Visiting Gili Islands was the best decision I have made on my last trip to Bali and getting from Ubud to Gili Islands wasn’t as hard as it may appear at first glance. Imagine small islands with no cars allowed, perfect beaches washed by pristine clear, turquoise water timing with marine life! Do I need to say more?
Many people skip Gili Islands because, at first sight, it seems that getting from Bali to Gili Islands is super tricky! This post will explain in details all the options on how to get to the Gili Islands from different locations.
Where are the Gili Islands?
Gili Islands are located just off the coast of Lombok (about 15 minutes boat ride). But they are often included in Bali itinerary because they are a slice of paradise and it would be a shame to miss them out from your Bali itinerary.
There are three Gili Islands – Gili Trawangan island, which is the largest with the biggest choice of accommodation, restaurants and best nightlife. The second one is Gili Air which is known for more upmarket hotel options and last but not least Gili Meno, which is the smallest and quietest out of the three. Whichever Gili Island you choose, the process of getting there will be almost the same as they all are situated nearby from each other.
How to get to the Gili Islands?
There are three harbours in Bali that you can get a fast boat to Gili Islands:
Serangan harbour – is located near Sanur in Denpasar area.
Padang Bai – is located one hour drive away from Denpasar area, on the eastern coast of Bali.
Amed harbour – is located another hour drive north-east.
Book your tickets online
The most convenient and worry-free way is to pre-book your boat tickets online ahead of your trip. This option is suitable if your Bali Itinerary is fixed and lasts about two weeks and you don’t want to risk not being able to get a seat. Booking online doesn’t require haggling, and you can often get a good deal.
The most reputable company to book from is Blue Water Express, and the website that I usually use and find very reliable is 12go.asia. The boat fares typically include pick up from your accommodation and drop off in your chosen city (Ubud, Seminyak, Canggu etc.) which is very convenient and saves a lot of hassle trying to arrange every leg of the journey by yourself.
If you’re more flexible or unsure on dates you want to travel to Gili Islands, you can buy your Bali ferry to Gili Islands tickets when you’re there. There are several places boat tickets can be purchased from including your hostel/ hotel, small tour shops on main streets and directly from the harbour.
TIP 1: Whatever option you decide, make sure you know how much a ticket should roughly cost, and if someone wants to charge you much more, simply thank them and try shopping around in different places.
TIP 2: Make sure the ticket you are buying is for a speed boat, not a ferry. There is a public ferry Bali to Gili Islands, but it takes a long time, and I wouldn’t recommend it for this reason.
From Ubud to Gili Islands
Option 1 Book your Ubud – Gili Islands boat ticket online here.
Option 2 Buy your ticket from your accommodation or in one of the tourist shops selling excursions on the main street in Ubud. Try asking in 3 different places and choose the cheapest ones because speed boats are all the same and you may be paying twice the price for the same service if you’re not careful.
These two options will most likely include hotel pick up and will take you to either Padang Bai or Serangan harbour which roughly takes a similar time to get from Ubud. The pick-up van will start collecting people from different hotels which generally takes about an hour, and once everyone is in the van, it will go to the harbour.
Your bags will be tagged, and you will have to show your passport for the passenger manifesto to be completed. There is always some waiting time involved, and boats don’t seem to be following any timely schedule, so be patient and just wait to be called out.
Getting to Gili Islands from Amed
It’s not an obvious option as the other two, but there are a lot of advantages of going from Amed.
If you’re planning to see Lempuyang Temple and the Insta famous Gates to Heaven as well as the Water Palace – Tirta Ganga, I recommend hiring a driver that will take you there from Ubud. You can leave your luggage in the car and once you finish sightseeing ask the driver to drop you off in Amed.
This is precisely how I arranged my trip to the Gili Islands.
Amed is a lovely coastal town on the western coast. It’s way less hectic than Kuta or Seminyak areas. It’s basically a fishermen village that has a beautiful beach with striking black sand and traditional colourful fishing boats stationing on the beach. If you’ve got more time you can even stay a day or two in Amed, there are some excellent coral reefs in the area to explore and some unique viewpoints where you can get a panoramic view of black sand beaches and rainbow fishing boats.
You will need to pre-book your ticket at least a day before the scheduled departure. Again, you can do it online, from the local sellers or directly from your accommodation which is bound to be the most expensive option but handy if you arrive at Amed late without online booking.
Whichever way you buy your ticket, make sure the organisers know where you’re staying and be ready for the pick-up time. There is a minivan that collects people from different hotels and takes everyone to the beach.
