This post was last updated on July 10th, 2020 at 12:17 pm
Near Lombok and just east of Bali lie the tropical islands of Gili Trawangan, Gili Air, and Gili Meno, also known as the Gili Islands. Gili Meno is the ultimate place to experience real island life, without the many (night) bars that you find on Gili Trawangan, for example. we went snorkeling with sea turtles, walked on long white beaches, swam in clear blue water, ate fresh seafood, and slept in a traditional Sasak bungalow, the houses that are so characteristic of Lombok.
And the nice thing is that there is no motorized traffic, which ensures wonderful peace.
Curious? Then read on.
Gili Meno: a Short Introduction
Gili Meno is said to be the smallest of the Gili’s. To give you an impression of the size: you can walk around the island in 1 to 1.5 hours and you will often encounter the same faces. And unlike her brothers Trawangan and Air, you will not find any entertainment options here. On the beach you will find cozy restaurants where live music is sometimes played (for example in the Sasak Cafe and at Slainte Irish bar – pizza), otherwise, it is silent at night.
The accommodations on the island are mostly small-scale and set up by the locals. There are some more luxurious hotels, especially around the beach, and there is, unfortunately, construction going on in various places.
In 2018, an earthquake occurred on Lombok, which also damaged the Gili Islands. When you walk over Gili Meno, you can clearly see traces of this natural disaster. Collapsed and abandoned buildings, wrecked boats, and rubble are examples of this.
We also spoke to a Dutch girl and she told us that she was on Gili Meno 5 years ago and a lot has changed since then. Today it is still relatively quiet, but the more luxurious accommodations that you can find there now were then simply not or hardly there.
So the question is: will this change in the coming years?
No Scooters and Cars
As we mentioned, there is no motorized transport on Gili Meno, just like on the other Gili islands. Bicycles are common and every now and then you see someone riding an electric scooter. They also use cidomos, or horse and cart.
On Gili Air, many of the horses seemed overworked and the foam often ran out of their mouth. However, on Gili Meno, the horses look good and well-groomed. Although we still think it’s quite sad.
It is also super nice if you do not continuously hear the sound of scooters, trucks, and cars around you, but only the tranquility of nature. In addition, due to hardly any traffic, you do not have to be on guard all the time. You don’t have to think about whether or not something is coming your way, as is the case in, for example, Ubud or Nusa Lembongan. The only thing you can hear well in some places in the mosque and loudly crowing roosters 😀.
Stay in a Sasak Beachfront Bungalow
When visiting an idyllic island, what could be better than staying in a beachfront bungalow and falling asleep to the hypnotizing sound of the waves? On Gili Meno, there are several places where this is possible, for example at the friendly Yaya Bungalows, where we stayed in a traditional Sasak house with its characteristic roof. Please note, they only have one beach bungalow available.
Every day we fell asleep quite early and woke up when the first part of the sun became visible above the horizon. From our bungalow, we could always see the day begin in peace, with the sky slowly turning blue and the low hanging cumulus clouds reflecting in the sea. Wonderful moments. Yes, that’s how it goes on islands where you are not kept awake by bars and so on. It is a rhythm that we had enjoyed the week before in Kanciana Village.
By the way, if you are looking for luxurious accommodation you should not go to Yaya Bungalows. It is in fact quite basic. You will find more comfort at Gili Meno Escape and at United Colors of Gili, for example. Do you want to stay in a great beach hostel with hammocks, where you sleep in the open air? Then the Gili Meno Eco Hostel is a must.
Black Sky, White Sand, Blue Water
We were just reading a book on the beach and we decided to go out and explore the island. However, when we looked next to us we saw something that we will not soon forget: the sky was almost black, the sand yellowish white and the seawater seemed greener/bluer than it could be on the clearest day.
A very beautiful sight. When do you ever see something like that?
When we started hiking the rain started pouring really hard after 5 minutes. Hiding under the existing trees was of no use and we ran back through the downpour to our house. Later that day the sun suddenly returned. Something that, given the completely closed air earlier that afternoon, was hard to believe.
Snorkeling with Sea Turtles
That same afternoon we went into the sea with someone from the guesthouse to look for sea turtles. After all, this is something Gili Meno is known for. You don’t have to book a tour, because you walk straight into the water and a little later you see these impressive animals swimming all around you.
At the start of the sea, there is a lot of washed up and dead coral, which makes walking a painful experience. Water shoes are therefore recommended, or else just go for a swim as soon as possible.
We followed the boy and quickly we swam to a part where it finally started to get deeper. The current was quite heavy and the same was true for the waves. A little later he pointed to the left and a beautiful turtle did indeed pass by us. In total, we spotted three. It’s really great to see something like this up close. Swimming calmly, eating from the coral, and then going up to breathe. It reminded us of our previous experiences on Apo Island, Philippines. Someone at our guesthouse said she even saw seven. And that by simply walking into the water and going under. Because as said: no tours needed 🙂.
The corals didn’t look very special and – as in so many places nowadays – quite pale. If you want to see somewhat colorful coral, it is best to book a snorkeling trip.
The Gili Meno Turtle Sanctuary
In the southeast lies the Gili Meno Turtle Sanctuary, a small hut where turtles are kept in baths until they are large and strong enough to survive in the sea afterward. Do not expect something very exciting, after a few minutes you have seen about all it has to offer.
Mysterious Underwater Sculptures
In addition to seeing turtles, you can see something special while snorkeling. On the west side, you have all kinds of mysterious statues in the water, known as “nest sculptures” or the “Gili Meno statues”.
