Of all the paradise tropical islands in the world, why is this one, a boat ride away from Bali and Lombok so perfect?
Stepping off the boat from Bali onto the soft white sand, the contrast between old and new was stark! The Gili Islands have no motorised transport, and a man was riding his horse & cart (a Cidomo) along the sand path whilst talking on this mobile phone.
I wondered if I had stepped into a strange type of Amish community or a scene from a Western movie but they forgot to lose the modern technology for that shot!
But no, this was Gili Air, and the only way to travel is by horse drawn carts or bicycle! The Gilis are some of the few world-wide islands without cars.
Welcome to Gili Air, surely the world's most perfect island?
Gili Air is a small 5km island located off the north west coast of Lombok, Indonesia. It's part of three peanut sized islands known as "the Gili Islands".
Gili Air means small water island in the local Sasak language. "Gili" is "small island" and "Air" means "water". It was named because it's the only island out of the three Gilis which has a natural source of fresh water. It's the closest island to Lombok, and is considered to be the “medium” island; medium in size and a mix of the quietness of Gili Meno and party of Gili Trawangan.
Eateries line the beachfront serving a range of food we hadn’t seen anywhere else in Indonesia; the Gili Islands know Westerners love it here and cater for every need. There are also many small, family owned restaurants called Warungs which serve many must-try Indonesian dishes.
For water lovers ...
Obviously there are a lot of water related activities around the warm, crystal clear aquamarine waters surrounding the Gilis. There are over 15 Scuba Diving outfits, glass bottom boat trips are advertised everywhere, you can test your balance on a stand up paddle board (SUP) and every other shop seems to hire out snorkelling equipment.
We were pleasantly surprised at the amount of marine life there is to see both snorkelling and diving, including turtles which isn't surprising really, the Gili Islands are known as "the turtle capital of the world".
When I dive, I like to see lots of fish and Sy loves searching for the small stuff, muck diving is his "thing" and the conditions here suit us both. We were incredibly lucky to experience a group of around 30 devil rays that hung around for over a month. To read more about the diving here, check out our post "Scuba Diving the Gili Islands".
Around the island
We hired bikes to cycle around the island – here on Gili Air they are called push bikes, because that is what we had to do with it for most of the way around – push it! The thin tyres lose traction in the deep sand on parts of the island, however some shops hire out bikes with fat tyres which are more suitable.
Animals roam free all around the island, it’s as though it’s one large farmyard. From plump roosters and chickens dashing all over the roads to cows, goats and cats; healthy, happy cats are literally everywhere! If you love visiting cat cafes, then come to Gili Air; it’s a cat island! No dogs are allowed on any of the Gili islands.
There is plenty to do in the evening but the island still manages to maintain that chilled vibe. Start your evening with a cold cocktail or local beer called Bintang, and watch as the sun sets on the West coast. The sky will turn orange, pink, sometimes red - not a bad way to start your evening!.
My favourite sunset spot on Gili Air is Gili Lumbung which is the first place on the island to feature a swing. There is a tip box next to the swing where donations can be made for the local school.
For those who like to party, Legend bar on the North-west corner advertises beach parties every Wednesday from 10pm-5am with DJ’s, a bonfire and fire dancing. During high season, there are often posters displaying the next "beach party" all around the island and the Hostel is the place to go for cheap drinks where you are sure to find dive ex-pats hanging out ... vodka joss anyone??
Our wedding anniversary
We chose Gili Air to celebrate our wedding anniversary and we saved some activities purely for this day. As a sun worshipper, of course my morning had to start on the beach so as I lay basking in the hot sun in front of a beach bar, Sy sat reading his e-book on a double bamboo lounger with comfy cushions.
For dinner, I knew cocktails would be involved and along the east coast, plenty of bars have a happy hour. For those of you that know me, you know how much I love a 2-4-1 so we head to Zipp Bar which also had live music playing and we sipped mojitos as the sunset.
This is most definitely an island that ticks all the boxes for a place we would want to call “home”. If you are looking for a destination with a friendly, relaxed vibe, then look no further than Gili Air, it really is the perfect island!
Update: We did return to Gili Air two months after our first visit. We felt privileged to call this beautiful island "home" for a total of 15 months.
Wondering what to pack for your Indonesian trip? Let us help with the essentials in our Ultimate Packing List for Worldwide Travel (tried and tested!
Looking after the island
The dive centres and islanders love Gili Air so much, they all do their best to keep it clean and beautiful with weekly beach clean ups. Various places around the island take it in turns to host them, and a free beer or soft drink is provided at the end.
Visitors are encouraged to join in with the weekly beach clean ups, it's a great way of meeting like minded people. Just keep an eye out for the posters. Oceans 5 and 7Seas also run free clean up dives every week as part of The Ocean Clean Up. If you want to do your bit for the environment to preserve this beautiful place, get involved!
