In many ways, Koh Tao and Gili Trawangan are sister islands in Southeast Asia. Both are small tropical diving meccas, filled with backpackers in search of scuba certifications. I wrote a Guide to Diving in Koh Tao a few years ago, and judging by the number of aquatic-related questions I’ve received since first landing in Indonesia, the internet is in dire need of a Gili Trawangan version.
The Gili islands are a fantastic destination for divers both novice and scuba savvy. Those completing an Open Water certification and diving for the first time will be comforted by the warm water, high visibility, short distances to dive sites, and common sightings of peaceful turtles. Veteran divers will be delighted by tec-friendly ship wrecks, challenged by drift dives with crazy currents, and rewarded with not-infrequent shark sightings.
Let’s dive in!
Dive Courses in Gili Trawangan
Typically, it takes three days to complete the Open Water Course with either predominant certifying agency, PADI or SSI. Both agencies are active on Gili Trawangan and while some shops are loyal to one over the other, many offer both. If you have a preference, be sure to state it when looking for a dive shop. Personally, I am a PADI girl.
While the material is not too challenging, you will be required to watch videos and read relevant book chapters, and you will be tested on the information. Of course, you also get to dive! You will log plenty of pool time and log four open water dives by the time you’ve got your certification card in hand. You’ll then be licensed to dive anywhere in the world with a buddy, independent of a professional, to a depth of 18 meters — and that certification is good for life.
How Much Will It Cost?
There is a price agreement on Gili Trawangan that all dive shops have signed on for, meaning that prices are uniform across the island. This benefits the dive shops, of course, but I think this actually benefits the consumer as well — you can make your dive shop decision based on factors much more important than price.
The Open Water course runs $370US, while the Advanced Open Water is $295US. Unlike on Koh Tao, accommodation is not included in the course price and prices are not negotiable. For more information on Going Pro in Gili Trawangan, read my Becoming a Divemaster series.
Some schools have photographers and videographers on staff who can come along on the final dives of the course and either take photos or make music-video style film of your day. Camera rentals are available for certified divers, but students on a course are not allowed to use cameras (that’s PADI and SSI’s rule, not the dive schools!)
Fun Diving in Gili Trawangan
For already certified divers, fun dives start at $37 each, and go down with package prices and discounts for having your own gear. One of my favorite parts of diving on Gili Trawangan is how close the dive sites are. The harbor is used only in very low tide, so typically getting to a dive site means hopping onto the boat anchored beachside in front of the shop and kicking back for a ten minute ride.
Most shops do two dives per day with a nice long lunch and rest period between (plus a night dive, upon request.) At Big Bubble, we went out for a dive at 10am and at 2pm. Two-tank trips can sometimes be exhausting and so I loved this schedule, which ensured everyone was fresh and ready to enjoy each dive.
Dive Schools in Gili Trawangan
There are between 15-20 dive schools on this tiny, five-mile-in-circumference island. As I mentioned above, the price agreement across the island removes cost as a factor in choosing a dive shop. With that out of the way, it all comes down to finding the best fit for you.
If you are looking for a small dive school and an intimate experience, Mango Dive might be perfect for you. Tucked into the Northern stretch of the island’s main drag, this dive shop offers personalized service and — this is key — my favorite logo on the island.
If you’re looking for a tec diving school that will bring you into the world of mixed gases and rebreathers in a safe environment, Blue Marlin is your shop. They make regular trips to the area’s Japanese WW2 Wreck as well as exploratory dives to search for fabled walls and reefs.
If you are looking for a big dive school with somewhat of a party atmosphere, head to Trawangan Dive. For those that are familiar with Koh Tao, this is Gili Trawangan’s answer to Ban’s Dive Resort. Love them or hate them, these schools can be a good choice for those looking to find friend to have a post-dive pint with.
If you’re looking for a medium dive school with the best of both worlds, I recommend Big Bubble. This is where I did my Divemaster course after extensively searching the island for my perfect fit. There was a wide range of instructors to learn from and customers to shoot the breeze with, and I never felt rushed or swept away in the crowd. Update: Recently Big Bubble has gone through a major change in location and staff, and I hope to return to Gili Trawangan so I can vouch for them again soon!
When it comes to picking a school and an more specifically, an instructor, don’t be afraid to ask questions!
- Do they have an instructor that speaks your language, and access to manuals in that language?
- How many students will be in your group?
- What time do they leave in the morning? The dive schedule in Gili Trawangan is pretty uniform and most schools leave between 9am and 10am for the first dive — still, that might be an important distinction for those that are out partying until the mosque call starts at dawn.
