To give a bit of background, Indonesia has long been a popular stop for those travelling around Southeast Asia or just those looking for a cheap, tropical getaway. Most tend to focus the majority of their stay on the island of Bali. However, this country contains over 17,000 islands meaning there is a lot more to explore. One of the places that has been gaining in popularity is Lombok, conveniently located right next door to Bali. It also includes a small island chain of it’s own called the Gilis. Each of the three islands has its own name as well as its own personality.
Gili Trawangan is the largest and has quickly come to be known as the party island. It’s the largest and most developed hosting a number of accommodations, bars, and an excellent night life. Gili Meno sits in the middle of the other two islands and is the calmest and quietest. The “desert island” secluded-ness of the island has made it a more popular destination for travel couples looking a romantic getaway. The last and smallest of the three islands just so happens to be my favourite as well. Gili Air is nice blend of the other two islands offering a decent night life out by the beach and a quieter getaway in the centre, and because the island is so small, pretty much everything is within walking distance.
So, let’s focus a bit more on Gili Air.
Being that the island is so small, the only way to access it is by boat from either Bali or Lombok. The trek from Bali takes a bit longer and costs a bit more. Most hotels will be able to help book fast boats as well as transportation to the harbour. It does help to check around the travel agents that can be found all over in the main cities to compare prices. Just like with most other places in Southeast Asia, bargaining is always an option and it helps to know what prices others are offering. Depending on the season and location on the island, prices will usually range from 300,000-600,000 Rupiah (22-45 USD). Anything more than that and I suggest booking with someone else. The trip itself usually takes about 4 hours and tends to be on bit larger of a boat.
Leaving from Lombok is much quicker and cheaper, but can also be a bit more confusing and probably not up to the highest health and safety standards. From the airport, you can taxi or bus to Bangsal to catch one of the public boats. However, the last boats usually departs before 4 pm so it is usually worth it to stay a night or two somewhere on Lombok itself. This island also offers loads of activities and nice beaches so most people usually plan on sticking around for a bit anyways. The harbour itself isn’t as much of a harbour as it is a large number of boats pulled up on the beach. It can be a bit tricky to find where to purchase the tickets and the locals there don’t tend to speak much English but you can usually find a guide, a fellow traveller, or just follow the locals to see where their buying their tickets. If all else fails, just face the water turn right and walk that direction. The office itself is basically a room big enough to hold one person and a window to buy your tickets at. When I was there in February of 2016, boat prices were only 12,000 Rupiah (only 90 cents!) and the trips only takes about half an hour. A warning though: this might not be the ideal way to get there if you’re carrying large amounts of luggage or have any kind of phobia of small boats. The boats are suppose to carry about 40 people but they are usually overloaded with luggage, goods, or even a few extra passengers. I suggest leaving earlier in the morning because the waters tend to be a bit calmer and it makes the trip seem a bit less daunting.
No matter where your heading from however, you simply get dropped off at the beach once at Gili Air and luggage has been known to get splashed and wet on the crossing (especially from Lombok). I highly recommend any electronics or valuables going in some kind of waterproof bag just to be on the safe side. Also, when disembarking you’ll be hopping off in the shallows so make sure you’re prepared to get wet from the knees down.
Where to Stay:
Gili Air boasts everything from budget hostels to pricier (although still cheap because this is Southeast Asia after all) resorts. It is also home to several dive resorts where many people choose to stay to work towards their PADI certification. During the low seasons (February to June and September to November), it’s pretty easy to find accommodations and many people find rooms just by following the road that leads inland from the harbour. During this time, prices are obviously cheaper as well and some places can even be bargained with to lower the cost. During the peak seasons though, I would highly recommend booking ahead. Hostelworld and hotels.com tend to be my go to for the island and between the two, it’s easy to find any accommodation you like.
Hostels tend to range from 7-14 USD a night for a dorm room. If you’re travelling as a couple though and don’t mind staying in dorms, look into Begadang Backpackers hostel. They offer double beds in dorms and can help cut the cost quit a bit. Hotels range from as cheap as 15 USD a night to about 200 USD a night if you’re looking to splash out on a fancier resort.