To ride a cart or not to – this is the question
If you are an animal lover, this is a tough one. In a situation where old methods are adapting to cope with the fast growing pace of tourism, I believe a bit of “eye-balling research” needs to be done before you ride a Cidomo. When we stepped off the boat, the attraction to use the local transportation to take us and our heavy luggage to our accommodation was attractive, but we chose not to, we needed to do more observation first.
We discovered there are two different types of horses on the island; the ones used for transporting tourists are well groomed, well fed, “dressed” with pretty tassels and have carts with roofs. Then there are the worker horses which have open carts and horses aren’t “dressed”. On one sad and shocking occasion, we saw a young boy riding a worker horse loaded with goods and the horse was stumbling to get up a slight stony incline; to “encourage” him, the youngster beat the horse with a stick quite a few times. I wanted to grab that stick and do the same to him to see how he would respond!
I felt happier after my research and in truth, I don’t believe this island should change (just as well, because it never will and that’s part of its charm), but as long as people keep a conscious eye on the animal treatment, the island will hopefully be able to cope with the future increase in tourists.
When is the best time to visit Indonesia and Gili Air?
Gili Air has a tropical climate which means an average year round temperature of 29°c. They have two seasons: Rainy season is October – March, Dry season runs April – September. July & August is high season so prices will be higher.
How do I get to Gili Air?
From Lombok: You can fly to Praya, Lombok, which is about 90 minutes by taxi from Bangsal Harbour. A boat from here takes around 30 minutes.
From Bali: 2 hours by fast-boat from Bali (Padang Bai, Sanur or Amed in the north). We have always used Eka Jaya which is one of he most popular companies to use if you are based in south Bali. Tickets can be booked online or by your hotel in Bali. From the North, have a look at Gili Gili's website for the options.
Note: Sometimes the sea conditions during July & August can be quite wavy, and fast boats can be cancelled. If you are travelling during this time from Bali, it's best to book an internal flight.
From Gili Meno or Trawangan: Local "Island Hopper" boats run twice daily and take about 20 minutes. Tickets can be purchased at the harbour on the day. Cost is approx 20,000 IDR.
Do I need a Visa to visit Gili Air?
A 30 day visa is given at the time of arrival in Indonesia (not for all countries, check with your embassy).
What is the currency, and are there ATM’s on the island?
The local currency is Indonesian Rupiah £1 GBP = 18,000 IDR
There are currently eight ATM’s on the island so you don’t have to bring wads of cash. The locations are: 2 x at the harbour (BNI & Mandiri), 2 x opposite Scallywags on the east coast (both CIMB), 2 x by Bel Air (BNI & Mandiri), Blue Marlin on the north-west coast (CIMB) and Ombak on the south-west coast (BNI). (NB: There have been a few reports of cards being cloned at Mandiri so please be careful.)
Is there anything I need to be culturally aware of?
Gili Air, the Gili Islands and Lombok are all Muslim which is more conservative than its neighbour Bali which is Hindu. A couple of things to be aware of: please dress modestly when away from the beach area, wearing a bikini around the streets will undoubtedly offend the locals. The Muslim culture doesn’t eat pork, ham, bacon etc, so it’s not widely available, however you will find it at establishments owned by Westerners.
Where can I stay on Gili Air?
There are prices to suit all budgets from luxurious resort and spas, to hostels and homestays. We stayed at the simple yet beautiful 3 Angels Homestay which we booked (as always) through Booking.Com. It had a balcony, aircon and a gorgeous, spacious outside bathroom. It was a 10 minute walk from the harbour and restaurants
You can book your Gili Island homestay, hotel or any holiday/weekend break through our website as we have an affiliate partnership with Booking.com. Click here to visit our Hotel Booking Page then search as normal. There is no extra cost to you but you will be helping us!
- Their official language is Bahasa Indonesia which is similar to Malaysian and throughout Indonesia in general
- If you can use just a couple of Indonesian words, this will give you big smile in return, even if you simply use “Pagi” (morning) and “Terima Kasih” (thank you), it will be hugely appreciated.
- In addition to the beachfront restaurants, small, family run restaurants known as Warungs are dotted all around and are a cheap and tasty way of eating locally.
- Free Wi-Fi is available in the larger hotels, some homestays and most restaurants but not necessarily family run Warungs. Not all the wi-fi is strong or reliable so think about switching off your phone and just enjoying this gorgeous island ... unless you are a digital nomad or travel blogger, but that's a different story!
- Bring a small torch for the evening as there are parts of the island that do not have lights, especially if you want to watch the sunset on the west coast and walk to the east coast for dinner.
- All toilets for the restaurants are “public” so carry a small packet of tissues and antibacterial handwash in your bag as they don’t always have toilet paper or hand washing facilities.
- Electricity supplies can be interrupted at times on the island which is not a problem at all, just something to be aware of. This does mean the internet can be affected, so put down your phone and just enjoy the beauty of the island.
Have you been to Gili Air? What were your thoughts? If you haven’t been, will you think about it now? Let us know in the comments below, we would love to know what you think!
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