Gili T – Gili Trawangan, in full – is the biggest, most developed and liveliest of Lombok’s famous Gilis (that’s the north-western Gilis, not the Southern Gilis!). With its white sand beaches and absence of powered traffic, it’s the stereotypical desert island – if your dream desert island includes bars and full moon parties.
Diving and/or snorkelling are the major things to do on Gili T, followed by getting drunk and/or high, but the island has a surprising amount to offer for its size – including some extremely high-end hideaways.
So if you’re plotting an escape to Indonesia’s top party island, plot away: it’s got something for everyone, including, on the west coast, solitude! Herewith 30 great things to do on Gili T (and, if you’re looking for where to stay, read this).
To orient yourself, start from the night market at the heart of the village on the east coast: head north for cool beach lounges, and keep going out of the village for shrooms and beach bars on (relatively) deserted beaches. Head south for rowdy, alcohol-fuelled fun, Irish pubs and the like, then keep heading south to Kokomo, Villa Ombak and Pearl Beach Lounge for sophisticated cocktails; Scallywags, en route, has well-priced imported wine and fun drinks like Strawberry Daiquiris (yay!).
When heading to the cheaper bars, either on the village strip or to the north, be aware that Indonesia puts a high tax on spirits: if you’re paying below Western pub prices for spirits, they’re fake, and if you’re paying a long way below, they could kill. Shrooms, on the other hand, are never fake. #justsayin’!
Diving is one of the top things to do in the Gilis, and there are scores of diving schools on Gili T. We like Manta for kids (they have courses for kids aged 8 and up, and were brilliant with our teens), for basic training, and for less experienced divers.
Manta keep a guide-diver ratio of 1:4, and we’d imagine it’s a great place to bag your DM. Their rental gear is pretty new, although it could be better maintained, and they offer good discounts if you’re doing multiple dives, even without haggling.
Experienced divers rate Blue Marlin, a Gilis veteran for over 20 years. Head to this award-winning rebreather and tech dive school if you’ve run through a fistful of logbooks already, or want to qualify to check out the Gilis’ deep walls.
The main appeal of diving the Gilis is good visibility and classic marine life – expect plenty of turtles, reef sharks and bump-head parrotfish, though you’d be lucky to see mantas nowadays, even at the eponymous Manta Point.
Be aware that dynamite fishing and anchors have damaged much of the coral, and the topography wasn’t spectacular to start with: macro can be surprisingly good and this might prove a growth area.
Dive sites can get super-busy in high season, when Gili T attracts hordes of learner divers and turns into Indo’s answer to Koh Tao: in August, we’d recommend you dive elsewhere.
3: Eat Fresh Fish
There’s something quite delightful about strolling down a seafront and picking out the best fish to be barbequed, although on Gili T it can turn into something of an exercise in maths: are they charging per fish, per skewer, or per 100g, and do I really need that cheap booze deal?
Scallywags (south) has one of the oldest and longest-standing beach barbeques on the island, while Danima (north) keeps tanks of lobsters for dinner time. Villa Ombak’s barbeque is probably the classiest, while some fishing trips offer you the chance to barbeque your very own catch.
4: Catch an Open-Air Movie
This is a lovely way to spend an evening – sprawled on beanbag loungers, south of the night market, on a white sand beach by turquoise sea, watching a movie and eating popcorn. Outdoor movie screenings cost a mere 50,000IDR (with popcorn and drink), although programming tends to the random: typically, there are two screenings a night, at 7pm and 9.30pm.
Ignore the cheap jewellery, art and hippie pants that are a mainstay of traveller meccas around the globe, and you could pass a very happy day cruising Gili T’s quirky stores.
Try Casa Vintage, near Cafe Kecil, north of the night market and a block or two back, for authentic vintage clothes that would play well in Brooklyn or East London.
Yin, on the front, has quirky silver jewellery and cute accessories; close to the harbour; south of the night market, Billabong and Bali surf brand 69 Slam up the bikini quotient.
There’s a sexy but nameless indie fashion outlet on the beach at the north end of the east coast, after the village, while Cats of Gili, behind Egoiste, sometimes sells quirky, junk shop gems, including books, to fund the island’s impoverished felines.
