5 Things No One Told You About The Gili Islands

The Gili Islands are comprised of three small islands – Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno, and Gili Air – just west of Lombok in Indonesia. They have become a popular destination for tourists who are looking for a relaxing, remote island vacation.

map-gili_lowres

Gili Trawangan is the largest of the islands and is by far the busiest and most developed – has more choice in shops, accommodations, restaurants, and has a bit of a night scene. This island is a good place to go if you want an island experience, but still have a selection of luxuries available to you.

Gili Meno is the middle of the three islands and is the smallest and least busy. This island is great forpeople who really want to get away from civilization and are looking for simplicity. Since there isn’t much to do on the island, you should come here if all you plan on doing is planting yourself on the beach with a book in hand.

Gili Air is closest to mainland Lombok and is a bit of a mix between Gili T and Gili Meno. This island is a popular destination for couples as it still is quiet and relaxing, but also has a few more options than Gili Meno. You should come here if you are looking for seclusion with satisfactory services.

Many people talk about how heading to one of these islands is a great getaway; relaxing, quiet, romantic, peaceful, and the list goes on. All of my friends who had been absolutely raved about the Gili Islands, so I had extremely high expectations of my time there. Now, don’t get me wrong, I did enjoy my time there. However, I wish I was a bit more realistic and that people were a bit more upfront with the realities of the island.

 

 

Here are the 5 Things No One Told You About The Gili Islands

 

1. It is highly likely you will get soaked on the boat ride over.

As we were waiting at the pier to catch the boat over to Gili T, we watched numerous boats dock with people coming out who were soaking wet and miserable. As they walked by all of us waiting to board, they made comments like, “Goodluck with that boat ride”, “I hope you don’t easily get seasick”, or a sarcastic “Have fun”. That had us all worried about our impending trip. Thankfully going there we were okay as we had a nice boat and taking a Gravol ahead of time definitely helped. However I can’t say the same for the way back from Gili T. We had a pathetic boat with wooden seats where you could feel every wave we hit. There was also no air conditioning, so the windows were open. Therein we found out why people were dripping wet coming off the boats; when we went over a large wave the water came crashing in through the windows and soaked everyone. Remember to put away anything that would break due to water damage.

This is the kind of boat you do not want
This is the kind of boat you do not want

 

2. The beach is beautiful. Swimming in the water, however, is not.

I don’t think I’m asking for too much when I say that I want a sandy beach without much coral and rock, as I’d like to be able to get in and out of the water comfortably. Unfortunately, the beach on Gili T was filled with coral right where the water started, which made it painful and awkward to enter and exit. As well, when you finally made it into the water you needed to be mindful of all of the rocks on the bottom. One wrong sway of a foot from the crash of a wave could mean your foot colliding with a sharp rock. You might look like an idiot, but wearing water shoes is a definite remedy to this problem.

Ouch
Ouch
This was what the beach was like on the west side of the island
This was what the beach was like on the west side of the island

 

3. Horse-drawn carriages and bicycles rule the walk-path.

There are no motorized vehicles allowed on the island, which I initially really liked. Here I was thinking that will make walking around much more peaceful and less dangerous than it was when I was trying to navigate the streets in Ubud and Kutu. The small pathways are brimming with cidomo’s (horse-drawn carriages) either carrying tourists to their hotel or locals carrying produce, building supplies, etc., and bicycles that tourists rent out for the day or that locals are riding as their means of transport throughout the island. This made walking down the main strip rather annoying, as you need to dodge the horse-drawn carriages (as well as the horse shit on the floor) and bicycles, while they rang a bell to tell you to get out of the way.

Savoring the almost-empty streets in the early morning
Savoring the almost-empty streets in the early morning

 

4. Be prepared to be woken up at 4am each day for morning prayer (and hear it numerous times throughout the day).

This was probably my least favourite thing about Gili T. Now, I understand Lombok is a Muslim country, but numerous times a day the prayers would be blasted throughout the island on a loud speaker. There are three Mosques on the island, making the ear-splitting prayers impossible to escape. Every. Single. Day. at 4am we would be woken up with the morning prayer. Some days it only lasted for 10-15 minutes, which was bearable (barely). However, there were some days that the morning prayer lasted for 45 minutes at which point I almost lost it. A few days on the beach we could hear the prayers as well – some lasting for over an hour. I found this to really take away from the “secluded island experience” that Gili is apparently known for.

