The closes island to Lombok, Gili Air, is a gem of a spot that allows you to sample the best of both worlds of the Gili islands: It has the relaxing charm of Gili Meno and a bit of the nightlife of Gili Trawangan. Here you can take it fast or slow and enjoy and abundance of water sports from diving to surfing to kiteboarding. Land activities such as yoga and cycling are also available and you can easily walk around the whole island in about 1 1/2 hours. Gili Air has pristine beaches and clear turquoise waters with good snorkeling opportunities. The island has a lot of local charm and atmosphere and is still a very laid-back island paradise where you can enjoy the unique culture and people of Lombok.
How to get there?
You can reach Gili Air by fast boat or ferry. Boat connections are available via Bali and Lombok. See below for more details.
On the one hand our highlight definitely was the amazing atmosphere on Gili Air. We immediately fell in love with the relaxed and laid-back attitude. On top of this the island offers some pretty nice swimming beaches on its east coast. The views from all points of the island are stunning, but the east coast, facing Lombok, is probably the most fantastic. On the other hand we took the chance to enjoy the international and traditional cuisine on the island. We also cooked some traditional Indonesian dishes ourselves and can highly recommend to book a cooking class at Gili Cooking Classes. They run three classes a day and there are three different menu options to choose from.
How long to stay?
We stayed for an incredible 6 nights and still felt super sad when we had to leave. Gili Air is a gem of an island and it definitely is hard to leave. We advise to take some time to enjoy this beautiful island and stay at least 3 nights. This way you can soak up the amazing atmosphere and enjoy what the island has to offer. But be aware of the fact that you might want to stay a little longer in the end: Extending a stay and booking a couple of more nights seems to be quite common. But we think it is absolutely ok to get lost in this paradise and every visitor should enjoy it as long as possible.
Where to stay?
There is a range of accommodation for every budget from backpacker hostels to bungalows (on the beach and in the village) and private villas and resorts. We stayed at the Si Pitung Village for 38 EUR per night/double room including breakfast. The staff is super helpful and friendly, the rooms are nice and clean and the pool is a great spot to hang out and read a good book. The hotel is located almost in the middle of the island, so you can easily walk everywhere (walking is the best option anyway as you will come across a lot of sandy patches around the island). It also is quite close to the northeast coast, where you find some nice bars, restaurants and some good snorkeling.
Transport to the island As already mentioned there are several ways of getting to the island. We would like to provide some more details about the different options so you can choose which one is best for you:
Fast Boat Several fast boat companies operate from various ports in Bali. Most of them even offer a free transfer from your hotel to the boarding point. Ocean crossing time depends on weather conditions and can take 1 to 2 hours. There is a directory including the available fast boat companies. You will find it here.
Ferry or Public Boat This is the cheapest option. The ferry from Bali departs from Padang Bai (starts at 8 am) and arrives at the port of Lembar in Lombok. From Lembar you have to take a shuttle or taxi to go to Bangsal port. The ferry crossing takes 5 to 6 hours, plus approx. 2 hours for the taxi/shuttle and 15 to 30 min for the boat from Bangsal. Do not be afraid of the bad reviews of Bangsal harbour. We felt very safe and there were not too many people bothering us with overpriced offers or trying to scam us. Taxis have to drop you off about 1 km before the ticket office. Just head on straight until you reach the water. On the left you will find speed boat offers. On the right you will find the offices for the public boats. Boats start leaving early in the morning but no later than 4 pm in the afternoon. Speed boats run regularly while the public boats often wait until full.
Airplane Take a flight to the international airport in Lombok Praya and then make your way to Bangsal port (approx. 2 hours by taxi). Then book a boat from the port office. You can also take a speed boat from Senggigi or Teluk Nara.
Helicopter Air Bali offers this service. You can book your flight online. The heliport is based in Benoa, Bali and will take you directly to Gili Trawangan. The flight takes about 45 min and your booking includes transportation to the heliport in Benoa. More information can be found here.
Once on the island you will be offered transport solutions to almost anywhere in Bali and Lombok. So going back is super easy. There also are island hopping boats so you can manage your transport between the islands. The public boat always leaves early in the morning (8:30 to 08:45 am) and returns around 4 pm. Speed boat connections are available every hour.
Fun Facts It is never wrong to know some interesting facts about the places you visit, so here we go:
1) The word “Gili” means “small island”, and so the three islands have come to be know as “The Gilis” amongst travelers.
2) The Gilis are Lombok’s most popular islands and are consistently rated as top SEA island destinations by travellers and travel publications.
3) There are more than 30 Gilis around Lombok, but Trawangan, Meno and Air are by far the most frequently visited.
4) Like the majority of the Lombok community, the inhabitants of the Gili islands are primarily Muslim and each island has at least one mosque emitting sounds of live prayer five times a day. So either bring good earplugs to avoid being woken up at 5 am or take the chance and rise early.
5) Gili Air is the only island with a natural source of fresh water. And “Air” means “water”.
6) Gili Meno, “meno” means “middle”, has its own salt water lake.
7) And Gili Trawangan derived its name from the Indonesian word “terowongan” meaning “tunnels” of which a network were dug by the occupying forces during WWII. But the holes have been filled in.
Etiquette Some tips for your visit to the Gili islands:
Always use your right hand when you give, take, eat, touch.
Never point at something with your foot.
When you are a guest, wait until you are invited to sit down.
Remove your shoes before entering a house, shop or any other place.
Never get angry, always try to solve problems with a smile.
The Gili islands are Muslim and sometimes it is inappropriate to walk around in a state of undress, going topless can be translated as lack of respect. Try to put on some clothes once you leave the beach and enter the village.
Restaurants Gili Air has a great selection of restaurants including homemade Italian or mediterranean food, organic food, Spanish tapas and exquisite cuisine options as well as a number of charming Warungs serving all the best local dishes. The choices definitely suit every budget and it is just too easy to find good food on this island. Make sure to try the “Raja Rasa” Warung for some nice traditional food in a welcoming family atmosphere and the “Tropical Juice Bar” for a light fruit and yoghurt snack at the beach. It is located on the east coast and works together with “Warung Lalapan Saba” which serves delicious traditional food as well. The biggest concentration of bars and restaurants can be found on the east coast where you can take in views of lush green Lombok and the heights of Mt. Rinjani. The bar scene can get pretty lively in the evenings, especially during high season, and the island kicks into high gear with Full Moon parties on the beach. Snorkeling Gili Air still boasts living reefs off much of its coast and there is wonderful snorkeling directly from the shore, particularly from the east and northeast beaches. The coral starts within meters of the beach, making it easily accessible to anyone – even novices who have never snorkelled before. Because the island is protected by reefs, there are few waves and the ocean is usually gentle, alowing snorkellers to drift in a dreamy daze amongst this panorama of aquatic shapes and colors. Surfing There is a good surf break with a barreling right hander known as “Play Gili” off the south coast that attracts crowds when it is pumping. It breaks over sharp coral, so check with local surfers about conditions and board hire. You can either paddle out yourself (approx. 20 – 30 min) or hire a boat to take you out.