There are several ways to get from Bali to the Gili Islands. After spending quite a bit of time doing the research, we believe the fastest and easiest way by far is by a fast ferry, of which there are many operators in a competitive market.
Some companies have better reputations than others and those that do charge higher prices. Safety is the big factor in all of this. There have been several ferries that have sunk over the years, and reading up on Trip Advisor about the safety is a good way of scaring yourself out of going altogether.
For this reason, we booked 2 return tickets with Bluewater Express. Overall, we were very happy with our choice and the service from start to finish was convenient and professional.
We booked tickets through their website and could select which harbour we wished to depart by and arrive to. This was very convenient for us as we were staying in Ubud when we left, so Padang Bai was the best harbour for us to leave from. Uluwatu was where we were going to be staying when we got back, so Serangan was the best harbour to arrive back to.
You can fly from Densapar to Lombok, skipping the Lombok Strait but having a long drive to the harbour from the airport to make up for it. This is worth doing if the thought of the fast ferry scares you, but will definitely end up costing more. It can also take longer depending on where you are staying.
Gili T is the largest and most developed of the Gili Islands. Lonely Planet has a good write up on the 3 main islands and their differences. Despite its reputation as the “party island”, we found that this meant it offered more variety as far as bars, restaurants and accommodation go. March is considered the low season in Bali too, and we wanted to be somewhere with people around.
Gili T offers makes a great base to explore the other islands if you are so inclined. The central east area of the island acts as the town centre and is where you will find all the tour agencies, restaurants, convenience stores and all ranges of accommodation.
The other islands lack this level of convenience and offer more of that “desert island feel”. However, if you are willing walk or cycle to some of the areas on the western and north eastern parts of the islands you will feel a world away from the hustle and bustle of the town centre.
This plays into where you will want to stay on the island too. We chose the Kaleydo Villas and couldn’t have been happier without choice. The property is located a 5-minute walk from a stretch of sand on the northeast. The staff were brilliant, friendly and very helpful. They helped to create a “home away from home” feeling. There are some great places to eat nearby too, but a walk into town only takes 15 minutes anyway (or a 5-minute cycle).
So it’s important to determine what matters most to you. For us, it was the combination of convenience and easy access.
One of the most charming characteristics of Gili T is the complete lack of motorised vehicles. When you hop off the ferry you will see horse-drawn carriages being used in place of taxis and locals and tourists alike getting around by bike or just simply walking.
You can walk around the entire island in 2 hours so getting around is easy. It’s great to have no reliance on transportation and sharing roads with horse and carriages becomes something you adapt to quite quickly.
Renting a bike is a popular thing to do and makes getting around the island quick and easy, although the roads after a night of rain will be wet, muddy and the potholes act as mini brown swimming pools.
There is a mosque on the island, and you’ll often hear the prayers early in the morning which can cause you to wake up early. Bring sleeping plugs if you are worried about this, we were woken up more often by this than pounding nightclub music, oddly enough.
We didn’t expect world-class dining on this small tropical island but some of the restaurants we tried in Gili T were amazing, with lot’s of options too. Some of the highlights include:
Pituq Cafe: A vegan cafe serving up some seriously delicious dishes. The staff are lovely and the menu has a lot of variety (Try the laksa and tempeh curry dish!). We ate here twice but could have happily eaten here every day.
Pizzeria Regina: We didn’t expect to try one of the best pizza’s we have ever eaten on Gili T, but here we are. Check it out, they know what they are doing.
Jali Kitchen: Excellent Indonesian food. A bit pricier than what you’ll usually pay, but worth every rupiah.
Danima Restaurant: Affordable Italian cuisine and seafood on the beach by candlelight. Enough said. Try the oysters.
The bars themselves don’t disappoint either, although you’d expect nothing less from the party capital of the Gili Islands. There are plenty of bars along the main strip in the town centre where it seems like the party keeps going all night such as the Sam Sama Reggae Bar.
Every night of the week a different bar hosts the “nightly party” which keeps things fresh. This type of thing isn’t really our scene, but The Drinking Traveller has a great blog post on it that details a lot of the specifics.
We tended to gravitate more to the beach clubs and “beanbags-on-the-beach” type setups. These places were the definition of chilled out. Every evening for us was spent on the west side of the island in one of these places watching the sunsets that the Gili Islands are famous for. There are plenty of bars around, so pick one that looks fun and enjoy the views.
Despite being the low season, there was still a good amount of people visiting the island and you could always find places to chill with good energy. I’ve heard that even during the high season the island never feels too full, and with there being so many bars and restaurants around it seems you will always be able to find a place to relax and hang out with a shake, cocktail or Bintang.
The beaches in Gili T are stunning, and you’ll have no trouble at all finding your own private spot to soak up the sun. The beaches on the west side of the island are the quietest and are great to relax. We were advised not to swim on this side of the island, and the waves did indeed look a little choppy when we were out there. Unfortunately, Gili T isn’t the best island when it comes to swimming in the ocean, something that we were looking forward to doing.
The best swimming can be found in the northeast party of the island, although you will have to step on some sharp rocks and coral whilst getting into the water. A fun thing to do is grab some snorkelling gear and swim out around this part, there is plenty of sea life to look out for.
Gili T is famous for its turtles, although we weren’t lucky enough to spot one during our snorkelling missions.
For the best snorkelling, take a day trip out on a boat. There are plenty of tour agencies offering day trips where they will take you around to different spots. Gili T is also known as an affordable and safe place to get a PADI diving licence.
A great place to chill out for a few days. There is something for everyone here and is an excellent place to eat and party. The days will blur together and you won’t know where the time went, but you will come back feeling relaxed and recharged. Unless you’re nursing a viciously strong hangover.
Our next stop was South Bali. Uluwatu in particular, known for its amazing surf and hidden beaches.