My reaction each morning at 4am
My reaction each morning at 4am

 

5. Gili Trawangan is not as quiet and relaxing as it seems.

Like I mentioned earlier, I heard from many people and read many blogs about how wonderful Gili T was, so I was really looking forward to getting away from civilization for a few days. There is a lot of construction going on throughout the island, many “hipster” cafes and shops that are popping up selling a coffee for $5 CDN, and “party boat tours” that are held once a week. If you do decide to rent a bike or wander into the middle of the island to see some local life, you’ll probably be saddened by the piles of garbage strewn everywhere. Lastly, getting on and off the boat to and from the island is a disaster; people are pushing to get on, they are never on time, locals on the Bali side pressure you to purchase food and drink by hovering around you, and you really just have no clue what is going on until someone grabs your luggage and throws it into the boat while ushering you inside.

Piles of garbage everywhere
Piles of garbage everywhere
A nightmare getting on and off the boat
A nightmare getting on and off the boat

 

If you’ve ever been to Boracay, I feel like Gili T is what Boracay was about 20 or so years ago. I think it’s only a matter of time before the Gili Islands become as commercialized and as packed with tourists. If that is the case, I suggest you go there now if you’re interested before it becomes another Boracay.

 

Note: My experience in the Gili Islands was only in Gili Trawangan, thus these five warnings may not apply to Gili Meno and Gili Air. 

 

My other adventures in Bali:
Two Nights In Kuta
What To Expect From Accommodations In Ubud
Ubud: The Streets, Markets, & Rice Fields
How To Survive The Monkey Forest In Ubud, Bali

50 thoughts on “5 Things No One Told You About The Gili Islands”

  1. This is the kind of post I like, the good, the bad, the realistic. I’m sure many people feel the same. Thanks for writing this!

    I’ve been to a beach where there were small rocks & shells everywhere! Not only was it painful, can you imagine if someone got cut & you got cut on the same rock?

      1. I think this post is pure rubbish!! You will always get that 1 person who will find something to moan about! The boat if your not happy with a 10min boat hop then you can pay for the fast boat, 2 coral?? Like you said where shoes what can people possibly do about coral in the sea nothing!! 3 the horse and carriage drivers make way for people waking, if you really didn’t like it walk along the beach, you will always get people trying to sell you stuff alot of places in the world, these people are poor and their way of making money just politely say NO THANKS. If they pray at 4am that’s their religion, get some ear plugs, don’t go to a Muslim place….

        1. Hi Jodie,
          Thanks for sharing your opinion – we’re all entitled to our own, which is exactly what I’ve done in this post. I’m glad you really enjoyed Gili, but, unfortunately, there were things I didn’t like about it and didn’t know about until I arrived. I simply wanted to write a post that I wish I had found and read before I went to Gili T to help me better understand what the island was all about (which would have helped to put my expectations in line).
          Thanks for stopping by and happy travels!

          1. It’s Ramadan at the moment and on top of the day-time prayers, 3am and 5am wakeup calls, praying goes from 7pm to 1130pm… and earplugs simply do not cut it. Wish we knew a few more specifics but wouldn’t have stopped us coming.

          2. Ahh, no! I think I would lose my mind from the constant loud noise! Hopefully you’ve managed to find some escape/reverie on the island!
            And I agree. I still would have came, but at least I would have been prepared!
            Happy travels!

        2. Completely agree! I’m here now and it’s all rubbish, beautiful sandy beaches just have to be bothered to walk 10 mins away from the min street. It’s a Muslim country! Don’t go to a Muslim country and complain about Muslim ways – the world doesn’t revolve around you darling.

          Gilli islands are fantastic and need to be experience at least once in your lives everyone <3 bring a good attitude and a nice hat!

  2. Very helpful post! Thanks for sharing your experience honestly. Too much of travel writing tends to be overly positive and romantic… Therefore unrealistic.

    1. Thanks!
      I feel that way too – I’ve tried to find a middle ground (the good, the bad) in talking about my travels that all readers can benefit from. Glad to know you did 🙂

      1. You are so right about the morning prayers, also on Gili Meno. Very realistic post, i wish i also added water sandals to my packing list.

