The beautiful Gili Islands in Indonesia have been a favorite follow-up to Bali for sun-seeking travelers for decades. Backpackers are particularly partial to Gili Trawangan -- one of Southeast Asia's top party spots -- securing Lombok's spot along the Banana Pancake Trail.
With too much development and crowds wrecking the charm in neighboring Bali, more and more travelers opt to spend their time among the three paradise-soaked Gili Islands.
The Indonesian government's active campaign to promote Lombok as another top tourism spot is working. The Gilis no longer only draw backpackers and budget travelers; more and more accommodation on the small islands is creeping slowly toward the boutique label.
Despite the recent boost, the Gili Islands in Indonesia are far from giving up their charm just yet. A lack of motorized transportation keeps life serene -- between parties anyway -- and no high-rises buildings threaten the view of perfect water that delights divers and snorkelers alike.
The Gilis remain a good compromise between developed and rustic; electricity comes and goes at the whim of generators and you don't have to deal with too much concrete.
The Three Gili Islands of Indonesia
Perhaps the biggest advantage of moving east from Bali to the islands in Lombok is that the three Gili Islands offer three unique experiences. You can choose one or hop between all three via daily speedboats.
Regardless of which island that you choose to visit, all of the Gilis have beautiful beaches, great swimming, and lively offshore reefs teeming with plenty of life. The islands are small enough to traverse on foot, and walking the narrow paths of the islands' interiors turns up quiet places among the coconut groves to take in orange sunsets.
- Gili Trawangan: The largest and most visited island with rambunctious parties.
- Gili Air: The medium-sized island that can be circumnavigated in only 90 minutes.
- Gili Meno: The smallest of the Gilis; quiet and rustic.
Gili Trawangan, Indonesia
Affectionately shortened to simply "Gili T," Gili Trawangan is the largest and most visited of the Gili islands in Indonesia. Although the island has gained a reputation as the place to party in Indonesia, gorgeous beaches and cheap scuba diving are already excellent reasons to visit.
Despite once mainly being the domain of backpackers looking for a good time, upscale development has exploded on Gili T. The change in available accommodation is also causing a shift in the type of visitor to the island. But don't worry: budget choices for sleeping are still available in the rugged interior of the island just a few minutes walk from the water.
Gili T is the epicenter for nightlife in this part of Indonesia and is one of the top party places in Southeast Asia. The island's meager population of around 800 residents swells to several times that as Indonesians and backpackers flood in for the island's three weekly parties.
On party nights, you could compare Gili Trawangan to a smaller, Indonesian version of Thailand's rambunctious Haad Rin on the island of Koh Phangan. Drugs, although still illegal, openly appear on signboards.
Warning: The locally made spirit known as arak is a cheap choice for alcohol in bars and restaurants on Gili Trawangan. Arak is responsible for numerous annual deaths of foreigners due to methanol poisoning. The government has largely kept the incidents hushed. Read more about the dangers of drinking arak.
- See details for travel to Gili Trawangan.
Far smaller and quieter than Gili Trawangan, Gili Air is actually closer to the Lombok mainland. The island also has a larger permanent population, perhaps because locals prefer the peace and serenity over the noise of the strip on Gili Trawangan.
Stylish restaurants and bungalows are mixed with budget accommodation choices dotted around the island, meaning that you encounter quite a mixed crowd of travelers on Gili Air. More and more backpackers, fed up with the changes happening on Gili Trawangan, have moved on to Gili Air.
Although the beaches aren't as wide or nice as those on Gili Trawangan, you certainly won't have to share them as much. In fact, you can walk all the way around Gili Air in around 90 minutes, depending on how many friendly locals stop you to chat or introduce you to their children. A lush, shady interior is accessible via footpaths that are lined with coconuts drying in the sun.
Gili Air, despite being smaller, still has plenty of choices for bars and restaurants, although venues can close up quite early. Numerous dive shops offer PADI certification classes and access to the same excellent dive sites shared with Gili Trawangan.
- See details for travel to Gili Air.
Gili Meno is the smallest and most isolated of the three Gili islands; it has traditionally been the choice for couples and families rather than young travelers looking to socialize. Despite having the best beaches and snorkeling in the Gilis, Gili Meno pleasantly resists overcrowding.
- See a few of the best beaches in Asia.
While basic accommodation and living expenses cost slightly more on Gili Meno, it has little to do with luxury. Electricity is spotty. The island finally got an ATM, but it isn't always reliable. The rustic feel only adds to the charm.
Gili Meno is certainly not the place to come looking for nightlife; instead, most visitors prefer to bring a book and detox after the madness of Gili Trawangan. A handful of dive shops offer PADI certifications and trips to dive sites around the Gilis.
- See details for travel to Gili Meno.