- Is the equipment up to date and in my size? Gili Trawangan has a general good record of safety and most shops have up-to-date equipment. Sizes, however, can be limited.
- How qualified is the instructor? Some students may appreciate the enthusiasm and up-to-date training of a new instructor, while others may find comfort in a teacher with tons of qualifications and years of experience.
- Do you like the instructor? You’ll be hanging out with them for a couple days!
Gili Trawangan’s Top Dive Sites
Shark and Manta Points are the two most frequently visited sites around Gili Trawangan. And yet — and this is a major departure from Koh Tao — they almost never feel crowded. Taking up a large swath of Gili T’s North West waters, Shark Point boasts an impressive variety of sea life with schooling trevally and jacks, chilled out turtles, nervous octopus and of course, the dive sites’ namesake, the shark. Black tips, white tips, and reef sharks all call Shark Point their home.
Manta Point, sadly, does not see as many mantas as Shark Point sees sharks. However, the trade-off is a mild current, a variety of corals, and sightings of stingrays, sharks, and cuttlefish. Like many dive sites on Gili Trawangan, Manta Point is not defined by pinnacles or other distinctive characteristics, but rather an amorphous, gently sloping reef.
This slope along the north side of Gili Trawangan is my favorite dive spot in the area. It’s unofficially broken into Deep Halick and Shallow Halick, the shallow side being one of the best spots on the island for underwater photographers thanks to the array of colorful soft and hard corals and abundance of tropical fish. Sightings of 5-10 turtles per dive are not uncommon in the shallows, and sharks are often found in the deep. Schools of bumphead parrotfish are occasionally spotted here around the full moon.
In summary, it’s no surprise that Gili Trawangan has evolved into one of Southeast Asia’s most popular dive hotpots. Many readers have asked me about the differences between diving in Gili Trawangan and Koh Tao, and I hope this post helps answer some of those questions. The two are similar, though I prefer that Gili’s dive sites are closer and less crowded and I prefer the schedule of one diver per trip. The sites also have better overall visibility and healthier coral, and turtles and sharks are much more abundant. On the other hand, I think Koh Tao has a better variety of dive sites with shipwrecks and pinnacles and shallow reefs all accessible to non-tec divers, as well as more impressive and common schooling fish.
Basically, you can’t make a bad choice. If you learn to dive in one, you better fun dive in the other. Either way, diving is a lifetime skill and hobby that you can take with you no matter where you go in the world. The ocean makes up 70% of our globe — don’t count it out of your travels!
Curious about my underwater photography setup? Check out my Obsessions page for information on my camera gear, editing programs and more.
I can’t get over the turtle pics, love!
This would be your heaven Andi. Turtles everywhere.
Fantastic as usual! This is a great resource, I’ve got it bookmarked. That’s great that the shops got together on the prices – I wish they would do that here. And, um, only two dives a day? Sign me up for a job there!!
I don’t know what you get paid in Roatan but I don’t think it could physically be less than instructors get paid here :/ Still, I totally agree. It’s a much better schedule!
Nicely written Alex, I was diving in Gili T recently and agree with your tips!
Thanks Michelle! It’s great to hear this rings true to a recent traveler.
LOVE the turtle pics!I’d love to have a pic of me and a turle like the first one. I would totally frame it! You made me so excited for my open water even though it will be in the chilly Atlantic where vis is not as good but still I am so looking forward to finally getting my liscene. And then next year I’ll definitely go to Thailand or Bali and check out all those diving sites that you were raving about!
The thing I love about that picture is that that is Anders in it, and I took that photo on the first day we met! We had barely said a word to each other at that point.
awww how sweet.now that really makes it even more special!<3
You need to stop posting things that make me immediately want to up and go there, girl! Wish this had been around when I visited Bali this year. I would absolutely have spent the entire time on Gili T 😉
It’s a pretty special place… and now you have a good reason to go back 🙂
Thanks for the great guide! You’re convincing me more and more that I need to dive on Gili Trawangan next…
You’ll love it Heather! Good luck getting there soon 🙂
Really useful guide, especially how to choose an instructor/dive school. From personal experience, making sure you are going to enjoy diving with them is a big part of it.
Loving the turtle pic too.
Thank you Adam! I’m glad to hear all of that rang true!
So helpful as I contemplate planning a dive trip to Indo this winter!
Kristin you MUST MUST MUST go to Nusa Lembongan to see the manta rays. Seriously! Go!
The underwater wreck looks so cool! I went to Koh Rong last week by the way and was determined to go for a test dive, but sadly the weather wasn’t right. Next time.
Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that! I hope you loved Koh Rong anyway. Such a special place!
I often go to Gili but can’t even managed to dive there.. By seeing your post, I’d definitely dive on my next visit! The underwater view is very lovely..
Enjoy the diving Dony! It’s a lovely world down there…
Post already saved in my notes “future trips”. It will help me a lot!
Glad to hear it Carla!
Happy you ended up in Gili.. awesome place 🙂
Thanks Jaanus! Much appreciated!
Many good tips found here, thanks.
One question I still have: Is there rental cameras at dive-centers?
Absolutely, Jarno! Just ask around when you arrive as prices vary from center to center. Happy diving!
I find you posts so interesting. I am going to do my divemaster next month and I could not decide where to do it in south east Asia. I made my decision and will go to the Gilis! I just have two questions: are the wrecks interesting or should I expect to enjoy more the other dive sites? Also, the only things that scares me is the amount of people diving. I m used to go to more remote places that don t usually receive many tourist except divers. Are most of the dive site very crowded usually in the Gilis? Thank so much for everything you wrote, it was so helpful!
Hey Stef, there is actually only one wreck around Gili and it is a tech wreck, so you’ll need to do a speciality course to dive it. And one of the things I loved most about Gili was the uncrowded dive sites. They are huge, so people really spread out. I rarely saw others underwater!
My wife and I will be traveling all over Southeast Asia for the next 3 months, starting in 3 days. Is there any way to dive without going through the certification process?
Definitely Colin! You can do something called a Discover Scuba Dive, or DSD. It will allow you to get a taste for diving with just a morning, and hopefully it will convince you to go through with the full course at some point 🙂 Happy travels!
Hi, Sorry if you’ve answered this question already…!
How did you get to Gili? Was it from Lombok or Bali? It seems that the boats from Bali are unreliable, schedules differ all the time…
I’m not sure if that’s the norm in Indonesia, because I’m from a country that runs on clockwork schedule, so not sure what to expect! :/
Hey Charmaine! I arrived in Gili both times via Nusa Lembongan (a beautiful place to spend a few days!) but you can definitely go directly from Bali. I’m not really sure about the boat schedules but I wouldn’t stress — Bali is a lovely place to chill while you’re waiting for the boat 🙂 When I was heading to Nusa I would just grab a cab from the airport, head to the harbor, buy a ticket for the next boat (there were many agencies so I’d ask around to see who was leaving next) and then just grab a meal or hang on the beach until that time!
I just saw this post. This answers all my questions. Thanks for sharing!!
Ah, glad you found it! Happy diving!
Hi, is there any underwater camera rental in Gili T?
Hey Adri! Some dive shops do offer it, though you’ll just have to ask around to see who is doing so when you visit — often the cameras being rented belong to the instructors so availability and price will vary. Happy diving!
How is diving in Nusa Lembongan compare to diving in Gilli T?
Well I’ve only dove a few times in Lembongan, but comparatively I’d say it is more challenging and you can see bigger things — manta rays, mola molas, etc. Gili is more about chilled out reef dives and lots of turtles! They are close together though…. check them both out 🙂
love your post! I was planning to dive in gili islands in July this year. Recently learned my open water and advance in Koh Tao and I heard a story from a fellow diver saying gili islands is a must visit. 🙂
I’d agree with that, Kevin! Enjoy your visit there this summer and thanks for reading!
Gili T would be a killer place to get an open water diver certification, although it sure sets a high bar! Night drifting off the island has been marked in my log book as a diving highlight that will probably never be surpassed.
I’m not much of a night diver, but I do agree Gili T is a fabulous dive spot!
Also, I thought the two photos at the top of this post were a single scene/shot for a good ten seconds and was just staring at it (them), thinking, GtFOH
Ha! That would be a National Geographic worthy find…
Very good post!
I have to choose between Gili Air, Gili Trawangan and Nusa Lembongan, and I don’t know what to do!
It would be for a couple of fun dives for me and a first discovery scuba diving for my girlfriend (and maybe open water course after).
Up to now the best price we have seen is in Gili Air.
Any recommendation? Thanks!!!!
Hey Alberto, the shops on Gili Air and Gili Trawangan access the same dive sites. I’d recommend a shop there over Nusa Lembongan, which has more advanced conditions and might be somewhat stressful for a first time diver 🙂 Enjoy!
All your blog is perfect and true. We are also based on Gili Trawangan but you do not find us.. howewer, we would like to invite you to discover Sekotong with us.
