If you’re looking for a little slice of paradise, the Gili Islands in Indonesia may just be it!
I’ve had the pleasure of traveling to the Gili’s multiple times in the past few years and I can’t recommend them highly enough.
Unlike my other “Man Guide” destination articles, the Gili Islands is not somewhere it is feasible to move and actually stay for any real length of time. If you want to stay on a paradise island in Indonesia Bali is your only real option, but with the Gili Islands just a boat ride away you can easily situate yourself within their reach and enjoy them as a weekend getaway.
The Gili Islands – A Quick Glimpse
There are three Gili Islands – Trawangan, Meno, and Air. Trawangan is the biggest, Meno is the smallest and Air sits somewhere in the middle.
The Gili Islands are utterly tiny with the biggest of the three being just a couple of kilometers squared. I personally walked right around Trawangan in about 45 minutes, enjoying the mellow sounds of the gentle tide breaking on the powder white shore as I trudged along.
The islands basically fall into three categories: Gili Trawangan for partying and activities, Gili Meno for relaxing and spending private time with a lover, and Gili Air for hippies and back to nature types who want to get away from it all. The last time I was there Meno did not even have electricity after 10 pm and is a tiny 1km squared.
Most of the fun activities the islands have to offer are to be found on Trawangan, but as with all paradises found by the masses it is beginning to become a little spoiled.
Banana boating, snorkeling, scuba diving, rafting, beach BBQ’s, sunset booze cruises, Euro chicks in G-String Bikinis and a multitude of live music events, raves, and art displays are all packed onto the tiny Trawangan and readily available.
Mango shakes, weed, magic mushrooms, more diving and snorkeling, lots of hammocks in which to kick back and relax and a general chilled out vibe are all features of the other two Gili Islands.
Take your pick, but whichever one you choose The Gili Islands will not disappoint.
The Cost of Living in the Gili Islands
If you want to really have a good time, stay in nice digs and eat the best of food you will need to budget $100 a day on any of the Gili Islands. I can’t really imagine what you might spend more than that on as nothing flash or fancy is really even available on the islands.
A decent mid-range room on the main beach in Trawangan will cost you about $35-$40 USD per night while a meal of banana pancakes and a mango shake for breakfast will run you around $6-$7. The Gilis can be a little more expensive than say, Bali, because absolutely everything from pancake powder to fresh water has to be imported by boat.
All in all for a single guy willing to live on the cheap while he thinks through whatever he is planning to do in Asia and wants to do so in a paradise location, you could get by on $50-$60 USD and be pretty comfortable. For those wanting to enjoy some of the activities on offer and go out at night and meet some Swedish or German ladies (and a few Indonesian or Japanese/Korean tourists) you can safely assume you are going to spend $100 all told per day.
I paid $30 per day to go on a snorkeling trip which included lunch and most of the activities will cost you in the $30-$50 range per person.
Meeting Women in The Gili Islands
Meeting women on Gili Trawangan is easy as pie, whereas meeting women on either of the other two islands is nigh on impossible. Trawangan is jam-packed full of young backpacker chicks from Germany, Sweden, Russia, England and the USA. They all pile into the raves and open air clubs (small, but this is the only way to classify them) on the beach at night to take advantage of the 50 cent Red Bull & Vodkas and buy grass from the long-haired local surf guys.
If you are looking for Asian ladies the Gili Islands is NOT the place to do it. If you accidentally hook up with a local girl you will find yourself chopped to pieces with a machete since the Gili Islands has no police force and all disputes are dealt with by The Chief of the islands. You don’t want to fall afoul of the local people on the islands so if you even suspect a girl may be from the islands keep it zipped for your own good.
With that advice in mind, you can party all night and meet as many European or American backpacker ladies as you like. They’re there to party and we all know what follows 50 cent Red Bull & Vodkas and nobody around to judge.
Opportunity on the Gili Islands
There is none, nada, zip, zero. If you interfere in a locals business you will quickly find yourself in trouble. Unless you are a freelancer who works online or want to work as a promo guy for one of the restaurants or clubs, forget about making money on the Gili Islands.
Unless you have a couple of million bucks to invest in one of the hotels or restaurants for sale, the Gili Islands is not the place to be making money. Bring what you need to spend, because there are no ATMs either.
Visas & Legal Stuff
The Gili Islands are a part of Indonesia so your 30-day tourist visa will be issued on arrival for a fee of $30 USD. This keeps changing and there is talk of them scrapping the visa fee altogether, but I wouldn’t count on it anytime soon.
You can get a 60-day visa for Indonesia if you apply before you enter the country for an extra fee. After this, you will have to leave the country. The only way out of Indonesia is by air so make sure you get yourself back to Bali or over to Lombok for your flight out.
Staying in the Gili Islands long-term is probably not possible unless you are married to an Indonesian and have a way of making money which allows you location independence.
Personally, I’d go bloody mental if I stayed there any more than a week! It’s a great place to chill, but it isn’t for the long-term.
You will have more fun than you can even begin to imagine in one of the most beautiful settings in the world.
There’s a reason I have been to the Gili Islands as many times as I have – they’re that immense!
If you are zipping through Indonesia as a backpacker or planning to take a holiday to Bali or Lombok, the Gili Islands are somewhere you should absolutely not miss under any circumstances. While the cracks are beginning to show as inevitably happens when boatloads of tourists arrive with millions of dollars and are met by a culture of people who had previously fished and eaten fruit for a couple of centuries, the islands are still pretty much intact for now and if you avoid the drug dealers along the front beach on Trawangan you won’t have any problems.
With unspoiled beaches, laidback locals, gorgeous reef and close proximity to a few other major islands I give the Gili Islands five stars. So will you. Do not miss them!
Desire. Decide. Persist.