If you’re visiting Bali or Lombok, you’ll inevitably catch wind of the three Gili Islands: Gili Trawangan, Gili Air, and Gili Meno, located between Bali and Lombok. Easily reached by boat, the islands are a popular destination for their amazing beaches, coral reefs, and laid back atmosphere. And although the Gili Islands are not the most eco-friendly destination in all of Indonesia, we found there are a number of things to do in Gili Islands that are sustainable.
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For starters, there are no cars or motorbikes on the islands, leaving most people to walk or ride bikes. There are also a number of eco-friendly organizations that have a presence on the islands and it’s very easy to get involved. No matter which Gili Island you choose to visit, you’re in for a special and unique feeling that you won’t find anywhere else in Indonesia.
Top Things To Do in Gili Islands, Indonesia
Enjoy the Beaches
The beaches around the islands are some of the nicest in Indonesia. With calm waves and arching palm trees, you can be content just sitting on the beach for the entire day. The beach around Gili T can get crowded and free sun chairs and umbrellas can be hard to find, so plan to arrive early and be prepared to pay for a sun chair or for food/drink at a beachfront restaurant that offers beach chairs to customers.
Catch the Sunset
The Gili Islands are well known for their stunning sunsets. Especially on Gili T, the westernmost island, you can see incredible colours in the sky while relaxing at one of the beach bars as the sun goes down. We caught this beautiful pink sunset just in front of our hotel, Villa Almarik.
Go Scuba Diving or Snorkeling
One of the best things to do in Gili Islands is to explore the underwater world. Gili T is a popular place to get certified for scuba diving since the conditions are both beautiful and suited for beginners. You’ll see plenty of turtles, sharks, and rays on a lucky dive, and the coral beds are colourful and full of life.
A word of warning. There are dozens of scuba diving operators on Gili T but unfortunately, not all of them adhere to strict processes and put safety at the top of their priority list. If you are going to scuba dive in Gili Islands, do your research and choose an operator with a high safety rating. Walk around the main street in town and ask lots of questions before you book.
- Ensure that the diver to divemaster ratio is not higher than 4:1
- Ask to see their equipment and inspect it closely to ensure that it’s well maintained and not too old
- Enquire about the safety standards on board, especially if you are a novice diver
- Ensure that the guides speak an adequate level of English or your mother tongue
While we are strong proponents of supporting operators that employ local staff, we have found that dive shops operated by foreigners often run a much tighter operation and work hard to put safety first!
If you’re not interested in diving, you can take a snorkelling trip to one of the shallower spots nearby. You’ll still have plenty of opportunities to see lots of marine life.
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Learn To Free Dive
Freediving is becoming more and more popular and, along with scuba, is one of the best things to do in Gili Islands. Freediving schools can be found on both Gili T and Gili Air, and all operators have a pool on-site where you can take a few “dry land” lessons.
Join a Beach Cleanup
An awesome organization called Trash Hero organizes weekly beach cleanups that you can join during your time on the islands. In addition to helping out on the ground, they have volunteer programs online that you can help with as well. There are chapters all around Asia, including one on Gili Air and one on Gili Meno.
Visit the Gili Eco Trust
The Gili Eco Trust offers one of the best things to do in Gili Islands for a responsible traveler. This non-profit works hard on conservation and environmental projects on Gili T. Their “bio rock” project is probably the most notable of all and one you can visit during your time on the islands. Biorock is an artificially created reef and coral garden, grown along the shore of Gili Trawangan. The corals take years to grow but their growth is sped up by the light electric current that runs through the iron structures.
If you want to get involved with the Gili Eco Trust, you can take one of their bio rock eco-tours, volunteer, or visit their waste-free gift shop.
Weekly beach cleanups take place every Friday at 5pm and all participants that fill their trash bags receive a free beer at the end. It’s a great way to make friends and have fun on Gili T while also helping out the environment.
Stroll the Gili Trawangan Night Market
If you want to try some local street food, the Gili Trawangan Night Market is the place to do it. You can stroll among the stalls and barter for the best deals, and try a variety of different dishes. Make sure to save room for dessert, too, as there are lots of sweets for sale.
The Gili Trawangan Night Market starts every evening at 6pm.
Visit the Underwater Sculpture
Gili Meno is perhaps most famous for the underwater sculptures just offshore. Officially called the “Nest Sculpture,” this ring of life-sized human-shaped rock was created by artist Jason DeCaires Taylor. Best of all, this sculpture functions as an artificial reef, which in turn helps the ecosystem to grow and recover from coral damage and other environmental effects.
To visit the sculpture from Gili T or Gili Air, you will need to take a snorkelling tour. If you’re staying on Gili Meno, you can simply swim to it from the beach.
Attend the Slow Food and Yoga Festival
The Slow Food and Yoga Festival is a new festival taking place on Gili Air that features classes, workshops, and performances. You can enjoy open mic nights, dance parties, pilates, meditation workshops, and, of course, yoga activities ranging from yoga on the beach to acro yoga.
The festival is a 3-day affair and takes place at the end of October.
Where to Stay on Gili Islands
Gili Trawangan is the biggest island of the three, so most people opt to stay here while visiting the islands. While it is a well-known party spot, it also is the best base for scuba diving.
Gili Air and Gili Meno islands tend to be a lot more relaxed and calm, and there are plenty of quiet corners where you relax and soak in the beauty of the islands. Accommodation on Gili Air and Gili Meno is a bit more limited, but there are still lots of options to go around.
Villa Almarik, Gili Trawangan
During our time in Gili Islands, we stayed at Villa Almarik on Gili Trawangan and found it to be a lovely quiet property located away from the hustle and bustle.
While it doesn’t look that way from the street, the hotel actually sits of a nice spacious property consisting of 24 elegantly appointed cottages. There are 9 Deluxe, 7 Superior and 8 Standard rooms, each one with a spacious living area and a terrace overlooking the garden. All rooms are outfitted with AC, TV, private bathroom with desalinated hot and cold water shower.
We stayed in their Deluxe Room and loved the spaciousness of our cottage. There was lots of space to unpack and settle in. And the lovely views of the bathroom added a tropical feel to the place.
The nightly rate included a great breakfast buffet, which we enjoyed at the hotel daily. There was also a restaurant on-site that prided itself on having the “best pizza in town”. It had an elaborate menu with a variety of a la cart dishes, including fish, pasta and more.
Villa Almarik also had a pool on-site, although given that the hotel is located just 50 m from the beach, we preferred to spend most of our time lounging by the ocean.
We enjoyed our stay at Villa Almarik and especially after learning that it was one of the few sustainable accommodation options in town. The hotel was single-use plastic-free, offered guests metal straws and encouraged them to minimize the use of AC and water during the stay.
The Gili Islands have a long way to go to becoming a truly sustainable destination, but it was nice to see a number of organizations taking steps towards a better future on Gili Islands. As responsible travelers, we found ways to enjoy nature, the underwater world and the local charm of these islands during our visit.
We hope one day you will too!
Have you ever visited Gili Islands? Which island is your favourite and why?
Disclaimer: Our stay at Villa Almarik and our dives in the region were provided courtesy of Lotus Hotels, however, all opinions expressed in this article are our own.