Diving on the Gili Islands

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Indonesia is a paradise in and of itself – from its desolate, powder-white beaches and islands canopied by palm trees and crystal clear waters lapping its shores. The world above water is an intriguing one – swimming with a multitude of cultures that are as diverse they are electrifying.

Yet what makes Indonesia such an incredible country is also what you can find swimming around in its underwater world.

You can find some of the world’s best and most talked about dive destinations scattered throughout the islands of Indonesia, and I learned about diving in the Gilis by reading some travel blogs.

Shallow Turbo*

Nudibranch, Bio Rocks*

I decided to add the destination and the experience to my Indonesian bucket list; though it may not be the country’s most incredible diving, I knew it would be the perfect place to get my feet wet before setting out for my four-day scuba diving trip in Komodo National Marine Park at the beginning of May.

I spent my first day on the island walking around to the various shops, talking to the various instructors, checking out some of the gear and getting a feel for the places themselves. Scuba diving can be a really social activity when you are traveling alone and can be a great opportunity to make some new friends who share a similar passion to you.


Because I received all of my certification in Koh Tao, Thailand diving with Big Blue in 2012, I was not looking too much into the price of certification courses.; however, I do know that the cost across the island are set in stone. Many of the shops have agreed to particular prices, which make choosing your dive school and shop dependent on other factors that are more important than cutting corners on an activity the does come with some risks.

Naturally, you can choose whether you want to receive a PADI or an SSI certification (I am certified with SSI) as both are internationally recognized scuba certifications. As I was recently told, the difference seems to lie in the instructor’s preparation between the two courses (re: PADI involves more work for the instructors). Open water courses, or the first level of certification, cost about $370USD, and advanced certification starts at around $300 USD.


If you are not sure whether you want to yet fork up that much cash for a course, there is always an option for what shops call Discover Scuba Diving. You can go on one dive with a particular shop and of course receive the proper training (though brief) to do so, and after your dive you can make the decision on whether scuba diving is an activity you love. Chances are, it will be.

Courses and certification aside, there is also a set price around the island at 35 USD per fun dive for those who are already certified, and a set price of about 45 USD per night dive (adding the cost of the torch). After five dives, many shops offer a discount of 10 percent of the total cost on your dives.

Some shops also mentioned a small $5 fee to protect the sites, coral and keep the underwater world of Gili as clean as it can be, which I was more than happy to pay.

Dive Shops

One of the shops I had read rave recommendations about is a place called Big Bubble, which sadly I thought was temporarily not operating because I passed by its old, closed-down location.

Right away I most liked Gili Divers. It was small enough to feel personal yet its front deck with plush bean bags made for an inviting atmosphere that made it quite the social shop. There were always people relaxing and hanging out, which for a solo traveler is always a plus. Even better, one of the instructors was someone I had dived with on the Perhentian Islands back in 2012. That to me gave Gili Divers two extra pluses.


I found the instructors whom I spoke with at Gili Divers to be easy going and knowledgeable but most of all comforting, and I quite liked diving with the dive masters there. They always gave good and comprehensive site briefings, made sure we were all ready and set before rushing down to a site and great at finding things in the little nooks and crannies of the ocean floor.

All in all, I would undoubtedly dive with Gili Divers again and recommend it to anyone headed to the island. Additionally, if you have have the funds and are headed toward the island Flores (which many travelers are), I would look into the live aboard trip that brings you there versus the backpacker or public boat options.

I also checked out Mango Divers, which was so low-key you could practically hear crickets chirping despite the island’s hustle and bustle. I think this is for people who want the dive without all the hype – a shop that is more laid back, smaller and makes for a more personal dive experience.

Manta Dive seemed to be popular amongst many of those staying in my hostel. They liked the dive guides, they liked the vibe and they seemed to always come away from their days smiling.

Aquadiction was another small dive shop that I often passed by while walking to and from my hostel. The guys working there seemed friendly, and this was another shop that seemed to have a good amount of people outside socializing.

 Some questions to ask when looking around at dive shops:

  • How big are the dive groups?
  • What languages do the dive guides speak?
  • How new is the equipment?
  • What is a daily schedule like and how many site options do you offer each day?
  • What is the schedule like for night dives?
  • What are the currents in the area like?
  • What is the experience of the instructors/dive masters?
  • Which sites do you recommend?
  • How much air do you start the tanks with?
  • Do you rent out cameras, and if so how much are they? Is there a daily rate? (This is always one of my first questions since I stupidly have yet to buy an underwater camera or housing!)

Dive Sites

The amount of dives sites surrounding the three Gili islands can be dizzying, but I think it is best to pick and choose wisely on which sites you visit. Because I am traveling on limited funds, I did my research on the island’s best sites and asked around at the various shops to see what the general consensus was.

One thing that really surprised me about the diving on Gili – how quiet it was despite the island’s ample dive shops. At many of the sites, I felt like it was just me and my dive master. No one else. Makes for a great and relaxing experience.

Shark Point/Turtle City – You guessed it. This is the site you come to if you want to see sharks and turtles. I would not say it was my favourite site, because the visibility was pretty poor on the day of my dive. We did see a couple of white-tip reef sharks, one of which was about as long as I am tall and one of which was on the smaller side. There is also a chance to catch larger schools of fish here.

Green Turtle 2, Shark Point*

Halick - I loved Halick, and we had a pretty easy drift day the day I went. Halick is a sloping site on the north part of the island that gives way to plenty of beautiful coral. One of the reasons Halick is so popular is because it is a site for all levels of divers with loads to see whether you are diving deep or shallow. I saw my first Gili turtle, and naturally I got so excited and just sat staring at it for a few minutes as it ate away at all the coral. Additionally, the coral was also stunning at Halick – something I had not seen in a long time. All in all, Halick amped up my excitement for my scuba diving live aboard in Komodo.

Manta Point - Manta Point’s name  came from the ability to see mantas passing through from November-ish to some time in February. I did not make it to Manta Point myself, as the morning I was set to go to it I was working to a deadline and could not peel myself away from the computer. That being said, it is still an apparently epic site that is a sloping reef teeming with some beautiful coral, chances of shark sightings and great marine life swimming about. This is another site that is suitable for all level of divers.

Giant Moray, Manta Point*

Deep Turbo – I met quite a lot of instructors and dive masters who favored Deep Turbo, which is a site suited for advanced divers only. Though I did not dive the site myself, it apparently has a stunning set of sea mounds across the ocean floor, great amounts of coral and massively beautiful sea fans.

There you have it. As someone with only somewhere between 50 to 60 dives (though technically this amount could make me a dive master), this is an amateur’s guide to diving on the Gili Islands using GIli Trawangan as your base.

I would definitely go for the five dive package on the islands and get 10 percent off, because you will find that you are making the most of your time on Gili exploring what lies below the surface.

Give yourself a day or so to get to know the shops and the people, a day or so to recover from the nasty hangover from your first night on the island, and then go ahead and dive right in!

Note: All photos marked with a * are property of Alex Spetz and are taken from various dive sites. Big thanks to Alex for providing me with images to accompany this article. 

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