Since the first travelers arrived on Gili Trawangan (also known as Gili T) in the 1980s a lot has changed and the small island slowly evolves to a world class tourism destination. But that is not to say that the original charms that attracted travelers in the beginning are gone. The perfect white sand beaches, clear turquoise waters and laid-back island style are still to be found. Gili Trawangan is not only the biggest, but also the most well-known and popular island of the three Gilis. It also is known as “the party island” and Gili Trawangan continues to cater to the party crowd. You can find good live music, beach parties and DJ’s every night of the week. But once you walk away from the densely developed east coast, you can find some nice vacant beaches and much more relaxed and quiet areas. Just rent a bike and explore the island, you can ride around it in about 1 1/2 hours.
How to get there?
You can reach Gili Trawangan by fast boat, ferry or even helicopter. Boat connections are available via Bali and Lombok. The helicopter is offered by Air Bali and leaves from Benoa, Bali. It will take you directly to the island.
Most visitors come to Gili Trawangan because of the good party. We found that there is no heavy partying during low/rainy season and that was totally ok. We enjoyed hanging out at the beach during the day, having a drink or two and listen to some good music. A good place to do so is The Exile Bar at the southern end of the island. Good music, chilled vibe and you probably find the most Instagram worthy swing right in front of the bar. Furthermore we took the chance to enjoy some good and uncrowded waves at the southeastern end of the island: Surfing has not yet taken off like in Bali or Lombok, so crowds are smaller. The locals are still very laid-back, friendly and welcoming. When the surf is good you can look forward to fast waves and long rides. If the swell is big you might even get the chance to surf some steep barrels in some parts. Make sure to talk to a local before going in. The reef is sharp and better not go in during low tide.
How long to stay?
We decided to stay for a total of 3 nights and in our opinion this will definitely give you the chance to explore what the island has to offer. If you are up for some good surfing, awesome nightlife or a nice beach holiday you can stay much longer for sure. Gili Trawangan has a lot to offer and you can even do some proper shopping. Just in case you are fed up with the busy southeast of the island make sure to head further north to enjoy some more relaxed areas. Or simply go on one of the island hopping boats and visit one of the other islands.
Where to stay?
Accommodation on Gili Trawangan ranges from basic homestays to luxury hotels and villas. The old style bungalows have mostly disappeared, to be replaced by simple hotels to suit the budget crowd. At the other end of the scale, boutique hotels and luxurious villas boast all the comforts of 5-star-resorts, including designer furnishings, private swimming pools or Jacuzzis, WiFi internet, sound systems and satellite TV. The busiest area, called “Sentral”, is on the southeast of the island, close to the jetty where the boats dock. Scallywags Resort and The Beach House are both popular options in this area, with comfortable rooms and all mod cons. If you want to stay somewhere more relaxed and quiet, away from all the trouble (especially during high season) try to head to the west coast and the north of the island. Le Pirate seems to be a good option here.
Transport to the island As already mentioned there are several ways of getting to the island. We would like to provide some more details about the different options so you can choose which one is best for you:
Fast Boat Several fast boat companies operate from various ports in Bali. Most of them even offer a free transfer from your hotel to the boarding point. Ocean crossing time depends on weather conditions and can take 1 to 2 hours. There is a directory including the available fast boat companies. You will find it here.
Ferry or Public Boat This is the cheapest option. The ferry from Bali departs from Padang Bai (starts at 8 am) and arrives at the port of Lembar in Lombok. From Lembar you have to take a shuttle or taxi to go to Bangsal port. The ferry crossing takes 5 to 6 hours, plus approx. 2 hours for the taxi/shuttle and 15 to 30 min for the boat from Bangsal. Do not be afraid of the bad reviews of Bangsal harbour. We felt very safe and there were not too many people bothering us with overpriced offers or trying to scam us. Taxis have to drop you off about 1 km before the ticket office. Just head on straight until you reach the water. On the left you will find speed boat offers. On the right you will find the offices for the public boats. Boats start leaving early in the morning but no later than 4 pm in the afternoon. Speed boats run regularly while the public boats often wait until full.
