Gay Gili Islands: our ultimate gay travel guide

Stefan Arestis

Are we having a fabulous time in Indonesia? Gili-Ty as charged!

…we'd even go as far as saying the Gili Islands is one of our topest-bestest-most-favouritest beach destinations in all of Southeast Asia. In all seriousness, it's a place we always recommend when we're often asked – “Guys, can you recommend me an inexpensive beach getaway in Asia?”

Why? ‘Cause these 3 small islands combine white sandy beaches, flat clear water, terrific diving sites and plenty of activities (have you ever tried Subwing?). There's also plenty of partying for when you want it or complete remote island solitude when you just want to be completely cut off from the world. And then there are those phenomenal magical sunsets, every evening!

In summary, the Gili Islands impressed us a lot. They're nicknamed “the Maldives of Southeast Asia” for good reason. We've put together this detailed gay guide of the Gilis based on our firsthand experience travelling here as a gay couple, which we hope inspires and helps you have a fun and safe trip:

What and where are the Gili Islands exactly?

The Gili Islands are made up of 3 small islands that lie off the northwest coast of Lombok island.

Gili Trawangan is the largest and craziest of the three with a population of around 1,500 people. This is where you'll find the parties, most of the hotels, best restaurants – essentially it's the main “hub” of the three islands. Party gay boys will want to base themselves right here.

Gili Meno is the smallest of the three (only 2km long and 1km wide) with a population of just 500 people. It lies in the middle between the two other islands. It's the quietest island, the most remote with very few facilities. This is the island for those of you who want to live out their Tom Hanks Cast Away-inspired fantasy!

Gili Air is the second smallest of the three and in our humble opinion, the best one. It's like a compromise between crazy hectic Gili T but not as remote as Gili Meno. This is the island most popular with gay honeymooners or couples seeking out a quiet beach retreat.

How to get to the Gilis from Bali or Lombok

Most will arrive at Bali Airport. From here you have two options to reach the Gilis. The first is via a short domestic 30-minute flight to Lombok island's airport, followed by a 30-minute speedboat to the Gilis. In the alternative, you can get a taxi over to the Padang Bai Port and then a 1.5-hour high-speed ferry direct to Gili T, which is easy to pre-book online.

Are the Gili islands safe for gay travellers?

Overall they are…BUT…

Remember this is Indonesia, a country with a shockingly terrible reputation in relation to LGBTQ rights, which is getting progressively worse each year. To be clear, there are no LGBTQ rights in Indonesia. Instead, the government keeps pushing for quite nasty laws that negatively target the LGBTQ community, the most recent being the Family Resilience Bill.

But – the Gili Islands are so reliant on tourism that they are very international, with people from all over the world living/working here. We found it to be almost as tolerant and openminded as Bali, just minus the gay scene. As a gay couple, we had no problem booking a double bed in any of the hotels we tried in the Gili Islands (most are foreign-owned and run which helps). However, we always took care to avoid PDAs unless we were in a spot which was completely isolated or we knew to be queer-friendly.

As such we were ok and never encountered any problems. In the worst case scenario, locals would ask us if we are brothers – a common question we're now used to…

Gay dating apps are blocked in Indonesia

The Indonesian government monitors internet use and has also blocked gay dating apps like Grindr and other websites that it deems to be “immoral”. Therefore to access Grindr in the Gili Islands you will need a VPN connection. In addition, this will also keep your internet browsing anonymous because the location cannot be tracked when using a VPN.

Nomadic Boys in the gili islands checking if it is safe for gay travellers
The Nomadic Boys scope out the scene for this gay guide to the Gili Islands

Gay hotels in the Gili islands

As we said above, the first thing we advise you do is pick which of the 3 islands you want to be based on. Gili T offers the more in terms of options for all budgets. It also has the best restaurants and most facilities. But it's also the noisiest, particularly if you stay on the Eastern side where all the bars are. Gili Meno in the middle is the best if all you want to do is chill by a beach with a book or your thoughts. Otherwise, Gili Air's your best bet if you want a mix of the two.

These are a selection of some of our favourite hotels from all 3 islands, which we can attest to being gay friendly.

BIG TIP: whichever hotel you choose, make sure you check how far it is from the nearest mosque loudspeaker. The call to prayer is relentless and happens throughout the day starting from 4am! I'm a heavy sleeper so it never bothered me much, but for Seby this was a constant source of drama throughout our Gili trip…

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01

Pondok Santi Estate

Gili Trawangan

Santi Estate is the ultimate gay friendly luxury hotel on Gili Trawangan

Why we love it


  • Bloody gorgeous – “of Bond Girl” standard!
  • Stay in a luxury beachside bungalow
  • Santi Lounge Restaurant serves Instagrammable food!
  • Private white sandy beach area for guests

I felt like a Bond girl when Seby checked us in here. It's bloody gorgeous – the sort of place a handsome French spy would bring a shy demure innocent Greek lad to seduce him…

Fantasies aside, the Pondok Santi Estate is made up of 12 luxurious beachside bungalows set on an ancient coconut plantation on the southern tip of Gili T. It's massive, really good value for money and perfect if you want to impress.