      2. For your info…a call for prayer (what you hear) takes normally 5 min. I’m now on Gili Air and i hear it also. Before the call for prayer they recite a verse from the Coran, that’s why it is longer than normally. Some information about the country that had prepared you on this. By the way for me it sounds beatiful😁

    1. Beth, thank you for sharing the link. I couldn’t agree more – I felt awful for the horses and would see them working from the early hours of the day until late in the evening.

      The article makes a great point about solar powered tuk tuks as a much better alternative.

      It’s really sad that an island can be seemingly so beautiful in many respects, but also have extreme pitfalls that cannot be ignored.

  3. And another great post for intel. I kind of lost my interest in spending time on Gili on reading about the mosque. There was one right behind my place on Koh Phi Phi that drove me crazy. Don’t think I could put up with 45 mins of wailing to any god. But I’ll get there for a few nights at some point just to check it off my list of things to do on Bali. Great post. And amazing snippets from your student interactions. I teach here in Japan so I can relate. Anyway, you guys seem to have an amazing time exploring outside of HK. Happy trails!

    1. Again, thanks so much! Glad I can help fellow travelers with a bit of a heads up! When talking with coworkers who had traveled to Gili T, they seemed to have sugar coated everything about the island (which I obviously only realized afterwards).

      International teaching is amazing, isn’t it?! Great way to travel, do what you love, meet incredible people, and get paid for it. No complaints 🙂

      1. Yup. Agreed. I mean, you give up stuff to be away from home and live in a somewhat unstable life (no guaranteed pension and all that schtuff), but the freedom to travel suits me just fine.

        As for sugar coating, I find a lot of people do that. I think it’s a kind of subconscious coping strategy to make belief that the vacation didn’t suck in any way. Personally, I tend to be more like how you and your blog see things — if the beach is full of touts and trash as you wrote in Jimbaran, I notice that stuff. But like you said, sunsets and beers and stuff like that makes up for most of it. But it’s good to be honest about what we see when we talk to other people so that they have realistic expectations. “Trash? Yeah, I was expecting that. But dayam!! Look at that sunset.”

          1. Ditto! Actually, I’ll be bouncing through HK in December — definitely one of my fave cities in SEAsia. I’ve already learned a ton of hiking-type fun to do there from your blog! Keep ’em coming!

  4. I spent 5 months in Gili T and i found it less commercial than what is now, I loved that Island and the people from It. I believe if you going somewhere you have to bear in mind is another culture with another religion, is not your home country so to hear complaints about the prayers I find a bit lack of respect.

    1. Hi!
      Thanks for your comment. Of course as time goes on and places become more popular, they will unfortunately become more commercialized. My comments about the prayers are not meant to be insulting, nor disrespectful. I’m merely wanting to let people know what to expect when traveling to the island, as I was told it was incredibly peaceful and tranquil, and sadly that was not what I experienced the majority of the time there. Had I known otherwise, I would have felt very different. Suppose it’s a good lesson in ensuring you do your research before traveling!

  5. Am at gili t. right now. The beach does not compare at all to boracay’s. Boracay is absolutely nice, perfectly swimmable. Gili t is very overrated. Everyone i met in bali kept on talking about going to gili t or have been to gili t, so the expectation is really up.

    The street near the beach has the boracay vibe though. When you walk around and see undeveloped parts, boracay of old must be was what i had in mind. But boracay it will never be.

    1. Hi Darius!
      Definitely agree! There were parts of Gili T that I liked, but I think it would have been much more relaxing if I had went to Gili Air instead. I’d go back to Boracay in a heartbeat if it wasn’t such a struggle to get to!
      Happy travels! 🙂

  6. On Gili T now. I’ve dreamed of coming to the Gili Islands forever. What a let down ! Actually I have found all of Bali to be a huge let down which sucks as I’ve spent years dreaming of coming here. Boracay is awesome in comparison. Easy, straightforward transit to and from the island. Beautiful beaches, peace and quiet if you want it. Everything you say is spot on. Currently a mosque has been on the loudspeakers for 4 hours playing music that feels like the singers are in my bedroom. I respect all religions but why ? Why ???

    1. Ah, I’m sorry to hear! Hopefully you are able to make the most of it?! Beer helps! 😛
      Agreed, though I did really enjoy Ubud! I’m sure Gili T has even changed a fair bit from when I was there! Perhaps I’ll give it another go at some point in the future, but for now I’m in no rush to go back.
      Happy travels!

