I like to describe Gili Trawangan as one of that still relative unknown paradise on earth. Usually you arrive here from Bali and the difference in the environment, culture and living style is just outstanding. It’s like you have navigated the full ocean and not just few hours. Surely, the Gili Trawangan snorkeling is well know for its beauty however I would not underestimate also activities as diving, surfing, jogging and of course the beach time….if this can be called activity of course LOL.
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Gili Trawangan is a small island with a diameter of around 5km, the perfect length for a healthy morning run by the way. It lies between the islands of Bali and Lombok, much closer to the last one actually. It is part of a small archipelago, together with Gili Meno and Gili Air (more on the other islands later in the post).
I was in Bali before deciding to visit Gili Trawangan and the first thing that amazed me was the total absence of motorised traffic, something that it is destroying Bali unfortunately. The only ways of transportation are bicycle and donkey-drawn carts, very useful when you arrive in the island with you backpack. I felt a bit like in Greece 20 years ago.
Before talking about activities in the island let’s see few useful things
Fast boat to Gili Trawangan
There are few possible ways to arrive and enjoy the Gili Trawangan snorkeling experience and they all include a boat for the last leg of the trip.
The quickest way for a Bali-Gili islands trip is by fast boat. There are a few operators and they all sell tickets through the many agencies you find in every corner of Bali. If you are in the Kuta area, finding an agency is as easy as finding a bar. They all advertise similar deals.
The cost of the fast boats is in the range of AU$45-$60. The difference lies on the time of the day, the type of boat and, most important, how quick will be the trip. I personally suggest the trip as early as you can make it in the morning. In the afternoon the wind usually goes up a bit and with that the waves come, which may make the trip uncomfortable, especially with these fast boats. The trip usually takes 1 hour and a half
The best price I found was with Perama Tour. The service was perfect (most probably similar to all of the operators) and the price was one of the lowest I found, at 450,000 IDR (around AU$45). I was in Kuta and that made it simple as they leave from their agency, right in the center of town.
Gili Trawangan snorkeling experience
In Gili Trawangan snorkeling is the activity number one you will most likely do and there is a good reason for that. The water is just amazing, so clear and so warm as well. You do not need any wetty, well maybe just a Lycra t-shirt for the sun.
There are two great spots. The first one is in the North of the island where there is not that much ocean current (see map below for location). It’s better to go there on high tide, otherwise it may become too shallow and you would struggle to reach the nice reef area.
The second option to appreciate Gili Trawangan snorkeling is to go North East of the island, at the end of the main beach road (difficult to call it road really, just a walking path). Once in the water you can leave the Ocean current transporting you parallel to the beach, direction the the southernmost point of the island. There are tons of turtles. Just beautiful.
I would not suggest the second option to anybody that is not that comfortable with swimming. The current is quite strong, which is great if you stay close to the beach but do not go snorkeling too far away otherwise you will have a hard time coming back to the beach. My 2c here, you can’t fight an Ocean current, try to swim perpendicular to it, never against it
You can rent the snorkeling gear in one of the many shops at the beach or at the diving centers, as I did. I was able also to take fins, very important, and belt with weights which helped me to dive a bit more easily. You can have a try in the swallow water and see if you feel comfortable with weights. The renting cost was about AU$5 for the day.
Another possibility to have a Gili Trawangan snorkeling experience is to join one of the many diving tours. They usually stop in 2-3 locations and you have the time to do your own snorkeling. There is only one thing you need to make sure. They don’t go in deep water, otherwise it’s not really a great snorkeling experience. These trips usually settle you down around $70 based on the locations they go
Gili Trawangan diving experience
If you are a diver or if you are planning to start diving, well, you are in the perfect spot here. Beautiful water and really warm too, although it may become quite cold once you are 20 meters down. Personally I suggest a 2mm wetty.
There are many spots close by, which makes this island unique. You do not need to wake up super early in the morning and navigate 2 hours to the reef. Here it’s all around the three islands and the diving centers will take you there with a small motor boat.
The turtles are everywhere however we spotted also a couple of sharks (the harmless ones) and other fish as well. It’s a great experience overall I believe, at an affordable cost too, I mean for a diving experience.
After a bit of investigation I ended up joining the Aquaddiction diving center. It’s probably one of the smallest diving operation in Gili Trawangan and I felt more part of a family. The drawback is that they use only small boats, compared to the other centers, however I see that as a plus because you end up with much smaller groups.