Our bungalow had its own private outdoor pool with a massive courtyard surrounding it. It's an impressive space surrounded by coconut palms, tropical plants and several sunbeds. For some reason, Seby felt that this all got his chakras flowing, so he'd insist on waking up every morning at the crack of dawn to go through his Sun Salutations in our pool area.

Onsite is the open-air Santi Lounge Restaurant. We were really impressed by the food. It was all handsomely put together (each dish deserving of its own Instagram post!) and delicious – cashew pesto pasta with tofu certainly got the juices flowing! Breakfast included an array of healthy options including smashed ago, tempeh, fresh juices, freshly brewed coffee (my favourite thing ever!) and an impressive range of teas to satisfy my quirky Frenchman – spicy turmeric and ginger tea won the day. One other thing – their cocktails are delicious because they're made with prime brands…none of those cheap nasty copycat spirits they use in some of the Gili T bars!

02

Martas Hotel Gili

Gili Trawangan

Martas hotel is one of our favourite gay friendly accomodation in the gili islands

Why we love it


  • Extremely gay friendly medium budget option
  • Well located near all the bars, but very peaceful at night
  • Stay in a poolside 2-storey detached bungalow
  • Delectable and bountiful breakfast

Party gurls listen up, this is the hotel you should book your Gili holiday at.

Martas is located right slap bang in the middle of the Gili T nightlife strip BUT tucked away down a quiet, unassuming residential street. It's like a haven on Gili T – a peaceful, tranquil oasis, completely undisturbed by all the noise coming from the bar nightlife outside.

It's owned by Joana (from the UK) and her husband Marta (from Indonesia) who love the gays. They received with open arms and obviously had no issue about us booking a double bed. In fact we noticed quite a few other gay couples and LGBTQ travellers when we stayed here.

We stayed in a really pretty detached bungalow located next to the communal pool. To say it was spacious is a massive understatement! It had two floors, downstairs was the bathroom and living area, upstairs, where the magic happens… It's beautifully decorated with carved wood and natural stone. Also, a major plus: air-con! It gets super hot/humid in the Gilis that for some of us more dainty travellers (ahem – Seby!), we cannot function at night without the blast of air con!

The pool area was another favourite of ours here. It's the perfect hangout spot during the day to nurse that hangover and meet a few fellow travellers. The breakfast is included and it's pretty impressive. You can choose to have it on the terrace of your bungalow or by the pool. It includes a range of fresh juices, pancakes, omelettes, fresh tropical fruits (like mango, passion fruit, pineapple, papaya etc) and really good coffee!

STAY WITH A GAY LOCAL

Misterb&b is the Airbnb equivalent for the LGBTQ community. Unlike on Airbnb, you know your host is gay, avoiding any nasty surprises when you check in. It is also a great way to meet gay locals and discover the underground gay scene. Click below to get 10 € (or $10) off your first booking.

03

Slow Private Pool Villas

Gili Air

Slow Private Villa on Gili Air is a paradisiac getaway for gay couples

Why we love it


  • Gay friendly luxurious private hideaway on Gili Air
  • Stay in a large private Balinese-style villa with pool, terrace and garden
  • Yoga, pilates and even Zumba classes
  • Balinese massages available at the spa

This Belgian-owned beaut is the perfect retreat for gay couples who want a cheeky lavish base over on Gili Air island.

A typical day on Gili Air: wake at 9am, pick up Seby, throw him into our private pool, gobble up our breakfast served in our terrace, head out for a day of diving/snorkelling, return here for obligatory romantic sunset cocktails and order in a grilled fish or pizza for dinner.

This all nicely blends together adventure, romance, chillaxing and luxury, which is everything we look for in our travels.

There are just 10 contemporary Balinese-style villas to book at SLOW. Each has its own swimming pool with sun-beds, a large private terrace surrounded by coconut palms and a kitchenette with a private cooker. Also included – a mosquito net and mozzie repellant. Trust me, you'll be very thankful for this! Whilst there's no on-site restaurant, you can instead order in food from the staff who prepare it all for you with love…and we can fully attest to that!

SLOW is unique in that it also offers guests a variety of activities to do onsite such as yoga, Pilates and even Zumba lessons. They also have a spa where you can choose from a range of Balinese massages. From our experience here, we definitely recommend this to gay honeymooners and couples. Gili Air is super cool and totally unspoilt. It's made for unwinding and relaxation, but also a handy base for diving and turtle-spotting off the nearby beach.

