The Gili Islands offer a great selection of activities that you can enjoy during your tropical retreat on these 3 closely-knit islands north of Lombok. The Gilis offer a range of action and adventure – they’re considered the best alternative island escape that visitors to Bali can add to their holiday itineraries.

    Underneath the waves, there are amazing dive spots around tropical coral gardens teeming with biodiversity. The calm and azure waters surrounding the small islands offer wonderful snorkelling, too. The coastal beauty is complemented by stretches of white and coral sand. There are also great things to do on land. Find all the best things to do in the Gilis below and get more out of your Gili Island escape!


    Hit up the beach bars!

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    Upon landing on the shores of Gili Trawangan, you’re immediately welcomed by the row of beach bars and restaurants. These venues light up the coast through the late hours with regular party gigs, some with live reggae bands, and others with DJs pumping out groovy beats.

    Bars here mostly serve great cocktails to match the scene, and occasional fire dancers on the sand add to the nightly spectaculars that you can enjoy during or after your dinner. Some venues even feature fireworks regularly, topping the revelling mood that this ‘party island’ has to offer.


    Dive into an underwater paradise

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    The crystal-clear waters around the Gili Islands are dotted with premier dive sites and they regularly draw divers from all around the world. The reefs and straits thrive with marine life and most sites offer wonderful visibility all year round.

    International dive operators dot every coastline of Gili Trawangan and Gili Air, offering charter trips and PADI-certified courses for almost every level. There are around 19 dive sites around the 3 Gilis – popular ones go by the names of Shark Point, Manta Point, Meno Wall, Bounty Wreck, and one is a bio-rock project zone that’s worth adding to your dive log.


    Snorkel around the Gilis

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    An easy option for enjoying the underwater beauty of the Gilis is with a snorkel and fins. If you didn’t bring your own snorkelling gear, you can easily find a pair as they’re widely available for rent from local stalls dotting the coastlines.

    The waters around the islands are mostly shallow, and occasional sightings of sea turtles roaming freely will be an added bonus on your snorkelling trips here. Stroll down along most of the main beaches of the Gilis, well away from the boat docks and, within a short distance from the shore, the vast blue waters are all yours to explore.


    Enjoy the Gilis' surfing playgrounds

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    The surfing scene in the Gilis offers some great paddle-out action and wave riding, with reef breaks available. The southwest coasts of Gili Trawangan and Gili Air have a good collection of year-round breaks, with nice swells in the dry season.

    If you didn’t bring your own board with you, rentals are not hard to find. Gili Meno offers lesser swells compared to the other Gilis, but on certain days, ‘lesser crowds’ simply means you get all of the surfing playgrounds for yourself.


    Hike a ‘treasure hill’

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    Gili Trawangan is the only island among the 3 Gilis that has a hill which you can climb up to discover a couple of unusual finds. Firstly, there’s a mysterious shrine that sits adjacent to a Muslim burial site. Then, further up the hill, you’ll stumble upon the crumbling remnants of a World War II Japanese machine-gun bunker.

    And upon reaching the hilltop, you can claim your prize: a birds’-eye view of the surrounding waters and the majestic outlines of Mount Rinjani on the neighbouring island of Lombok. Sunset or sunrise offer the best picture-postcard moments.


    See the wildlife

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    • Adventure

    There are sea turtle conservation sites at Gili Trawangan and Gili Meno, where you can adopt a hatchling to be released out into the sea. Species include green and loggerhead turtles. The largest sanctuary is on Trawangan, with different pool pens containing sea turtles of different ages, and informative posters on their life stages.

    The turtle sanctuary on Gili Meno is very small and is run by a local who collects turtle eggs and raises them until the hatchlings are fit for release. He relies on donations to keep the small conservation effort going. For other conservation efforts, you can check out Gili Eco Trust on Trawangan, which has volunteer projects and a unique gift shop.


    Explore the Gilis by horseback or cidomo

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    • Unusual

    You can circumnavigate each of the 3 Gili islands on a traditional horse-driven cart, locally known as cidomo. The vehicle is common throughout the main island of Lombok as well as the Gilis. While Bali has its dokar version of the horse-driven cart, which uses large round wooden wheels, the cidomo wooden carts have car wheels and tyres.

    Fees are very affordable and you can share a cidomo ride as a group of 2 or up to 4 passengers, depending on the deal. You can whiz through village roads and beach paths on a fun island tour. Or, you can go horseback – there are many stables available, especially on Trawangan and Air, which offer horseback riding tours.


    Cycle around the island!

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    Circumnavigating each of the 3 Gilis is made easy with lengths of passably paved roads around most of the borders, making cycling very comfortable and convenient. There are plenty of bicycles available for rent, especially on Gili Trawangan and Gili Air (they can be a bit more difficult to find on Gili Meno).

    The most developed of the 3 islands is Gili Trawangan, with only a short length of unpaved roads on its north-western shore. You’ll need to carry your bike over some broken pathways here. Even so, there are bikes with special fat beach tyres available that make cycling over sandy paths a breeze.


    Learn to cook

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    While on your Gili Island holiday, why not learn a bit about the local flavours that make up exotic sasak dishes? There are several notable cooking classes on Trawangan, such as the Sweet & Spicy Gili Cooking School, which is part of Egoiste beachfront restaurant and barbecue, and Little Italy Pizza. Gili Air Cooking Classes are next to the harbour on Gili Air and have recipes that include Lombok’s spicy chicken Taliwang.

    Most classes are held daily and led by experienced chefs. After classes, you’ll be able to enjoy a pleasant lunch – your own tasty creations.


    Enjoy a spa treatment

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    • Luxury

    When you’ve had your share of action and adventure in the Gilis, be it below the waves or from admiring hilltop views, spare time to relieve your muscles. Great spas line the main south-eastern beach road on Gili Trawangan. Some feature wonderful treatment beds facing the open ocean.

    Traditional massages and essential oils at the Gilis’ spas are reminiscent of what you would commonly find at spas in Bali. Open-air reflexology centres with soft sofas are also easy to find along the beach paths. Simply step in, check out the treatment selections from the spa menus and have your soothing fix!

    Ari Gunadi | Compulsive Traveller

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