The Top 15 Things to Do in Indonesia's Gili Islands
Stand-Up Paddling in Gili Islands | © mariusklausen / Pixabay
Rave parties, zen-nurturing yoga sessions, idyllic beaches and more; the Gili Islands are a three-in-one entry that belongs on your bucket list (if it’s not there already).
The Gili Islands – Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno, and Gili Air – are a string of islands that have increasingly featured on Indonesia travel itineraries. These small islands only take a few hours to get around but a lifetime to forget, proven by the amplitude of foreign tourists making their way to this exotic destination every season. Each island brings its own set of charms and adventures for every taste – here’s Culture Trip’s guide on the best things to do in the Gili Islands.
Bike around Gili Trawangan
Gili Trawangan, the biggest of all the Gilis, takes less than two hours to circle with a bike – assuming you don’t stop at every corner to take pictures (which you most likely will). Motor vehicles are not allowed in the Gilis, so bicycles are the main transportation to explore the islands at your own pace. Fret not, the wonderful views will distract you from your blissful exhaustion.
The Gili Islands, between Bali and Lombok, are known for their laid-back beachy vibe © Mila Supinskaya Glashchenko / Shutterstock | © Mila Supinskaya Glashchenko / Shutterstock
Trawangan Night Market
At night, the southeastern coast of Gili Trawangan is steaming with aromatic smoke from grilled fish and seafood satay. Refuel your energy from a day of adventure with a hearty portion of fresh seafood with sambal and rice, just like the locals do. The vendors have everything from freshly-caught fish to traditional desserts.
Try Aqua Yoga
Yoga and the beach, two of the most soothing elements of a wellness getaway, are combined into one life-changing experience in water yoga. Wash away all that tension and make a splash striking some yoga poses underwater in Gili Air (fun fact: ‘air’ means water in Indonesian). H2O Yoga & Meditation Center has a gorgeous, specially designed pool for aqua yoga sessions, while Mandalablue Yoga combines yoga and meditation with scuba diving and freediving.
Go diving (or learn how to)
Avid divers will most likely have allocated some underwater time on their itinerary to Gili Islands. After all, they’re home to some renowned diving spots such as Shark Point and Deep Turbo. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never worn a wetsuit before, so don’t deprive yourself of Gili’s undersea beauty. Over the years, numerous reputable diving schools have set up camp in this archipelago, offering anything from full PADI certification courses to one-time lessons.
Diver and green Turtle in Gili, Indonesia © fenkieandreas / Shutterstock | © fenkieandreas / Shutterstock
Hike the Hill Viewpoint
When thinking about faraway Gili Trawangan, idyllic beaches and white sand may come to mind. But the heart of the island is a picturesque hill, with an elevation that allows you a sweeping view of the Gili Islands in all their beauty. And yes, that means you’re in for a hike – though the track is easy and the gorgeous vista will entertain you along the way.
Ride a horse
Things rarely get more cinematic than this; you are in a small tropical archipelago, tracing the pristine coastline on the back of a horse. With the mesmerizing view and wind blowing through your hair at the end of a day of adventure, there’s no better way to ride off into the sunset (quite literally).
Try stand-up paddling
Stand-up paddling or SUP is one of the most popular water sports in Gili Islands. You’ll see tourists young and old rowing freely across the water just because they can. Don’t worry, SUP is relatively easier to master than surfing, and it’s as much fun. Once you get a hang of it, it means freedom to roam the clear blue waters at leisure.
You’ve probably seen one of these in some hip globetrotter’s social feed – stylish swings that get you ankle-deep into the waters, swaying breezily, all the while presenting you a sweeping view of the clear blue ocean. All three Gilis have some of these sea swings dotting the shoreline, and several of them have gorgeous ocean hammocks, too.
Gili Air. Indonesia © wernermuellerschell / Shutterstock | © wernermuellerschell / Shutterstock
Visit Gili Meno Turtle Sanctuary
The renowned ‘turtle capital of the world’ owes much of its thriving sea turtle population to this conservation center in Gili Meno. This privately-owned conservation center provides a safe environment to hatch turtle eggs and nurture newborns before releasing them into the ocean in a heartfelt process that is often joined by nature-loving tourists.
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Party on a boat
Gili T used to be a wild, unrestricted party island back in the 1990s. A lot of things have changed since then, but the island has not forgotten how to throw a great bash. One unmissable embodiment of Gili’s youthful vigour is the boat parties, which have everything you could ever need to let loose – with a bonus of a cool ocean vibe and wonderful views.
Chill at a seaside café
Sure, snorkelling and exploring are fun, but don’t forget to carve out some time to kick back and admire the view. Gili’s beachside cafés have mastered the art of intensifying the island’s laid-back vibe with cosy and chill bohemian spaces and designs. Swings, hammocks, or beanbag chairs on the sand; cold Bintang beer or young coconut water? Take your pick.
Gili Meno, Indonesia © lastdjedai / Shutterstock | © lastdjedai / Shutterstock
Try extreme water sports
Thrill-seekers rejoice, Gili Islands is the place to have water adventures you’ve always wanted to try. The clear water is excellent to have a boat towing your subwing at full speed, and the waves are perfect for kitesurfing. Tamer activities such as banana boats and kayaks with glass bottoms are also fun to try in the Gilis.
Gili Meno Salt Lake
The beautiful saltwater lake in Gili Meno offers tourists a pleasant change of scenery after days on the beach. Hemmed by lush greenery, nature blossoms on the peaceful western side of the island, hosting a remarkable ecosystem that includes anything from monitor lizards to migratory birds.
Dance the night away at one of the islands’ many bars
A lot of tourists find their way to Gili Islands for the vibrant nightlife. Whether or not you belong to that group, singing and dancing at a beachside bar is still a remarkable experience to have in such an energetic island destination. Sama Sama Reggae Bar and Tir Na Nog are among the best places to enjoy live music and DJs in Gili Trawangan.
Never miss a single sunset
There’s a reason Gili’s beachside bars are busiest when the sun starts going down. Witnessing the bursts of reds and oranges with the mountainous backdrop of Lombok has been an unmissable event for many, no matter how long they’ve been on the islands. Sink your toes in the sand and take it all in.
These recommendations were updated on September 19, 2018 to keep your travel plans fresh.