The 9 best places to visit in the Gili Islands

The Gili Islands: the scenery around here is what most envision when they drum up mental imagery of “tropical paradise”. This idyllic archipelago might be tiny in regards to landmass, but it’s anything but small when it comes to stunning marine life, friendly vibes, and gorgeous views. You’ll get a wildly different experience depending on where you rock up onshore – seeing as Bintang-fueled day parties, epic undersea experiences, and stunningly tranquil hideaways all coexist in unique harmony across this chain of islands.

Gili Trawangan, known for its thumping nightlife, is the largest and most visited of all three – where you’ll encounter a busy port and myriad shops and restaurants on arrival. Meander over to Trawangan’s west coast, however, and you’ll find a serene setting with marvelous views of Bali off in the distance. Little Gili Meno sits quietly in the middle, a peaceful neighbor to Trawangan’s excitement where you can dive into crystal clear waters and also authentic Sasak culture

To the east, cheerful Gili Air combines a beautiful laidback pace with an energized social vibe – a place where you can laze about all day long under the shade of a palm tree or grab a Bintang beer and befriend people from both near and far.

If you’re wondering where to go in the Gili Islands, start here. From shipwrecks replete with marine life to buzzy social scenes onshore, these 10 areas are worth exploring.

Two ladies snorkelling in the clear tropical sea near the island of Gili Trawangan, Indonesia.
There are numerous snorkeling spots throughout the Gilis © Dudarev Mikhail / Shutterstock

1. Snorkeling and diving spots throughout the Gilis

Best for experiencing Indonesia’s stunning marine life

To visit the Gilis without snorkeling or diving would be like visiting France without eating a croissant – one hell of a lost opportunity for something great. With around 25 different dive sites scattered around the three Gilis, you’re spoiled for choice when it comes to some of the world’s most dazzling marine life and crystal clear waters.

Most snorkel and dive boats cruise around to the same well-known sites regardless of which island you embark from, sampling the surrounding protected marine area in all its glory. Off the coast of Gili T: Shark Point, Turtle Heaven, and Manta Point are aptly named for their undersea populations. Schools of fish flutter about impressive coral formations off the coast of Meno at Meno Wall and Simon’s Reef. Just pack swimwear and get on a boat; you won’t be disappointed.

2. The energetic east coast of Gili Trawangan

Best for eating, drinking, and socializing

Love it or leave it, Gili Trawangan’s east coast has become a bustling little strip full of everything from booze-fueled party hotspots to dive shops, airy little cafes, and tourism operators. Make it your go-to destination if you’re looking for a hopping social scene or delicious local eats – whether devouring Indonesian classics at the Trawangan night market or grabbing a pizza just up the road. If rest and quiet is what you’re after, you’re going to want to make a beeline for the opposite coast of the island, where crowds are scant and swim spots are ripe for the picking. 

3. The tallest point in the Gili Islands

Best place for getting a lay of the land

If reaching the highest landmass to survey surroundings is your thing, then boy, do we have good news for you: Gili Trawangan’s tallest point – Gili Trawangan Hill – is easily reached by foot. This 15 to 20 minute hike (depending on your cardio abilities) is located in the southwest corner of Gili Trawangan, offering sweet views of nearby Lombok’s rugged coast and beautiful Bali off to the west. You’ll trek through some shrubbery on the way up, but when the vegetation clears, it’s a pretty great spot to kick back and get a lay of the land.

A woman on a swing in the ocean while the sun sets..
Honeymooners are also drawn to the Gili Islands © wernermuellerschell / Shutterstock

4. Beaches on Gili Air’s northwest corner

Best place for watching sunsets

Competitive opinions abound when it comes to deliberating over the best sunset spots in the Gili Islands. Tried and true, there’s something about Gili Air’s northwest corner that just keeps us going back. Between the friendly vibes, soft white sand, and stellar views of Trawangan, Meno, and Bali’s towering volcano Gunung Agung in the distance – it’s pretty hard to beat. Come for a coconut at a sun-bleached beach bar and stay for when the evening energy picks up.

5. Gili Meno’s traditional Sasak village

Best place to experience Indonesian culture and heritage

Grab a bicycle and cycle inward down Gili Meno’s quiet sandy pathways to discover a traditional Sasak village, where the quiet hum of family life moves on throughout the day. Here, farmers’ cattle meander through palm-shaded fields, and the lovely aroma of Indonesian cuisine can be experienced while passing by warungs (family-run restaurants). While you’re never far from the beach in the Gili Islands, be sure to cover up when you’re not right on the shoreline. Most people in the Gilis are Muslim, and dressing appropriately is an important component of respect.

 Woman freediver with fins dive near underwater statues. Underwater tourism in the ocean.
Just offshore from Gili Meno is a dive site with underwater sculptures © Wonderful Nature / Shutterstock

6. NEST underwater sculptures

Best place for feeling like you’re in Atlantis

You might’ve seen it on your Instagram feed, but NEST underwater sculptures aren’t just fodder for social media stardom – they’re absolutely worth seeing in real life. One of the Gilis’ must-visit attractions, this underwater sculpture features 48 human figures connected in a circle. Since it was constructed from environmental-grade concrete, the sculpture is slowly becoming a part of the marinescape – frequented by schools of fish (and also people with GoPros and flippers). Regardless of the often sizable group of snorkelers, it’s still really cool to see. A word of the wise: you can simply swim right up to it from the coast of Meno, near BASK resort. It’s not far offshore.

7. The charming streets of Gili Air

Best for eating and shopping for various trinkets

Right off the southward facing port of Gili Air, a small network of tiny streets beckon with plentiful bright eateries and browse-worthy shops. The vibes are undeniably good, and you can easily grab a nasi goreng (fried rice) or fresh Italian gelato depending on whether you’re feeling salty or sweet. While it’s hard to choose favorites, some of the Gilis’ best places to stay are around here – where the car and motorcycle-free pathways are never congested, but still full of life. Stop in the area for a meal or a beverage, then embark on a wander in literally any direction to make your way to the beach.

8. Shipwrecks engulfed in marine life

Best place for scuba diving

Upping the ante on the Gilis’ diving appeal, three different shipwrecks lie on the seafloor surrounding the islands. The Glenn Nusa Wreck – the only intentional wreck of the bunch – was cleaned and purposely sunk back in 2016 to serve as a dive site and also artificial reef. In between Gili and Lombok’s mainland, the Japanese Wreck went down in the 1940’s, with unclear reasoning as to why it sank. The Bounty Wreck went down off of Gili Meno’s southwest coast around 15 years ago during a severe storm, and is suitable for all levels of divers.

Boats moored at a still beach in Gili Trawangan in Indonesia
Pockets of Gili Trawangan are blissfully tranquil © Warsono Iman Santoso / Lonely Planet

9. Gili Trawangan’s laidback west coast

Best for escaping the noise while staying close to the action

Unlike the busy east coast of Gili T, the west coast brings a completely different mood – one of relaxation, typically with a sweet coconut or frosty cold Bintang within arm’s reach. While a sprinkling of large scale developments punctuate the coast, there are still plenty of open sandy stretches to bliss out and forget about the world for a little bit. More visitors arrive around sunset when the sun hangs low over Bali’s outline in the distance, but it’s still easy to have plenty of space to yourself.

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