Paradise on a Budget: The Gili Islands

By Marianne Comilang
April 10, 2014
Meno Beach in the Gili Islands
Courtesy <a href="" target="_blank"> yeowatzup/WikimediaCommons</a>

Imagine a remote tropical island paradise with warm turquoise waters, white sand beaches fringed by coconut palms, and coral reefs teeming with marine life. Three tiny islands off the northwest coast of Lombok, Indonesia, are a veritable lotusland for backpackers, beach lovers, and serenity seekers alike. While not easy to get to (the only way is by boat), once you arrive at the Gili Islands, there's nothing to do but relax and enjoy the scenery.

Of the three islands, Gili Trawangan is the largest and most populated. Known as the "party island," it has a flourishing nightlife while simultaneously maintaining a laidback bohemian vibe. Closest to the mainland and the second smallest of the islands, Gili Air offers a mix of solitude and service. The smallest and most secluded of the islands, Gili Meno, is known as the "honeymoon island," attracting fewer tourists than the other two islands and thus making it the ideal place for those seeking peace and quiet.

Originally a backpacker mecca, the Gili Islands (or simply the Gilis) are gaining notoriety with tourists of all budget levels, with increasingly more luxury options, particularly on Gili Trawangan. However, these remote islands are still an affordable destination, remaining a popular stop on the backpacker circuit. Limited budget? No problem. There's plenty to do (or not do) on the Gili Islands for little or no money.

Do nothing at all
Idyllic beaches, crystal clear water, and no motorized vehicles on any of the islands make it easy to do nothing at all. Relax on the beach, splash around in the water, or spend your days swaying in a hammock with a Bintang beer and a good book.

Walk, bike, or cidomo
As motorized vehicles are not permitted on the island, the only ways to get around are by foot, bicycle, or cidomo (horse and cart). You can easily walk or bike around any of the islands in a few hours or less. However, it might take a little longer if you add beach time, swimming, and snorkeling stops to the agenda. Bicycles can be rented from numerous beachside kiosks and cost around Rp. 20,000 (only $2 USD!). If you're looking to do as little physical activity as possible, a cidomo tour around Gili Trawangan costs around Rp. 150,000 ($13 USD).

Dive and snorkel
Spend the day enjoying the Gilis' impressive marine life. Come face to face with green sea and hawksbill turtles, bumphead parrotfish, manta rays, Napoleon wrasse, and blacktip and whitetip reef sharks. With more than 20 different dive sites around the islands, there is something for every level of diver. For something different, muck dive and explore the islands' macro life, deep dive a Japanese wreck, or freedive without an oxygen tank. There are plenty of dive operators on the islands, and a price agreement across all the islands ensures you will get a fair price. All divers pay a one-off reef tax of Rp 50,000 (about $5) to the Gili Eco Trust, which works to protect the reefs. For those who want to remain closer to the surface, rent some snorkel gear and explore the coral reef straight off the beach. Masks and fins can be rented from numerous places along the beach for about Rp 30,000 ($3 USD). If you'd like to go further afar, contact one of the dive shops to arrange a boat trip to snorkeling spots nearby. The cost ranges from Rp 60,000 ($6 USD) to 150,000 ($13 USD). Be prepared to negotiate.

Enjoy a magical sunset
At the end of a long day enjoying tropical island scenery, head to the west side of your preferred island, pick a comfortable spot on the beach (in the sand or at the bar), sit back, relax, and enjoy the spectacular view of the sun setting on the horizon.

And after the sun goes down...
For night revelers and merrymakers, the fun begins at sunset. Parties abound, especially on Gili Trawangan. After watching a glorious sunset, head to one of the many beachfront bars playing chilled-out live or electronic music. As the night progresses, let your ear guide you to the action. Dance under the stars at Surf Bar's monthly Full Moon parties. Or, if you're lucky, you might even catch a world-renowned DJ playing a free set at one of the island's many venues. And don't worry, it's always free to enter.

This article was written by Marianne Comilang, an adventurer filled with wanderlust. Originally from Toronto, Canada, she traverses across continents and can proudly say she has set foot on every one (except Antarctica). If she isn't writing, editing, and strategizing to make others look good, she is probably teaching yoga or posting on her blog This article was written on behalf of Tucan Travel, experts in providing off-the-beaten-path travel tours to Indonesia and all over Southeast Asia.

Keep reading

What's Your Dream Trip?