  7. Gili T was fun but we ended up moving to the centre of the island to be away from what seems to be competitive mosques playing their call to prayer 5 minutes after the last one had finished. I lived all over Indonesia and always found the call lulling and easy to fall back asleep if it had woken you. What is going on on Gili T I don’t know. Thinking of going to Gili Air this year, what is the situation there? It would put me off if it was the same.

    1. Ah, fair enough. I don’t know either!
      I haven’t been to Gili Air, but I hear it’s much more chill than Gili T, though it sounds like it’s quite couple-y. Whatever you chose to do, hope you enjoy it! Happy travels, Kat!

  8. I just got here today and I completely agree with you this place f****** blows. I tripped over trash the whole way here after being offered every type of drug you can think of. It feels sketchy and it’s overpriced. Maybe it used to be cool but not now.

  9. Hi, I can sort of agree with you on most things, however Gili t is a renowned party Island so if you wanted peace and quiet perhaps Gili meno and Gili air is the destination to go. The coral can be a bit tricky to navigate around but once you do its amazing what you can see. The north side of the island has a beach with no coral, it was just sea grass? ( I think that’s what it’s called). And in the morning if you went for a swim there you would be surrounded by turtles. Yes the wailing can be loud but it’s their religion I suppose so I guess you have to just get used to it. ( I’m a heavy sleeper so I have had no problems). As for the horse carts, you are correct. They do rule the roads. It’s a shame you had a bad experience 🙁 as I’ve had nothing but a good one here. The only things I have found annoying ( across the whole of the gilis and Bali) is that there is no sense of urgency to do anything but Perhaps that’s a good thing in the locals eyes as they are all super chilled out. Thanks for sharing your post, hopefully people can work out what’s good and not good for them with the replies you have generated :). Happy travels. 🤘

    1. Thanks for the feedback! Glad you had a great time in Gili T! By no means did I have a bad time, it just wasn’t what I thought it was going to be like. Agreed – totally up to others to decide whether the island is a good fit for them or not. Happy travels as well!

  10. Hi! I felt like I needed to react to this article, because I sort of feel the same way about the Gili’s.

    I had heard a lot of great stories about the Gili’s being paradise with amazing sea and beaches etc.
    I agree that the beach and sea are pretty to look at, but yeah swimming and tanning don’t go that easily with all the coral. I was definitely disappointed by that..

    xx

  11. Gili T is no way near boracay. The water of boracay is crystal clear. I was so excited to swim, only to be repelled by the rocks.

    There’s a lot of trash on the water too.

    It has the old boracay vibe though.

  12. Gili Meno and Gili Air are amazing. I only spent one hour on Gili T and was happy to catch a private boat and get out of there. It’s crazy loud and touristy and I don’t know why it’s so hyped up. A very short boat ride would have brought you to the way more relaxed and quiet Gili Meno. Though it sounds like you’re not super impressed by the people or culture so you might not care for the other Gili’s either. I found the people amazing, did a ton of diving and exploring and got to know the locals. I can’t wait to go back.

  13. Hey.
    It’s interesting to read all this.
    I’m actually on Gili Air.
    I really enjoy it, a good place to relax after Bali, no cars and motorbikes.
    On the other side there are also big problems here on gili air, but only behind the scenes.
    Destruction of the environment (trees, coral reefs, waste disposal), mass tourism, drugg addicts and deaths (mostly local men, crystal meth and more!), local kids without prospects, bad relations between local people and hotel owners, …
    That’s the other side of the paradise.
    I heard some things are even worse at Gili T.
    That’s the sad result of what mass tourism and greed can make.
    We are part of it.

    We can be an ideal, especially for our children at home to create a worth living future!

    I love the people in Indonesia, but we shouldn’t ignore what’s going on here. The natural diversity here is very important for the earth and us!

    Deforestation in Sumatra, Borneo, Papua, Malaysia…….. we should find a way to stop it, because we are also able to make the renaturation!

    With hope and optimism,
    Bernhard

    1. Hi Bernhard,
      Thanks so much for sharing! That’s sad to hear that Gili Air is similar to Gili T.. I was under the impression that it was much better there. There’s probably a lot us, as travelers, don’t want to know about certain places. The truth can certainly be ugly.
      Hope you enjoy the rest of your travels!

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