TIP: If you only partially paid for the fare and need to settle the remaining balance (something that happens when you book from your hotel), make sure you have the cash to pay for your boat. I didn’t have any cash and ended up being driven to an ATM on the back of a scooter while other passengers were already boarding the speed boat.
Again, you will need to show your passport, and your luggage will be tagged and taken under the deck by the crew members. Boarding the boat involves taking off your shoes and walking through ankle to knee length water, through the steps onto the ship. This can be a little tricky if the sea is choppy, but nothing to overly be worried about.
Bali to Lombok flight
You can fly from Bali to Lombok Airport. Gili Islands have no airport, in fact, they don’t have proper roads either, and the dominant mode of transport is cycling, which is fantastic! Local people also use donkey carts to transport tourists with large suitcases, but I would highly encourage you to pack light and walk instead!
This option makes sense if you want to explore Lombok before you end up in Gili Islands. The airport in Lombok is located 2 hours’ drive from the harbour where you still need to take a 15 minutes boat ride to get to Gili Islands. If you don’t have time for Lombok, consider taking a speed boat directly from one of the three Bali ports.
From Seminyak to Gili Islands
If you’re travelling from Seminyak, it makes sense to take a boat from the closest ferry port which is Serangan. You can purchase your boat tickets online or from the local vendors or your accommodation. If you opt for your own transport to the port, make sure you arrive at least an hour before the scheduled departure.
From Kuta to Gili Islands
Same applies to travel from Kuta – Serangan is the closest harbour.
From Denpasar to Gili Islands
Purchase the ticket for a boat leaving from Serangan harbour.
Is day trip from Bali to Gili Islands possible?
Taking a day trip to the Gili Islands is not really possible, and there are currently no tour operators that run this. Gili Islands are at a fair distance from Bali, and it takes around 2 hours plus to get there depending on weather conditions at sea. Also, all the boats back from Gili Islands to Bali seem to be scheduled in the mornings only, making a day round trip impossible.
From Lombok to Gili Islands
Getting to Gili Islands from Lombok is much easier than from Bali. The islands are situated just of Lombok’s coast, and it only takes around 15 minutes by boat to reach them. It is also much cheaper – around 10k IDR.
Boats leave from Bangsal harbour which is located on the eastern coast. If you’re staying in the Kuta area, it takes a reasonably long time to get to the port – about 2 hours. Remember to arrange your lift in advance to arrive at the harbour with plenty of time to spare – at least one hour.
To get to the harbour from Lombok airport also takes about 2 hours.
From Nusa Penida to Gili Islands
There is no direct boat Nusa Penida to Gili Islands. But you can catch one from Nusa Lembongan. Just show up at Toya Pakeh harbour on Nusa Penida, there are small boats that take people across regularly. It costs around $5, and the trip only takes around 10-15 minutes.
You will disembark in Nusa Lembongan close to the yellow bridge where you can continue your onwards journey to Gili Islands.
The trip takes 2-3 hours depending on the service, and the price will reflect that. The slower boats tend to be cheaper. Expect to pay between $30 and $50 for a single way.
The most reputable company to book with is Blue Water Express, and they also are considered to be the safest service which can be important if you’re travelling outside of dry season.
Gili Trawangan Harbour – what to expect?
Most boats stop at Gili Meno first and continue to Gili T. The two islands are only approximately 5 minutes away, so it doesn’t really matter which one is your final destination.
If you’re travelling to Gili Air, get off on Gili T and take a small boat to go across to Gili Air. Just ask around in the harbour for the transport option.
When you arrive from Bali to Gili Trawangan, you’ll notice that the harbour/port/place where boats stop is nothing more than a beach. I remember being stunned by the beautiful turquoise water so clear that I could see fish swimming around the boat!
Disembarking the speed boat may be a little tricky if the sea is rough, just follow the guidance from the crew and you will be absolutely fine. You will have to walk down the metal ladder onto the water to the beach. Just wait in the shade for your larger bag to be taken out from under the deck and onto the beach.
Once you’ve got your bag, you are free to go and find your accommodation. There is likely to be a small crowd of local vendors approaching the newcomers with whatever services they are selling – boat trips, hotels, transport. My advice is not to get pressured into buying anything. Instead, come back in the evening another time when you’re more relaxed and are familiar with Gili prices. This way, you are less likely to get ripped off.