Airplane Take a flight to the international airport in Lombok Praya and then make your way to Bangsal port (approx. 2 hours by taxi). Then book a boat from the port office. You can also take a speed boat from Senggigi or Teluk Nara.
Helicopter Air Bali offers this service. You can book your flight online. The heliport is based in Benoa, Bali and will take you directly to Gili Trawangan. The flight takes about 45 min and your booking includes transportation to the heliport in Benoa. More information can be found here.
Once on the island you will be offered transport solutions to almost anywhere in Bali and Lombok. So going back is super easy. There also are island hopping boats so you can manage your transport between the islands. The public boat always leaves early in the morning (8:30 to 08:45 am) and returns around 4 pm. Speed boat connections are available every hour.
Fun Facts It is never wrong to know some interesting facts about the places you visit, so here we go:
1) The word “Gili” means “small island”, and so the three islands have come to be know as “The Gilis” amongst travelers.
2) The Gilis are Lombok’s most popular islands and are consistently rated as top SEA island destinations by travellers and travel publications.
3) There are more than 30 Gilis around Lombok, but Trawangan, Meno and Air are by far the most frequently visited.
4) Like the majority of the Lombok community, the inhabitants of the Gili islands are primarily Muslim and each island has at least one mosque emitting sounds of live prayer five times a day. So either bring good earplugs to avoid being woken up at 5 am or take the chance and rise early.
5) Gili Air is the only island with a natural source of fresh water. And “Air” means “water”.
6) Gili Meno, “meno” means “middle”, has its own salt water lake.
7) And Gili Trawangan derived its name from the Indonesian word “terowongan” meaning “tunnels” of which a network were dug by the occupying forces during WWII. But the holes have been filled in.
Etiquette Some tips for your visit to the Gili islands:
Always use your right hand when you give, take, eat, touch.
Never point at something with your foot.
When you are a guest, wait until you are invited to sit down.
Remove your shoes before entering a house, shop or any other place.
Never get angry, always try to solve problems with a smile.
The Gili islands are Muslim and sometimes it is inappropriate to walk around in a state of undress, going topless can be translated as lack of respect. Try to put on some clothes once you leave the beach and enter the village.
Restaurants You will find bars, cafes and restaurants that suit all kind of budgets. We really enjoyed eating at the smaller stalls owned by locals. We even found two favorites: One in the north quite close to the “La Moomba”. It basically is a small wooden hut with some self made benches and a table. It does not look super nice, but it is owned by an old lady and the Nasi Goreng is very delicious. She also makes her own crackers, so make sure to try them. The other one is further south close to the surfing point on the side opposite the beach and close to the Trawangan Resort. Besides this Gili Trawangan has countless opportunities to eat and drink. You will even get awesome ice-cream and cakes. We even saw a place serving Sauerkraut and Schnitzel. The regular Night Market also is a good option to get good traditional food at fair prices. It starts every night at 6 pm close to the jetty. Snorkeling Like on the other Gilis snorkeling is very popular. The best snorkeling of Gili Trawangan starts on the northern end of the east coast, where you can wade to the reef just offshore. The water is calm and there is a drift from north to south, making it easy to lie on the surface and float down the coral outcrops. Sadly much of the coral is damaged, but there still is a variety of tropical fish species to enjoy. Climb the hill Gili Trawangan is the only island that significantly rises above sea level and the hill in the south is a great lookout and also a good spot to view the sunset or sunrise. You will find some stairs to climb up the hill at the southern tip of the island, close to the Sunset Bar, Restaurant and Bungalows. On the far south of the hill you also find the remnants of old WWII Japanese gun emplacements and crumbling bunkers, but the hand-dung tunnels have been blocked up to protect curious tourists.