Planning your first ever trip to Gili Trawangan and not sure where to begin? Fret not friends; we’ve got you covered with this first-timer’s guide specifically created to help with just that!
Read on for tips on how long to stay, what to eat see and do, and how not to break the bank while you’re doing it all.
A First-Timer’s Guide To Gili Trawangan
Gili Trawangan is just off the northwest coast of Lombok, Indonesia. It’s a short boat ride from Bali. Or a long boat ride from Bali. Depending on what company you sail with.
Why Gili Trawangan?
If you like the hedonistic backpackers’ party scene, Gili Trawangan (or simply, Gili T) is probably already on your itinerary. Drugs, especially mushrooms, are readily available everywhere. Even at some of the well-established restaurants.
But keep in mind that drugs are extremely illegal in all of Indonesia. The penalty is hefty for breaking this rule. I mean, if you consider death an extreme form of punishment. But Gili T is somehow exempt from these strict laws. This little island is notorious for its “anything goes” attitude. And the police apparently only visit once per year, so the tourists do as they please.
Now, I am by no means saying it is safe to come here and ignore Indonesia’s no-drug law. If you get fined, thrown in jail, or sentenced to death, I by no means want this coming back on me. Okay?! I’m just saying this island tends to attract a certain kind of crowd. And the locals welcome it. Particularly on the east side of the island.
But what if you (like us) don’t condone drug use? What if you aren’t looking to bar hop all night, dance at a beach rave well into the morning? Is there any point to visiting Gili Trawangan? Yes. Absolutely!
Gili Trawangan has a quiet, more refined side as well. On the west side, known as the sunset side, the vibe is altogether different. And so is the smell (less sewage-y).
There are no motorized vehicles at all (island-wide). So you are far removed from Bali’s hectic traffic. The hotels and restaurants are more spread out from each other on the west. So there’s this quiet peacefulness in the air. You can easily find yourself a slice of beach to call your own. No sharing required.
While most people come to this party island for the nightlife, more and more people are starting to come here to relax and get away from the hustle and bustle of Bali. It’s basically like a retreat of sorts.
Many many ferries run to and from Gili Trawangan every day. They connect to Bali, Lombok, and the other two smaller Gilis, Gili Air and Gili Menos.
From Bali, boats set sail at Padang Bai Harbor in the east (not far from Ubud), Amed in the north, and Serangan in the south (closer to Nusa Dua). Tickets can be purchased in advance from pretty much anyone/anywhere.
There are travel agent stands in all the major areas of Bali. Any of them would be happy to sell one way or return tickets to the Gili islands. But we also found that nearly every driver and every hotel employee has a ‘brother’ or ‘uncle’ who owns a ferry company and is willing to give you a “good deal”.
We got a fantastic deal from the waiter at a hotel restaurant in Ubud. It was much cheaper than we were expecting to pay. It also happened to be one of the worst boat experiences to date. And just thinking about it makes my skin crawl.
Word of advice: Pay more for an air-conditioned fast boat. It is worth every freaking penny.
You can budget about 1.000.000 rp for a return ticket. More or less, depending on your bartering skills, if it’s high or low season, and the level of comfort you’re getting. And remember: go for the highest level of comfort you can afford. Even if it costs twice as much!
How Long To Stay
You’ll want to stay 2 nights minimum because of the travel involved in getting to and from Gili T. 3 nights is ideal.
A day trip is technically possible, but not recommended.
The beaches on the east have more vivid color to the ocean water. The sand is softer and whiter. And there is less painful coral, making it better for swimming. However, there are more people over there and a lot of boat traffic.
On the west side, the beaches are more secluded and remote. You have a killer view of the sunsets, and many different ocean swings to get your picture taken on. The downside is that there’s a lot more coral. And in some areas the water levels are really low for miles out. Meaning you might have to walk a bit to find a good patch of swimmable shore.
Most of the accommodation is located on the eastern side. There are plenty of cheap hotels and guesthouses to choose from, with prices starting around 110.000 rp/per night. But I cannot in good faith recommend that you stay in one of these. “Why not?” you ask? Well…
- Electonic music blasts on the beach into all hours of the night. Aka no sleep for you.
- Starting at 4:00 am Muslim prayer calls play at ear-bleeding levels from the nearby mosques. Again, no sleep for you.
- It smells like sewage. Why does it smell sooo bad? I don’t know. Too many tourists overloading the tiny islands septic system, maybe?
- It’s packed. Not quite the serene and relaxing island getaway you envisioned. The East is crawling with hooligans (am I old enough to call people that yet?). There are so many of them stumbling around it’s hard not to crash into them on your bike ride around the island.
As far as I’m concerned, there is only one hotel you should even consider: Le Pirate Beach Club, on the western side. Their beach boxes start around 1.150.000 rp per night (about $115 CAD) and go up or down in price based on season and if you upgrade to a bigger suite.
