooms and more luxury bungalows. You can enjoy all the social benefits of a hostel while being able to stay in a room that suits your needs and budget!
Gili Air - Image Credit: Chasing Coconuts
Gili Trawangan vs Gili Air: Food & Accommodation
When it comes to food and accommodation, there are many more options on Gili T, purely because of how much busier it is than Gili Air. Gili T has more choices simply because it’s more popular. You can choose to stay in a dirt-cheap hostel, a diving lodge, a guest house, a bungalow or a luxury resort, all for very good prices.
Gili T also has many more restaurants and cafes to choose from serving up incredible food. They are particularly concentrated on the eastern side of the island by the port.
When it comes to Gili Air, it has the same options as Gili T just fewer of them. You can still find amazing accommodations and restaurants but instead of choosing between 10 hostels, for example, you have 2. The same goes for restaurants and cafes. There are a couple of great spots to go and that is more than enough! Also, since Gili Air is quieter and less popular than Gili T, you can snag special deals on accommodation.
For more details on where to stay and eat on Gili T & Gili Air check out our guides for each island:
North Gili Air - Image Credit: Chasing Coconuts
Gili Trawangan vs Gili Air: Who is it for?
Gili T is the perfect destination for groups of young friends who want to have an amazing time together. It’s also great for solo travellers who want to meet lots of people and socialise a lot. Gili T may entice you with its luxury hotels and better dining options and we’re sure you’d have an amazing time even if you didn’t party at all. A routine on Gili T would look like this: Eat, beach, rave, sleep & repeat!
Gili Air is the island of choice for couples, families and solo travellers and friends who aren’t into partying. It’s also a great place to visit if you’re a diver and what to clock in as many dives as possible, without getting sucked into the party scene. Gili Air for these reasons is also a great place to go if you want to stick to a budget. If you’re a solo traveller on Gili Air, it might be hard to meet other people unless you stay at a hostel. Flowers and Fire Yoga is also a great place to meet people if yoga and smoothie bowls are your thing!
Both islands have beautiful spas and yoga centres to visit, however, your success in making those places in Gili Air is probably higher! The daily routine on Gili Air would look like an early morning yoga session and brunch, snorkelling, tanning, swimming, eating, watching the sunset and listening to live music or hanging out at a restaurant.
Gili T is for:
Solo travellers who want to party and socialise
Couples who want to stay in a luxury resort
Groups of friends who want to let loose
Gili Air is for:
- Honeymooners and couples who want more tranquillity
- Divers and yogis
- Beach bums
The overall vibe
Overall the vibe in Gili T is pumping. It’s busier with more people filling its accommodation, restaurants, bars and beaches. Gili Air is much quieter and depending on the season you may even feel a bit alone on the island, depending on where you are! This is perfect for some people but not for others.
Both islands overwhelmingly have a vibe of relaxation, enjoyment, beaches and sunshine.
Whichever island you choose, you will most likely fall in love with! And if you don’t you can always jump on a ferry and be on a different island in 10 minutes.
How to get to the Gili Islands
There are no airports on any of the Gili Islands so the only way to reach there is by boat. Luckily there are plenty of ferries that travel to Gili T and Gili Air every day from Bali and Lombok. Each ferry that goes to the Gili Islands will usually make a stop at each one.
You can get to Gili T by boat from Bali or Lombok or from one of the other Gili Islands.
Bali is the most common place people travel from to reach Gili T. There are many direct fast boats from Bali’s Padang Bai which will take 1.5 - 3 hours. There are also other ferry services from Sanur and Serangan further south. For detailed options and routes check here! Many fast boat providers such as GiliGili Fast Boat, Ekajaya and BlueWater Express offer transfers to the port from all of the popular Bali spots.
Once you arrive at the port of either of the Gili Islands, you need to get to your accommodation! Since there are no cars, the only option is to walk or hitch a ride on a horse-drawn carriage. If you don’t like the idea of the horse-drawn carriage for animal welfare concerns you may like to consider choosing accommodation close to the port or packing light in an appropriate backpack. This ferry ride will set you back between $30-$50 USD each way.
You can also take a slow public ferry from Padang Bai, but this isn’t recommended as it will take all day (goes via Lombok) and won’t be the most comfortable journey. Use it as a last resort!
You can also hire a private charter to take you to the Gili Islands. For this, it will be best to try and find someone at the port to take you and negotiate the price. This is the most expensive option.
Another option is to fly to Lombok and get a ferry from Bangsal Port, around 2 hours from the airport.
If you are already in Lombok this is where you will go (Bangsal Port) to get the ferry to the Gili islands. Fast boats to Gili T are more frequent than the boats to Gili Air from Lombok.
There is also a public ferry that runs daily from Bangsal Port to the Gili Islands, which is a better budget option than from Bali as the journey is shorter.
From Nusa Lembongan
The last way to get to the Gili Islands is from Nusa Lembongan. If you are spending time on the Nusa Islands and want to head to the Gili Islands, this is a great option to save you from going back to Bali’s mainland. There are a few ferry operators running this route with options every day.
These ferry rides come with a warning!
It’s important to note that these ferry rides to the Gili Islands, particularly from Bali have a bit of a bad wrap, especially in bad weather and busy season. Some companies are known to overbook the boat which means it can be very crowded and uncomfortable and also very delayed at times. It also means you may not even be able to catch the ferry at all. Many of the fast boat companies that are guilty of this are the ones with the bigger boats and lower prices.
However, in bad weather the bigger boats are more stable, feel safer and you will be less likely to get seasick. Whereas in the smaller fast boats, their service is generally much better and runs on time, however, if the water is choppy it may be unpleasant. If you’re prone to seasickness make sure you take some seasickness tablets with you.