Your Gili Islands, Indonesia Bucket List

  • 01 of 07

    An Indonesia Island Getaway That's Even More Laid Back than Bali

    Gili Trawangan, seen on island hopping boat trip.
    ••• Kimberley Coole/Getty Images

    When the hurly-burly of Bali begins to wear on you, you'll be thankful that the Gili Islands are there to provide a calmer alternative.

    The Gilis – Trawangan, Meno and Air – can only be reached by boat from either Lombok or Bali. Once the choppy jaunt is over, you'll find yourself on one of Indonesia's most pleasant island retreats.

    On Gili Trawangan, a powdery white-sand beach lies between the sea and a string of bars. Boats stand ready to whisk travelers away to diving or snorkeling adventures. Accommodations inland from the beach road range from five-star to budget homestays.

    Trawangan is more family-friendly now, with scruffy backpackers now receding into the background. The islands of Gili Air and Gili Meno, located even further off the beaten path than Gili Trawangan, stay truer to the original spirit of the Gilis that drew tourists in the first place.

    As with Bali, budget travelers discovered the Gilis first, introducing the islands to the world as a backpacker's dream getaway....MORE That vibe has evolved over time – luxury resorts and bars take center stage on Gili Trawangan's main beach row now, with the homestays and hostels being pushed further and further inland.

    Even with an ever-increasing number of tourists spilling in from neighboring islands, the Gilis are still worth a weekend jaunt. Use the following items as a bucket list to check off for a few days' stay.

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  • 02 of 07

    Ride a Horse Around Gili Trawangan

    Horses on Gili Trawangan beach, Indonesia
    ••• Horses on Gili Trawangan beach, Indonesia. Mike Aquino

    Motorized transport simply doesn't exist on the Gili Islands; it's prohibited by law (though there's some doubt about battery-powered bikes, which this writer has seen at least once). To go any faster than a walking pace, you'll need a bicycle… or you'll need a horse.

    Horses power the island's cidomo carts, which locals use to transport goods and tourists around the ring road. Horse stables on the western side of Gili Trawangan offer horseback riding sessions that take you from beach to trails further inland that lead through the overgrowth into more quiet villages.

    These rides can be arranged through your resort, or directly at Sunset Stables (phone: +62 859 3501 2836); expect to pay about $25 for the experience.

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  • 03 of 07

    Dine Cheap at the Night Market

    Night Market on Gili Trawangan, Indonesia
    ••• Night Market on Gili Trawangan, Indonesia. Mike Aquino

    A combination of permanent shops and kaki lima (Indonesian food carts) marks Gili Trawangan's most popular nighttime foodie haunt, the Night Market (location on Google Maps).

    Located next to the main public jetty, the Night Market is the island's equivalent of the “town center”: the stores close to the Night Market hawk all sorts of goods, not just food. The alleyways leading off from the Night Market have stores selling dry goods, books, and even medical services.

    But food is what you're at the Night Market for, and it certainly doesn't disappoint: nasi campur (“mixed rice”) with your choice of meat, seafood or vegetables; newly-grilled seafood; Indonesian soups like soto and bakso; and nasi goreng (fried rice). Choose an item from this list of Indonesian street food favorites, and you'll likely find it served hot at the Night Market.

    Expect to spend about IDR 20,000-50,000 (about $1.50 to $4 – read about money in Indonesia) for a full meal, and about IDR 15,000 (about $1.15) for a...MORE frosty bottle of Bintang Beer to wash it all down with. (Read about Southeast Asia's top beers for more on this delicious Indonesian brew.)

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  • 04 of 07

    Party Every Night of the Week

    Naty's bar in Gili Trawangan, Indonesia
    ••• Naty's bar in Gili Trawangan, Indonesia. Mike Aquino

    The bars and restaurants on Gili Trawangan all line up neatly along the perimeter road, permitting you to walk from joint to joint to enjoy their booze and atmosphere. Scallywags has great seafood; Tir Na Nog brings an Irish vibe (and, on Sundays, the island's most popular Ladies' Night, with half off its more popular cocktails).