04

Scallywags Smugglers Hideaway

Gili Air

ScallyWags Smugglers Hideaway is a great budget option on Gili Air with very friendly staff

Why we love it


  • Our favourite gay friendly hotel in Gili Air for flashpackers
  • Perfect for all budgets
  • Also a diving school, beach club and restaurant
  • Sociable communal pool area with delectable fresh fish BBQ

Gotta be honest, it was the name that first caught our eye after our marathon weekend watching all the Pirates of the Caribbean movies back-to-back.

Over in the Gilis, the Scallywags is an institution! They have a hotel in Bali, on Gili T and this fine gem here on Gili Air. It doesn't stop there: they also have a large diving school, a beach club and an Italian restaurant.

As divers, this particularly caught our eye. Gili Air has some of the best diving we've done in Asia, so a hotel like this was perfect base for us to have a diving-focused stay within a like-minded community.

The Scallywags have just 10 private guest room options to book on Gili Air, from the basic and super affordable singles to the more luxurious Beachside Bungalow or Joglo 3 bedroom villa. It's targeted towards budget-minded travellers and flashpackers in their 20s and 30s. A buffet breakfast is included, which given what you pay, is pretty impressive! Although simple, the rooms are spacious, beds are comfortable, and they have all the facilities you need like air-con, a TV, fridge etc.

The Scallywags have two restaurants to check out. The main one is the Scallywags Beach Club, which as well as being the perfect place to hang out at during the day, they have the best fresh fish BBQ on the island. The second one is “The Sopranos: Simple Scallywags Italian” – Bada Bing Bada Boom! The branding is hilarious, but the food is delish. If like us, you crave carbs after a long day diving, your Scallywag Italian friends have got your back – you need to try their seafood linguine and the Scallywags Burger…washed down with a slice of their homemade brownie!

05

Mahamaya Resort

Gili Meno

Mahamaya resort is an eco boutique resort on Gili Meno welcoming to gay travellers

Why we love it


  • THE best beach getaway of the Gili Islands – Gili Meno!
  • Luuurvely beachfront boutique resort!
  • Fitness centre available for gym bunnies
  • Stay in a beachfront villa with private outdoor shower

For our final night in the Gilis, we decided to treat ourselves to this cheeky romantic getaway on Gili Meno.

Mahamaya is a boutique resort with modern beachfront villas, communal pool, highly rated restaurant, and even a gym. The other striking thing about it we loved – it's situated on the Northwestern side of Gili Meno, which is the best spot for sunsets.

We also selected Mahamaya because fellow LGBTQ travellers we met prior to our trip here raved about how welcoming the staff are – something we can also verify following our own experience.

At Mahamaya you have the choice of either staying in one of the poolside villas or pay a little bit extra for a villa located right on the beach (HIGHLY recommended!) Whichever villa you book, each one is spacious with its own terrace, and amongst other things, they all have air-con! This was the clincher for us when researching places to stay on Gili Meno as my Seby cannot live without his air-con in humid climates…

In terms of activities, bring a book to read and just chill on the beach: this is what Gili Meno's all about! There is a dive shop next door that offers fun dives, scuba courses and even snorkelling trips. But for us, by this stage of our Gilis holiday, we just wanted to chill. The Mahamaya has a terrific restaurant which specialises in local Indonesian dishes and seafood. Wednesday and Saturday is ‘fish night' where you can select one of the fresh fish on display and they'll BBQ it in front of you. They also have a daily 2 for 1 Happy Hour every evening on cocktails. Warning: the bar staff are super generous with their alcohol portions: after only a few Mango Daiquiris, Seby was topless, dancing away on the tables, giving us all a rendition of his favourite Lara Fabian songs…!

Gay bars and clubs in the Gilis

The main thing to bear in mind about the Gilis is that there is no official gay scene here like there is Bali. Bali has its own strip of gay bars/clubs, which you can read more about in our article about gay Bali. Therefore, we recommend getting all the gay party fun out of your system over in Seminyak before you head to the Gilis.

The Gilis do however have a bunch of bars and parties mainly on the eastern side of Gili T, locally referred to as “the main strip”. As a gay couple looking for a queer-friendly space where we felt comfortable with PDAs, this is where we'd recommend heading. The reason, it's a very young, international crowd here, with people from all over the world. In addition, the bars here are mainly foreign-owned so they have a more open-minded and tolerant attitude towards LGBTQ travellers. We've listed below the bars we found to be the most queer-friendly across the 3 islands.