6: Stand-Up Paddleboard
Generally calm waters and islands tailor-made for circumnavigating make stand-up paddleboarding one of the best things to do in the Gilis. A myriad places along the front have boards, some also offer lessons, while Yoga Place has SUP yoga.
Don’t bother with surfing, though. There’s just one shallow, fast wave off Gili T. Head an hour or two south to Kuta, Lombok, which has amazing surf for beginners through to advanced, or track down world class barrels at Desert Point.
7: Circumnavigate the Island
Gili T is larger than you’d think – it takes around an hour and a half to circumnavigate it in one of the cidomo horse-carts that are the island’s answer to taxis. But getting all the way around Gili T is still a highly entertaining mission, and one of the classic things to do on the island.
Cover the coast in sea kayaks (or stand-up paddleboards), walk or cycle the coastal route (you’ll need to push your bike through sand in places), or, of course, pick up a cidomo. Bike hire runs around 50,000 IDR for a single day; expect to pay at least double that for a cidomo tour.
8: Visit the Turtle Hatchery
Gili T’s turtle hatchery, on the front north of the night market, is doing great work to preserve the region’s sea turtles, gathering up eggs that are laid on the beaches at night and preserving them for safe harvesting.
Swing by their seafront hatchery to see littlies maturing in glass tanks, or pay a small fee to release them into the ocean when the time is right. You’ll see their big siblings when diving or snorkelling.
9: Catch the Sunset
For the island’s best sunsets, head south from the market and keep going to Sunset Point. Got funds? Splurge on the Horizon Bar at the Ombak Sunset Hotel. Alternatively, opt for a beer at one of the simple beach bars. Note that the sunset view from the Viewpoint isn’t what it was.
10: Party Some More
We mentioned that Gili T is Indonesia’s best island for partying. But did we also mention that you can take party sunset cruises of the island – DMZ do cruises in a sailboat complete with masts?
Also, the full moon party virus that began in Goa has firmly infected Gili T. Surf Bar, in the far south of the island, hosts both full moon and dark moon parties.
11: Learn to Free Dive
Freedive Gili, north of the night market close to Manta, offers early morning yoga classes. But you’d do better to sign up for their two-day freedive courses.
These will teach you to control your breath so well you can dive to 20 metres and come back safely without scuba, and have you practicing yoga underwater in their 25-metre pool. The owners and most instructors have won multiple awards.
12: Learn to Cook
The imaginatively named Gili Cooking Classes have a dedicated teaching kitchen behind Egoiste, on the front just north of the night market. Head there to learn how to make pan-Indonesian classics – like kelepon, the palm sugar and rice flour sweeties rolled in coconut, plus beef rendang, satay and sambal – and Lombok’s favourite ayam taliwang. If you’re fed up of the active, or watery life, this is one of the best things you can do in the Gilis.
13: Make Silver Jewellery
Yes, we know how Ubudian this sounds – and, surprise, surprise, the family who run Yin are from Ubud. Still, for 350,000 IDR per head, it’s possible to spend a pleasant morning or afternoon crafting silver jewellery to your own design, with help from a friendly teacher. Prices include 5 grammes of silver. Email info AT yinjeweleryforthesoul DOT com.
14: Practise Yoga
Didn’t get your yoga fix in Ubud? Fear not! Head to the Yoga Place for beachfront yoga classes, hilltop sunrise meditation, and two-day meditation courses, as well as stand-up paddle yoga. There’s a green cafe on site, and courses cater for complete beginners as well as fluent yoginis.
15: Take a Snorkel Tour
Dedicated snorkel tours are a great way to get up close and personal with the Gilis’ marine life. Be careful who you pick, though: some operators on the front offer trips to the Japanese wreck, which, at 45 metres, is well below recreational diving depths, let alone snorkelling.
As ever, don’t bother with glass-bottomed boats. And don’t expect great things from snorkelling close to shore. It’s worth a look, and turtles and reef fish will wow if you’ve not snorkelled the tropics before, but anchors and dynamite have damaged the coral.
16: Ride a Horse
Gili T is a splendid place to build that iconic image of yourself riding along a white sand beach with the breeze in your hair, and Stud Stables has horses for hire. We’d recommend learning somewhere else, with better horses and emptier paths, but girl children should adore this, although at 350,000 IDR per hour it ain’t cheap.
