Indonesia’s Gili islands are a group of three small islands located off the coast of Lombok. The islands are best known for their sandy beaches and beautiful coral reefs that surround them. Unsurprisingly, scuba diving Gili ‘islands is subsequently one of the most popular spots for scuba diving Indonesia and the area is perfect for divers of all levels.
However, while all three islands are amazing for scuba diving, the Gili islands have much more to offer. So, if you are planning to visit, here are some tips on how to get the most of your visit, and advice for scuba diving Gili islands.
Guide to Scuba Diving Gili Islands
A trip to scuba dive Gili will inevitably land you at some point in Gili T. Gili Trawangan, commonly referred to as Gili T, is the most popular of the Gili Islands, and known as the party island. It’s the most cosmopolitan of the islands with plenty of beach bars, cafes, and accommodation options. Gili Trawangan is a hotspot for backpackers looking to meet others travellers and party. That being said, the island is also good for romantic getaways and even family travels as it offers a little bit of everything. I also did my intro to tech diving in Gili T.
How to Get To Gili Trawangan
The Gili Islands do not have their own airport; the closest airports are Denpasar in Bali, or Seleparang airport in Lombok.
From Bali, you can take a fast boat from either Padang Bai or Amed. It is advised to book your spot at least the day before as the boats book up very quickly, especially during high season. Most people leave from Padang Bai (you can catch an early morning shuttle from Kuta, but most people prefer to spend the night in Padang Bai to avoid the early rush in the morning). The ride from Padang Bai takes about 1.5 hours. Leaving from Amed is another option, it’s less busy and also a shorter ride; only 45 minutes to Gili T.
From Lombok, travellers can either catch the slow, local boat or a fast boat.
The slow boat is by far the cheapest option, however its significantly slower and can come with a fair bit of harassment. The only way to buy a ticket for the showboat is from the office located at Bangsal. Do not buy a ticket form a local; it’s a scam. Also do not accept any help carrying your luggage to the boat unless you expect to pay. If you do need help, discuss fees ahead of time (and make sure it’s in IDR not dollars). The ferry has no real schedule, but leaves when it is full (about 40 people). The ride takes about two hours.
The most common way to reach Gili Trawangan from Lombok is by fast boat. There are two places from which you can do this, Teluk Nara or Teluk Kodek. Teluk Nara is the most commonly used, Teluk Kodek is usually for guests of resorts.
If you are planning on coming immediately after flying in, it might be tricky. Your best bet is to plan on spending the night in the nearby town of Senggigi and catch a boat the next morning.
It is important to know that none of the Gili Islands have any type of motorized vehicles. The best way to get around is by bicycle (you can rent them everywhere) or walking (the islands are quite small). There are horse and carriage rides available (cidomos), however the horses are often poorly treated and sickly so it is best to avoid this mode of transportation.
Things To Do in Gili Trawangan
When it comes to the Gili Islands, Gili Trawangan probably has the most to offer in terms of activities and adventures outside of scuba diving and snorkelling. Some of the most popular activities here include SUPing, kayaking, kite surfing, wake boarding, and even surfing. For those looking for something a little more relaxing, there are glass bottom boat rides, fishing, yoga, and of course massages.
When the evening comes around, don’t miss Gili T’s famous sunsets. The most popular spot to go is Sunset Bar. You can also get one of yourself at the iconic photos of the ocean swings at sunset but, don’t let instagram fool you; it’s not as peaceful as it seems. There are always long lines to get this favorite shot and locals trying to take you photo and sell it to you as a souvenir.
After sunset, head to the night market for dinner. You can get everything from noodles or rice to a full grilled fish. Next it’s time to check out Gili T’s famous party scene. There are usually specific go to spots depending on the night of the week, but a popular favourite is Sama Sama for reggae music. If you want a quiet night you can also skip the bars in favour of a movie on the beach.
Gili Air is more laid back and relaxed than Gili Trawangan, but not quite as quiet and secluded as Gili Meno. It’s a great spot for travellers who aren’t really wanting to party, but are looking to experience the Gilis and be social. Of all the Gili Islands, Gili Air is probably the most popular islands for divers to stay at for this reason.
How to Get to Gili Air
Getting to Gili Air from either Bali or Lombok is essentially the same as getting to Gili Trawangan. Just make sure ahead of time that the boat stops at Gili Air as well as at Gili T, or make sure you get on a boat heading to Gili Air.
If you are coming from on of the other Gili Islands, there is an Island Hopping boat service. Service is limited so come early and expect delays. Another, perhaps easier, option is barter for a charter boat.