Here you see 48 life-size statues forming a circle at a depth of 4 meters. The sculptures that look like people are a bit scary and startling at the same time. They are designed by artist Jason deCaires Taylor. He did this with the aim of forming new coral and ultimately making sea life healthier. Coral grows on the statues, which in time creates a completely new reef.
The great thing is that no tour is required just like seeing the turtles. You can view the sculptures by walking into the water with your snorkel gear. Preferably go in the morning as this spot is getting more and more popular.
Walk Around the Island
Parallel to the beach, there is a road that takes you around the entire island in 1 to 1.5 hours. It is a nice walk where you can stop at one of the cozy beach bars for a snack and a drink.
On a sunny morning, we walked from the northern Yaya bungalows towards the east side, where the local harbor is located. Here you will also find the most activity, with a few shops, beach bars, and diving schools. And isn’t it wonderful to relax with a coconut and enjoy the beautiful view of the coastline? This is what we did. We sat down at the bar, listening to Indonesian love songs, which we now know quite well, in the background.
Then we walked further south where it gets quieter and the beaches get more beautiful.
Then you come to the west side of the island where it is all a bit more developed. Besides the beautiful beach, it is very green here and we unexpectedly saw many colorful flowers.
Getting to Know Local Life
When you walk “inland”, you simultaneously leave everything related to tourism behind and you end up in the local life of Gili Meno. Simple houses, cycling locals, grazing cows, bleating goats, and a large mosque are examples of this. A funny sight was the brown cows relaxing under a clothesline.
Next to you, you see fields full of palm trees and every now and then you pass a warung, or a local eatery, although there are not many.
An absolute must in terms of warungs is the green and bamboo-decorated The Warung, where you can eat very well in a nice setting. We had to wait for more than half an hour for our dishes, although this is usually a sign that people are preparing fresh food or at least putting in the work. And indeed, the freshly grilled tuna we ordered was nothing short of sublime.
The local mosque is nearby. After the largely Hindu Bali, we were now on Islamic Gili Meno. And since it was around twelve o’clock, prayer started. We had experienced this before in Indonesia. It’s a bit loud during these services but you’ll get used to it 😀.
Another warung where you can eat well is Jizzy Warung. Our favorite here is the “Sweet & spicy tempeh”. Moreover, the coconuts are relatively inexpensive at 20,000 IDR (~ US$1.40).
If you fancy a pizza, the best thing to do is go to Slainte Irish bar – pizza. The pizzas at this beach bar taste great, although you have to wait a bit for your food. But hey, you can spend that time watching the sunset. On Sunday and Wednesday evenings there are bands playing, which makes it extra cozy.
To our amazement, we came across a local durian seller near our guesthouse, whom we initially recognized not with our eyes but with our nose. Because yes, that smell is quite penetrating, isn’t it? However, the man turned out to be deaf so it was not very easy. You understand that he proposed too high a price so that there had to be a negotiation for a while.
Fortunately, with some sign language and the help of a pearl-selling local, we came to a deal.
In terms of fruit, it is also useful to bring your own from the mainland. On Gili Meno, there is very little available and it’s pricey since they have to bring it from Lombok.
The Saltwater Lake
Gili Meno does not have real sights. It is mainly beach, snorkeling and relaxing for which you visit this island. However, there is a saltwater lake in the west. But honestly, it’s not too special. If you are in the area, you can take a look.
More fascinating is the artistic bar Brother Hood which you will find at the entrance of the lake. This reggae-like place is, as the name implies, run by two brothers. The recycling of things is central here, for example, the case has been decorated with plastic waste, glass bottles, and such things. In addition to some food, you can also follow a workshop where you learn how to handle waste creatively.
You’ll see in more places that plastic is used as decoration. They have built entire walls or, for example, made atmospheric lighting. Very cool to see.
Is Gili Meno the Right Place For You?
If you are looking for a quiet, authentic island of palm trees and beautiful beaches, Gili Meno is definitely for you. Would you rather drink, go out and be entertained, then you better go to the much more commercial Gili Trawangan.
ATMs on Gili Meno
We didn’t expect it at all, but the small Gili Meno actually has two ATMs. It is true that they are regularly empty, so we advise you to bring enough cash. In some places, such as hotels, you can also pay with a credit/debit card for a commission.
The Best Time to Visit Gili Meno
Good news: you can actually visit Gili Meno all year round. We were there in February during the rainy season, which officially runs from November to April. And indeed, we had some rain, although the weather was generally fine with plenty of sunshine. High season runs from May through August, with July and August being the busiest months.
How to Get to Gili Meno
From Ubud in Bali, it is easiest to take the speedboat to Gili Meno in Padangbai. Only Eka Jaya offers this direct connection. We traveled via Gili Air and took a speedboat (85,000 IDR – US$5.90 – 10 minutes) to Gili Meno, which runs every hour. The Island Hopping Boat (40,000 IDR; US$2.80) also sails between the Gili Islands, although it runs much less frequent than the aforementioned speedboat, at twice a day.
We bought the ticket to Gili Air in Ubud from a travel agency, something we can recommend. The price is usually favorable via such a travel agency and in addition, transport to the port plus a drop-off at your next destination is included in the ticket.
Another option is to arrange your ticket online via 12Go Asia.
If you are not in the Ubud region but in Kuta (Bali), Canggu, Sanur or Uluwatu, it is easier to get on the boat in Sanur. Most tour agencies will also offer this. Speed boats also depart from Amed, which takes only 45 minutes.
If you come from Lombok, you can catch the same speedboat in Bangsal for 85,000 IDR (US$5.90 – 20 minutes). Another option is the public boat (21,500 IDR – US$1.50 – 45 minutes), which leaves when there are enough passengers. If you are together with a lot of people, consider chartering a boat. This should normally cost 450,000 IDR (~ US$31).