If white sand beaches, palm trees and clear blue water sound like your kind of holiday, then taking a trip to the idyllic Gili Islands should be included in your Bali holiday. Did we also mention that there's no form of motorized transport; think bicycle tracks, long strolls at sunset and sweet little pony carts.
Each island has it's own distinct character - Gili Trawangan is the most "developed" (if you can call it that) and is known for its vibrant nightlife and beach parties. Gili Air has a strong local influence and picture perfect beaches, while Gili Meno is probably the quietest and most peaceful of the three. Mata Hari Bungalows, Gili Air, Indonesia by benedict.adam
The wet season experienced by Bali and Lombok has little or no effect on the Gili Islands, making it the ideal sunny beach destination year-round. June through to August is peak season on the Gilis (as well as over Christmas and New Years) and it's a good idea to book accommodation in advance during this period as rooms can be hard to find and are often double in price.
Accommodation in the Gilis is varied; you'll generally pay more for a beachfront location with cheaper rooms available inland, towards the villages. Most dive schools offer more upmarket rooms, sometimes with the added luxury of air-conditioning and Wi-Fi, while the cheaper rooms are often run by local families who probably don't have a computer, let alone a website.
Unlike Bali, the Gili Islands are mostly Muslim and visitors should respect the local culture at all times. The call to prayer from the islands' mosques adds an exotic feel to the place, and travelers should keep in mind that during the month of Ramadan many of the locals will be fasting and that nightlife on Trawangan will be a lot more quiet.
How you get to the Gilis largely depends on your budget and how much time you have to spend. The two available options from Bali are traveling by fast boat or by local ferry.
Keep in mind that either way you go, you'll be arriving by boats that anchor in the shallow waters off the coast and you'll have to wade up to the beach carrying your luggage. For this reason we recommend wearing shorts and preferably taking with a backpack or day pack rather than a suitcase on wheels. Gili Trawangan ferry port by Michal Osmenda, on Flickr
If you have limited time and want to start living the island life ASAP, we suggest going by fast boat. This is the more expensive option of the two (prices start from Rp. 600,000 per person for a one-way trip) but is way faster, taking two hours or less for transfers from Bali to the Gilis, depending where you depart from.
There are several fast boat services to choose from, departing Bali from either Serangan, Benoa, Padang Bai or Amed. A word of warning: the fast boat crossing can get a little bumpy at times, especially when the swell is big, and during extremely bad weather boats will not operate.
If you're on a budget and have a whole day to spend traveling, taking the local ferry is the way to go. The ferry leaves from Padang Bai in Bali and arrives at Lembar on Lombok some four to five hours later. It's then a 60 km drive north through some gorgeous scenery up to Bangsal, where you finally take a local boat across to the Gilis.
Most tour operators and travel agents can offer a package which includes return hotel transfers, ferry crossings, land transfers on Lombok and local boat rides to the Gilis, starting from around Rp. 160,000 per person.
Bear in mind that the last boat from Bangsal to the Gilis is at 16:30, which means that if your ferry crossing or land transfer from Lembar is delayed you will need to overnight somewhere until the first boat leaves for the Gilis the next morning.
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