Things to Do in Gili Air
Not surprisingly, water sports are the main attractions here. Scuba diving, free diving, snorkelling, and surfing being the top picks. When you aren’t in the water you can try yoga, relax on the beach, or even take a cooking class.
In the evening you can grab dinner at the Gili Air Night Market, and grab a spot on the beach to watch the gorgeous sunsets.
Scuba Diving Gilis is the main attraction on all 3 islands, but Gili Meno is probably the least popular and the quietest of the Gili Islands. That being said, it’s lack of crowds often make it a popular choice for couples looking for a romantic getaway. One of the perks of it being not as crowded as Gili Trawangan or Gili Meno is that the beaches here are much cleaner, and therefore much nicer. If you are looking for a laid back island for your diving vacation, Gili Meno is the place to go.
How to Get to Gili Meno
Gili Meno is the trickiest of the Gili islands to get to because it is not as popular. If you are coming from Bali or Lombok, check ahead of time to see if the boat will stop. Most don’t have scheduled stops to Gili Meno, but may if enough people want to get off. Another option is to charter a private speedboat which can be pricey as an individual but isn’t too bad if you are going with a group.
It is also possible to get to Gili Meno from either Gili Trawangan or Gili Air. There is an Island Hopping boat service with limited service. It’s run by the same company as the public ferry from Bangsal so be prepared to come early and expect delays. Perhaps the more convenient option is barter for a charter boat. Barter slowly and do not indicate you are in a rush, or else the price will be higher.
Things to Do in Gili Meno
As indicated above, Gili Meno is the quietest of the islands with no party scene. That being said it is the perfect spot for enjoy nature. Aside from diving and snorkelling, there isn’t really that much to do on the island but sit back and relax. That being said, Gili Meno has a couple of cool attractions including a turtle sanctuary where baby loggerheads and baby green turtles are kept until they are old enough to be released into the wild. Gili Meno also has a bird park with over 300 species to be seen and heard. As with the other Gilis, sunset is always something to look forward to so find a spot on the beach or visit one of the local beach bars to enjoy.
Best Dive Sites Around the Gili Islands
While each of the Gili Islands each has it’s own persona and highlights, when it comes to diving they are so close together that they share the dive sites. These are the best sites for scuba diving Gili Islands.
- Turtle City: The best spot in the Gili Islands for turtles. You will also see snappers, pufferfish, and eels along with other fish.
- Meno Wall: A sloping wall covered in beautiful corals. It’s a great place to see turtles, clownfish, snappers, and more. It’s also an awesome spot for a night dive.
- Bounty Wreck: A nice wreck to explore, perfect for open water divers. The steel frame has turned into a coral garden and attracted plenty of marine life including cuttlefish, batfish, and jacks.
- Shark Point: Like the other dive sites in the Gili Islands, you will see turtles, and typical reef fish but the highlight here are the sharks. Black tips and white tips can commonly be found in this area.
- Halick: Bright hard and soft corals and plenty of fish make this a popular spot for underwater photographers. The dive site is divided into deep Halick (for the advanced divers) and shallow Halick for open water.
- Sunset Reef: A beautiful reef with colorful corals. Table corals create large ‘shelves’ housing plenty of species of marine life.
- Han’s Reef: A sandy slope with some rocky areas. Look for nudibranchs, mantis shrimp, pipefish, and frogfish.
- Turbo: Divided into Shallow Turbo (for open water divers) and Deep Turbo (for advanced divers). Large coral ‘bommies’ and some gorgonian fans. The shallow area is great for small critters and reef fish, in the deep section you might see sharks, stingrays, and tuna.
- Good Heart Reef: A gentle drift dive with some great macro opportunities. Plenty of butterflyfish, damselfish, and some cuttlefish. It’s a great spot for a night dive as well, look for octopus, shrimp, lobster, and Spanish dancers.
- Biorock: Gili T has the second largest Biorock site in the world. These metal structures help to grow coral at a faster rate with the help of a safe, low voltage electrical current. The artificial reefs attract plenty of fish including boxfish, clownfish, bannerfish, cowfish, and frogfish.
- Japanese Wreck: Very few people know about this wreck, but it is where I did my intro to tech. If you are scuba diving Gilis and want to try tech, or the wreck, hit up Blue Marlin Dive, as they are only ones that know how to find it.
Best Time of Year to Scuba Dive Gili Islands
Gili islands are accessible year round, however as with everywhere else, some times of the year are better than others. Rainy season is November to April; not that it really matters for diving. Peak tourist season from December-January, and again from July-September so expect things to book up very quickly and prepare for large crowds. Mid season; May/June and October/November are generally the best time to visit for divers.
For those looking to scuba dive Indonesia, the Gili Islands are a must! But make sure you stick around for more than just diving as it’s also a great area to explore.