We've got dream trips on the brain—I realized my dream of visiting Paris last year when I went on Contiki's London &amp; Paris Plus Paris Extension tour, and will finally realize my dream of seeing Machu Picchu when I go on the Machu Picchu Adventure tour with G Adventures in a few weeks. Dream trips were also the theme for our March/April digital issue of Budget Travel magazine (now available on, in the Apple App Store, on Google Play, and for Nook and Kindle). To get into the spirit of things, we asked several of our staff members to share their dream trips—here's what they said: "My husband and I honeymooned in Turkey. I dream of going back to take the blue cruise through the Mediterranean Sea." —Elaine Alimonti, President, Publisher "Rafting through the Grand Canyon." —Amy Lundeen, Photo Director "Hot air balloon ride through Cappadocia, Turkey!" —Whitney Tressel, Photo Editor "My dream trip would be a week on a private island!" —Ruthie Kaposi, Digital Project Manager "An epic round-the-world adventure where I'd start with a road trip from NY to CA, then fly to Buenos Aires, Sydney, Cape Town, Dubai, and end in Paris, where I'd stay." —Kaeli Conforti, Digital Editor "Someplace tropical and mountainous, where you can explore the terrain unguided, like Hawaii. I like to choose my own adventure!" —Chad Harter, Lead Developer "I've always wanted to go to Egypt, take a Nile cruise, and fully immerse myself in the history and culture!" —Jennifer O'Brien, Associate Account Manager "In honor of our special wedding anniversary, my mind and heart are in full dream mode for a romantic and extended Mediterranean cruise." —Maureen Kelley Stewart, Advertising Account Manager "To eat my way through Italy." —Dustin Gontarski, Compass Marketing Now it's your turn: we want to know what your dream trip is! Have you already done it or is it an epic adventure you've been planning and thinking about ever since you were a kid? Tell us all about it!


How to do Singapore on a Budget

This article was written by Sia Ling Xin, who travels and writes about it for, a blog and online community focused on travelling in Asia. You can also find her on Twitter. Singapore is known to be tiny, modern, and insanely expensive—especially next to her Southeast Asian counterparts. While $50 USD is more than enough for travellers to live like a prince in nearby countries such as Thailand and Indonesia, the same amount is barely enough for a hotel room in Singapore. Still, with street food even Gordon Ramsay raved about, impeccably safe streets, and a location that makes it ideal as a stopover hub, there's no reason to give this city-state a miss. Yes, it is possible for those travelling on a budget to enjoy Singapore, just as the locals do. Here's what you need to know. Get better rates with an ez-link cardThe ez-link (easy-link) card is a type of stored value card for public transit use, similar to the Oyster card in London. The cards have a first-time cost of $12, of which $7 can be used to pay for public transport, and $5 is non-refundable. Having an ez-link card eliminates the tiresome process of digging for enough change for a bus ticket or trying to calculate how much each train journey costs as you would when buying per-trip tickets. Most importantly, it offers better rates than cash payment, so the non-refundable $5 is easily set off. At the end of the day, you save yourself the hassle of figuring out transport costs, and you get a souvenir card that truly represents life in Singapore! Enjoy hawker foodWhen choosing to dine in a coffee shop or a hawker centre, go where the locals go. There are many open-air establishments that are coffee shop style, but one look at the clientele—chockfull of foreigners with garish decorations—and you know it is a tourist trap. A meal in a hawker centre—inclusive of main, drink, and dessert—should always give you change back from $10. The eateries along the Chinatown shopping alley may seem authentic, but you will be hard pressed to find locals dining there. Makansutra Gluttons Bay offers great views and is near the Esplanade theatres, but the dishes there tend to be pricier as well. Instead, head to places where you see locals congregating. Chinatown Food Centre, Maxwell Food Centre, or any neighbourhood hawker centre will do nicely. Come during a festive public holidayDuring festivals such as Chinese New Year, Mid-Autumn Festival, and Thaipusam, there is so much more to see, hear, and eat. During Chinese New Year, for example, dancers and celebrities put up free performances for the public in areas like Chinatown. Street vendors also offer free samples of their festive goodies in a bid to rev sales up. It is a good chance to see Singapore is a less sterile, worker-bee state, as well as capitalize on all the free food and performances going around. Free museum daysMuseums under the National Heritage Board have free admission on public holidays, which makes even more sense to plan visits around festive periods. Alternatively, plan your museum visit around the periods of free or discounted admission to save money. Many museums are located in convenient areas that travellers would be probably passing by when sightseeing, such as the National Museum of Singapore, which is within walking distance from the popular Orchard Road/Dhoby Ghaut shopping stretch. In this case, why not just pop by for a quick and free look? Choose your hotel wiselyThere is no need to splurge and spend $300 a night on a fancy hotel, even though some offer incredible views and rooms. Room standards in Singapore are decent, so even a budget hotel or hostel is safe and clean. Opt for hotels in Little India, Tanjong Pajar, or Chinatown—the locations are easily accessible, there are a wide range of prices and room types to choose from, and it is fun checking out the nightlife in these areas. If you do not want to miss out on the island fun Sentosa can offer, just make a day trip there after stocking up on food and drink from nearby shopping mall Vivocity. Hotel and food prices on the upscale island can burn a hole in any backpacker's worn pocket. A day in Singapore is not going to come as cheap as a day in a neighbouring country, but it is not going to be exorbitant either. There are bargains and great discounts to be had here and they are not hard to find—simply do as the locals do, and go where the locals go. Those who plan to spend their money wisely will wonder why anyone ever complained that the Lion City is expensive when it has so much to offer on the cheap.