One tip to note about the nightlife on the Gilis is that it's a very small, tight and organised community. Each night, one bar is allowed to stay open late until around 3am whilst all the others have to shut around midnight. The trick is to find out which bar is the late-opening one for the day you're there. It's easy to spot it as you walk along the main strip as it will usually be advertised with a large banner.

Blue Marlin (Gili Trawangan)

Drinking Stefan favourite drink in the gili islands

Blue Marlin is one of the best dive shops in the Gilis, but they also have a really cool bar that the diving community all head to. Something we've learnt from our travels – as a rule of thumb, the diving community is usually always the most tolerant, open-minded and accepting. This is certainly the case at Blue Marlin. On Mondays, the Blue Marlin bar is the designated late-night opening venue, so this is THE place to hang out if you're in the Gilis on a Monday. Blue Marlin's bar is spread over two floors. The upstairs has a large dance floor and sound system pumping out EDM, trance and tribal beats…it's not quite Shakira or Britney music, but at least we felt comfortable dancing together here!


Pearl Beach Lounge (Gili Trawangan)

Pearl Beach lounge is a gay friendly bar in Gili Trawangan

Pearl Beach was our favourite little spot on Gili T to come to when we wanted a break from the main strip. It's located on the southeastern tip of the island, close to the Pondok Santi Estate. It's got a classy beachfront, which is ideal for our quintessential Nomadic Boys sunset cocktails. We also stayed on to try the food, which was recommended to us by Joana at Martas Guesthouse. It's European Asian fusion food with a twist – like pumpkin gnocchi (Seby's favourite) or my duck(!) Pad Thai. The Pearl Beach Lounge is open every day till around 11pm. After dinner, the bar area becomes a cool hangout for couples. We even noticed a few other gay couples when we were here.


The Exile (Gili Trawangan)

The exile is a cool beach bar great for sunset on the west side of Gili Trawangan

The Exile is famous for the sea swing! All those Instagram Gili T pics you saw of influencers posing on a hammock swing by a dramatic sunset? That was taken here! The Exile is our favourite bar on Gili T for the sunset. It's located on the Western side of the island, so every night you know you're in for a spectacular photo shoot session. Also adding to the atmosphere is live reggae music with (some pretty hunky topless!) drummers dancing around a fire pit. The Exile is open every evening till late. It's generally a young and international crowd who aren't at all phased by a gay couple.


Evolution Bar (Gili Trawangan)

Evolution Bar: Nomadic Boys with friends trying out the delicious sushis

Evolution is another popular bar right in the heart of the main strip on the Eastern side of Gili T. During the day it's famous for being THE best place in the Gilis to come for fresh sushi and sashimi. In the evening, it transforms into a buzzy hangout with drinks offers, beer pongs and fire dancers. It's one of the stopovers in the “Pub Crawls” that many of the backpacker hostels offer, so expect a young chirpy crowd. Sunday evening is usually the night when Evolution leads the crowd into the early hours, with a live DJ pumping out electro beats.


Legend Bar (Gili Air)

The cocktails in Legend Bar on Gili Air are to die right on the beach

Legend Bar is the best hangout for travellers staying on Gili Air in our opinion. It's located at the Northern tip of the island right on the beach. By day it's a chilled, hip beach bar that also serves Asian fusion food. We love the swings that you sit on at the bar – ie instead of bar stools! In the evening it transforms into a beach party vibe with fire performers and a popular Happy Hour from 5-7pm. Wednesday evening is the best night here when they have the “Legend Party”, which includes a live DJ set focusing on house and techno. Check out the Legend Instagram for more inspiration.


Sasak Cafe Bar (Gili Meno)

Cocktails on the beach at Sasak Bar on Gili Air

Sasak Cafe Bar is the best bar hangout for travellers staying on shy retiring Gili Meno. It's located on the western side of Gili Meno right on the beach. Not to be confused with The Sasak Bistro & Bar located over on the main strip on Gili T! This Sasak is a family-owned beach bar by day, restobar by night. As it's west-facing, the evening sunsets are the biggest draw. They have live music and delicious cocktails to help embellish the sundowner atmosphere. Most stay for dinner, which is decent local Indonesian dishes. Service is a little on the slow side, but you're staying on Gili Meno where life all but comes to a complete halt right?


Best gay friendly restaurants in the Gilis

The best restaurants are mainly on Gili T. You have more choice and variety here, followed by Gili Air. This doesn't mean there aren't any decent restaurants on Gili Meno, just fewer to choose from. Most of the places we've listed in the Bars section also double up as excellent restaurants. We've tried to avoid repetition, but Pearl Beach Lounge is the exception which we mentioned twice because we loved it both as an evening hangout as well as a restaurant:

Pearl Beach Lounge (Gili Trawangan)

Celebrating Stefan birthday on Gili Trawangan at pearl beach lounge

Our trip to the Gilis was mainly to celebrate my birthday. When researching for the best place for my birthday dinner, we both agreed this would be it. We weren't disappointed. It was romantic af – dinner on the beach, barefoot feet in the sands, complete with candlelight. The food was delicious – Western dishes with a twist – from Seby's pumpkin gnocchi to my unique duck Pad Thai. The highlight was the cute staff all joining in to sing me ‘Happy Birthday!' as they presented me my cake+candles to blow out.


