In this article, we’ve outlined everything you need to know about snorkeling in the Gili Islands. Keep reading if swimming with sea turtles sounds like your kind of adventure!
Snorkeling on the Gili Islands
Located just off the coast of Lombok, Indonesia, and a short boat ride from Bali, the three Gili Islands (Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno, and Gili Air) are a tropical paradise with idyllic white sand beaches, crystal clear water, tasty restaurants, and prime snorkeling spots.
The Gili Islands, and all of Indonesia for that matter, are part of the Coral Triangle, an ecoregion that contains 76% of the world’s shallow water coral reef species and is often called the “Amazon of the seas.”
The Gili Islands in particular are known for their easy access to some of the most diverse, colorful, and vibrant coral reefs in the world. Add in the hundreds of types of colorful fish and ever-present sea turtles and you can see why snorkeling on the Gili Islands is one of the best things to do in Indonesia!
Indonesia’s three Gili Islands each have their own unique character, so which Gili Island is best for your vacation?! In this article, we’ll break down the pros and cons of…
How to go snorkeling on the Gili Islands
There are three different ways you can go snorkeling on the Gili Islands, each with different pros and cons. We’ve explained each of the different ways in the sections below.
Option 1: Public snorkeling tour
- Cost | 150,000 IDR per person (~ $9.45 USD) as of October 2023
The most popular way to go snorkeling on the Gili Islands is with a public snorkeling tour.
On a public tour, you’ll go with a group of around 20 fellow travelers to several different snorkeling locations across the three Gili Islands. The tour operator will provide a snorkel, mask, and fins.
There are a ton of different tour operators on each of the Gili Islands, although most are based on Gili Trawangan (or Gili T for short). Most tours provide a very similar experience, so you don’t need to be too picky.
Tour companies typically offer both a morning tour (leaving at either 9:30 or 10:30) and an afternoon tour (leaving at 13:00 or 15:00). Some tour operators also offer a sunset tour.
What to expect on a public snorkeling tour
Public snorkeling tours on the Gili Islands typically include 3 snorkeling spots and a one-hour break for lunch on one of the three islands. This meal is not included in the price of the tour.
The three snorkeling spots generally include:
- Bask Nest Underwater Statues | A circle of underwater statues off the coast of Gili Meno that make for a unique and slightly ominous site at the bottom of the ocean floor. Prepare to battle swarms of other flippers to explore this spot, as it’s very popular.
- Turtle Snorkeling Spot | There are several snorkeling spots around the Gili Islands where you are almost guaranteed to see sea turtles. Depending on the tour, you may stop on Gili T or Gili Meno.
- Coral and colorful fish | You’ll also stop at one spot that offers prime views of the colorful coral and diverse fish species that the Gili Islands are known for.
Most of the snorkeling tours are also marketed as “glass bottom boats”, but don’t get your hopes up too high. The “glass bottom” on our boat was nothing more than 4 dirty panels. You could see the water below, but couldn’t actually make out anything interesting.
Reasons to join a public snorkeling tour:
- Logistically easier than going on your own. They’ll take you right to the best snorkeling locations.
- With tours starting as low as $10 USD per person, it’s a very cost effective way to snorkel on the Gili Islands.
- It’s much easier to snorkel off a boat than from the beach, as you won’t need to walk across rocky coral.
- It’s a fun way to explore the other Gili Islands.
Reasons not to join a public snorkeling tour:
- Because most of the tours go to similar locations, the stops can get quite crowded.
- You won’t have the ability to make your own schedule.
- The guides don’t provide much (if any) instruction or add a whole lot of value to the snorkeling experience.
Option 2: Private snorkeling tour
- Cost | Starting at 300,000 IDR per person (~$18.85 USD)
If cost is less of a concern and you’d rather snorkel on the Gili Islands as part of a private tour, you can certainly do that as well.
The private tours are very similar to the public tours, except you’ll have the boat and guides to yourself and have more flexibility to dictate your schedule. You’ll likely go to the same or similar snorkeling spots as the public tour, but if you don’t love a certain location, you can just keep moving to the next stop.
Similar to the public tours, you can book in person once you get to the Gili Islands or book in advance through Get Your Guide.
Reasons to join a private snorkeling tour:
- Snorkeling on the Gili Islands on a private tour gives you more control over your schedule.
- A private tour ensures you aren’t stuck with a group of folks you don’t want to spend 4-6 hours with.
Reasons not to join a public snorkeling tour:
- Snorkeling on the Gili Islands as part of a private tour is the most expensive option.
- You’ll have the boat to yourself, but still have to share the busy snorkeling spots.