Hi Will! I talked to DSM Dive like I talked to every dive shop on the island when I arrived in Gili 🙂 I’d love to join you to Sekotong someday!
Love reading your dive related posts (they obviously have even more meaning for me now)!
Such a contrast between your stunning underwater pics and my first such efforts 😉
Lots of practice above the surface first 🙂 That’s my recommendation!
perfect… just been searching the past 3 hours to decide on where I will do my course while in Indonesia… Looks like Gili Islands for the win after 12 days surfing in Bali. Thanks Alex
Enjoy, Aaron! It’s a great place to learn to dive.
Just dove Shark Point today, and hoping to do Halick tomorrow! (Although Manta Dive may only be doing Manta Point tomorrow). Thanks for the tips! Such pretty water here. =)
Ah, I’m jealous you’ve been diving! I’ve been out of the water too long. Glad you’re enjoying Gili!
Great post. But is $37 a dive the cheapest you can get on the island for fun dives?
Hey Zita! At the time, yes. Gili has a price fixing agreement so the shops don’t underprice themselves out of competition. It’s a good deal, I promise 🙂
Thanks for this post! Your blog is well-written & concise! I’m in Gili T now & just went diving in Halick! You said it right! It’s amazing! Hoping to go to shark point tmr! 🙂
Enjoy Hema! I need to get back to Gili and do some more diving. I miss it!
Is it possible to just do one time dive for first timers ?
Absolutely! It’s called a Discover Scuba Dive or a resort dive 🙂
This is a great informative post Alex!
I am thinking about doing the OWD during my visit to the Gili islands. What is the difference between the three islands? Does any of the other two have better offers? What are the advantages/disadvantages of doing a PADI course on one island, compared to the other two?
Hey Marko, unfortunately I cannot be of any help! I’ve only ever been to Gili Trawangan — shame, I know, considering how close they are. Apologies I can’t give you any information.
Hi, is there a specific month that we should avoid going to Gili for monsoon season perhaps? Because I’m thinking to do my course there in July? Thanks for the great share 😉
Hey Yeen, I was there in April for my course which I believe was the end of the rainy season. July is high season — good weather but big crowds. You can’t go too wrong!
Can you recommend where to dive in Gilli T that doesn’t have sharks? I love diving but really hate sharks!!! My preference is tropical fish and great coral – would value your recommendations.
Hey Sarah, unfortunately Gili Trawangan is really small and all the dive sites are more or less an extension of each other. However, I can reassure you that the sharks you’ll see are small and super harmless — they’ll swim in the other direction as soon as they see you!
Really informative blogg you have! I am planning my vacation in Gili T. and I want to stay in Pearl of Trawangan as I want to combine a nice hotel and beach and diving. Do you know any dive center closest to the hotel? I don´t want to walk too far.
Thank you in advance
Hey Aiza, unfortunately I’m not familiar with that hotel. Perhaps ask them for a recommendation? The island is quite small so as long as you’re in the same general direction you’ll be fine!
Hello? I enjoyed reading your article and I’m thankful for the informations I wanted to know about Gili T diving.
I’m a diver with advanced license of PADI. I’ve been to cebu and great barrier reef. But my log number counts just 40 and I’m not familiar with the currents. What dive points do you recommend?
And how about Gili nanggu near sekotong in lombok? I plan to be there for a few days before gili T. Is it a good place for divig, too?
Hey there! Unfortunately I haven’t spent any time diving in Lombok, so I can’t comment on that. However with 40 dives you will be well prepared for the vast majority of the dive sites at Gili Trawangan! Most are very simple, calm and easy drift dives. Enjoy your time underwater!
I know you use a canon 100, just wondering if you’re using a filter under water when taking the pictures?
Thanks, great blog!
Hey Sue! No filter, but I do put my camera on the underwater setting (Canon has one specifically for diving and free diving!) It adds lots of reds back in. Hope that helps!
I’ve done my Advance Open Water certification from Bans (Koh Tao). I am planning to go diving again In March 2018 with a bunch of 10-12 (all certified). Just wondering if going back to Koh Tao makes more sense as compared to the Gilis.
How’s the prices at Gilis like? Which place has a better sea-life diversity between the two?
What would you recommend?
Hey there! If you’ve been diving in Koh Tao, I’d go to the Gilis. They are on a similar level in terms of diving experience needed and underwater “wow” factor, but very different in terms of the kind of diving and the topside vibe. For example, you’ll see MANY more turtles in Gili. Check them both out and then you can keep going back to your favorite! Here’s a post on the cost of living in Gili Trawangan, for a bit more background.