Which Bali island should you visit? We compare Gili Islands vs Nusa Islands for transport, accommodation, food, snorkelling, diving & beaches – find out which comes out on top!

The Gili & Nusa Islands in Indonesia seem very similar at first glance, so which one should you visit?

We here at DIY Travel HQ will compare each characteristic factoring in time, cost, and quality.

Why should I visit the Gili Islands?

  • The Gili Islands are a popular destination for foreigners, and easily reached from several locations.
  • The Gili Islands offer a wide range of accommodation, variety of cuisines, diving/snorkeling, beaches, and a chance to relax with no vehicles besides horse drawn carts.

Why should I visit the Nusa Islands?

  • It takes virtually no time to reach Nusa Lembongan from Kuta, and is worlds apart from mainland Bali.
  • The Nusa Islands offer a wide range of accommodation, variety of cuisines, diving/snorkeling, beaches, and a chance to explore the entire island on foot.
Schools of Fish at Gili Air

Schools of fish

Gili Islands vs Nusa Islands: Transport

  • #1. Nusa Islands

For travelers with limited time or budget, Nusa Lembongan wins hands down.

From Kuta, it is possible to take a Perama bus and public boat to arrive on Nusa Lembongan by noon for 135,000 IDR / $10.10.

Getting to the Gili Islands will either cost 213,500 IDR and take two days, or 685,000 IDR / $51.35 and take an entire day.

Slow Boat Bangsal Harbor

Slow Boats to Gili Air Await at Bangsal Harbor

Sanur Boat Departure

Sanur Slow and Fast Boats to Nusa Lembongan

Gili Islands vs Nusa Islands: Accommodation

  • #1: Nusa Islands

There’s a wider range of accommodation on the Gili Islands ibut you can still find better value for money on the Nusa’s.

On Gili Air, 180,000 IDR / $13.50 gets you a fan bungalow with ensuite; while, on Nusa Lembongan 175,000 IDR / $13.10 gets you a large, modern fan room with ensuite and a communal pool.

There’s a wide range of accommodation available in both the Nusa & Gili islands on Booking.com.

Gili Air Alka Cottages

Gili Air Bungalow for 180,000 IDR / $13.50

Nusa Lembongan Hotel Wahyu 2

Nusa Lembongan Hotel for 175,000 IDR / $13.10

Gili Islands vs Nusa Islands: Food

  • #1: Gili Islands

Both chains of islands have a plethora of hotels, but the Gili’s are more developed for tourism.

This also leads to more cuisine variety as restaurants have opened to cater to the large influx of foreigners and their taste buds.

Fish & Chips Gili Air Restaurant

Gili Air Fish Steak 55,000 IDR

Chicken & Mushrooms Nusa Lembongan Restaurant

Nusa Lembongan Chicken w/Mushrooms for 30,000 IDR / $2.25

Gili Islands vs Nusa Islands: Snorkelling & Diving

  • #1 Snorkelling: Gili Islands

  • #1 Diving: Nusa Islands

Walk-in snorkeling is much better around Nusa Penida, but difficult to get to. Mushroom Bay is your best bet on Nusa Lembongan and comparable to Gili Air, but not as centrally located.

For this reason, the Gili’s are your better snorkeling destination for beginners.

We always travel with our own Cressi snorkel set as an ill-fitting mask can really ruin a snorkel trip but they are available for rent in both the Gili & Nusa islands.

Mantis shrimp

Gili Air Mantis Shrimp

Diving on the other hand is best at the Nusa’s as you get the rare chance to spot Mola Mola (Oceanic Sunfish) and Manta Rays. Both locations have good diving, and tend to get better at deeper levels.

Something to keep in mind is that Nusa Lembongan requires two dives around Nusa Penida (400-500,000 IDR / $30.00-$37.50 each), while the Gili’s tend to do one dive at a time (490,000 IDR / $36.75).

This allows you to sample the diving with little investment, but really breaks up your day when doing multiple dives.

If you want to learn to dive, Nusa Lembongan offers cheaper PADI & SSI Open Water courses even though we did our PADI Open Water on Gili Air.

Mola Mola

Mola Mola around Nusa Penida

Gili Islands vs Nusa Islands: Beaches

  • #1: Nusa Islands

The beaches are better on Nusa Lembongan since the beachfront resorts are set back from the water.

On Gili Air, restaurants tend to span all the way to the water with the exception of Chillout Café, which has an easily accessed beach.

Gili Air Island Strip

Gili Air developed to water’s edge

Nusa Lembongan Beach

Nusa Lembongan Resorts Set Back

Gili Islands vs Nusa Islands: Local Life

  • #1: Nusa Islands

The main difference between the groups of islands is that the Gili’s are predominantly comprised of tourists, while the Nusa’s are dominated by locals.

This creates a different vibe for each island, but also creates other attractions for the Nusa’s.

The biggest draw for Nusa Lembongan is the Seaweed Farms but you can also find mangroves, waterfalls, and desolate roads to cruise nearby.

Woman Collecting seaweed

Nusa Lembongan Seaweed Farm

Gili Island Garbage Removal

Gili Air garbage from tourists

Gili Islands vs Nusa Islands: Getting Around

  • #1: Gili Islands

Traffic noise may be slightly more on the Nusa’s since motorcycles/vehicles are allowed. However, Gili Trawangan may have more late night noise from tourists depending on where you are staying.

Getting around both island chains is straightforward, but you can easily walk the perimeter of Gili Air and Meno within two hours.

You can technically walk everywhere on Nusa Lembongan, but a motorcycle makes things handy.

Gili Air Island Horse Cart

Gili Islands horse carts

Banyan Tree Nusa Lembongan Bali

Nusa Islands motorbikes

Gili Islands vs Nusa Islands: The Final Verdict

  • #1: Nusa Islands

Which island chain to visit ultimately rests in your hands, and depends on what you want from your travels.

Hopefully the above comparison gives you a better idea what to expect from each but if you want more information check out Lonely Planet’s Bali & Lombok (2017) travel guide.

For us, the Nusa Islands are the better choice for the range of amenities, attractions, vibe, and overall value.

Let us know what you think…

Gili Air Sunset Over Bali

Sunset over Bali from Gili Air

Nusa Lembongan Sunset

Sunset from Nusa Lembongan

 

*** The Final Word: The Nusa Islands are hands down better than the Gili Islands! ***

Do you agree? Or do you think the Gili Islands are better than Nusa?

Visited in October 2015

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