Gili Air Island
4 Day Guide to Gili Air Island
Dates Visited: December 2018
The Gili Islands are a group of 3 small islands off the coast of Lombok, Indonesia. The first, and largest island is Gili Trawangan is known as the party island where things can be a bit rowdy. Gili Meno, the smallest island, is the least developed and lies in the middle of all three.
The last island, Gili Air, is just a tad larger than Gili Meno and is known for being its laid back vibe and close knit community. Since we aren't huge party people, we were keen on laying low for a bit and doing some snorkeling the islands.
Though we could have stayed longer, 4 days on Gili Air was plenty of time to get to a feel for the small island. This is the smallest island we have ever been to and you can even walk around the entire island.
The circumference of Gili Air is roughly 5 km (3 mi), which can be walked in under 2 hours. It's so small that there are no cars! Read more below about how to get to Gili Air and how the island functions without any access to automobiles.
How to get to Gili Air
Similar to Nusa Penida, Gili Air is too small to fly onto which leaves taking a fast boat as the only option. In our experience, booking fast boat tickets online is a total rip off. You will end up paying nearly twice the cost booking online compared to buying in person with cash. However, prices between Ticket Agents and Ferry Companies will vary so be prepared to haggle.
The closest fast boat terminal from Bali to Gili Air is is Padangbai which is roughly a 1.5 hour boat ride. A round trip ticket from Padangbai to Gili Air should cost at most 400,000 IDR/person (~$28 USD). However, we made a mistake booking through a third party agent and not directly through the fast boat company so we paid 500,000 IDR/person (~$35 USD).
Some tour agencies may try to get you to pay more because they will say Gili Air is further than Gili Tarawangan, but don't believe this. Everybody on the fast boat is going on the same route meaning the boat first stops at Gili T, then Gili Meno, then Gili Air. You should pay one flat rate for a one way ride no matter which island you're going to.
Regardless of how much you pay, the fast boat ride is a little rough on the stomach. If you get seasick easily, we recommend taking dramamine because the trip is very fast and rocky. We saw people hurling all around us while the staff brought around puke bags.
Best ways to get around
Like we mentioned, Gili Air is an extremely small island. It's only 5km (3mi) if you were to walk around the edge of the whole thing. It's so small that there are no cars but there's really no need for them anyway. There are the usual ways of getting around: walking, scootering, and riding a bike. However, there's one mode of transportation that we hadn't seen in a while: riding a horse.
We ended up not taking a horse drawn carriage because some of them looked overworked and underfed. Since we didn't take any we don't know the cost. However, riding a bike is very cheap. We bargained our way into renting two bikes for the day for only 60,000 total (~$4.25 USD). This gave us some good exercise and the chance to ride around the whole island.
Best things to do on Gili Air
After the rough boat ride to Gili Air, we were ready to relax and slow down for a bit. We dropped our belongings off at our lodging and walked along the beach. Almost immediately we could feel the slower pace of life here. We found a nice spot on the beach in front of Lucky's Bar and decided to have a couple drinks while watching the sunset.
1. Watch the Sunset on the Beach
If you haven't seen a sunset in Lombok or Bali then you're in for a real treat. One of the best things to do on Gili Air, or even in Bali, is to watch the sunset on the beach. Over the course of an hour the sky goes through a full spectrum of color. Starting out blue with a yellow tint, to orange and blue, then finishing with a fantastic mix of purple and pink. It's a really wild sight to see. Believe it or not, the last two images are actually completely unedited.
2. Clean the Beach
If you've been to a couple beaches in Bali you might have noticed the trash on the beaches. It's something you won't see it on instagram, which is why some people don't realize how big of a problem it is. If you're coming to enjoy the beaches, why not leave them in a better condition than how you found them?
After taking notice of the beach conditions, particularly in Bali, we wanted to get involved somehow but didn't know how. While walking past one of the dive shops on Gili Air we saw a sign: 'Beach Cleanup Today @ 4:30.' We jumped at the opportunity which led us to finding out about an amazing organization called Trash Hero.