17: Play Mini-Golf
We are absolute suckers for a mini-golf course, and this 18-hole mini-golf course doesn’t just have mini-golf (from 50,000IDR) but some (knackered yet free) foosball tables, a ping pong table, a bar, and some small trampolines. It’s to the north of the east coast, a couple of blocks inland from Villa Almarik, next door to the Gili Palms Resort: look for the banner on the coast path.
The Gilis are excellent sea kayaking territory, and a sea kayak is an ideal way to circumnavigate the island, particularly if you’re staying at a joint that rents them out. Karma Kayak has reasonably-priced guided tours in proper sea kayaks that take you to reefs and areas of interest.
19: See WWII Relics
The hill that houses the mobile phone tower today housed Japanese bunkers and gun emplacements during WWII. And, if you’re on Gili T for a week or so, consider scrambling up through the woodland to check them out.
20: Learn Guitar
Female? Under 30? In possession of a pulse? Head down to the beach bars at the north end of the east coast and a million and one hot Sasak dudes will be more than happy to teach you guitar. You’re welcome!
21: Climb to the Viewpoint
If you didn’t get to the Gilis by land through Lombok, it’s well worth climbing up to the Viewpoint in the south-west of the island to get a sense of the way the land lies. A bit of a scramble should work up your appetite for a swim.
22: Get a Massage
We’d only recommend going to a spa on Gili T if you’re not headed to Bali. Balinese therapists are in demand the world over, and prices for treatments on Gili T are high – at least double and often triple the price of Bali, and not nearly as good.
That said, if you’re staying on a quieter strip of beach, or have your own beachfront villa, a massage on one of Gili T’s glorious white sand beaches can be just heavenly. According to Sport Diver, massage is fine after diving.
23: Visit Another Gili
Tourist shuttles run between Gili Trawangan and Gili Air, with stops at Gili Meno, at the swingeing price of 100,000 rupiah per head throughout the day: the first boat leaves Gili T at 9.30, while the last leaves Gili Air at 4.40. (For public boats, get to the stop well before 8am.)
If there’s a group of you, you’d do better to charter a boat. Head to Gili Meno for desert island bliss and Gili Air for its more sophisticated ambience.
24: Have a Fish Pedi
The fish pedicure, where tiny “doctor fish” nibble away dead skin from your tootsies, is an Asian backpacker classic, and an excellent thing to do if you’re holidaying on Gili T.
25: Eat on the Beach
Juku Marlin has probably the best-value beachfront eats on Gili T, and is consistently packed. Scallywags boasts good, gastro-pub type fare in a cool and breezy colonial beach club restaurant. For fine dining, head north to Wilson’s Retreat or south to Kokomo and Pearl Beach.
26: Read a Book
Didn’t bring a Kindle? There’s a “lending library” just north of Manta Dive on Gili Trawangan, cunningly disguised as a second-hand bookshop, with a surprisingly good range of holiday reading in a selection of languages. Most people will find something worth reading here, and you can usually nego his eye-bleeding rental prices down.
27: Visit the Night Market
Food prices are high on the Gilis – around double what you’d pay on Bali. Gili T’s night market makes a great choice for reasonably priced eats: the nasi campur stand by the pier boasts a variety that’s rare on Gili T, but do check prices before you go all out.
28: Smoke Shisha
Shisha, the Middle Eastern fruit tobacco you’ll find all over Egypt and the Levant, is having a moment on Gili T. Pesona’s shisha lounge, south of the night market, draws folk in night after night. Their Indian food menu, while hardly authentic, is easily up to Western city suburb standards.
29: Book a Liveaboard Dive Trip
Look around noticeboards, tout stalls and the big dive stores on Gili T, and you’ll sometimes find liveaboard dive trips at incredible prices for last-minute deals. Don’t, however, book your Komodo liveaboard trip from Gili T: while this is one dive area we’d recommend a liveaboard, you’ll find better prices in Labuanbajo, Flores, where they’re based. That also means you get a chance to check the boat out before you go.
30: Climb the Climbing Wall
Get into shape for Gunung Rinjani on Gili T’s only climbing wall, above the pool at Gili Backpackers. You’ll need to buy a drink, which should help your climbing skills no end. The hostel itself, as of September 2015, is shuttered by a new law: more details on our Gili T accommodation page.