Each fun dive costed me around AU$50 with a further 10% discount because I did 10 dives with them. They gave me another 10% discount because I booked online (actually I didn’t but I guess there is lots competition in the Gili Trawangan diving market)
The Gili Island Turtles
As soon as you are in the water you will have one of the most exclusive experience, you will most likely encounter a turtle swimming next to you. I have been travelling for many years and in many part of the words however I never had such an experience.
There is a good reason for that. Gili Trawangan has a turtle sanctuary. It’s a an area on the beach, around 100m north of the arrival pier, with three big tanks where the turtles have a safe environment and they can grow up without enemies around. Based on the size they move from the smallest to the biggest tank and after that…the Ocean.
As a result, close encounters with turtle in the Gili Trawangan water are quite common.
Part of the tax you pay to enter the island goes into the operation of this turtle sanctuary
Gili Trawangan best beach
Everyone has the own favourite beaches however it seems that most of the tourists and locals tend to agree that the most beautiful and picturesque beach is the one at Mantra Point. This is not a place for swimming. This is the place for the sunset, the place where everybody in the island go to close the day.
It’s a nice walk from the main town, it takes about 15-20 minutes, you can just follow the people. Take your drinks 😉
The Harbour Beach is my favourite for swimming, the northern you go the less crowded it is, up to a point that you can be literally alone. That’s where I loved going for my snorkeling. This is the closest point to Gili Meno. Do not be tempted to swim there, just because it is only 500m. The Ocean current between these two islands is really strong!
Another favourite of mine is the Goodheart Beach, on the northernmost side of the island. Calm water, probably the best place for kids. On one side there is a good reef for snorkeling. You can also have your lunch at the bar, which makes it a great day
There is also a surfing beach in the south of the island, however waves are season related and there was none when I was there
A tour of Gili Trawangan
Don’t leave the island without visiting the interior of the island.
Start with a walk in the village. Plan it after lunch when the kids are going back home for some nice shots of the local life.
You can than walk up to the viewpoint, on top of the hill. Fantastic view of the Gili Islands and Lombok in the background.
Head to the light house for an interesting visit and come back through the beach
Best Gili Island
What is the best Gili Island? That is a common question between travellers. It really depends on what you are looking for.
- Gili Trawangan is the party island. In saying that it’s nothing like Kuta or Koh Pan Ngan in Thailand. To be honest, Gili Trawangan has just the right balance for somebody looking for a few drinks and some music in the night but not partying till the early part of the morning, better to go back to Bali for that
- Gili Meno is the honeymoon island, with beautiful white beaches (you can literally see them from Trawangan). The night is very easy going
- Gili Air is more on the developing side, something between the two. It’s an island experiencing a transformation where few bars are coming up, however nothing very busy
I must add a disclaim here. I did not visit either Nemo or Air. I investigated on the possibility to spend few days there and talked with few people, Indonesian and foreigners. That was a common description I received of the two islands. At the end I decided instead to travel to Lombok for the remaining part of my trip (more on this later)
Photography tips for Gili Trawangan
There are few locations you should not miss. The first one is most definitely Mantra Point at sunset time. The best spot to be. It’s usually quite busy and it’s not that easy to find a good location. I found one 200m from the busiest part. There was also a boat wreck which was great as main subject for my composition.
At sunrise head to the pier. It’s the time when the fishermen and good arrive to the island. They are, together with the fishing boats, the main subjects of the photos. I loved my sunrise time there.
The viewpoint is also another location to go. Unfortunately there are no lights and I did not feel just comfortable to walk in the dark, before sunrise or after sunset. I did not have boots or a torch so I visited it uniquely in the day which was a pity.
There is a night market just in front of the pier. This is another great spot to visit although photography may be quite challenging for the low light. My tip here is to visit it it just before sunset, when they start setting it up. No people around and welcoming locals. The drawback is that you may miss the vibe.
I had with me my beloved Nikon D600 and two lenses, a 24-120mm f/4, which covered most of my needs and a prime 50mm f/1.8 which was perfect in the market and the village where the light was a problem and I did not want to use the flash. The beautiful thing of the 50mm prime lens is that it is extremely small and it does not intimidate people
Gili Trawangan can be quite an expensive place to stay, or quite cheap. Not that many options in the middle. If you think to stay on the cheap side you should walk inside the village and you can find some rooms there at a very affordable price.
I was able to find something halfway. It’s called Balenta Bungalows and it costs around AU$30-$40/night. I loved this place because it’s straight in front of the beach (the bungalows have garden view), they look so typical of an island accommodation and they offered also the breakfast in the deal, which was a fantastic way to start the day, with my feet straight in the sand.
The only drawback I could see was the hot water, or better say the lack of hot water. That did not bother me because I actually needed a cold shower at the end, or start, of the day but it may be an issue for someone else.