What to Do:
Gili Air doesn’t boast any mountains or temples or massive buildings to see but it still offers a lot to do. A big attraction to the island is the snorkelling and diving. There are a number of diving resorts around the island that offer certification courses as well as day trips. If you prefer snorkelling, your best bet is just grabbing a mask and some and taking off from the shore. The east side of the island has a close reef but you do need need to keep an eye out for sea urchins in the sea grass. Equipment can be rented at many accommodations and even the bars and cafes along the beach will be happy to loan you some for a couple of dollars.
The beaches are also perfect for just lying about and you’ll find plenty of places to eat/drink right on the shore. Bike riding and walking are popular activities to explore a bit of the island and with only a few roads, it’s hard to get lost. While Gili Air might not have the party scene that Gili T does, there are still plenty of bars if you’re looking for a night out. Make sure to check the closing times though as many don’t stay open much past midnight.
Many people also head to Indonesia to check out a cooking course or to check out the surf. Gili Air isn’t know for it’s surfing but if you do fancy try to catch a wave, you can head to the southwest side of the island and rent a board from the surf shop there. The cooking classes also aren’t quite as famous here as they are on Bali but you still can easily find one and enjoy learning some Indonesian cooking.
How to Get Around:
Motor vehicles are actually banned on the islands which makes it a bit easier to choose how you want to get around. As I said before, Gili Air is the smallest of the three islands. It’s about 2 km from top to bottom and 1 1/2 km through the middle. Walking around the entire island only takes about an hour and half so most people simple choose to walk wherever they want to go. If you’re staying in the centre of the island or near the harbour, you most likely won’t ever need to walk more than 20 to 30 minutes unless you really want to. The walk around the island is quite pleasant though and from the southeastern coast you can catch of lovely view of Mount Rinjani of Lombok island. Many hotels and hostels also offer free bike rentals to speed things up a bit. If your accommodation doesn’t offer this service, there are loads of bikes for rent around the island and it will only cost you a 2-3 USD. Other than that, the only other real option for transport around the island some very quaint horse lead carts but most of these tend to wait around the harbour to try to pick up people just arriving to the island. The drivers of these don’t tend to give in much to negotiating and depending on where you want to go will charge you between 100,00-200,000 Rp (7-15 USD). Compared to western prices, this isn’t probably doesn’t seem to expensive but considering the size of the island and the cost of everything else, this can actually be bit of rip off. It might be something to consider if you’re first arriving with heavy bags on a hot day though.
What to Eat:
There are loads of restaurants to choose from either on the main road running from the south side of the island to the north or along the beach. Like with most places, meals tend to be a bit pricer closer to the water and cheaper the more inland you venture. Most places will offer fresh, grilled fish which can be a bit more of splurge but is usually worth it. Budget travellers tend to check out warungs and enjoy some of the local food. Nasi campur, rice, veggies, fruit, curry can all be enjoyed and most dishes won’t cost you more than one or two dollars. You can even find some Italian-style and inspired gelaterias if you’re looking for something to cool you down.
Quick Tips and Things to Remember:
- For U.K. and U.S. citizens, you are able to obtain a visa on arrival when you land in either Lombok or Bali. Last time I was there, you were able to pay for the visa in either American or Australian dollars, Indonesia Rupiah, or Euros.
- The local currency is Indonesian Rupiah. I would recommend exchanging a bit of USD before hand but you can find ATMs on both Bali and Lombok when you arrive as well as on Gili Air if you need to withdraw more money.
- ATMs in Indonesia will give out the money withdrawn before returning the card. Many tourists often forget this and I’ve know a few people who have walked away from the machine with their card still in there because of it. DO NOT FORGET TO TAKE YOUR CARD!
- There is wifi on the island but it’s not always the fastest or the best. It gets the job done though for most things like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and email. If you try to FaceTime or Skype though, you might lose the call a couple of times.
A lot of the beaches are a bit rough and covered with bits of coral. So I definitely recommend bringing a towel or two if you want to lie around on the beach because it can be a bit rough.