Francesco's Pizza (Gili Trawangan)

The best pizzas we've tried on Gili Trawangan are from Francesco Pizzeria

We did a lot of scuba diving around the Gili Islands. If you've ever done diving before you'll know how exhausting it is – and how much you crave carbs afterwards! Francesco's does the best pizzas in the Gilis – that is, if, like us, you're into thin crusts! It's right in the heart of the main strip close to the diving shops, so a handy place to come for lunch, dinner…or take out to pig out in your hotel room… It's a great find – service is efficient, if you eat in, there's a warm, cosy atmosphere, and they also cater to all diets, even offering a range of veggie/vegan pizzas.


Wilson’s Bar and Cuisine (Gili Trawangan)

Delicious rare beef prepared at Wilson Bar and cuisine, a romantic spot for gay couples in the gilis

Wilson's is located on the northern end of Gili T, away from the main strip. Confusingly, it may come up only as “Wilson's Retreat” on Google Maps as it's also a hotel. Wilson's is another favourite of ours on Gili T. It's super romantic with the tables right on the beach with live music. The food is French-inspired Asian fusion, and it's delicious! We shared some grilled prawns, then I had the steak and Seby the grouper with pea soup. Everything was beautifully presented and perfectly cooked. The staff were sweet/smiley and service overall very efficient – this stood out for us because a lot of restaurants in the Gilis are notorious for having veeeery slow snail service! Cannot fault Wilson's – a terrific meal that ticked all the boxes for us.


Honeyst (Gili Trawangan)

Honeys makes the best mango desert and honey ice cream on the island

If you love honey, just come here. Along with coffee, honey is one of my favourite things in life, which is how we stumbled on Honeyst. This small unassuming restaurant is on the main strip, a few doors down from Blue Marlin. They specialise in honey-based desserts – honey ice cream (all homemade!), Honey Mango Bingsu and Honey Hotteok (pancake-like) deserts. You can also order fresh juices to wash it all down with – dragon fruit juice our favourite…have you ever tried freshly squeezed dragon fruit juice before? A first for us as well!


Ruby's cafe (Gili Air)

Ruby cafe burgers is a great restaurant for LGBTQ travellers on Gili Air

Ruby's is one of our favourite restaurants on Gili Air. It's located slightly inland towards the southeastern side of the island, a few blocks away from Scallywags. They do traditional Indonesian local food like beef rendang, chicken satay and some yummy curries. They also offer a selection of Western dishes. For us, it was all about the burgers here. We did try (and loved!) their local food, but there was something about the Ruby burgers which we just fell in love with. Easily THE best burgers we had in the Gili Islands!


Ya Ya Warung Cafe (Gili Meno)

Ya Ya Warung prepares really good traditional indonesian food

Ya Ya Warung is both a fantastic beach hangout on Gili Meno as well as an excellent inexpensive restaurant on the island. It was certainly our favourite on Meno. The speciality here is local traditional Indonesian food like nasi goreng, gado gado and pelecin ayam (chicken) – all nicely washed down with a few Bintang beers. Ya Ya Warung is located on the Eastern side of Meno, right on the beach. You can leave your stuff here with the staff whilst you go snorkelling. We saw several turtles just off the beach right here – pretty impressive!


Gay friendly spa in the Gilis

There are plenty of spas on the Gili islands, usually linked to resorts. We visited the Azure Spa on Gili T, which is part of the Pesona Resort, located above the Dive Central diving shop in the main strip. We came here as a birthday treat – Seby had booked me a 90-minute hot stone massage treatment.

A hot stone treatment starts with a relaxing oil massage. The stones are then prepared in a rice cooker and heated to a temperature which is just hot enough not to be uncomfortable, then placed strategically on parts of the body.

