Snorkeling Gili Islands – Where to swim with turtles

Snorkeling Gili Islands is a must do if you are visiting Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno or Gili Air from Bali or Lombok. Soak up the sun while relaxing on sandy beaches, swim with turtles and enjoy observing playful fish in the crystal clear water!

Best snorkeling Gili Islands

The three idyllic tropical islands, Trawangan, Meno, and Air have some things in common: they all have beautiful beaches and vibrant coral gardens with teeming marine life. Let’s see what are the best snorkeling Gili Islands spots to swim with turtles and colorful fish!

Snorkeling Gili Trawangan

You find coral reefs almost all around the island, but most of them are not easily reachable, therefore visited by divers only. But the good news is that to swim with turtles in Gili Trawangan you don’t necessarily need boat snorkeling tour! Green turtles can be spotted easily while snorkeling from the beach. The best snorkeling spot to sea turtles is the Turtle Point on the north-east side of the island. This area is a wide sandy beach between Villa Almarik and Damina Restaurant with a seagrass covered laguna and coral reef in 3-4 meters deep water before the reef drops off. Look for green turtles that feed on seagrass in the lagoon but keep a safe distance from them. The best is to snorkel here at high tide. At low tide, it is easy to get injured on the rocks. Pay attention to passing boats and watch out the currents!

Gili Trawangan - Sandy beach

Gili Meno snorkeling spots

We think that Meno offers the best snorkeling Gili Islands experience thanks to many shore snorkeling opportunities and the island’s laid-back atmosphere. Gili Meno snorkeling spots are around the west, northeast coast and on the east coast in front of Karma Reef. The west coast is good for a drift snorkel. Enter the water at the Mahamaya Restaurant or Diana Cafe and let the current take you along the coral reef. You find here the Gili Meno underwater statues. If the visibility is good, you might spot the Bounty Wreck too on the southwest end of the coast. The southern side of the island is also good to spot turtles! The north coast’s most popular site is Turtle Heaven. This underwater pinnacle is home to huge sea turtles that rest on the sea bottom and come up for air regularly. Turtle Heaven is a bit far from shore so best is to hire a boat to go there. The spot is also called Turtle House because there are tiny houses on the bottom. The east side of the island around Karma Reef features nice corals, lots of tropical fish, moray eels, sea stars as well as turtles. Here usually the current runs to the north. Let it take you towards the northern part of the island than walk the way back rather than trying to swim against!

Giant Turtle sleeping underwater

Underwater statues Gili Meno

The biggest attraction is definitely the Gili Meno underwater statue park. The installation named “Nest” consists of 48 life-size human figures in a circular formation referring to the circle of life. The statues were created by the famous sculptor Jason DeCaires. His sculptures can be seen worldwide at places like Mexico Underwater Museum or Museo Atlantico in Lanzarote. The statues are in shallow (5m) water in front of BASK Resort (under construction). You can snorkel from the shore or book snorkel trip that will include a stop at the statues. We are always impressed by the amazing art of Jason DeCaires and The Gili Meno Underwater Sculpture Park was one of the best snorkeling Gili Islands experience that we highly recommend! Not just because you can make cool photos but to observe how coral slowly covers the figures providing a new home to marine life.

Underwater statues - Gili Meno

Gili Air snorkeling

Like Meno, Gili Air also offers excellent shore snorkeling. On the northeast coast (in front of Sandy Beach Bungalows) the most popular spot is Hans Reef where you can see Black Tip Reef sharks as well as butterflyfish and parrotfish. There are several entry points on this side of the island offering easy access to the water. Not so far from Hans Reef you find Frog Fish Point. This is recommended for advanced snorkelers because it is a bit deeper. Good place to observe wrasses and trumpet fish and also possible to find sea turtles here! The southern-east corner island is also perfect for snorkeling! This is the beach between Manta Dive Gili Air Resort and Scallywags Beach Club Resort. The best Gili Air snorkel spot with shallow coral garden is Nemo City right in front of the resort. Easy snorkeling with rich marine life around.