Also, you’ll be most likely to get offered a donkey cart to your accommodation but please don’t take it. Donkeys are usually mistreated, and taking the offer only encourages the locals to keep using them for tourism. Just pack light or book your hotel/hostel closer to the harbour so you can comfortably walk and save some money too! I promise Gili Trawangan is pretty small and accessible!
Gili Islands to Bali – the journey back
On the way back, it is pretty convenient just to book your returning boat ticket on Gili T. There are excursion and transport vendors everywhere on the main street by the harbour. Ask in at least three places before you buy to get the best price. Buy your ticket at least one day before departure, and as there are no taxis on the island, you are expected to make your own way to the meeting point.
I found that the shop right behind the public waiting area in the harbour – an area under the roof on the beach with benches and a little kiosk where you can buy tickets for public ferries have best prices. Public ferries are larger vessels, and they take a lot longer to get to Bali and are often packed to the brim with passengers, so for these reasons, I don’t recommend taking them.
On the departure day, arrive at least 30 minutes earlier and make sure you check in the shop that I mentioned above. You will get a wrist band and be asked to wait in the area under the roof where also a lot of locals wait for their ferries. Departures and arrivals of public vessels get announced in Indonesian and are typically used mostly by the locals. The departures of speed boats that are primarily used by foreigners don’t get announced and seem a little hectic.
TIP: There will be lots of people waiting for different boats which can really be confusing. The best way not to get lost is to wait with a larger group of people wearing the same wrist bands like yours. Just pay attention to what’s happening around you, and you won’t miss your boat.
Getting to Gili Islands is not as complicated as it may appear at first. I love going with the flow when I travel, but if I have little time, I prefer to pre-book and plan my itinerary carefully so I can make the most of my trip. Above all, it’s good to consider all the options and always shop around before you buy the tickets!
And Gili Islands will most certainly take your breath away with alluring crystal clear water, fish and turtles swimming casually around you not to mention about most incredible sunsets on the planet!
Wandering what to pack to Bali & Gili Islands? Below are some essentials I recommend:
A good quality backpack may be superior over a suitcase if you’re planning to move a lot. Bali doesn’t have really good roads and pavements and wheeling a bag may not be ideal. The suitcase may be particularly impractical if you’re travelling to the Gili Islands where there are no roads or taxis to take you to your hotel. I like Osprey, their packs are made to last and are very practical.
I love my packing cubes! They are especially useful if you plan to move around and stay in different hotels/hostels. They help to organise your bag and also save space. You can quickly find what you’re looking for without messing the whole bag.
Plugs in Bali are 230v/50 Hz and have round pins like in most European countries. I recommend using a universal adaptor that will cover you charging needs in Bali and anywhere else in the world you will go. What I like the most about the travel adapter that it’s got multiple USB ports and it can charge a few devices at once.
In addition to Bali power adaptor, I always take a power bank. It’s handy, and I use it on the plane, on the bus and also have it in my backpack just in case. A power bank can be a lifesaver when you’re travelling on a scooter and need Google maps on your phone to get back to your hotel. I really recommend including a lightweight one in your things to pack for Bali.
This is something that not many of us think to take with you, but it can be a lifesaver! If you plan to do snorkelling, stand-up paddle boarding, surfing or any other water activity, then you need a rash guard. Rash guard is a t-shirt that you wear in the water to protect you from sunburn. No sun cream is fully waterproof, which I learnt the hard way snorkelling in the Gili Islands and getting my back completely burnt. Now, instead of worrying about applying sunscreen, I just slip on my rashie, and I’m good to go and have fun in the water. My favourite brand for rash guards is Roxy, I love the quality and how they look on me.
A pair of water shoes may come handy if you’re planning on going to Gili Islands or Nusa Penida. I found that in the Gilis, there are lots of sharp pieces of a dead coral reef by the shore. The sea is shallow a long way before it gets deep enough to swim, especially on the western side of Gili Trawangan.
Wherever I go I take my water flask. The times of buying water in plastic are long gone. Nowadays, most airports are equipped with water stations where you can refill your water bottle for free. Bali has also been making a lot of effort to eliminate plastic from everyday use. You’ll find that in most hotels, hostels and restaurants you will be able to refill your water flask for free.
I love Chilly’s bottles. They come in different sizes, and there are so many cool designs to choose from.
When choosing a sun cream, I always look at whether it’s reef friendly. We apply sun cream so many times while on the beach and then it washes in the sea form our skin. It’s essential to make sure we don’t contaminate the seas while on holiday in Bali. I like a few brands that are reef-friendly- Sun Bum, which is natural, vegan and sea friendly and Omuci’s Nothing to Hide.
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