In 2013, everyone is talking about the Gili islands (part of Lombok). At first I thought it was just another tourist trap and it took me 4 months of living in Bali to actually make my way across, but when I did, I realised what all the hype was about, they really are wonderful. I am incredibly blessed to be sitting in Gili Air for the second time within a month and would like to share my experience of what it’s like if you’re thinking of going there yourself.
First things first, there are 3 Gili islands – Air, Meno and Trawangan (also called Gili T). Gili T is the party island, this is where young people go to get high on mushrooms and dance on the beach. Gili Meno is the least populated and has pretty much nothing on it, the beaches are lovely but that’s about it. The locals call it mosquito island because there’s a big lake on the island that attracts a lot of mozzies. Finally, Gili Air is the relatively quiet, romantic island. There is not much noise and it has a really lovely energy to it that makes it a favorite amongst those who do not come to the islands for the parties.
- What is there to do at the Gilis: sleep, read, swim, relax, have sex, eat mushrooms, snorkel and dive.
- What to bring with you: sunscreen, swimming costume, sun glasses, 3 dresses, or a pair of shorts and 3 tshirts, sarong, 1 pair of flip flops, camera, anti sea sickness tablets, iPad (there is wifi in most places), snacks (for travelling), books
- What not to bring with you: a suitcase (unless you’re staying for more than a week, a suitcase is a nuisance on the boat), diving boots (most fins here are for bare feet), a laptop
- How many days to stay for: minimum 3 nights, you can’t just go for the weekend, we thought we could do that but ended up extending the hotel. The boat leaves Gili Air at 10:30, so thats one day wasted on travelling back.
Transport to Gili Air:
If you have the means to go for the fast boat, always choose the fast boat! The travel agent will sometimes tell you that the slow boat takes 4 hours at sea, but in reality it’s more like 8 hours. The fast boat takes around 1.5 to 2 hours at sea, so the morning boat will arrive to Gili Air around 11:00.
During high season, the agents will ask for 1,200,000Rp for an open return ticket – don’t pay any more than 850,000Rp. During low season, you can get away with paying 500,000Rp for one person.
Some of the boats are “fun” (like the Sea Marlin), they leak sea water on top of you, they get hot, from Bali to the Gilis, people get a bit sick and some of them don’t have toilets. My recommendation: wear light clothes (preferably some where you can’t see sweat or water marks), take anti sea sickness pills and bring an airplane cushion.
The best boat that I’ve been on was the Eka Jaya boat. The seats were comfy, they had a movie playing and there was a toilet.
Transport around Gili Air:
What makes the Gilis so special is that there is no motorized transport at all. The only way to get around is by foot, by bicycle or by a horse cart. It takes about 2-3 hours to walk around the whole island at a nice easy pace, despite what the locals will tell you. The cart will cost about 100,000Rp to go around the whole bit of land, or 50,000Rp to go half way round.
Accommodation at Gili Air:
There are many choices of accommodation and usually there is no need to book in advance if you aren’t too fussy where you will stay. Hotels will vary from 350,000Rp to perhaps 2 million for a night. I believe there are cheaper places in the village (i.e. not on the sea front) and you can even stay with locals, but I am not familiar with the prices there. I know that the yoga centre, H2O rent rooms from 100,000Rp a night during low season in a shared house.
Some of the houses look incredibly cute and the style of each place is different. Choose your accommodation depending on where you want to be since you will probably walk everywhere. We chose to stay close to the harbour at Villa Karang, because when you leave, you should get to the harbour early morning to book a seat, so it was easy to walk there.
Don’t be surprised about the water in hotel rooms, they will taste a little salty, you will get used to it.
Food at Gili Air:
If you are vegetarian, vegan or raw, don’t expect amazing food options at the Gilis. There are several dishes that you can ask to make vegetarian, such as a nasi goreng, mie goreng or gado gado and there will be a few salad and pizza options too. *Update* – they are getting better, I’ve been coming back now for many years and you see more and more veg options around.
Please click here for a detailed article on food at the Gilis.
Neverland is a fun place to sit at for a juice, the food is not the greatest but they have a fun spot upstairs where you can watch the sunset and close the curtains for some privacy 😉 I wouldn’t recommend eating there though, to make things “vegetarian” they take out most of the prawns from your nasi goreng…
Diving at Gili Air:
There are dive shops every few meters on the island, but don’t bother searching for cheaper prices, they will all be the same: 370,000Rp for a fun dive and a one off 30,000Rp for conservation tax. It also does to matter which island you stay on, the dive sites will be the same.
I dived with Oceans 5 and with Gili Air Divers (at Sunrise hotel). Oceans 5 are very professional and the entire team speaks English, which makes it easy and comfortable for foreigners. GAD is somewhat smaller, but I actually preferred diving with them, the guys there were just as good, and they carry and prepare your equipment, unlike Oceans 5 (yes I’m lazy…).
Close to full moon, currents may be a little strong, but it’s a hit and miss. We got lucky, on the second dive at Shark Point, the waters were great. We saw 4 sea turtles (both types) and one was as big as myself. It was such an incredible experience being 5cm away from such a magnificent creature. We didn’t see sharks this time, but saw many other creatures native to South East Asia. There is a popular dive site called Manta Point, but I must warn you that it’s actually very rare to see mantas there.
Beaches at Gili Air:
When we first arrived, we went for a walk around the whole island in the evening and were surprised to find that the beaches were unfit for swimming, but how could this be? We then realised that it greatly depended on the tide and the time of year (the tides weren’t a big problem in September-October if I remember correctly). I highly recommend going to the beach in the morning, as by lunch time the water will retreat, exposing the underlying coral floor.
The only beaches that are useable after lunch are on the East of the island, about 200m from the harbour and towards Sunrise resort.
These photos were taken at the same day, on the same spot, just a few hours apart.
Mushrooms at Gili Air:
I’ve never done mushrooms in my life, but it’s a big part of the islands culture so I can’t miss it out. Don’t be surprised as you walk around the island if people will offer you weed or you see signs like the one to the right, it’s one of the few places where it’s legal (or maybe it’s the lack of police), and people come here to get high. I haven’t been to Gili T, but since it’s the party island, it’s probably even more prevalent there.
Yoga at Gili Air:
There is one yoga place on the East of the island called H2O (it’s a little bit inside, not on the beach front). They run 2 daily yoga classes, as well as occasional retreats. I didn’t go to any classes so I can’t comment on that.
There is one large studio, very nice and clean, and the team is all foreign. They have some shared accommodation options too.
Gili Air practical stuff
There are little supermarkets around the island, but not many. If you want to get some fruit or veg, better go to the market near the harbour (it has specific opening hours that I don’t recall now, mornings I believe).
If you want to buy something cheaper, go to the inside of the island. A coconut can cost you 50k at the beach or 10k at a local warung, for example.
There is a small clinic inland. It’s easy to get to and is very clean inside. I’ve never had to go there for anything serious, thankfully, so I really don’t know how far their expertise extends. If I were you I’d carry a first aid kit with me anyway, visit this site if you’d like to see some good options. It’s better than walking in the heat if you cut yourself – there’s no Uber to take you there quickly!
So go out and explore the island yourselves, you will not regret it. Gili Air has a very unique quality about it, 3 days will feel like a week, so you will get lots of time to de-stress from your daily lives. Also it has some awesome trees 🙂