Gili Trawangan: Party Paradise Or Prefer To Skip?
For an island so small you can cycle the entire thing in one hour, Gili Trawangan has a huge reputation. It’s known as one of South East Asia’s best party destinations for backpackers. Recommended to me by numerous travelling friends, I had to include the infamous ‘Gili T’ in my plans for Indonesia, despite the fact that I’m a grandma when it comes to partying these days.
So, before I began the two-hour journey across to the Gili Islands from Bali, I had psyched myself up for a hectic night out, and hangover recovery spent exploring what I imagined to be picturesque beaches. I daydreamed of lounging on pure white sand and wading into transparent water; the ultimate paradise with the bonus of a great party scene.
In reality though, my feelings about Gili Trawangan are a bit controversial. I was a little… underwhelmed.
Let me say at this point that I debated whether or not to write this post, given that it’s not an entirely positive review. I questioned the reasons I wanted to share my thoughts. Then I realised that Aimee’s Compass is a place I provide first-hand advice to travellers planning trips of their own. If I only ever write about the good things, I’m not being entirely honest in sharing my experiences. Likewise, if you only ever see what a lovely time I’ve had in all of these locations, it becomes unrealistic for you as a reader. Everybody has preferences and we will not all love every place we visit. While I’ll never use this blog as a platform to outright slate any place, activity, or business, I will use it to share real experiences. So, back to the topic at hand, my thoughts about Gili Trawangan.
What I Loved About It
Living up to its status as a party island, Gili Trawangan does have great nightlife. The strip where all the action takes place is small, but offers live music, beer pong tournaments, dancing on the sand, and for those that want it, non-legal high ‘magic mushrooms’. My favourite bar was ‘Jiggy’s’, which also runs a boat party.
The Ultimate Budget Dinner
Another favourite on Gili Trawangan is one for the foodies, the night market. Probably the most efficiently run night market I’ve ever been to! Expect to find seafood, Nasi Goreng (Balinese dish), sweet treats, corn, and all sorts of rice and noodle dishes, at a cost of just £2 for a basic pick’n’mix. It’s a no brainer for dining on a budget.
One of the nicest things about Gili Trawangan is that it’s full of homestays and small hotels opened by locals. I’d recommend staying at one of the budget options in the backstreets rather than the upmarket hotels on the sunset side of the island, to feel more in the heart of the village. The people I encountered were incredibly friendly, always making eye contact, smiling, and greeting each other and tourists alike.
Swimming with sea turtles
All of the Gili Islands are hotspots for scuba divers and snorkelers. Though I don’t dive myself, just swimming a few metres into the ocean from Gili Trawangan was enough to encounter marine life, including sea turtles – and who doesn’t adore sea turtles? The best point to find them on the island is conveniently named ‘Turtle Point’.
So What Was The Problem?
Despite the points listed above, for me, Gili Trawangan just had a few issues that ultimately mean I’d choose other islands that offer a similar experience.
Firstly, litter is a bit of a problem. I imagine this has a lot to do with the growing levels of tourism, but in contrast to the islands right next door, Gili Air and Gili Meno, the washed up soft drinks cans, abandoned plastic bottles, and piles of rubbish left just at the top of the beach in some places, make you wonder how sustainable Gili Trawangan is. The abandoned objects aren’t just food and drink either; they include boats, and buildings, left in disrepair.
Generally, this gives the island a feeling of being unloved and when I compare it to similar party islands in South East Asia, like Cambodia’s Koh Rong, which invites visitors and locals to religiously litter-pick every morning, it doesn’t seem as though rubbish disposal is given the attention it needs.
Also, if you’re looking for a destination to wander soft beaches barefoot, Gili Trawangan is not your best bet. Sadly, practices of fisherman in the past have been to catch fish using dynamite, which would consequently blow up the coral reefs that make diving in the area so popular. Although this doesn’t happen any more, dead coral covers much of the lower beaches and makes walking into the sea like a painful game of hopscotch. (Uh oh, have I become a beach snob? 😟)
I’m keen to point out that Gili Trawangan does have a lot going for it, but as you can easily swim with sea turtles, dive, or snorkel from one of the neighbouring islands and on boat trips from them, if partying is not high on your agenda then this Gili Island is not the best one. After leaving Gili Trawangan I headed to Gili Air and Gili Meno, both of which I completely loved (and will be sharing blogs about soon). If asked whether Gili Trawangan is a party paradise, or one to be skipped in favour of another Gili Island, then I have to admit… I’d say skip it.
Don’t miss out on more travel insights about the Gili Islands, and other travel content, by signing up.