Which Gili are you?

If you’re travelling to the Lombok/Bali region of Indonesia, chances are you’re going to be looking to move around between the islands and sample the many different experiences that they have to offer.  If so, a trip to the Gili Islands off the North-West coast of Lombok should definitely be on your itinerary.

What are the Gili Islands?

The Gilis are three very small islands accessible only by boat and devoid of any form of mechanised transport – your choices there are generally horsepower or human power.  These three islands – Air, Meno and Trawangan (or T for short) – have very different personalities and, in our experience, are each set up for very different clientele:

  • Gili Air – a relaxing island set up for travellers seeking an opportunity to explore the calm waters of this region with lots of chances for swimming, snorkelling and scuba diving.
  • Gili Meno – a more couple-orientated location, Meno nonetheless is welcoming to all travellers and, being less built up then its neighbours, is the least touched and offers the best snorkelling/diving opportunities.
  • Gili T – the largest and most commercial of the three islands, Gili T is the partygoers destination with a Kuta-style reputation quickly building with less access to the water in between round the clock partying.

We visited two of the three islands (not Gili T) – further details on our experiences are provided in additional blog posts by clicking the links above.

Getting to the Gilis

As Claire discussed in her post on Sengiggi, the main route into the Gilis is via the Northern harbour of Bangsal.  Well, when we say harbour, we really mean a collection of beachfront buildings and shacks with a shore lined with fishing-style boats and outboard engines attached.  It really isn’t anything to look at although, even in low season, was very busy with lots of people.

Getting to Bangsal seemed to be one of the more difficult challenges of our entire Indonesian trip given the apparent lack of clear information on the transport options to this area.  Our research and experience leads me to believe that there is no public bus that goes to Bangsal: you have to either use a private shuttle service or an independently arranged taxi to get here.  Saying that, both of these methods aren’t allowed to actually enter the harbour areas.  Instead, you are dropped off (rather conveniently) at a restaurant up the road where (also conveniently) horse and cart arrangements await to transport you and your belongings down to Bangsal harbour (for an additional fee of course).  Whilst you may wish to invest in this if you have particularly unwieldy bags or cases, in most cases the 10 minute walk to the harbour itself is easily accomplished and you don’t have to pay for transport you didn’t really need.

Bangsal harbour with the three Gilis in the background
Bangsal harbour with the three Gilis in the background
When you get into the harbour itself, you need to ensure that you only buy tickets from a reputable supplier (if you’re looking to take the public boats).  The public boats run when full up to about 11 am (so make sure you’re there early!) and tickets should either be bought (for Gili Meno and Gili T) from the white building inside the harbour on the left or (for Gili Air) from the shack at the end of the concrete path running past the harbour shopping arcade on the right.  

In our case, we were going to Gili Air and bought our tickets for 18 000 IDR (which includes a tourist tax that was recently added). It’s then a case of waiting with your coloured ticket for your boat to be called.

Top Tip: Bangsal is by no means a developed harbour so be suitably dressed to wade at least ankle deep aboard and from your boat.  If you miss the public boat, it is supposed to be possible to arrange a private charter but we had no experience of doing so and would advise avoiding doing so unless absolutely necessary.

Whilst it is possible to get from Bali to the Gilis (specifically Gili T) directly, this wasn’t something we explored in length so additional research would probably be needed before using this route.  That said, one potential is the reverse of our exit route (details to follow below).

Moving between the islands

Should you fancy exploring the other islands nearby, the first destination is the harbour where all the general boats arrive and depart from.  Public shuttle services run between the islands during the morning (usually between 8 and 10 am on an ad hoc basis). Additional charter services are available although we never used them.

Generally, there are more services to/from Gili T than Air with fewer still to Meno – it’s best to speak to the ticket office to get the low down on when these are expecting to run.  These can be busy with travellers and locals alike so don’t be late!

Leaving the islands

Why would you want to?

In all seriousness though, when you do choose to leave, it is a little bit of a faff (no surprise there).  Depending on where you’re looking to go next, you may be able to go directly or need to take a convoluted route that can either last many hours or cost an arm and a leg.

The jetty at Gili Air
The jetty at Gili Air
As we decided to skip Gili T, there wasn’t an option to go directly to Bali.  We could have chosen a privately-operated speed boat from Gili T (which is quick but significantly more expensive) or the the public ferry which required us to return to Lombok (making the journey much cheaper but equally longer).  Operating on a budget, the public service was our choice, arranged as a package to get us from Gili Meno to Ubud, Bali.  This cost 200 000 IDR (approx £10) and, delays and transfers included, took approximately 11 hours to complete.  

We arrived at  Meno harbour for our 8 am departure equipped only with a voucher to prove that we had paid for the ferry and shuttle transfer service to Ubud.  This enabled us to collect tickets for the Meno-Bangsal boat, be shown to the correct restaurant outside of Bangsal where our minibus collected us (the same one ironically that had brought us from Sengiggi in the first place) and down to Lembar in southern Lombok for the ferry.  As a small car ferry, there was a small shop on board and lots of places to sit down (although be quick before the locals grab them all and spread out!).  For us, the ferry was the most arduous part of the journey.  It took an hour and a half after boarding for the boat to finally leave for the four hour crossing and a further 90 minutes at the Bali end for the dock to clear for us to disembark (making the journey 7 hours instead!).  We then had a final race (that’s what it felt like anyway) in our final shuttle to Ubud where we were deposited shortly after 7 pm.

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