A Guide to the Gili Islands

Our second to last stop on our Bali trip was to the gorgeous Gili Meno! The small island just off the coast of Lombok in Indonesia is remote island bliss – think soft, white sand; warm, crystal clear water and colourful coral reefs perfect for snorkelling. Our four days in Gili Meno are my favourite parts of our Bali adventure and even though it’s quite a trek to get to from mainland Bali, it is well worth it once you arrive. Read on for my tips on how to choose an island and how to avoid getting scammed on your way there!

Gili Meno, Gili Air or Gili T?

First things, first. As you’re planning your trip to the Gili Islands, you will likely wonder which one to visit. If you have enough time, I’d recommend visiting all three! Each island has its own distinct personality, so you can choose whichever one suits you best. Gili T is the largest of the three and is best known as the party island. There’s tons of bars, clubs and great night life – perfect for free spirits, those who love to party and younger people. Gili Air is the second largest island and a lot more laid back in comparison in Gili T. There’s a lot of cute cafes, restaurants, beach bars and luxury hotels. It’s perfect for mix of liveliness and relaxation. Gili Meno is the smallest of all the islands and the least populated. It’s the most relaxing of the three islands and ideal for honeymooners and romantic getaways. 

Getting to the Gili Islands 

Truth be told, getting to the Gili Islands can be a hassle. I’m not going to beat around the bush here. Hopefully my story will help you navigate how to get there with ease.

We didn’t make travel arrangements to Gili Meno before we went to Bali as we had read it’s best to do it when you’re there in order to get the best rates. Our hotel in Ubud told us that they’d handle all of the arrangements – from the taxi to Padang Bai to the boat to Gili Mino. We were far too trusting. The day before we were to leave for Gili Meno, we had asked our hotel which boat company they had booked us on. The hotel continuously ignored our question throughout the day and told us to hang tight and that they’d let us know all of the details later that evening. As we got back from dinner and passed through reception, they finally let us know what the plan was, which was not ideal to say the least.

Firstly, they had charged us £90 for a taxi to Padang Bai and the boat, which is far too much considering they had not booked a return  boat. Secondly, they booked us on a Wahana boat, which has the worst reviews on Trip Advisor. These boats supposedly sink, break down regularly, lose luggage and in general are not safe. Ciaran had a strong word with the hotel staff and demanded they put us on a different boat, which they eventually did. We cancelled our shuttle service to Padang Bai and our trusty driver Gung (who was brilliant the entire time we were in Bali) came to our rescue and drove us to the port the next morning instead, which was a lot more affordable than what the hotel was charging us.

Gung drove us to Padang Bai and stayed with us until our tickets were sorted at the ticket office. He told us to ring him if we had any trouble at all, which put  me at ease. I was pretty shaken up by the entire process and felt very unsafe even sitting there. A lot of the ticket offices are sketchy and even the legit ones make you feel quite uneasy. Some of them even put up fake signs, acting as if they are legit boat companies and will sell you fake tickets so just be really careful if you wait to book tickets on the day.

I’d recommend travelling with Blue Water Express, which has the best rating and Ekajaya, which is the company we ended up using as Blue Water Express was fully booked. Make sure you get your return ticket from the Gili Islands to Bali from the ticket office before you leave, as they WILL try to screw you over  so that you pay for a return ticket on the Gili Islands. We waited around for ages to get our return boat tickets, but after a lot of nagging on our end, they finally gave them to us before we had to head for the boat.

To summarise the above: 

  •  Do your research before you travel to the Gili Islands. Pre-book a taxi or a driver to take you to Padang Bai (or whatever port you’re departing from to get to the Gili Islands).
  • Make sure you use a reputable boat company and ALWAYS go for a bigger boat as they are the safest. I have read horror stories about tiny boats packed full of people that can take hours.
  • The average price for a return ticket should be around £30, although this can vary quite a bit. It’s better to spend more in order to be safe and the larger, safer boats, do tend to charge more.
  • You might have to deal with long waiting times as oftentimes the boats aren’t working, or pickup is hours late.
  • Make sure you don’t get on a boat that goes to Lombok first, followed by each of the Gili Islands as this could take ALL DAY (Our hotel tried to put us on one of these boats, leaving at 11am and getting to Gili Meno at 7pm).
  • Make SURE if you are buying your ticket on the day of travel in Padang Bai, you find the OFFICIAL ticket office or else you could be scammed.
  • Make sure if you have to jump on a little transfer boat (read below) you have about £12 saved for that, as on the way BACK to Bali, they will charge you when you sign in at the ticket office for your trip, even if you have a return ticket pre-paid.

Ekajaya Boat Ride Experience 

The Ekajaya boat ride experience ended up being a blast. The boat was brand new, spacious and felt really safe. Once we got moving, we headed up to the top deck where they had music pumping and they handed out beers and snacks to everyone. The boat ride is around two hours but it flies by. It’s so nice sitting up top, taking in the sites and feeling the wind through your hair on a hot day. We stopped off at Gili T first, which took around 20 minutes for everyone to get off the boat, then carried on to Gili Meno. We had to jump on a transfer boat that took us about five minutes to Gili Meno. Look down a your going through the water and you may even spot some sea turtles 🙂

Arriving on Gili Meno 

As we arrived to Gili Meno, the first thing I noticed was how crystal clear and blue the water is. We hopped off the tiny transfer boat and the ocean is SO warm –  like a lukewarm hot tub. It’s boiling outside – around 35 degrees C (100 F), and the sand burns the bottom of our feet. There’s lots of horse drawn carriages, the ONLY mode of transportation on the island aside from cycling and walking, waiting at the port asking to take people to their hotels. We grab our bag and set off to find Seri Meno Resort, just a short 10 minute walk away. I am blown away by the sheer beauty of the island and can’t wait to explore more once we get to our hotel. It’s pretty much love at first sight and ended up being four days of pure bliss.

Our Gili Meno adventures are to be continued…