Our masseurs were extremely polite and very friendly. It was obvious we were a couple and they didn't have any issues about it. It was a lovely treat, which I recommend, least of all because the treatments here are very affordable and you have quite a unique ocean view:

A hot stone massage in gay friendly spa massage on Gili Trawangan
A birthday treat for Stefan: hot stone massage on Gili Trawangan

Top things to do in the Gili islands

We love our diving and after some sensational scuba diving in the Komodo National Park, we were desperate for more. The Gilis is perfect for this as well as snorkelling – in some cases, you just need to head into the water and you're face-to-face with a swimming turtle! Also: subwing – a new discovery we loved! Read more about all this and more below:

Scuba diving at its best

Stefan spotting a super cute turtle during our dive at the Coral Garden reef between Gili T and Meno

The scuba diving around the Gili islands is excellent. There are dive sites spread out across all 3 islands. The best diving schools are mainly based along the main strip of Gili T. We did a couple of fun dives with Dive Central Gili who we recommend. The divemasters are terrific and super patient – Seby needs a massive helping hand getting his gear ready! The dives themselves, incredible! We saw turtles and reef sharks on almost every dive we did, as well as lots of triggerfish, clownfish, and my favourite, the colourful pirate. The best dive site (at least when we were there – subject to weather conditions, of course) was the Shark Point reef. Here we saw a family of 4 reef sharks just going about their daily business!


Snorkelling in the Gili islands

Sebastien snorkelling down to 10 metres to meet this beautiful turtle near Gili T

A snorkelling trip is something you don't want to miss, especially if you don't want to go diving. Why? Almost every time we put our face in the water we saw turtles swimming around! That's how phenomenal the waters are here. The best way to maximise your chances of spotting lots of large turtles is via a snorkelling trip because the guides will know exactly where to go. Snorkelling trips are usually half-day and will include lunch stopovers on a remote beach on either Gili Air or Meno. They also include full gear: fins, mask and snorkel.


Try yourself at Subwing

Subwing in the gili islands is one the best activities to do to see the underwater world

Subwing was our #1 discovery on the Gilis! You are pulled through the water by a speedboat that moves along slowly. You hold on to plastic wings, which you manoeuvre in the direction you want to move – ie down/up, left/right and even a few loops once you get the hang of it! It's an exciting alternative to snorkelling allowing you to go deeper more efficiently. You don't need to swim so you use a lot less energy, allowing you to hold your breath for longer. It literally feels like you're gliding through the water like a mermaid! The subwing guys are based both on Gili Trawangan and Air.


A romantic sunset

A romantic sunset on Gili Trawangan, a little heaven for gay couples

The Gili islands are pretty much geared towards magical sunsets, particularly if you're on the west side of one of the 3 islands. It truly is spectacular, every evening. We recommend checking out one of the places that have installed sunset swings for the most dramatic photos. The main 3 are located on the western side of Gili T: the Ombak Sunset Hotel swing, the Pandawa Hotel swing and the Exile Bar swing (read more about Exile above). The best time to come is around 5-6:30pm, but during peak busy period, there may be a small queue for them.


Learn to cook Indonesian food

Chicken satay best traditional food of Indonesia cooking class Ubud in Bali

Indonesian food is an exciting adventure. This is a country comprised of over 300 ethnic groups, retaining strong influences from its colonial Dutch/Portuguese past. Nasi goreng is the main dish to try. Others include nasi campur, chicken satay, gado gado and many more. Find our more about Indonesian food in our article about the best foods to try in Indonesia. We also recommend you do a cooking class with the Sweet & Spicy Gili Cooking School on Gili T. Here, you get to try out some of the most famous Indonesian staples with a local and a professional chef. It's a fantastic way to learn more about Indonesian culture through food.


Plan your trip

These are our some of our best tips and advice for LGBTQ travellers based on our firsthand experience travelling the Gili Islands:

How to get there: Most people will be coming from Bali or Lombok. When you touch down at Bali airport you have two option: a 30-minute flight to Lombok airport plus a 30-minute speedboat to the Gilis, or, take a taxi over to the Padang Bai Port and take a 1.5-hour high-speed ferry direct to Gili T. We recommend the ferry direct to Gili T as it's more reliable, quicker and you can easily pre-book it online.


Visa requirements: For most visitors to Bali (USA, UK, Europe, Australia, New Zealand and Canada), you can simply get a visa on arrival, which costs around $35. Make sure you check your personal visa requirements before making your travel plans though.


Travel insurance: An absolutely must! We never travel without the security of travel insurance and strongly recommend you do the same: Medical emergency? Cancelled flights? Stolen bar? Sorted! We love using WorldNomads Travel Insurance because their cover is comprehensive, inexpensive and it's easy to make a claim online if you need.


Safety and Security: Another top safety tip is the fantastic CloseCircle app. It's your virtual bodyguard team who send you security alerts and support wherever you are in the world. They have an emergency response team available 24/7 who you can contact for practical advice or even for evacuation from areas with extreme weather or terrorist attacks. Read more about CloseCircle in our article about how to stay safe while travelling.


