We made our way South of Ubud by car and boat to the Gilli islands, or what has been described as backpacker ‘Mecca’ – figuratively and literally.
Unlike the rest of Bali, Lombok and the Gilli’s have a majority Muslim population and the main island – Gilli Trawangan – has three mosques, as well as the beautiful beaches and amazing snorkelling.
From Ubud to Gilli T
Leaving early in the morning we were picked up by our pre-booked taxi and taken to the ferry crossing less than an hour away. Once at the ferry our bags were loaded out of the car, slapped with a Gilli T sticker, and we were told to wait in the nearby restaurant to be called for boarding the boat.
After an hour of waiting in the sunshine our boat had arrived so we picked up our bags and carried them over to the boat to be loaded.
We’d chosen to take the fast boat (1.5hrs instead of 4hrs) and it was actually decent, but I’m really happy that it didn’t last that extra 2.5 hours more.
The cosy conditions and sweaty seats were well worth it when we arrived in Gilli T!
Island life is the life for me.
As soon as we disembarked from the boat our flip flops were off and we spent the next week mostly barefoot walking around the island.
The beach front is pretty developed with restaurants, surf shops, snorkelling and scuba diving but you have a good 100m stretch of sand from the sea to the shops, so there’s plenty of room to stroll and sunbathe. The shops and restaurants take up two rows inland and almost circle the island but once you pass these it’s all windy dirt tracks, passing fields, homes and the odd hostel or BnB.
Cotton Tree Cottages
We stayed in the centre of the island at Cotton Tree Cottages.
From the photos on booking.com our accommodation looked pretty nice but it was even nicer when we got there. Set back from the beach about 10-15 minutes walk, we passed lots of goats, cows and the odd horse and carriage on the way.
The guys that ran the hostel were great and couldn’t do anything else for us.
Breakfast was served between 7-10am and ordered to your liking. We had the choice between fruit and muesli, eggs anyway or bacon (beef) in a baguette, alongside more fruit and a fresh fruit smoothie plus coffee. There was also a kitchen on site with a big menu encase you got peckish during the day and didn’t want to do the five minute walk to a nearby restaurant…
Unfortunately one night when it was raining heavily we missed the kitchen opening hours (closes at 9pm) and the night guard didn’t have the key to open it back up. Instead of us missing dinner that night, he called one of the beach front restaurants, ordered us pizza (explaining that I was vegan) and even went out in the rain to collect it for us! Talk about amazing service!
Everyday before we left for the beach we were asked what time we would be back and the aircon was turned on in our rooms, making it nice and cool for us to return to – this was heaven after a sweaty day on the sand.
Call to prayer
We’d originally chose this hostel because it was ‘far away’ from the mosque but nothing is far away from anywhere on Gilli T. Instead of being annoyed by the call to prayer five times today we ended up actually looking forward to the sound! Not only was it a good way to know the time as the call is the same time everyday, but it was also serene sitting on a beautiful beach, coconut in hand, listening to the gentle call of afternoon prayer against the waves of the sea.
Transport around the island
There are a few different ways to get around the island.
- walk – the island is mostly sand with a few dirt roads running through
- cycle – most hostels and shops have bikes for hire. These range from the cheaper basic bikes to the slightly more expensive sand bikes
- horse & carriage – we saw lots of people getting a horse & carriage around the island when they first got off the boat with their suitcases. Although the sands a little difficult to pull a suitcase through (that’s why backpacks are best) the horses didn’t look that well cared for so it’s best to travel light and only carry what you physically can yourself
- kayaking & paddle boarding – more activities but we’ll get to that in a minute
There’s so much to do on Gilli T that you never have the chance to be bored.
Most people come to Gilli to snorkel/scuba dive and walking along the beach between 9am and 5pm you’ll find snorkel renting stalls every 100-200m. We ended up renting snorkels 4/7 days that we were on the island and kept going back to the same stall.
Renting a snorkel for the day costs between 30-40,000 rupiah and the equipment really varies in quality – try it on before you hand over your cash. Most stalls will swap your snorkel if you’re unhappy and they have a spare snorkel free.
Once you’re in the ocean and swum out a few minutes you’re rewarded by lots of fish, coral and more than likely a turtle or two. Each of the four times I snorkelled I saw at least one turtle and they tend to stay around a while so if you spot a group of people bobbing around in the sea, swim to that point.
There are a few well known turtle points around the island and the locals who you rent snorkels from tend to be really helpful!
Although we went snorkelling most days we booked on a full day snorkelling trip to try out different points around the island. For 100,000 rupiah we were taken to three different drop zones, tried out drift snorkelling, saw lots of fish and turtles and popped over to Gili Air for lunch. The whole day was well worth the money and most of the stalls on the island will be selling the trip.