An Affordable One-Day Tour of Honolulu

This article was written by Kristian Nielsen, the owner of Honolulu HI 5, a Honolulu based real estate agency specializing in Oahu real estate.  Traveling and sightseeing are wonderful ways to create memories, especially in a place like Hawaii. The problem is that it can be so expensive. With that in mind, we've created a full day for you that can be done on a very affordable budget. Best of all, you'll spend it immersed in the rich history and culture of Hawaii. We assume this takes place on a Friday and you're using public transportation, however, most of this can be done on any weekday. One Tip: Make traveling easier by downloading the phone app for Hawaii's bus system, The Bus so you can find nearby bus stops, check routes, and have easy access to arrival times. Get the Day Started Friday morning! Hungry? Then head over to 2256 Kuhio Ave, the Seaside Bar &amp; Grill, for the best breakfast special in Waikiki. You'll get two pancakes, two bacon strips and two eggs, all for $3.95. Now that you're filled up, let's see some sights! First, we need to catch The Bus. Kuhio Ave has several stops, but we want one on the North, or Ala Wai, side of the street. Check your Bus app for the closest. Let's catch the #2/School Street, which picks you up at Kuhio and Seaside at 10:01 a.m. Bus fare is $2.50 for adults 18 and over while ages 6 to 17 ride for a mere $1.25. Kids ages five and under are free. Bring proof of age, just in case. We're going to get off at South Beretania and Punchbowl Streets. If you're unsure, just tell the driver you're going to Iolani Palace. They'll watch out for you. Once there, we cross Beretania St. heading south (towards the Capitol Building) on Punchbowl St. We'll come back to the Capitol later, so keep going and turn right on King St. Entering the Palace Gates, you can tell immediately that this is a special place. Since we're focused on saving money, we'll skip the interior tour (tickets are $21.75 for adults for a guided tour, $14.75 for adults for a self-guided audio tour, $6 for children ages 5-12; children under age four are not permitted). That's okay, because the outside alone is well worth the trip here. Walk around the grounds, take pictures of this historic and magnificent building, tand imagine Old Hawaii life. The Barracks, found on the west side, has bathrooms as well as a free video that gives you an introduction to the history of the Palace. Once you've finished here, just walk across King St. to the grand figure presiding over the area. The iconic statue of King Kamehameha is an awe-inspiring sight that's one of the area's must-take photos. The Ali'iolani Hale building behind it is equally stunning, yet another link to Hawaii's royal past. Built in 1874, it currently houses the Hawaii Supreme Court, but you're here to take in the grand architecture inside and out. Those who want even more can visit the Judiciary History Center, also inside, which tells about the building's very significant role throughout the islands' history. The best part: it's all free for you to check out. Lunch With Music It's almost lunchtime, but where do we go? Easy. Just a few steps to some of Honolulu's famous food trucks, parked on Mililani St. right beside the building. You'll have two or three choices and they all provide tasty food for $10 or less per person. It's lunch to go, naturally, and that's exactly what we want because we're going back to the Palace grounds by noon. The Royal Hawaiian Band gives an outdoor concert every Friday at lunchtime at the Palace gazebo. Spread out on the grass, savor your food, and enjoy the sweet, serenading sounds of the islands. Unfortunately, for the purposes of our one-day tour, you'll need to leave before it's over. At 12:35 p.m., we're on our way to the State Capitol, directly behind the Palace. Tours of the Capitol are free, but you must be there at least 10 minutes before the 1 p.m. start. Take the elevators, found in the corner areas, up to the 4th floor and go to room 415 to check in. After all that walking and sightseeing, it's time for the beach! Our bus stop is at King and Punchbowl Streets, where we'll catch #2/Waikiki back to our home-away-from-home. Head to your hotel for a break or go straight out to the beach. Your choice. Dinner Time &amp; the Grand Finale No matter how long you're by the ocean, it's not enough time, but dinner is calling. Waikiki dining can be pricey, but you can still get great food at a great price. One favorite? Marukame Udon at 2310 Kuhio Ave, popular with locals as well, so you know it's good. Get filling noodle dishes and tempura options for as little as $5. There's usually a line, but not to worry, it moves fast. It's time to cap off this Friday in the greatest possible way. That means the 7:40 p.m. fireworks show put on by Hilton Hawaiian Village. Though you can see it from almost any beach in Waikiki, closer is better. Try the Fort DeRussy sands or even nearer to Hilton Hawaiian Village if possible. It's 10 minutes of world-class sparks and is a beloved weekly event. Don't miss it.


