At the end of my Indonesia trip, a hostel dorm mate who was heading to Gili Trawangan asked me how long he should stay there. Confidently, I said that two or three days should do it… unless you’re a diver, in which case, stay as long as possible. I couldn’t hide my love for the place. True, there aren’t that many things to do on Gili Trawangan, but the small island is more a place for being rather than doing. While it has a bit of a reputation for being a party island, I honestly didn’t find it so crazy. In fact, I loved that all the nightlife was condensed to one specific area and the rest of the island was relaxed and calm.
For whatever reason, I really vibed with Gili T. I think it was the perfect mix of fun and peace and of course, the amazing diving! I came to Gili Trawangan specifically to learn how to scuba dive and I left knowing I’d be back for a much longer time in the future for continuing education. When that happens, I’ll be sure to update this guide to make it even more robust!
Scuba diving and snorkeling are the absolute best things to do on Gili Trawangan, hands down. Learning to dive was the whole reason I came to the island and if I had a bottomless bank account, I would have dived all day, every day.
What’s more, Gili T is truly a dive community. You’re spoiled for your choice of dive shop as at least 10 of them line the main road on the island. At least half of the tourists are there to dive, and the community is very eco-minded with a number of awesome conservation initiatives on the small island and its two neighbors.
While diving, it felt like we saw everything down there: turtles, octopus, moray eels, cuttlefish, a sea snake, and even a Napoleon Wrasse. The only thing we missed was a shark (although a day before we arrived, a whale shark was spotted off the northern tip of Gili T!)
My favorite dive sites were Shark Point, Turtle Heaven, and Deep Turbo. Even if you’re not a diver, a snorkeling boat trip will take you to a few different spots that are shallow but still full of marine life.
We dove out of Trawangan Dive and I would highly recommend it!
The Gili Trawangan Night Market is a small but fun place to visit when the sun goes down if you want to sample the delicious local cuisine. Starting at 6:30 pm, you’ll find street vendors grilling fresh fish and vegetables, buffet tables bursting with food, and a row of stalls selling clothes and souvenirs.
We ate at the Night Market a few times during our week on Gili Trawangan. One night, the power went out in the middle of dinner making it a really memorable experience!
While Gili Trawangan isn’t so big and you can easily walk around the entire island in a few hours, a great way to explore is definitely by cycling. Bike rentals are generally not super high quality, but you’ll get to see a lot more of the island this way.
Catching beautiful sunsets is one of the quintessential things to do on Gili Trawangan, so much so that it’s a shame to miss even one. On a clear evening, the sky absolutely explodes with oranges and pinks over the Bali Sea. There are lots of beach bars where you can order a tropical cocktail or a cold Bintang and watch the day come to a beautiful end.
Originally, we had planned to visit the turtle sanctuary on Gili Trawangan but later found that it had not been reopened since it was damaged by the elements. However, a friend in our diving class, a veterinarian, visited the Horses of Gili Sanctuary and had a great experience.
She said the horses were very well looked after and that the organization aims to improve the welfare of the working horses on the island. I didn’t get a chance to go there myself, but I’ll get there next time.
This is another one I sadly missed while on Gili Trawangan. Created by the artist Jason DeCaires Taylor, the “Bask Nest” statues are a ring of embracing couples carved out of stone. This is one of the most popular things to do in Gili Trawangan, so I’d try to get there very early in the day to beat the crowds.
Discovering the nightlife might be one of the most popular things to do on Gili Trawangan, but I really think there’s something for everyone here. On a couple of evenings, we simply walked down the coastal strip and ate dinner on the beach. On other nights, we enjoyed live music, watched people sing karaoke, or danced at beach clubs ‘til the early hours.
Here are a few places I’d recommend.
Blue Marlin Dive – A dive center with a great bar that has a DJ on Monday nights. We saw our dive instructors dancing their pants off here!
Sama Sama Reggae Bar – A reggae bar that sometimes has live music and also serves massive margaritas (taste-tested and approved by me.)
Jungle Bar – This place reminded me of the dive bar I used to frequent in my college days. It has drinking games, blacklight paint on the walls, and attracts a young crowd.