Related Post: Reasons to Love Le Pirate Beach Club
Stay at Le Pirate and you’ll see what I’m talking about. It is one of the most adorable, photogenic boutique resorts I’ve ever been to. And I cannot express my love for it enough.
If Le Pirate happens to be fully booked when you visit (heaven forbid), look for a hotel nearby on the sunset side. And then spend your days at Le Pirate’s restaurant and pool club.
The cuisine on Gili T is not that different in taste or price from that on Bali. Eating local dishes from warungs and the night market would’ve no doubt been cheaper, but we just weren’t feeling it. So we went to some nicer joints and paid about 50.000 – 150.000 per meal per person. Except for breakfast, which was inclusive of our booking at Le Pirate.
Cocktails were priced around 80.000 – 150.000 on average. Bintangs about 40.000 – 60.000. If you aren’t really a drinker you’ll save yourself a lot of Rupia.
We didn’t venture out too much for our meals. We quickly found restaurants that made killer food, so we kept going back time and again to the same spots.
Places worth going to:
- Le Pirate. Duh. How could I not include them on this list? Their breakfast is perfect. But so is their lunch, dinner, and snacks.
- Casa Vintage Beach. They make potato pie so good that we all had an impromptu post-dinner nap on the sand immediately after. Plus their boho decor is soo dreamy.
- Window Bar. Good burgers and good dessert. Also a good place to escapea random tropical downpour.
How do you get around the island if there are no motorized vehicles at all? Well, there’s a few ways:
You can rent a pedal bike. Expect to pay around 30.000 – 120.000 rp for a full day, depending on where you rent them from. To ride a full lap around the island will take you less than an hour. But there are parts you will need to disembark your bike and walk it.
You can walk. If you’re staying in the east (although I don’t recommend it) you may not need anything more than your two feet to get around. The island is quite walkable. And on the east, all the restaurants, bars, corner stores, etc. are packed together real close.
If you’re staying in the west (which you definitely should) you probably won’t want to lug your heavy bags from the harbor all the way to your hotel when you arrive, and back again on departure day. You’ll likely choose the next option, at least when weighed down with your luggage.
You can take a cidomo. Cidomos are tiny horse buggies. A one-way ride from the harbor to the sunset side will set you back about 150.000 rp. While this sounds like a cute way to get around a tiny island, it’s not. These horses are abused, neglected, and beaten.
They hardly get any rest or fresh water. And are, quite literally, worked to death. Try to avoid taking a cidomo as best you can. Please.
There’s plenty to do on Gili Trawangan besides party. Some popular activities include:
- Snorkeling. You can rent a mask and snorkel from a dive shop or hotel and head out into the water yourself. Or there are boat tours you can go on that will take you around the island, and maybe even to the other Gilis, in search of the best spots to see fish and sea turtles.
- Glass bottom boat tour. If you want to see the fishies without swimming with the fishies, a glass bottom boat will give you that opportunity.
- Island hopping. Gili Menos and Gili Air are just a short boat ride away. Heck, you could probably swim there. Well… not me. But I never learned that vital survival skill well…
- Horseback riding on the beach. Available at Stud Horse Riding Adventures and Sunset Stables.
- The night market. Get some cheap local cuisine, located in the market square by the boat pier.
- BBQ Pontoon. Set sail and watch the sunset as you enjoy a dinner prepared for you right on the BBQ pontoon boat.
If you’re coming to Gili T to relax and get away from it all, maybe you won’t want to do any of the above. That’s perfectly acceptable too. I hereby give you permission to sit your butt down in a hammock and sip cocktails until bedtime.
Money Saving Tips
- Bargain hard on your boat fare. But also, make sure you aren’t going with a super budget no-frills company.
- Renting a bike is the cheapest “fast” way to get around the island. But walking is the cheapest overall. Obviously.
- Check the restaurant’s menu closely for the tax rate. If you’re unsure, ask if it’s included. Some places include tax in the listed price, others charge up to 20% extra at the bottom of the bill.
- Bring your own liquor from Bali. While purchasing a bottle of Vodka at the corner store in Bali isn’t exactly cheap, the price is much better than trying to buy that same bottle on Gili Trawangan. If you want to mix some of your own drinks in your hotel room or at the pool, bringing hard liquor in your suitcase will save you mucho muchacho.
- For the ladies: bring tampons from Bali. Not only are they next to impossible to find (most places only carry pads. Which is REALLY odd for a beachy island), but they cost an arm and a leg. They were over 200.000 rp for a box of 10 at the ONE corner store I managed to locate them in. That’s $20 CAD. I nearly choked on my $1 sleeve of Oreos when I saw that.
More Destination Guides
I’m excited to share with you our first-timer’s destination guides for a number of areas in Bali. Over the next few weeks, we’ll have guides up for Uluwatu, Canggu, Ubud, Seminyak, and Kuta. So check back every Wednesday 🙂