The next stop on our Indonesia adventure having just seen the amazing blue fire in the Kawa Ijen volcano crater, would be the tiny island Gili Air to relax for a few days. Gili Air is one of the three popular Gili Islands just northwest of the volcanic island Lombok. The most famous of the three is the biggest: Gili Trawangan (better known as Gili T) where mostly young people go to party. Gili Air is the second biggest and known to be a bit more quiet. The third and smallest, Gili Meno is also called the honeymoon island. Gili Air sounded just right for us and a few of our friends and other travelers that we met in Indonesia had highly recommend it to us.
Getting to Gili Air
There are different options to get to Gili Air, either by fast boat from Bali’s east coast, or by flying to Lombok and taking bus up to Bangsal and then a ferry to the island. We had intentionally planned very little in advance on the trip, so when we tried to book a flight to Lombok from Bali less than 24hrs before we wanted to go, we weren’t able to as bookings with foreign credit cards have to be more than 24hrs in advance. We didn’t want to spend more time on Bali, so we booked a fast boat ticket instead. It ended up costing more than the plane ticket – $35 per person one way (it could probably be done for less), but it would get us directly to Gili Air with pick up from Kuta in Bali included. The boat ride took about 2 hours from Bali and even though the boat was quite full, it was a pleasant ride. Only a few other people got off at Gili Air with us, the bulk of the people were heading to Gili Trawangan.
The harbor is at the south end of the island and we had booked a bungalow at the northwestern end of the island, a 20-25min walk away. There are no cars or other motorized vehicles on the island, people get around with small horse carriages, by bike, or on foot. We thought about getting a horse carriage to our hotel but it would have been around $8 and wasn’t that far, so we decided to walk.
Normally we tend to book as cheap of accommodation as possible, but we needed a few days of real relaxing and the island seemed so nice, so we decided to go a bit over our normal budget and booked a bungalow for $25 per night. Our bungalow was simple but beautiful and only a minute walk from the beach. Our hotel also had a restaurant with decently priced food right at the beach, with potential views of the sunset (it tended to be cloudy in the evenings when we where there).
Things to do
Gili Air is a perfect place to relax and do some water activities like snorkeling or scuba diving. Our first day on the island we mostly just swam in the pool, walked around the island for a bit and got an hour long massage for just under $10. There are tons of restaurants and cafes on the island, from Indonesian food to western dishes, and plenty of them are along the beach. The ice cream on the island was generally low quality and expensive except for a shop called Scooperific near the harbor, which was really good and freshly made.
With no cars or other motorized vehicles on the Gili Air, there is no need for real roads either. There were a few paved roads in the main village on the island, but most of the paths were made of sand. A lot of people rented bikes to get around the island, and bikes with wider tires are readily available to help you through the sand. We walked to wherever we needed to go, as you can walk around the entire island in about an hour and a half.
The Gilis are home to a few famous swings in the ocean, and we had read that one was on Gili Air. We found a marker on our offline mapping app, Maps.me, for the swing, so we decided to give it a try. It was only a 15 min walk from our hostel and when we got there we saw the swing sitting in the ocean.
We had heard that diving at the Gili Islands was pretty good, but not nearly as good as in Komodo National Park. The dive shop we chose had the option to only do one dive for $35 and we could go to a spot called Shark Point, so we thought we would give it a try. We went with Gili Island Divers, they were located at our hotel and seemed very professional and fun. We headed out in their small boat at 10am and rode for 20 minutes toward Gili T to the dive site. As soon as we headed down we noticed a pretty strong current and the visibility was about 5 meters. We got lucky and about 10 minutes into the dive, a black tipped reef shark swam past us. We had to fight the current for quite a while before we came to a calm spot where we saw quite a few turtles, but unfortunately no more sharks. The corals at this dive site weren’t in very good shape, largely due to dynamite fishing in the past. Nevertheless the dive was fun and we were glad that we went.
We had heard good things about snorkeling in the area and decided to check it out just in front of our hotel and on the east side of the island. We rented snorkeling gear from our hotel for $4 each and headed to the east side of the island first. The coral reef started just a view meters off the shore. We found the corals to be a bit nicer than at the spot where we went diving the day before and there were quite a few fish around. We spotted a small pufferfish, squid, and a couple of turtles as well. The only drawback were the tons of other tourists in the water and the number of boats that kept coming to bring people from the other Gili islands to snorkel, so we had to be careful to avoid the passing boats.
The tide changes on Gili Air are quite extreme, on the north west side of the island at low tide it’s tough to swim as the reef is very shallow and goes on for about 100 meters before dropping off. During high tide the water for that hundred meters is still shallow, but you can swim. We swam out across the seaweed covered reef to where it finally dropped off, hoping to see some nice sea life there. The coral was okay in spots, but the east side of Gili Air had a lot better snorkeling to offer than the north west.
We really enjoyed our time on Gili Air. It’s a super relaxing island that still has enough to offer to keep you from getting bored. Having spent five days there we were really reluctant to leave, however the second highest volcano in Indonesia, Mount Rinjani, was calling for us to climb it. Gili Air sits in the shadow of Rinjani, which is on nearby Lombok, and it was time for us to see the view from the top.