Located just off the northwest coast of Lombok are the Gili Islands, three tiny little islands that have become one of the most popular spots in all of Indonesia. Gili Trawangan is the biggest and most western off the mainland followed by Gili Meno and Gili Air (pronounced AH-yer). If you’re planning a trip to the Gilis, here’s a little bit of background info along with a brief description of each one. For more details, check the pages for each specific island.
With large crowds of tourists descending upon them daily, it’s hard to believe that the islands have only been inhabited by people for about thirty years. Bugis fisherman from Sulawesi were some of the first to use the islands as places to stop and rest along their voyages. Then they were used by the Japanese as lookout points and prison camps for POWs during the second World War.
For a few years in the 70s they were used for coconut plantations, but the project was abandoned. The 1980s brought adventurous backpackers over from Bali and since then tourism to the islands has continued to grow, especially in the 90s as more and more dive companies set up shop.
Today all three islands are popular with travelers of all ages. The Gilis are unique in that no motorized vehicles are allowed. You can only get around by bicycle or a horse drawn carriage called cidomo in Indonesian.
This is the biggest of the three islands and known to most as ‘Gili T’ or by its silly nickname ‘Gili Tra-la-la.’ It attracts the most visitors and was developed more quickly than the other two islands because of its proximity to dive locations.
While Gili T has the reputation of a ‘hippy party paradise,’ we found it to be more subdued than this label would imply. Sure you can party here – it’s quite easy to find weed and mushrooms – but it’s striving to be more of a family friendly destination. The main draw to the island remains diving and other water-related activities. While most of the action happens on this island, there is still plenty on the other two.
This island is the smallest and is located in the middle. Come to think of it, Meno is much like a middle child – it doesn’t get as much attention as the other two. It’s known as the honeymoon island because it’s much quieter and more undeveloped than its neighbors. As such, it attracts mostly couples looking for a romantic getaway or families looking to relax. People looking for a more exciting scene probably wouldn’t care much for Meno. The most interesting thing about it is probably the turtle sanctuary, where they care for baby sea turtles until they’re ready to be sent back out into the water.
Gili Air is nearest Lombok and is number two in size out of the three islands. It has the largest permanent population of residents at about 1,800 people. It’s a happy medium of the party vibe of Gili Trawangan and seclusion of Gili Meno. With the development of more upscale places on Gili T, Gili Air is becoming more popular with backpackers as a place to base themselves on the islands. It’s also quickly becoming a hotspot for music festivals, as it hosts one during Nyepi (Bali’s Day of Silence) as well as the Burning Island psy-trance gathering.
Regardless of which Gili you choose, you’re bound to have a good time. After all, who doesn’t enjoy lounging on the beach, sipping on fruity drinks, dining on fresh seafood, and enjoying a few cold ones with fellow travelers and music? That being said, here’s what we have to say about the three islands and their differences – if you’re young, looking to party, or are focused on doing a dive course, opt for Gili T.
If you’re looking for peace and quiet, and would rather just sit around with a book and not be bothered, go to Meno. If you’re looking for a nice mix, head to Air. Better yet, just go to all three! Island hopping boats make the rounds every day, so it’s easy to spend a few days on one then jump to the next.