Lava Bar – I never actually went here but walked by several times at night and it was always bursting with people, especially on Halloween when they threw a big party.
Tir Na Nog (The Irish Bar) – Another island watering hole featuring a DJ on Wednesday nights and a silent disco during Ramadan.
And lastly… There’s a restaurant/ bar that I can’t for the life of me remember the name of even after scouring Google maps but I can tell you it’s somewhere between Jungle Bar and Tir Na Nog on the beach. At this restaurant, bar, and beach club, you’ll find rows upon rows of bean bag chairs in the sand where you can sit and listen to relaxing live music.
If you need a relaxing night on Gili Trawangan, then head to one of the open-air cinemas on the beach. There are a few options including the Pearl Beach Lounge, Vila Ombak, Pink Coco, and the Aston Sunset Beach Resort. Alternatively, just walk along the main beach and you’re sure to see some movie nights advertised.
Aside from diving and snorkeling, there are plenty of other things to do on Gili Trawangan that will get you moving. Try water sports (or water-adjacent sports) like stand-up paddleboarding, parasailing, beach volleyball, or surfing (experts only! The waves and reef breaks are intense.
You can take a number of boat trips around the Gili Islands to further explore. You’ll find lots of variety: take a snorkeling tour, a booze cruise, or even a day trip to the other two islands of Gili Meno and Gili Air. There are both private boat trips and public boat trips on offer.
While Gili Air and Gili Meno are both flat as a pancake, Gili Trawangan has a small hill on the southern side which is the highest point on the island. You can hike up to the top for a really beautiful view over the islands and also Lombok. It’s also the perfect place to catch some beautiful sunsets.
Of all things to do on Gili Trawangan, visiting the Gili Eco Trust is perhaps the very best. I love this organization for all they do to protect the natural environment around the islands. They plant trees, host fundraisers, and handle waste management and recycling on the island. They also have an awesome shop where you can buy eco-friendly souvenirs like metal water bottles and bracelets made from fishing nets. You can also donate old flip-flops there (I actually did this since my flip-flop split in half while I was on Gili T.)
There are tons of ways you can get involved with the Gili Eco Trust during your time on Gili Trawangan. You can take an eco-tour with them which could be paddleboarding, a RE-cycling tour, or snorkeling at the Biorocks (artificially grown reefs.)
They also organize beach clean-ups (more on that below.) Lastly, they are always accepting donations and every little bit helps.
Every Friday is Debris Free Friday on Gili T! Meet with other eco-warriors and pick up trash for an hour and if your bag is full by the end, you get a free beer! (Bintang, of course.) The meeting point is different each week and can be found on the schedule here.
We sadly weren’t able to participate since we were in our diving course, but I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend a beach cleanup as one of the ultimate best things to do on Gili Trawangan.
This is another effort organized by the Gili Eco Trust. The trash fish and trash turtle are installation art pieces that double as bottle receptacles for recycling plastic and glass. Recycling bins can be hard to find on the island and in Indonesia in general, but now you know exactly where they are on Gili T.
Plastic pollution is one of the biggest environmental issues of our time, but in practice, it is so easy to reduce your plastic waste, starting with water bottles. Get yourself a refillable water bottle (I bought an awesome one at the Gili Eco Trust) and refill at any one of these refill stations around the island. Many are for free but some will charge a small fee that’s usually less than what a bottle of water would cost anyway!
There are no motorized vehicles of any kind on any of the Gili Islands, so if you book a hotel that’s far away from the Gili Trawangan ferry terminal, you’ll need to find your way to your accommodation. Many people opt for one of the horse carts, but I urge you to rather get some exercise and walk to wherever you’re going.
Although the horses are often not abused like people believe they are, their carts are often overloaded which causes them unnecessary stress. If you absolutely must take a horse and cart, make sure they appear healthy and well taken care of. If they have wounds around their face, broken shoes, etc. then they may be neglected by their owner. For more info about the Gili horses, click here.
