Top Things to Do in the Gili Islands, Indonesia

Enjoy island life to the fullest with a trip to Indonesia's Gili Islands
Enjoy island life to the fullest with a trip to Indonesia's Gili Islands | © Aliaksandr Mazurkevich / Alamy
Photo of Sarah Lempa
22 September 2021

Imagine a quintessential tropical paradise and you’re probably picturing the Gili Islands near Bali in Indonesia. Culture Trip has hand-selected the best things to do whilst visiting Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno and Gili Air.

Sitting right off the northwestern coast of Lombok, this minuscule archipelago is known for its formidable coral reefs and marine life, along with a gamut of onshore activities. Hop on a bicycle, swim in glass-like waters or just lounge around — the Gilis are notorious for both parties and relaxing getaways.

Looking to combine a trip to the Gili Islands with an experience of Bali? Book onto our specially curated, 12-day adventure to the region, to combine snorkelling and surfing with temple visits and even a cooking masterclass.

Scuba dive with turtles

Both green and hawksbill turtles call the waters off the Gili Islands home. Seeing them underwater is one of the most popular activities among visitors. Scuba dive or snorkel around the nearby reefs to discover an entire world of marine life, including giant manta rays and even reef sharks. Since Gili Trawangan is the largest island of the three, you’ll find more dive centres than the other two, making it a breeze to plan your excursion.

See the marine wildlife underwater with a scuba diving trip | Photo by Subtle Cinematics on Unsplash

Party ‘til dawn

If you’re going to commit to a hangover, at least do it somewhere with palm-fringed shores and coconuts within arm’s reach. The Gili Islands have a reputation for throwing wild all-night parties. A trip to Gili Trawangan, however, is far more rowdy than the rest. Live DJ sets, pub crawls, boat parties — this tiny island has a surprisingly diverse nightlife scene. Don’t forget to bring extra Indonesian rupiah, as you’ll likely need cash for many of the bars onshore.

Enjoy an epic sunset at one of Gili Trawangan’s beach bars | © Image Professionals GmbH / Alamy

Island-hop between each one

It would be remiss to travel to the Gilis and not explore each island. As previously mentioned, Gili Trawangan is known for its party scene and being a jump-off point for dive trips. Gili Meno, the middle-sized island, offers a more off-grid nature experience. Similarly, the smallest island of Gili Air is ideal for kicking back with a cold coconut by the pool. Public boats are available – and affordable – to go between each of them.

While Gili Trawangan is the largest island, make sure to explore Gili Meno and Gili Air, too | © Zheng Hui Ng / Alamy

Circumnavigate one of the islands by bike

In just one hour, you can take a Gili Trawangan tour by bicycle. In fact, since the Gilis don’t have any motorbikes onshore, it’s actually the best way to get around town. Cycle past long sandy beaches and small boutiques, making your way around the entire island and stopping off to grab a fresh juice. All-day rentals are very affordable, so prepare yourself for some beachside pedals.

Explore the Gili Islands on two wheels and rent a bicycle to get around | Photo by Bernard Hermant on Unsplash

Try fishing

Small outriggers and traditional wooden boats surround the Gili Islands, as they are a prime spot for fishing. If you want to try your hand at fishing, you can easily arrange a private charter boat with local experts. Use the Gilis as your launching point, visiting some of Indonesia’s best fishing spots. Since the islands sit near the Java trench, it’s possible to do both deep sea fishing and shallow water. For an even more immersive experience, try spear fishing.

Get out on the water and experience some of Indonesia’s best fishing | Photo by Mathis Jrdl on Unsplash

Go horse riding along the beach

Deep pink- and purple-hued sunset skies viewed while on horseback is a typical Gili activity. Beyond walking and cycling, horseback riding is the third most popular mode of transport on the Gili Islands. Each island has their own stables, where you can book riding lessons, or plan a sunset ride on the beach. Plan to catch views of Bali’s Mount Agung on the western shores of the islands — it’s the definition of a wondrous backdrop.

Horseback riding at sunset can’t be missed on a trip to the Gilis | Photo by Federico Enni on Unsplash

Sample delicious Indonesian seafood

Fragrant and spicy sambal sauce is the perfect pairing with freshly caught seafood, and the Gili Islands are one of the best places to dig in. Open-air fish barbecues and warungs (family-style restaurants) are found on all three islands, plating up perfectly grilled fish and more. When in Gili Trawangan, hit up the night market — a collection of stalls that open just before the sun sets. Sampling local cuisine is a must when in Indonesia, and even better when done beachside.

Don’t miss Indonesian street food and Gili Trawangan’s night market | © Stig Alenäs / Alamy

Take part in a beach clean up

Plastic doesn’t belong on the beach. Unfortunately, it can wash up from time to time, especially during the rainy season from November through February. As you’ll likely spend most of your time on the beach anyway, joining a beach clean up is an excellent way to give back and protect local wildlife populations. Some dive centres organise clean ups, as does Gili Shark Conservation. If you want to take it a step further, don some flippers and try an underwater group clean up.

Volunteer for a beach clean up as part of your trip to the Gili Islands | © Panther Media GmbH / Alamy

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