Gili Trawangan, or “Gili T” for short, is a small, tropical island at the center of Indonesia’s thriving tourism industry. Located in the Lombok Province of Indonesia this island is one of three that make up the Gili Archepelago, commonly referred to as “The Gilis”.
Getting to the Gilis
The Gilis Islands are accessible from multiple ports on Bali, Lombok Island, and there is a regular boat from Nusa Lembongan as well.
The farthest regular trip is from Sanur, Denpasar, Bali and takes about three total hours on a fast boat. The cost of this trip can vary greatly depending on your negotiation skills, but an average tourist price would be nine hundred thousand (900k) Indonesian Rupiah for a round trip ticket from Denpasar to Gili T, with a land-based transfer to your hotel, once you return to Bali. That included a checked bag each way and is equal to about seventy ($70.00) USD. This particular trip was booked with Scoot Tours in Sanur.
The same trip, with a different operator is about an hour and a half long journey from Padang (Bai), Bali.
Those people wishing to get to the Gilis from Nusa Lembongan can hop on the regularly scheduled boat with Scoot Tours as well. This is actually the same boat that originates in Sanur, which makes a stop to pickup and drop off tourists along the way. The order of the stops changes depending on the demand.
Each of the latter tours cost about half as much as the journey from Sanur, but again, our negotiation skills play a large role in the prices paid. All costs were negotiated in English.
The Three Sister Islands
The three sister islands that make up the Gili Archepelago are all very close to each other geographically. They appear to be practically swimmable as the calm channels between them do not appear too wide, but this is not advisable as there are many craft that travel along these channels. Instead, many people chose to canoe, kayak, or even SUP across the water.
In the image above, all three islands can be viewed from a drone’s vantage point. They are (closest to farthest) Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno, and Gili Air, with the much larger Lombok Island viewable in the distance.
The Gilis have long been a getaway destination that is heavily targeted by European and Australian tourists, first arriving on the travel scene as a backpacker destination in the 1980’s and throughout the 1990’s. At that time, this small chain of virgin islands were gaining notoriety as the calm, serine islands that were a short trip away from the already rapidly growing party scene in Bali.
Over the last few decades the growing number of resorts and hotels has matched the growing number of bars, and the beach party scene has grown tremendously here as well. Gili Trawangan eventually inherited the same party island reputation as the crowds spilled over from Bali.
They are each described as follows: Gili T: The Party Island; Gili Meno: The Couples Getaway; and Gili Air: The backpackers/ Cultural getaway, which is much like what Gili T was, decades ago.
What To Do on the Gilis
Believe it or not, partying all night is NOT the top activity for people traveling here. The Gilis happen to be surrounded by an abundance of dive and snorkeling sites that include wrecks, coral reefs, sunken statues, sea turtle meeting places, and more. The Gilis definitely do not disappoint tourists that love being under the water.
Gili Trawangan, being the largest and most commercial of the three islands, has, by far, the largest amount of tour companies and regular trips to popular dive and snorkeling sites for reasonable rates. The vast majority of the visitors come here specifically for diving, and it is perfectly OK to show up and book your tour on the day of, advanced booking is not required.
The number of unique dive tours and shops available here can only be matched by a few locations in The Philippines such as Coron, Panglao, and Boracay.
Those less willing to be underwater can still enjoy sunbathing and topside water activities such as SUP (Stand Up Paddle boarding) kayaking, and wading in the shallow waters that surround the islands.
One of the island’s redeeming qualities is that there are no motorized vehicles allowed on Gili T. Instead, tourists can walk, rent bicycles or pay for a ride on one of the island’s horse drawn carriages.
It is quite refreshing to not have to hear and small diesel exhaust everywhere you go. Instead, the clicks and clacks of horseshoes and the ringing of bicycle bells echo along the paved walkways. Walkers still have to be mindful to give way to the fast approaching carriages (that are typically outfitted with sleigh bells to warn people that they are coming) and the bicycle-riding tourist that may not be as comfortable on a two-seater as they remember.
Following the Path Westward and to the North
On the west side of Gili T are a collection of resorts, restaurants, bars, and hotels that serve food and drinks on a much more spread-out beach. Visitors here can enjoy getting their photo taken on one of the famous sunset swings.
While inviting, the beach here is far less swimmable due to the large rocky reef that surrounds this part of the island. The current is strong and has been pulling rocks out towards the sea and this is very visible during low tide from a few drone shots.
In the image above, we can see the channels that the undertow has carved among the rocks in the foreground. A rocky reef protects the beach (and shore) from waves during low tide, leaving a shallow lagoon, and tourists enjoy some cocktails while waiting on the sunset.
The hours approaching sunset seem to be the busiest and most crowded time on this (western) part of the island. This contrasts the vibe here in the daytime, which is very clam and empty. As mentioned above, the waters are rocky and there are few trees here for beach goers to seek shelter from the direct sun. Instead, the crowds arrive via bicycle, or on foot, as the sun gets lower in the sky.
This part of the island has historically been the least crowded, so it is now highly sought after by large-scale developers. The current amount of development going on Gili T, is comparable to its Filipino counterpart, Boracay. The island’s infrastructure seems ill prepared to handle the waves of additional tourists that large hotels and resorts will bring.
The other downside was that some areas of Gili T have a large amount of plastic litter, even temporary dumps sites found right along the main beach. Indonesia, historically, has been one of the world’s most offensive plastic polluting countries. There is regular trash pickup on the island, but swelling amounts of tourists in the high season paired with the continued construction has clearly outgrown its current rate of trash collection and something should be done about that soon.
The Gilis, and Gili T in particular is an absolute must visit when in Bali, even for a short visit, because of everything this island has to offer. There are activities of all sorts for tourists. Whether you enjoy staying up late at the beach bars, or waking up early for sunrise yoga, you will find something fun and inexpensive to do on Gili Trawangan, Indonesia.