Trash Hero is an amazing international organization that focuses their work in Southeast Asian countries: Thailand, Indonesia, Myanmar (Burma), Malaysia, and Singapore. However, they've also branched out into Europe, Africa, and even the USA. The cleanups are super easy and fun and last about 45 minutes, or until all of the bags are full.
They provide bags and gloves for each volunteer that shows up. Afterwards free refreshments are provided, either beer (if you're old enough) or orange juice, and you can socialize a bit with the rest of the volunteers. Learn more about our experience with Trash Hero here.
3. Take a Snorkeling Trip
One of the best things to do on Gili Air is to go snorkeling. You can rent gear and go right off the beach, or you can go on a boat. Half day trips cost as low as 100,000 IDR/person (~$7 USD) through Lucky's Bar/Restaurant. They will take you on a boat with about 20 other people to 4 different snorkeling spots around Gili Air and Gili Meno.
They have daily boats that leave around 9:00AM and return by 2:00PM. At the first two stops we saw a couple hawkbill turtles, and several schools of fish. Then the boat made a lunch stop at a restaurant on Gili Meno. After lunch we continued onto the famous Underwater Sculpture Park.
4. Go to the Underwater Sculpture Park
If you decide to do a snorkeling trip on Gili Air, the Gili Meno Underwater Sculpture park is most likely one of the spots you'll visit. No, these aren't some ancient statues that ended up underwater like the lost city of Atlantis. It's actually an artificial reef created by Jason Decaires Taylor.
We had read about his underwater sculptures prior to going to Bali and became intrigued with his work. We were keen to see one of his most famous pieces, the 48 person statue that resides just off the coast of Gili Meno Island. Nearby the larger piece is another 3 person statue of people lying down. Both of these statues make up the Underwater Sculpture Park.
5. Eat at a local Warung
Both Indonesian and Balinese food are delicious, plus it's quite affordable. We got a plate of veggies, rice, and fish for 20,000 IDR/person (~$1.50 USD). Be warned, the portions are a little small compared to typical western dishes. However, you can easily get two dishes for a couple dollars which is way less than we would pay at home.
If you're looking for cheap tasty food then be sure to go to any restaurant with 'Warung' in the name. A Warung is a type of small restaurant or café that is typically family owned.
6. Rent a Bike
As we mentioned, these islands are quite small. One of the best things to do in Gili Air is to rent a bike and explore the island. You'll be able to ride around the whole island in a matter of hours. We were able to rent two bikes for the day for only 60,000 IDR (~$4.25 USD). Bicycle rentals start at 50,000 IDR/person so be prepared to bargain!
A majority of the paths on the island are sand but some are more packed down than others. If your tires start to sink in the sand it's best to get off and walk the bike. Some bikes on the island have really thick tires to accomodate for this, but the cheap rentals do not.
7. Swing in the Water
While you're soaking up the rays on the beach, you might spot a couple of swings in the water. During our bike ride around the island we spotted a handful of swings. The two closest to the Fast Boat Terminal are in front of Lucky's Bar/Restaurant and PinkCoco.
Molly decided to give them a go, and it turns out they're quite slippery. Without any momentum it's pretty hard to get the swing out of the water. Though swinging in the water may not be one of the best things to do in Gili Air, at least they're aesthetically pleasing.
Where to stay on Gili Air
From our experience, we like to use Hostel World to check out potential hostels, then check other booking websites like Booking.com to make our reservations. Sometimes we also message hostels directly to get a better price. We also like to use Airbnb to book accommodations if its a better deal than hostels. Clicking on either of the icons will give you get discounts for your first bookings on either of these sites.
Dorm: $8.12+ USD
Private: $8.12+ USD
Amenities: Free wifi, Pool, Common area with hammocks/beanbags, Snorkeling Tours
Dorm: $8.12+ USD
Private: $20.31+ USD
Amenities: Free wifi, Free Breakfast, 24 hour reception, Restaurant, Free Yoga, Free Movie Nights
Dorms: $14+ USD
Private Room: $17+ USD
Amenities: Private Room, Ensuite, Free wifi, Free Breakfast, Balinese/English speaking, Waterfront property
This place was probably one of the best deals we've gotten on a private room, especially with what it had to offer. Queen bed, ensuite, free breakfast, and beachside bungalows to hang out in all for $17 USD/night.