Remember the Biorocks mentioned above? They’re part of an effort to conserve coral reefs that the Gili Eco Trust and dedicated dive centers lead. You can actually take a course on how to do this coral gardening. There are also fun dives that you can do where you volunteer on these Biorock reefs. For more info about these opportunities, click here!
Another great conservation group is the Gili Shark Conservation. With them, you can volunteer or take conservation classes including the Project AWARE Shark Conservation Specialty course from PADI. One of the coolest things to do on Gili Trawangan is to help these adorable sharks that call the islands home. (Yes, they are adorable. Check out this picture if you don’t believe me!) The Gili Shark Conservation Center is technically on Gili Air, but it’s worth it to make the trip.
The food on Gili Trawangan was really good! And along with great eats, our favorite places had such wonderful people working at them that made us feel like old friends. Here are the best restaurants and places to eat on the island (in my opinion of course!)
Regina Pizzeria – Perhaps the best pizza on the island! We ate here three times in one week, it was that good.
Non Solo Pizza – A small Italian place with awesome pizza and pasta.
Fat Cats – This is the restaurant on top of Trawangan Dive Center. I got a morning smoothie here nearly every day.
Ikan Restaurant – Right on the beach with a diverse international menu.
The Banyan Tree – My absolute favorite cafe on the island. Everything is vegetarian and super healthy.
Any local warung – Warungs (tiny local restaurants) are the best places to try local food from Indonesia like nasi goreng (fried rice), gado gado (a peanut sauce dish), and nasi campur (basically a smorgasbord of different foods.)
…and of course, the Night Market!
Since Gili T is a small island with no airport, the only way to reach it is by boat. You essentially have three options: the fast boat from Bali, the slow boat from Bali, or the ferry from Lombok.
The fastest and easiest way to get to the island is the public ferry from the coast of Lombok. If you aren’t coming from Bali, fly into the Lombok airport, take a taxi to the Bangsal Harbor Port ferry station on the northeastern corner of Lombok, and from there, it’s a short boat ride of less than 20 minutes to Gili T.
If you’re coming from Bali, the fast boat is, in my opinion, the best option and the only way to go. You’re crossing the Bali Sea which can be a rough and bumpy ride in contrast to the calm waters of the Gili Islands. Even though the slow boat is cheap, it will take you at least double the time to get there and will bring you to Lombok instead of straight to Gili T. Save yourself the agony and take the speed boat! It’ll cost you between $25-35 USD. To catch either the slow or fast boats from Bali, you’ll need to get a taxi to Padang Bai harbor in most cases. There are also some boats that leave from Sanur or Amed.
No matter which mode of transport you choose, you’ll be dropped at the ferry terminal on the east coast of Gili T.
I wish I could recommend our homestay on Gili T, but it was infested with cockroaches and generally not of high quality (what do you want for $10 a night?) So instead, here are a few recommendations based on my observations, the words of friends, and my diving teachers.
If you want to be close to the action, then definitely stay near the main road, the busy part of which extends about one kilometer on the lower east side of the island. You’ll be right next to all the restaurants, bars, and tourist services. The downside is, things can get a bit loud here during the day when the mosque is blasting the call to prayer and at night when the bars come alive. If you’re on a budget, one great option in this area is My Mate’s Place, an upbeat hostel with lots of social events.
If you came to Gili T to dive, many dive centers have their own hotels. This was true of our diving school, Trawangan Dive Center, and it looked really nice there. Most of these are also found along the main road area.
For absolute peace and quiet, stay on the north or northwestern part of the island. There tend to be higher-end hotels here, but there are also a few budget accommodations as well such as the new Mad Monkey Hostel.
Last but not least, staying on the west coast of the island ensures you’re always in the best spot for sunset. You’ll also have the best beaches on the island right at your doorstep.
Gili Trawangan was probably my favorite place I visited in Indonesia (so far!) I fell head over heels for the majestic sea turtles while diving in turquoise waters and was enchanted by the locals strumming guitars and having sing-a-longs on their stoops. The whole atmosphere of the place just made me so happy and I can’t wait to get back there.
Leave a comment below and let me know: what’s the first thing you’d do on Gili Trawangan?
January 31, 2020