What Are Your Favorite Things To Do In Lima and Cusco?

A few weeks from now, I'll be checking off the number one spot on my travel bucket list: Machu Picchu. I've pretty much been obsessed with this beautiful place ever since I was a kid and saw an episode of The Wild Thornberrys on Nickelodeon when the family visited Peru (and Tim Curry as Nigel Thornberry brilliantly taught his daughter how to breathe deeply while hiking the Inca Trail by singing "The Yellow Rose of Texas" as they hiked—a scene I may have to re-enact when I visit!). The good news is, you can come, too! Follow along with my adventures as I post photos from the road to our Instagram page, @budgettravel. I'm going to be living out my ultimate dream trip by taking the Machu Picchu Adventure tour with G Adventures, a small-group adventure tour company that offers a wide variety of trips around the world for people of all ages at super affordable prices. Not only do their trips guarantee departures (once you book, you're going!) and incredible inclusions (like guided tours of the Sacred Valley and the Ollantaytambo ruins, for instance), the company is also big on making a difference in the world. G Adventures' founder, Bruce Poon Tip, started the company in 1990 by maxing out two credit cards to follow his dream—G Adventures is now the largest adventure travel company in the world and features more than 1,000 tours on all seven continents. He recently wrote Looptail, a book that became a New York Times bestseller, about his company philosophy and how he reinvented the business model by focusing on the human element, karma, and happiness within the company. He also started the Planeterra Foundation in 2003, a non-profit that works to give back to the communities G Adventures tours visit and creates a sustainable travel network around the world—tours often stop at project sites, putting money back into the communities and allowing travelers to have a more authentic experience getting to know the local people who run them. The trip I'm taking includes lunch at a Planeterra-supported Sacred Valley Community Restautant in Huchuy Qosco village and a visit to a women's weaving project that the company started as a way to help support the area's indigenous community. The tour starts in Lima and includes internal flights from Lima to Cusco, time in the Sacred Valley, Ollantaytambo, Aguas Calientes (hot springs, anyone?), and of course, Machu Picchu. G Adventures offers a ton of Peru packages that include time in Machu Picchu and along the legendary Inca Trail. This particular tour actually offers an optional one-day hike along the end of the Inca Trail into Machu Picchu, something that must be booked far in advance so, unfortunately, I won't have a chance to do it this time around (lesson learned: always, always, always book early for sites that require permits to enter). But, I'll still be able to tour the site at another point during the tour, so it's all good. The trip ends with some more time to explore Cusco before hopping on an internal flight back to Lima for one more day of sightseeing, one of the perks of purposely booking a red-eye back to New York City. This is also going to be my first trip to South America, so I'm really excited to be visiting another continent (three down, four more to go!), but also a little nervous about accidentally ruining my whole trip by being overzealous and eating the wrong thing on day one—let's just say I've been studying this Budget Travel article about how to keep your stomach safe while traveling and reading up on foods to avoid on the road, you know, just in case. My doctor recommended getting a Typhoid vaccine before traveling to the area since water can sometimes be questionable, but I'm told as long as I stick to bottled water for drinking and teeth brushing, there's not much to worry about. Altitude sickness was another concern, but my friends who have traveled to Peru said to just keep drinking water, take it easy, and when in doubt, do as the locals do and sample the coca tea that they use to help keep their own altitude sickness at bay. (Please feel free to share any tips or recommendations from your own Peru travel adventures in the comments section below). While the G Adventures tour includes a lot of sightseeing, there is also a decent amount of free time built in. That's where you come in. Before I travel to a new place, I always ask my friends and family for recommendations for great places to eat, things I shouldn't miss, and other off-the-beaten-path spots that I'd never know about otherwise. Our intrepid Budget Travel audience has traveled all over the world and always has great advice, so now I'm asking you. What are your favorite places to visit in Lima and Cusco? What tips would you give to someone traveling to Peru for the first time? Sound off below!