Option 3: Rent your own snorkeling gear
- Cost | 50,000 IDR per person (~ $3.15 USD) for a full day
The final option for snorkeling on the Gili Islands is to rent or bring your own snorkel, mask, and fins and find a place to snorkel on your own.
As you walk around the Gili Islands, you’ll pass numerous small stands offering to rent a snorkel, mask, and fins for the day. The snorkel/mask should cost 25,000 IDR and the flippers will cost another 25,000 IDR ($1.58 USD).
When you rent snorkeling gear, we highly recommend asking about the best place to snorkel nearby. The local people always know best and in typical Indonesian fashion, most folks are happy to point you in the right direction.
Pro Tip | If you own your own snorkeling gear, bring it with you and go snorkeling whenever your heart desires!
Reasons to rent your own snorkeling gear:
- Renting your own snorkeling gear on the Gili Islands is the cheapest way to snorkel.
- You’ll be able to snorkel wherever you want and for as long as you want, often away from the crowds.
Reasons not to rent your own snorkeling gear:
- You’ll need to find your own area to snorkel, which can take a bit of trial and error
- It can be a challenge to access good coral reefs from the beach, as you may need to walk for a bit across washed-up, rocky coral and shells.
Snorkeling at Turtle Point on Gili Trawangan
Several spots around Gili Trawangan are referred to as Turtle Point. The truth is that you can just about find sea turtles anywhere off the northern and northeastern sides of the island.
The first spot is on the northern coast of Gili T. This area is fairly quiet and has relatively easy access to colorful coral just beyond the beach. This area is also home to sea turtles, so make sure to keep your eyes peeled.
This was our favorite spot to snorkel on Gili T, as there were no other people around and we were able to explore the underwater playground entirely by ourselves. We even got to see our first sea turtle here!
The downside to this area is that you need to walk over the rocky coral along the beach in order to access the deeper water where you can swim. This is especially difficult with fins!
Another popular spot to snorkel with sea turtles is along the northeastern side of Gili T, just past the main stretch of hotels, bars, and restaurants. This area is another particularly good spot for seeing sea turtles!
Gili Islands Snorkeling FAQs
Do I need to book a tour in advance?
Because there are so many tour operators on each of the Gili Islands, you don’t necessarily need to book a tour in advance. We talked to a couple tour operators with information booths on the main strip of Gili Trawangan (they’re seriously everywhere so you can’t miss them!), and they all offer similar tours at the same price.
And, they all had availability at the last minute. We even showed up at 9:00 a.m. and managed to secure a spot on a 9:30 a.m. tour.
However, if you like to have things planned out, you can book a tour at least a day or two in advance through Get Your Guide, our favorite way to book activities. With tours starting under $15 per person, you really can’t go wrong!
Pro Tip | Note that booking your tour online is likely to cost slightly more than showing up to a street-side vendor, but allows you to read reviews and know what you’re getting yourself into. We’ll be honest, the quality of the 150,000 IDR tour we took was about what’d you’d expect for the price: gear was old and leaky and the guides were not very helpful. It may be worth a few extra dollars to book with a reputable company!
How much does a tour cost?
While prices naturally fluctuate, public tours start as low as $10 USD and private tours typically cost about $50 per person.
You may be able to find lower prices in person, as tour operators try to fill any remaining spots at the last minute.
Which of the Gili Islands is the best for snorkeling?
This is a tough question because you can find great snorkeling on each of the Gili Islands. More so, the public and private tours actually take you to spots near each of the Gili Islands, so you don’t need to choose between them.
When we rented our own snorkeling gear, we really enjoyed snorkeling along the northern section of Gili Trawangan (a.k.a. Turtle Point) and found some amazing coral and lots of sea turtles. We had less luck finding a good place to snorkel on Gili Air.
That being said, if you rent your own snorkeling gear, you can just ask for the best place to snorkel nearby and you will almost surely be pointed to a good spot not too far away.
At the end of the day, you really can’t go wrong snorkeling on any of the Gili Islands!
Where is the best place to see sea turtles?
This is another tough question, as you can see sea turtles from many locations on each of the Gili Islands.
If you’re going on a tour, they will definitely take you to a spot where you are all but guaranteed to see sea turtles.
In our experience, we personally saw turtles along the northern coast of Gili T and have heard that you can see them along the northeastern corner of Gili T as well.
Other useful resources
Looking for more to do in Indonesia? You may also be interested in these resources!
- Things to do on Nusa Penida
- Best Beaches on Nusa Penida
- Peguyangan Waterfall Trail Guide
- Thousand Islands Viewpoint
- Tembeling Beach and Forest
- Pandan Beach Guide