Snorkeling Gili Islands - Gili Air

Best time for snorkeling Gili Islands

The climate is similar to Bali’s climate with a longer dry season and a shorter rainy season. The best time to visit the Gili Islands is between April and October. This is the period with the highest chance of abundant sunshine and cloud-free sky. Summer months offer the best conditions for snorkeling Gili Islands with good visibility. If you plan to arrive from Bali by boat, the best is to schedule your Gili holiday for the summer season when sea conditions are the best to avoid bumpy rides. The islands are the most crowded in July and August. Holiday periods like Eastern, Christmas as well as New Year are also busy with slightly higher room rates. Should you arrive in peak season, we suggest arranging your hotel and transfers in advance! If you are flexible, consider coming before or after the main season, in June or September.

Safety tips for snorkeling Gili Islands

The currents are very strong here and sea conditions can change in instant. Therefore, snorkeling safety becomes even more important than in current-free waters. While snorkeling Gili Islands always wear good snorkeling fins to be able to swim against the current if needed. Wearing a snorkel vest is also recommended. Stay close to the reef and watch out of boats! If you snorkel from the shore, the best is to carry a high visibility snorkel buoy. Should you feel not comfortable in currents, the best is to sign up for a Gili Islands snorkeling trip rather than do it on your own. On boat trips, the staff will choose the safest spots to snorkel depending on sea conditions. Moreover, they will pick you up if end up caught by a stronger current.

How to get to Gili Islands?

The Gilis became popular over the past few years, therefore, are easily reachable from Bali and from Lombok too. Most boats stop at all three islands so make sure to buy your ticket to the correct destination. Traveling between the islands is also easy. Shuttle boats and island hopping cruises operate from the morning till afternoon at affordable prices.

Tip: Due to weather conditions, high seas are common in the area. Therefore, boat trips can be canceled. Schedule your trip for the dry season for the best chance of good weather. Do a little research on what are safest companies! Some use old vessels, overload them and have bad safety reputation. We will give you tips on the companies we used below. Accept changing travel dates if necessary.

Best fast boat from Bali to Gili

There are several speedboat companies with daily departures from Bali’s different areas like Serangan Harbour and Padang Bai. You find cheaper slower ferries like Patagonia Xpress, Eka Jaya. It is safer to use bigger boats in choppy sea conditions. If you have a tight schedule the best is to go with a fast boat. The safest ones are Blue Water Xpress and Gili Getaway. We used Blue Water Express when traveling back to Bali and like it a lot. Unlike other companies, they put the luggage inside the boat. Moreover, we got complimentary tea and coffee after the trip plus free transfer to our hotel in Bali. However, it is not the cheapest one (700.000 IDR) but we got the best service! It is also possible to travel from Amed to Gili. Make sure to choose a safe boat since there might be big waves. We went with FreeBird Express (200.000 IDR) and everything was OK!

Patagonia xpress boat on Gili Trawangan

Lombok to Gili

There is a public ferry departs from Bangsal which is the cheapest option. The ticket costs 1-2 USD, the trip lasts about 2 hours. A drawback is that it has an irregular schedule. Technically, it leaves when it fills up. Tourist shuttle boats also operate from Bangsal (25.000 IDR) and leave at 8 am and 4:30 pm. A faster way to get to the islands to use one of speedboat services. The journey takes about 30 mins. Fast boats use the Teluk Nare or Teluk Kodek terminals. The best ones are the same that mentioned above, Blue Water and Gili Getaway since this is also part of their daily route.
Should you arrive from Bali but worrying about the sea conditions, fly over to Lombok first and book a boat to your favorite island. This way of traveling is highly recommended during January/February when the sea gets really choppy.

Anett Szaszi

Anett fell in love with the ocean immediately when she put her head underwater in the Red Sea back in 2010. Discovering megacities is not her style but getting lost in tiny coastal villages, capturing the beauty of the sea while snorkeling. Wherever she goes, she takes her mask, fins and underwater camera with her. She has a big interest in exploring the world’s last hidden underwater paradises and marine conservation. She hopes to inspire people to protect our oceans by sharing her underwater stories. Find her photos on @anett.szaszi Instagram too!

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