Gili Air is a tiny island off the coast of Lombok, Indonesia. Commonly known as one of the 3 “Gili Islands” which is ranked #2 of the 20 highlights of Indonesia on Lonely Planet, Gili Air is said to be not as touristy (or full of parties) as Gili Trawangan, and not as quiet (or full of couples) as Gili Meno.
This is where it is.
Can’t see it? Let’s see closer up.
Gili Air is laid back, easygoing, and just lovely. I ended up staying 9 days because I absolutely fell in love with the island. My initial plan was to stay 3 or 4 days to scuba dive and then head on to somewhere else. But it was so cozy I couldn’t leave.
1. No cars or motorcycles
Have you been to southeast Asia (except Singapore)? If you have, you must have seen the terrible traffic, especially with motorcycles everywhere. There are so many that it’s usually quite difficult to walk on the street safely with no sidewalk. It’s almost impossible to cross the road safely.
But here, you can easily walk or bike everywhere. Car and motorcycles are not allowed (with the exception of electric motorcycles) which leaves us tourists the options to either rent a bike, take a horse carriage or simply walk. Easy, safe, quiet, and no pollution.
2. Just the right size to explore on your feet
It takes about 1.5 ~ 2 hours on foot to walk around the whole island. That’s how small it is. A nice stroll down the street will take you to your favorite spot on the beach or the cafe that serves brilliant fruit juice. No need to think about transportation, or worry about getting ripped off by a taxi driver.
3. Good balance of local and tourist life
I hate it when every thing is just for tourists; restaurants, cafes, hotels, souvenir shops and no local neighborhood. The bad part is, I’m a tourist as well. I know. But I also feel a little intimidated at first when there are only locals, and EVERYONE stares at me. I get used to it in time, I know.
This tiny island had a great balance of both touristy stuff and local life.
Along the coast are all the touristy stuff: restaurants, cafes, hotels, bungalows and dive shops. (I don’t think there were any beachfront hotels or bungalows, they were all across the street… or path, I should say.) Some restaurants were seriously tasty, and I enjoyed the “western food” they provide, along with their lovely beach chairs on the sand.
But when you go inland, that’s where you see close to no tourists. You see a cute little island village, and the lives of locals. I walked all over the island along different paths, most of them empty. There were people watering plants, building new bungalows or boats out of wood, kids running around. You see chicken walking about, and cows eating grass. It’s quiet and charming. Something you don’t see in cities. Or more like something I don’t see back home. (The only downside is, you will also see so much garbage littered, sadly.)
My favorite local warung, Indonesian cafeteria-like restaurant, was located in the middle of the island, and was run by a local family, in their front yard. Dirt cheap and the best Indonesian food ever!
Most tourists don’t bother walking inland. The beach is just half (or maybe even less!) the charm of this island!
4. Diving paradise
Surrounding the 3 Gili islands -Gili Air, Gili Trawangan, and Gili Meno- are about 20 dive sites. There you get a chance to encounter turtles, sharks, colorful fish, beautiful corals and more! The visibility underwater easily reaches 20m. On the island there are many dive shops and they all offer dives at the same price. (Some shops offer discounts if you book a few dives.)
Here, it’s not just about scuba diving. There a few freediving schools as well. I learned to freedive here for the first time in my life, and I LOVED IT!! (I will write a post about it later)
5. White sandy beaches
The photo says it all. The island is surrounded by white sandy beaches. Who wouldn’t love lying here?
6. The people
Last but not least. The whole time I was on the island, I was greeted by smiling locals, from little kids to the elderly. From simple hellos to a cute magic show in a warung. There were occasional souvenir sellers on the popular spot on the beach, but they were in no way aggressive. Unlike many other places in southeast Asia, a “no thank you” kept them away for the rest of the day.
I have yet to go to the other 2 Gilis. I guess some of the above can be said for them as well. (at least #1 & 4 for sure.) Maybe one day when I get there I’ll like one of them more. But for now, I can’t wait to get back to this charming little island!
- Gili Air can be reached by boat from either Bali or Lombok.
- From Bali: There are a handful of tour operators that provide a combination of shuttle service from all over Bali to Padangbai + a speedboat from there. The whole trip will take up to 5 hours, depending on weather, traffic and tour company.
- From Lombok: There are public boats from Bangsal Harbor. Many tour operators provide a combination of shuttle ride to Bangsal Harbor + public boat. (Note there is no need to take the horse carriage that the tour operator insist you to take after you are dropped off from the shuttle. You can simply walk a few minutes and get to the harbor. Also, do NOT buy your onward ticket from the Gilis to Bali; they will rip you off. Buy it on the Gilis, it will be much cheaper.)
- There are at least 2 ATMs on the island.
- Wifi is available in many accommodation, restaurants and bars but most are normal speed by Indonesian standards, which probably feels quite slow for many tourists.
The information above is as of October 2015.