    The Trawangan party circuit traditionally hops between a few established bars on the island. Monday parties take place at Blue Marlin (location on Google Maps; phone: +62 370 6132424) a dive shop with a “F—k Mondays” party attitude with Djs playing house music from the balcony.

    Wednesday parties go down at Tir Na Nog (location on Google Maps; phone: +62 370 6139463; tirnanogbar.com), the “biggest Irish bar on the smallest island” where the chummy Celtic vibe warms the coldest of hearts.

    For every other day of the week save Sundays, troop to Sama-Sama (location on Google Maps) and groove to live Bob Marley tunes with an Indonesian accent (“Babee don't worree /...MORE about a theeng”).

    Backpackers have imported Koh Phangan's Full Moon parties to Gili Trawangan, too: on these nights, look to the beaches on the southern end of the island (ask the friendly locals for the specifics), and get ready to party till dawn.   

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  • 05 of 07

    Explore the Gili Islands' Undersea Underbelly

    Snorkeling off Gili Air, Indonesia
    ••• Snorkeling off Gili Air, Indonesia. Mike Aquino

    We took a short, somewhat seasickness-inducing fastboat ride to a snorkeling spot off Gili Air, finding ourselves immersed in some of the clearest shallows we've ever seen. The fish playing amidst the corals, the rays of sunlight dappling the sea floor, and the occasional turtle seeking refuge from the tourists made the Gili Air snorkeling jaunt our most memorable part of the trip.

    Travelers with PADI certifications get a better undersea view of the two dozen or so dive sites located within less than 10 minutes' ride from their respective jetties. Dive resorts like 7Seas Dive Gili (location on Google Maps; site: 7seasdivegili.com) take you straight from the beach to your playground underneath the sea, equipment and transportation included.

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  • 06 of 07

    Go Surfing Off the Gili Islands

    Surfing off Gili Air, Indonesia
    ••• Surfing off Gili Air, Indonesia. courtesy of John Seaton Callahan / Getty Images

    The surfing scene on the Gilis pales before the one in Bali, but refugees from the latter find plenty of action off these isolated shores. Compared to Bali's left-hand breaks, the ones around the Gilis give plenty of love for right-handers.

    The strong and fast breaks around the Gilis call for surfers with some experience; the corals, rocks and sea urchins make for positively painful wipeouts if you're not careful!

    Gili Trawangan's main surf spot can be found on the island's southwest coast, with breaks happening all year round. Gili Meno's breaks can be found about 100 metres out to sea from the island's southeast coast. For Gili Air, a long paddle from the southern coast of the island takes you to the island's preferred reef break.

    Check out present surfing conditions via MagicSeaweed: here's their page on Gili Trawangan, and here's the one on Gili Air.

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  • 07 of 07

    Watch a Gili Island Sunset from the Beach

    Sunset watching at Gili Trawangan, Indonesia
    ••• Sunset watching at Gili Trawangan, Indonesia. Mike Aquino

    On a clear day, sunsets at the Gilis look gorgeous as all get out. To squeeze the most out of a Gili sunset, though, you need (a) good company, and (b) a cozy vantage point. This writer found both, in (a) their traveling companions with Indonesia Tourism's #TripofWonders; and (b) the beach bar we'd decided to visit for the occasion.

    Ombak Sunset is a resort on the western coast of Gili Trawangan (a sister resort to our accommodations on the island, Vila Ombak). We enjoyed discounted drinks by showing our room keys, and entertained ourselves by posing on the sunset swings in the shallows.

    The Exile has no resort attached, but its friendly atmosphere and chummy bartenders working from the circular bar make it a popular stop for sunset-viewing nonetheless. A yoga class is held intermittently on the field near the bar. location on Google Maps; phone: +62 812-4624-5915; Facebook page.

    As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with complimentary services for review purposes....MORE While it has not influenced this article, TripSavvy.com believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest. For more information, see our Ethics Policy.