Your Gili Islands, Indonesia Bucket List

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. 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 like a bucket list to check off for a few days' stay.

01 of 06

Ride a Horse Around Gili Trawangan

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). 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 the 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.

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02 of 06

Dine Cheap at the Night Market

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.

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: the 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).

Expect to spend about IDR 20,000-50,000 (about $1.50 to $4) for a full meal, and about IDR 15,000 (about $1.15) for a frosty bottle of Bintang beer to wash it all down with.

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03 of 06

Party Every Night of the Week

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, a dive shop with an “F—k Mondays” party attitude with ​DJs playing house music from the balcony.

Wednesday parties go down at Tir Na Nog, 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 and groove to live Bob Marley tunes with an Indonesian accent (“Babee don't ​worree / 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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04 of 06

Explore the Gili Islands' Undersea Underbelly

Snorkeling off Gili Air, Indonesia
Mike Aquino

Take a short, somewhat seasickness-inducing fast boat ride to a snorkeling spot off Gili Air, finding yourselves immersed in some of the clearest shallows you'll ever see. The fish playing amidst the corals, the rays of sunlight dappling the sea floor, and the occasional turtle seeking refuge from the tourists will make the Gili Air snorkeling jaunt one of the most memorable parts of your 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 take you straight from the beach to your playground underneath the sea, equipment and transportation included.

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05 of 06

Go Surfing off the Gili Islands

Surfing off Gili Air, Indonesia
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 meters 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.

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06 of 06

Watch a Gili Island Sunset From the Beach

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.

  • Ombak Sunset is a resort on the western coast of Gili Trawangan (a sister resort to Vila Ombak). Entertain yourselves 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.

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

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