Gili Islands: Coconut Palms, Coral Reefs and Turquoise Seas

We had an action-packed first week with Rebecca joining us for our travels in Indonesia; white water rafting, hiking up a volcano, risking limbs on Nusa Penida and jumping into rough seas to swim with manta rays.

We decided the second stage of the Indonesia trip would be more chilled out, so we hopped on a boat from the harbour at Nusa Penida and headed to the incredible Gili Islands.

Gili T

There are three Gili Islands – Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno and Gili Air. They all have white sand beaches, crystal clear water and no cars at all… only horses and bikes. Pretty nice right? I didn’t think places like that even existed anymore.

Best method of transport in the Gili Islands

Our first stop was two nights on Gili T, a paradise island renowned for it’s party lifestyle. For such a tiny island (15 square km) it certainly gets it’s share of visitors.

Our ferry to Gili T was lively – speakers blasting music, beers flowing at 9am – which meant by the time we reached the island we were definitely ready for the party hostel we’d booked. The only problem was that when we arrived at Gili Castle, we found it empty of guests.

Gili Castle Hostel on Gili T

Gili Castle and Gili Mansion are the go-to hostels for backpackers wanting to get drunk and have a good time. They’re renowned for their pool parties and pub crawls, so we decided we’d all pretend we were 25 and have a few nights on the beer. We were a bit deflated to find Gili Castle empty, but as it was only early afternoon we figured everyone was either out and about or still in their rooms recovering from the party the previous night. We just got in the pool, had some beers and messed about on the climbing wall.

Climbing Wall at Gili Castle

A staff member told us that the two hostels take it in turns hosting party nights, and on the day we arrived the party was at Gili Mansion, which was just down the road. We headed over and found a much livelier place – music, cheap BBQ and plenty of beer.

We had a great afternoon but as it wore on into evening, the day really started dragging. There are only so many times you can play drinking jenga, ring of fire or beer pong before you’re done – totally bloated with beer and sick to death of organised fun.

There’s only so many beer funnels you can do before you need to go home

I think we peaked too soon… everyone else seemed to be just getting into it by the time we were sobering up. We went for dinner with two Aussie girls then told them we’d get changed out of our swim gear and meet them back at the pool party.

We got changed… into our PJs and had a cup of tea… We’d all realised that the thought of being forced into another round of ‘Never have I ever’ or watching someone else having to down a bottle of beer containing their own pubes (I kid you not), was not appealing in the slightest.

Blakey and I had stayed at party hostels before – we had an amazing time getting smashed with other backpackers in Boracay – but something about the endless games just felt so forced. We think it’s because in Boracay we were cliff jumping, tubing, and messing about on a boat, so it was more interesting and drinking huge amounts of rum was just part of a really great day out. In Gili T we were just sitting around drinking endless beers for the sole purpose of getting drunk – we had a laugh but didn’t really feel like continuing it into the night.

It’s official – we’re getting old.

Gili Air

The beautiful Gili Air

While Gili T is known as the party island, Gili Air is best known for being a quiet paradise away from the crowds. It’s so small you can walk the circumference in just over 2 hours, and currently is home to no huge hotel developments – it’s just beach shacks displaying their catch of the day for dinner, ramshackle sunset bars with beanbags out on the beach, and quirky hostels and guest houses.

We sat on the beach in the evening with a shisha pipe, cocktails and a pack of cards. We watched the sun go down over the distant Balinese volcanoes then ate some freshly caught prawns for dinner. It was a huge contrast to our time of Gili T, and we loved it.

Sunset on Gili Air

We stayed at an awesome hostel called Captain Coconuts. I may have picked it for the name alone, but it was just brilliant. There was a beautiful pool with oversized sun loungers, cute little cottage-style private rooms and an open-air dorm. They do the best food ever, and their watermelon margarita was bloody brilliant.

We stayed in the dorm rooms, which cost around £8 a night – not bad at all for a hostel with a swimming pool and a gorgeous free breakfast. The dorm was an open-air structure made (it seemed) entirely of bamboo, including the spiral staircase up to the dorms. There was a thatched roof but the building sides were completely open to the elements.

Captain Coconuts, Gili Air

The beds themselves were suspended from ropes in the ceiling and covered in mosquito nets. It was hilarious trying to get into a bed which swung madly from side to side as soon as you sat on it. When I first lay down and closed my eyes I felt that horrible drunk feeling when the room seems to be spinning around you. Luckily it passed quickly, and I think we all had a good night’s sleep. I think if we stayed there again though we’d go for the little cottages with proper beds.

We only had one day on Gili Air so we decided to spend it out at sea. We booked a snorkelling trip round the three islands and had a lovely morning in calm, clear waters peering at giant sea turtles, underwater statues and hundreds of fish darting around the coral. The boat took us to a little place on Gili Meno for lunch (which was amazing, once again), then took us out once again for more snorkelling and more turtles.

Snorkelling with a Sea Turtle, Gili Air
Underwater Statues, Gili Meno

On reflection, we all wished we’d spent more time on Gili Air, but we had to get to Lombok to renew our Indonesian visas before our next adventures. The next plan is to join a 4 day boat trip from Lombok to Flores, stopping on the way at uninhabited islands to explore as well as docking at Komodo Island to see the famous Komodo dragons. We can’t wait for the boat trip, but when we get back… we’re going straight to Gili Air.

2 thoughts on “Gili Islands: Coconut Palms, Coral Reefs and Turquoise Seas

  1. My only regret from our trip to Bali & Gili was not having time to visit Komodo Island….extremely jealous of you right now!!!


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