As soon as we arrived on Gili Air, our Dutch friend who now lives on the island, said “Welcome to Paradise”. This little island, about 45min fast boat ride from Amed (on Bali), can really be described as paradise.
Complete with white sand beaches, beautiful sunset views, great snorkeling and scuba diving, the island is also car-free, with only bikes, electric scooters or horses, ‘Cidomo’, to travel around on the island. It’s a beautiful place and I was lucky to spend a week here during our recent trip to Bali.
From the port to the dive shop the Cidomo ride cost us 100,000Rp (for 2 people and our bags) and saved us from lugging our bags all the way there. You can also bargain with the driver about the price but with our luggage we thought the price was reasonable.
There is one main road around the island with guesthouses and hotels running along it. Most places have their own restaurant or cafe that serves guests breakfast, lunch and sometimes dinner too – local Indonesian dishes and some Western dishes are available. The restaurants are often right on the beach and if you buy food, you can use a sunbed for free.
There are a couple of really fancy hotels on Gili Air with fancy restaurants. We stopped to have cocktails at one of them, the Grand Sunset. The views were amazing and the mango cocktail was pretty delicious.
Gili Air is a Muslim island with a mosque and calls to prayer during the day. The island is Pork-free and having a dog as a pet is forbidden, although we did see a couple of dogs who most likely belonged to expats on the island.
Gili Air is one of the three Gili islands and is the closest one to Lombok. Gili Trawangan is the biggest and most developed and considered the party island. Gili Meno is the least developed and Gili Air is quiet with some nightlife, great for families and snorkeling and diving among other water activities. During our stay on Gili Air, the volcano on Lombok wasn’t visible because it was still steaming.
I had a wonderful stay on Gili Air. The locals were always friendly especially to me (since they kept thinking I was also Indonesian). Many people working on Gili Air live on Lombok and commute daily. We saw boats full of locals head out at the end of the day. They told us Lombok didn’t have as many job opportunities. Aside from lounging around at a cafe for WiFi, I spent time at the hotel’s pool, scuba diving and snorkeling right in front of our bungalows. It was one of the most relaxing weeks of our vacation.
Our hotel, Kaluku Bungalows, served us some really nice Balinese breakfasts. Our favorite was the banana pancake with fruit plate and Bali coffee. Kaluku started getting really busy during the end of our stay and the kitchen was slow. They did only have one girl, Sophie, making all the breakfasts and their restaurant was still under construction. Hopefully, they can hire a few more staff to help with the breakfast rush.
We dived with Blue Marine Dive for a few days during our stay. They even let me borrow fins on the days I didn’t dive so I could snorkel. I had a few really amazing dives where I saw so many turtles, a huge wrasse, and baby reef sharks sleeping under rocks. Awww!
We signed up to do snorkel tour one of our days on Gili Air which was 100,000Rp/person. The snorkel tour started around 9am and took us to 4 different spots for snorkeling around the Gili islands. We stopped on Gili Meno for lunch and were back in Gili Air around 2pm.
There were a couple of turtle sightings during the snorkeling and beautiful coral around the islands. One turtle was chowing down on his lunch not caring about us snorkelers swimming above him. I guess they are used to people or maybe he was just too busy eating.
Although, I must admit it wasn’t the best snorkel tour, they did have one guide in the water and he directed us to where the turtles and fish were. We ended up swimming with him the first couple of snorkel spots but after lunch, he stayed on the boat and we just snorkeled around and when they called us back we all had to return to the boat.
Noone was left during this time luckily although it was low season so there weren’t as many boats out there. In high season, I can imagine how confusing it can be, you really need to remember the color or name of your boat and stay near to your group!
There was also that incident with one of the girls who was boarding the boat from the other side of the island. It was low tide so the boat couldn’t get close enough to shore, so she ended up having to walk out onto coral to meet the boat. The problem was she had a bag with her that she refused to get wet, so she couldn’t swim toward the boat, and it was hard to reach her with the waves. She finally made it onboard and we all clapped but her feet and legs were cut up and the snorkel guide and boat captain could only say sorry. We gave her some bandaids and disinfectant after the snorkel tour but she didn’t let that stop her from enjoying the snorkeling.
One of the residents of Gili Meno. I was admiring his cool bike so he let me take a photo.
This was someone’s ‘pet’ on the Gili Meno at the restaurant we stopped at for lunch. This looks like an eagle. They said they used him for hunting.
Gili Air is a great place to chill and spend some time relaxing in paradise. If you want to just relax and sit on a beach or sunbed you can. If you are interested in doing more activity, you have snorkeling, scuba diving and other water activities to choose from.
It offers something for everyone which is why it’s great for families. There are also fewer people trying to sell things to you when you are just sitting on the beach. This makes it much quieter than the beaches on Bali and a nice break from having to say “No, Thanks!” to people offering to sell bracelets etc. Island life is marvelous when you find yourself on an island like Gili Air.
You have the option of staying in one of their front bungalows or their new modern rooms in the back (next to the swimming pool) Wifi is much better by the pool. Breakfast is included.
Rooms from 350,000RP and up.
Website: Kaluku Bungalows
Blue Marine Dive
New dive boat and new equipment. Guides were great and very knowledgeable about the dive sites. We were often in our own small group when diving.
Website: Blue Marine Dive
*To get to Gili Air you can take a fast boat from Amed or Padang Bai. The fast boat stops at Gili Trawangan on the way to Gili Air. They can get full, so it’s best to book it a day ahead. If you show up in the morning and expect to get on you may be disappointed. Be prepared to get wet, as you will need to walk into water to get on the boat.
*Make sure you see the sunset at least once. Seeing the sun sink into the ocean as the sky turns to pink and orange is a beautiful sight.
*Snorkel! (be sure to rent fins as well it will help you cover more distance and swim stronger if there is current)
*Have a massage it’s a bit more on this island than on Bali but still much less than back home and so worth it. Walk around and check prices at different hotels around the island. If they aren’t busy, they might also offer you a discount.
*Walk around and see the island. There is a ship building area near the port and many restaurants as you walk along the road. It’s also nice just to see where the island residents live. It’s one thing to sit and enjoy the beach, but it can also be interesting to see what the residents live like. Everyone is friendly there and saying Hello or greeting them in Bahasa Indonesia (Apa Kabar? or How are you?) is always a nice thing to do as you explore the island.
*Wifi is hard to find on the island so be prepared to disconnect for a few days and enjoy it!
*There are 2 atms on the island so don’t worry about having to bring a lot of cash with you when you go to the Gili islands.
*During rainy season the torrential downpour can come down for hours and it can be really windy. The sandy main road will likely be flooded so stay close to your hotel/bungalow.
*Don’t order ‘American’ food and expect it to be good… Just stick with the local cuisine. Mozzarella sticks are the exception though. They were crispy, cheesy and delicious. The nachos I had on the other hand was the most disappointing meal and something I really didn’t need to order.
For really delicious food, be sure to visit Chill Out Bar on the island! They offer some incredibly delicious grilled skewers and grilled fish dishes. Check out my Trip Advisor review for more details.
*PLEASE DO NOT harrass the turtles. We had a few run-ins with idiots touching the turtles. One girl was completely rude about it and another guy was pushing the turtle up. Poor turtles are at risk for infection or bacteria when people leave their oily hand prints all over their shell. Touching turtles is illegal in many places around the world and dive shops often enforce this. Just let them be and take your photos and video without getting too close 🙂