Another activity that Bali, and Gili especially, is famous for is yoga. On Gili T you’ll never run out of options for yoga, we’re talking yoga morning, noon and night, with vinyasa, yin, bikram, acro and many other flows. Like most things on the island, the prices really vary depending if you’d like to practise yoga in a large group or solo, on the beach or in a fancy studio. For 60 minutes Vinyasa Yoga on the beach with Yoga Barn at sunset it cost us 100,000 rupiah each. A yin yoga class in a dive shop cost the same price but I know that some sessions on the sunset side, or on paddle boards, were a bit pricier.
Most places I visit I find a place to run and Gili T was made for just that! I visited the island towards the end of April which meant running had to happen just after sunrise or just before sunset.
In the mornings there were lots of other people making the most of the cool air and empty roads, however by the evening the roads were a lot busier as everyone makes their way back to their hotels to brush up for dinner. There also aren’t any street lamps on Gili so be prepared to race the sun if you leave it too late to set off. The whole island is around 8km, with about half of that running on sand so it makes for a really great workout!
Check out Strava for some great running routes.
Kayaking & paddle boarding
There’s so many water activities to chose from on Gili but kayaking and paddle boarding were so much fun! To rent out a glass bottom kayak for two people for one hour is 100,000 rupiah and a paddle board is 150,000 rupiah for one board.
The kayaking was great because you can chill on top of the water sunbathing whilst watching the fish swim about you below.
Paddle boarding was really fun but hard work paddling against the current (trying and pick a non windy day for paddle boarding because the wind makes it extra hard work).
I keep tending to visit countries famed for their massages and whilst on Gili I had to have another Balinese massage. In Ubud I had ‘medium’ pressure but on Gili I went for a ‘strong’ massage and it was really nice at first. Towards the end of the massage the masseuse slightly pinches your skin and your scalp and with the strong massage this was slightly more vigorous than I expected.
On Gili the prices really vary for a 60 min massage but along the beach front, about 5 minutes walking left from the ferry port, there’s a wooden two storey massage parlour which always has ‘deals’. For three girls having a 60 minute Balinese massage we paid 100,000 rupiah each… and ended going back most afternoons for either a head, back or full body massage.
Boat trips to the three Gilis
A few times a day you have the option to take a slow or fast boat to one of the other Gili islands. From Gilli T to Gili Air we took the slow boat for 40,000 rupiah (fast boat is 100,000 rupiah). We sat on the top deck for the 15 minute journey and took in the sites of the island from out at sea.
Once at Gili Air we had a little wander around the island – which is slightly less ‘developed’ than Gili T – and set up for the day on one of the beaches, drinking coconuts, eating food and taking a dip in the sea.
Eating and drinking on Gili T
Considering the size of Gili T there’s a really good choice of restaurants, bars, beach clubs and cafes.
- the night market – the night market is not to be missed for any foodies whilst on Gili T. As a vegan there were lots of tasty options to try, choosing six different dishes for 20,000 rupiah. The fish and meat eaters amongst us were in paradise also because of the numerous BBQs and fresh fish on skewers (about 100,000 per meal). With any of your meals, from any of the stalls, you can pull up a chair at the communal tables with your dish and relax with a nice cold beer
- Egoiste – one of the best restaurants on the island, makes a great vegan balinese curry!
- Vegan/ vegetarian cafe – there’s a vegan/ vegetarian specific cafe on the beach front selling smoothie bowls, raw deserts, sandwiches and any other home comforts that you could be craving
- BBQs and beach bars – if you see a BBQ in any of the restaurants they’re more than likely to do great vegan and vegetarian options. Some of my best meals were BBQ’d vegetables with salad, corn on the cob and a jacket potato. For no meat or fish most nice places charge around 60,000 rupiah for the complete BBQ buffet, if you add the fish or meat it goes up to 140-150,000 rupiah
- fast food – there are a few Balinese and western fast food stalls set up in the night time selling meat and rice wrapped in banana leaves, crepes/pancakes with Nutella etc.
- supermarkets – as everywhere in the world now there are a few small supermarkets where you can buy water, fruit, snacks, alcohol and ice lollies.
The nightlife in Gili T is pretty great but a lot tamer than apparently it used to be. Over the past year the Balinese police have cracked down on the partying side of Gili T, bulldozing some of the beach side bar ‘extensions’. With this in mind the party scene is still pretty buzzing:
- Sama, sama – great reggae bar with live music most nights and a good crowd – best to go here after dinner for a few drinks before moving on to one of the late night bars
- Ping pong bar – just as the name suggests, a whole bar filled with ping pong tables where you can challenge friends or complete strangers to a game of ping pong (and most likely beer pong once the sun goes down)
- New Rudy’s bar – always a fun night out
- The Irish bar – always a fun night out
Each night there tends to be an ‘island party’ at one of the main bars and this is where everyone ends up!
The Gili islands are definitely worth the boat trip from Bali and I only wish we’d stayed a little longer.