Vaccinations: All travellers to the Gili Islands will need to be up-to-date with all routine vaccinations like measles, mumps and chickenpox. It's also recommended you have a polio booster if you're planning to stay in Indonesia longer than four weeks. Some travellers may also need to be vaccinated against Hepatitis A, typhoid, Hepatitis B, Japanese encephalitis, malaria, rabies or yellow fever so make sure you check the most recent information on the CDC website.


Currency: The official currency in Bali is the Indonesian rupiah which is abbreviated to Rp. The official currency code is IDR. $1 US converts to around Rp 14,057, €1 is worth around Rp 15,516 and £1 is around Rp 18,142. Confusing? Sure was for us. We relied heavily on the XE Currency app for conversions!


Tipping culture: Tipping is not really expected in the Gili Islands. However, as wages are generally pretty low, it won't go unappreciated if you tip a few extra dollars for good service at hotels, restaurants, your driver or your tour guide.


Online privacy: The Gili Islands may be a tourist bubble, remember it is still part of Indonesia where the internet is heavily monitored. As such, many LGBTQ apps and websites are being blocked all the time. This includes Grindr. If you want to be able to use all gay dating apps without any issues, we recommend getting a VPN. In addition, your location is blocked, which allows you to browse the internet safely and anonymously.


Accommodation: There are tons of excellent hotels and villas to book across the 3 Gili Islands. We love using Booking.com because they have the best offers and usually offer free cancellation for most places, which allows some flexibility with your travel planning.


Sightseeing and adventure: We love checking out the GetYourGuide listings for inspiration for the best things to do in every new place we visit. They have a lot of ideas for the Gili Islands, which we recommend checking out. In addition, their tours are affordable and super easy to book.


When to visit: The Gili Islands are beautiful All Year. Seasons: Rainy Season: November-April / Dry Season: May-October. I love Gili year round. Most people want to come in dry season, which makes the rainy season far less crowded. You'll be surrounded by climbing green nature. My favorite time of year, are the in-betweens, March, April, September and October. Green, sunny and not too dry with an occasional rain to keep the freshness in the air.


Gay map of the Gilis

Here's our map of the Gilis showing where all the places we've mentioned in this article are located. We hope it helps you have a fabulous time on the Gili Islands!

Here's our gay map of the Gili Islands with our favourite gay friendly places to stay, eat, party and more

For more inspiration:

Like this post? Pin it

This is our gay travel guide to the gili islands, here is our pinterest pin

Disclaimer: Some links in this article are affiliate links, which means that if you purchase through them, we receive a small commission. This will never cost you extra and in many cases you receive a special discount. We appreciate your support!

Stefan Arestis

Stefan is the co-founder, editor and author the gay travel blog nomadicboys.com. As a travel nerd, he has explored more than 80 countries across 5 continents. What he loves the most about travelling is discovering the local gay scene, making new friends and learning new cultures. His advice about LGBTQ travel has been featured in Gay Times, Gaycities, Pink News, Gay Star News, Attitude and Towleroad. He has also written about gay travel for other non-gay specific publications including Lonely Planet, The New York Times, The Guardian and The Huffington Post. Stefan is also a qualified lawyer, having practised as a commercial property litigator in London for over 10 years. He left his lawyer days behind to work full time on Nomadic Boys with his husband Sebastien. Find out more about Nomadic Boys.

63 thoughts on “Gay Gili Islands: our ultimate gay travel guide”

  1. Thanks so much for the subwing suggestion. It was the best thing ever!!

    What an amazing experience, my speedos were half way down my backside most of the time haha.

    Reply
  2. Hey Guys

    Just wanted to say thanks for the advise, my boyfriend and i are going on our first holiday and i was getting concerned reading about Lombok being a very Muslim country and what that would mean for us.

    Your advise was so relieving, all i could find through Lonely Planet was that “In Lombok, LGBT travellers should refrain from public displays of affection (advice that also applies to straight couples”

    This is the only place I have seen the Subwing, I cant wait to go now.

    Thanks for all the helpful tips and tricks, will defiantly look to you in the future for advise when travelling

    Reply
  3. Thanks for sharing such a detailed description, this is going to really help me in my trip to gili.
    Just a question – how did you manage to do underwater photography?

    Reply
    • Our pleasure – and thanks for reading 🙂

      We use a GoPro Hero camera which you can buy here:
      http://amzn.to/1pBdjYi

      If you have the budget, go for the Hero 4 silver, it has a LCD screen, which is great to see what you are shooting:
      http://amzn.to/1TaYHGW

      These cameras are great for underwater footage, snorkelling or diving up to 40m. You can also use them for filming other activities like kayaking, trekking, or just silly pool fun with friends 🙂

      Reply
  4. We were in Thailand and bali in September and October 2015… We had a spur of the moment two night stay on gili t… loved the place. Hope to go back soon.

