The word “Gili” means “small island” in Sasak, the local language of Lombok, and, unsurprisingly, Lombok has scores of them. Still, when most people talk about “The Gilis” or “The Gili Islands” they mean the trifecta of white(ish) sand islands off Lombok’s northwest coast. (The next best-known cluster of Gilis on Lombok are the Secret Gilis, or Southern Gilis, on the west coast.)
There are three islands in “the Gilis”: Gili Air, Gili Meno and Gili Trawangan. Each has its own disinctive character. Put crudely: Gili T is for partying and maybe diving; Gili Air is for indulgence and laidback fun; Meno, where swathes of beach have yet to be developed, is yer honeymoon / Swiss Family Robinson paradise. (Though, frankly, if we were honeymooning, we’d opt for one of Indonesia’s many private island resorts instead.)
Let’s start with the infamous Gili Trawangan, AKA, Gili T. The largest, the busiest and the most party-hearty of the Gili islands, Gili T is wildly over-developed in places and absolutely heaving in peak season. Yet one plus point of this over-development is that there are plenty of things to do on Gili T (we list thirty of them here). And the north and west coasts include plenty of serene spots, with some stunning villas: check our recommendations for places to stay on Gili T for more.
Gili Air is less developed, with more focus on higher-end luxe hideaways and a surprising number of decent restaurants and bars, including excellent seafood barbecues. Unlike on Gili T, where the pathways cuts in between guesthouses, hotels and villas and the sea, here you can still stay right on the beach. Gili Air is the Gili to choose if you value life’s consumerist pleasures but want to unwind.
Gili Meno, between Air and Trawangan, is the smallest and least developed of the three Gilis. If you want to experience a little bit of Indonesian life and wander beaches that aren’t yet fronted by bungalows or hotels, this is the place to go. And, if Gili Meno appeals to you, you might also want to extend your Indonesian island-hopping trip to the less-discovered Southern (or Secret) Gilis, to the south.
All three Gilis are easily accessed by speedboat from Bali or by the cheap-as-chips public boat from the port at Bangsal. Economising? Buses and shuttle buses include transport on the 5-hour-ish slow ferry, which is cheap with your own bike and exxy with a car. Lombok international airport, while better-placed for Kuta (Lombok) than the Gilis, will be your best entry point from elsewhere.
When planning your trip, aim to avoid the July-August and December-January peak seasons when prices typically double or triple: this is especially true of Gili T, which can be heaving. Marketers make a big deal out of the absence of powered transport on the Gilis. Fact is, horse-cart (cidomo) drivers and drunk tourists on pushbikes can create quite the hazard to the pedestrian on their own.