Indonesian Language Blog

A Glance at the Gili Islands Posted by on Nov 9, 2015 in Uncategorized

Located to the northwest of Lombok are three little islands called the Gili Islands, or ‘Gilis’ for short. Gili Trawangan is the biggest and most western off the mainland followed by Gili Meno and Gili Air (pronounced AH-yer). The islands have only been inhabited by people for about thirty years. Bugis fisherman from Sulawesi were some of the first to use the islands as places to stop and rest along their voyages. Then they were used by the Japanese as lookout points and prison camps for POWs during the second World War. For a few years in the 70s they were used for coconut plantations, but the project was abandoned.

On the boat to the Gilis.

On the boat to the Gilis.

The 1980s brought adventurous backpackers over from Bali and since then tourism to the islands has continued to grow, especially in the 90s as more and more dive companies set up shop. Today all three islands are popular with travelers of all ages. All the islands are unique in that no motorized vehicles are allowed. You can only get around by bicycle or a horse drawn carriage called cidomo in Indonesian. Here is an outline of each island.

Gili Trawangan

Dive with sea turtles off Gili T.

Dive with sea turtles off Gili T.

This is the biggest of the three islands and known to most as ‘Gili T’ or ‘by its silly nickname ‘Gili Tra-la-la.’ It attracts the most visitors and was developed more quickly than the other two islands because of its proximity to dive locations. It has a population of about 800 permanent residents. It also has the reputation of a ‘hippy party paradise,’ but we found it to be more subdued than this label would imply. Back in the 90s when travel here first because popular with backpackers, there was plenty of marijuana and magic mushrooms to go around and absolutely no police presence. These days however there is a police station on the island and the parties are contained to one bar that changes based on the night of the week. It’s striving to be a family friendly vacation destination so they’ve toned down the party quite a bit.

Most of the island’s activities are centered around diving, but there are many other things to do. Snorkeling masks are widely available and there are plenty of great spots just offshore. You can also rent a bicycle and cycle the entire circumference of the island. It’s only about five miles in total. Near the south end of the island is a hill you can walk up and enjoy nice views of the other Gilis and Bali in the distance. For horseback riders there is Stud Stable where you can get a horse to ride around the island. There are also yoga and cooking classes. There is certainly no shortage of entertainment on this island. One major change in recent years is the addition of ATMs so now it is no longer necessary to come with large amounts of cash. Most of the island’s development is on the east side. The west side has a few beach bars and restaurants and is a great place to watch a sunset. While most of the action happens on this island there is still plenty on the other two.

Gili Meno

Quiet... almost too quiet.

Quiet… almost too quiet.

This island is in the middle of the three and is also the smallest. The middle island is much like a middle child – it doesn’t get as much attention as the other two. It is known as the honeymoon island because it is much quieter and more undeveloped than its neighbors, so this attracts mostly couples looking for a quieter place to relax. People looking for a more exciting scene probably wouldn’t care much for Meno. You can walk around the entire island at a leisurely pace in about 90 minutes. On the west side of the island there is a salt lake which is a nice place to spend a bit of time and take some photos. There is also a bird park on the island that we’ve heard isn’t as well kept as it once was but still has a large variety of birds. Probably the coolest thing to see on Meno is the turtle sanctuary. Go here to learn about how they’re protecting the sea turtles and make a donation to help keep their project going. Of course there is diving and snorkeling and the diving can be a bit cheaper than Trawangan, although everything else is more expensive.

Gili Air

Cruise around Gili Air on a cidomo.

Cruise around Gili Air on a cidomo.

Gili Air is nearest Lombok and is number two in size out of the three islands. It has the largest permanent population of residents at about 1,800 people. It’s a happy medium of the party vibe of Gili Trawangan and seclusion of Gili Meno. The activities on offer are mostly the same as the other two islands and also has stand up paddle-boarding and kitesurfing. Because of the high number of permanent residents it’s easier to find super cheap food just by walking inland a little ways. With the development of more upscale places on Gili T, Gili Air is becoming more popular with backpackers as a place to base themselves on the islands. There are now two ATMs here as well.


We’ll be covering each of the Gili Islands more in depth here, so subscribe to the blog to receive posts and videos about each of these three awesome little islands.

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About the Author: sasha

Sasha is an English teacher, writer, photographer, and videographer from the great state of Michigan. Upon graduating from Michigan State University, he moved to China and spent 5+ years living, working, studying, and traveling there. He also studied Indonesian Language & Culture in Bali for a year. He and his wife run the travel blog Grateful Gypsies, and they're currently trying the digital nomad lifestyle across Latin America.