    Reply
  5. As a rare member of Team Michelle Williams, I gotta say that Meno sounds like the island for me. I can just imagine spending a lazy week there catching up on my writing. But when the need to be social returns, I’ll be hanging out with Queen B!

    Reply
  6. LOVE all the details, guys! This is such an awesome guide to the Gili Islands. Seriously laughed out loud at the Destiny’s Child reference–that was perfect, haha!

    Reply
  7. Oh, diving seems like such a fun there! I did diving in Zanzibar this year but it was much, much more expensive – I wish I could go somewhere it’s nice and cheap 🙂

    Reply
  8. Honeymoon idea right here! Originally I was looking into Bali but then heard recently about Gili! So this post at a great time 🙂 It looks wonderful and I am seriously thinking this may be the spot to go!!!

    Reply
  9. Oh boys you always have so much fun! I think I will even try Subwing, even I, the one who gets scared about anything she can’t control 😉 all those turtle and marine life selfies are awesome! MAHAMAYA is my choice of course 🙂

    Reply
  10. I’ve been to Bali in July for 5 days, but Indonesia seem to offer much more. Gili Islands look like good fun, with lots of snorkeling and marine life! Great post and photos!

    Reply
  11. It’s amazing to how many places you guys travel! I love the Destiny’s Child comparison 😀 as always: great article you wrote, with a lot of details; I’m sure everyone will find his place among those three islands.

    Reply
  12. Another great post guys! I love exploring the world through your eyes. 😉 Subwing…first time i’ve ever heard of this, sounds interesting. The experience looks fabulous and I would have those spa treatments on the top of my list!

    Reply
  13. A great write up. I’m trying to decide if I’m going to head over when I visit Bali in the Spring. Would love to go scuba diving there. Thanks for the tips.

    Reply
  14. The scuba diving looks great there! Would they require you to have previous experience before taking the ‘fun dive’, or would a newbie like me need to take some other lessons first?

    Reply
  15. Such a great guide! The Gili Islands look like such fun, not to mention gorgeous. It’s paradise for scuba divers, which I am not but, the subwing activity looks like something I’d like to try. I’d definitely go for the busier Gili T. What’s the easiest way to get to the islands?

    Reply
  16. Wow! This is quite the detailed post about the Gili Islands. I’ve always considered a trip to Indonesia and we’re all about smaller, less crowded places so I’d probably go with Gilo Meno, the Michelle Williams of the islands, away from the bars and the crowds. You guys certainly had some incredible adventures on the islands, so there’s obviously no shortage of things to do, though swimming with sharks isn’t exactly on my bucket list!

    Reply
    • Thanks – but the sharks are really not that bad. They are tiny and like any other fish. But the turtles are wow in my opinion 🙂

      Reply
  17. I have never heard of these little islands! They look like paradise! I would much prefer to visit Gili air too crowed or too deserted isn’t for me! Apart from the spas that I love the subwing looks great especially for me that can’t keep my breath for long. Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
  18. Your Destiny’s Child metaphor cracked me up – it’s so true! It looks like you two had a much better time in the Gilis than I did. It rained the whole time and I had terrible food poisoning. I still got to go snorkelling but I’m gutted I didn’t know about subwing. Sounds so good for lazy swimmers like me! You got some lovely pictures too, I’m dying at the one of you under the boat! Hope you had a fab time 🙂

    Reply
  19. Perfect analogy you used for the islands! Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to visit the Gilis on our honeymoon but I’m trying to set aside a trip to fully explore the three islands! You think one week is enough for all three?

    Reply
  20. Haha, love the comparison with Destiny’s Child! I would personally prefer Mano I think, but it looks like you can have some great and relaxing experiences on all of the islands! The subwing thing is a novelty to me, looks really cool!

    Reply
  21. Beyonce, nice! I won’t mind passing through Gili Trawangan to get my party on, but I will much prefer stay in either Gili Meno or Gili Air. WOW! There are so many diving spot in the Gili islands, but I will most definitely want to try Subwing, that has got to be so much fun. Right!

    Reply
  22. Great to hear that little Indonesian piece of paradise is so LGBT friendly with such a great activities range. All these bars sound great, especially the beach ones. I’d love to try some subwing, too, it has to be a great experience. I’ve only did the traditional snorkeling so far….

    Reply
  23. WOW!! Kudos to you both! I have only been to Bali ( several years ago ) and your fun and informative posting suggested to me that sometimes Indonesia could resemble the Greek islands when it comes to different kinds of fun; parties, relaxing, food, coffee! Would you ever want to return to those islands in Indonesia again?

    Are you both possibly keen on doing some of the Greek islands in the future? ( maybe organising a bunch of lads together for a fun island hopping experience? 😉

    Reply

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