Photo by Tyler Ingram
Heading to Gili Air and want to know what to expect? Here’s a little rundown of everything you need to know about this paradise island. From activities to accommodation to nightlife (and emergency healthcare!), we’ve got you covered…
Gili Air is part of the paradise trio in Indonesia – neighbour to party island Gili Trawangan and honeymooner Gili Meno. This island has the highest local population of the three and offers the perfect balance of beautiful beaches, fun activities and great food. It’s a mix of chilled out, sunset-Bintangs and cocktail beach bars.
Bahasa Indonesia is the local language, although the island’s specific dialect is known as ‘Sasak’. A lot of the locals here speak amazing English, but it’s always courteous to learn a few basics before you visit. This is a safe, friendly island to visit, and is located close to Lombok, and not far from tourist-hub Bali. The Gili islands near Bali are a great destination for solo travellers, families and group trips.
Nearby Lombok has an international airport in Praya, with taxi services and shuttle buses running to Senggigi (one of the main tourist ports for fast boats) and Bangsal (better for slow, public and cheaper boats).
Senggigi harbor has a few ticket offices, or you can buy your boat ticket in advance online (anchor link to new site page on transfers and trips). It’s within a short distance of the town centre, or you can get a direct taxi here from the airport for around 400,000 IDR. We’d suggest using BlueBird metred taxis to get the best price – you can download the ‘My BlueBird’ app in advance. Boats usually run from here all day and you can book online here (anchor link to new site page on transfers and trips).
Most tourists arrive to Gili Air from Bali and Lombok, as there are plenty of daily fast boats between all of the islands. Gili islands boat transfers are way easier than some people make them sound, so don’t stress!
Bangsal harbour offers an exceptionally cheap (12,000 IDR) boat across to Gili Air, with boats running from 7.30am – 5pm. Don’t enter the big building, but stick to the side of the road with small shops along it and continue onwards to the beach. There’s a little ticket office here with a shaded waiting space, or you can wander to the beach itself and wait here. Announcements are made based on the color of your ticket (eg ‘white ticket to Gili Air leaving now’) so you’d struggle to miss your boat!
The summer months (from May – September) tend to be pretty busy, with rainy season arriving from November through to March. Book accommodation in advance if you’re visiting Gili Air island in high season!
There is an abundance of accommodation options on the island. You can book in advance, or, if you visit during low season, you can normally wander around and find somewhere you like the look of. There are options for every budget – cheap home-stays and hostels are available, mid-range hotels and guesthouses are easy to come by and then there are the fancier hotels and resorts that tend to require advance-booking.
There isn’t a huge backpacker scene here, but keep an eye out for Begadang Backpackers, Gili Air Hostel and Captain Coconuts. For homestays and guesthouses, head to Bambu Homestay, Rumah Amel and Azila Homestay. If you fancy splashing out a little bit, check out Gili Air Escape and Gilinta Villa for traditional ‘lumbung’ style accommodation. For a big hotel with all the comforts of a Western-chain back home, check out the Gili Air resort Hotel Ombak Paradise – room service, outdoor cinema and a huge pool. It might not be an authentic Indonesian place to stay, but it’s pretty swanky.
There are loads of food options on the island! If you’re new to Indonesia, ease yourself into the local food and head to a warung (local, smaller eatery) for Nasi or Mie Goreng (fried rice or fried noodles), Gado Gado (vegetables and tempe or tofu, both soy-bean products, cooked in peanut sauce) and Olah Olah (coconut sauce loaded with vegetables and flavour). Look out for Warung Lia, Warung Sunny and Warung Muslim.
The Mexican Kitchen does what it says on the tin, and very well; Pura Vida offers the best Spanish tapas (and aioli) on the island, and Biba is the place to head for the best pizza around, after 5pm. There are heaps of restaurants dotted along the beach offering seafood BBQS and Western food. For burgers, visit Le Bistro, Pachamama and Mowies.
If you’re after something super healthy, we’ve got you covered. Captain Coconuts offers wholesome, tasty food, poolside; Pacahama’s menu is full of kombucha, green goodness and filling soul bowls, and Good Earth Cafe has raw, vegan and gluten-free options. Vegan snacks can also be found at Coffee and Thyme, by the harbour. Check out our vegan guide (anchor text link to vegan article) to Gili Air, and get your caffeine fix at our five favourite cafes on the island (anchor link to café article).
Gili Air has some incredible dive sites surrounding it, so head off on an Adventure Dive or work towards your PADI here (anchor link to diving article/ directory). Experienced divers can gain further qualifications and there are options for fun dives, too. Snorkelling is huge here, with stalls to hire fins and masks near to all the beaches.
Head to Gili Cooking Classes for an amazing experience – learn to cook local dishes, meet other travellers and sample lots of tasty food along the way. Classes run at 11.30am, 4pm and 8pm, and there are veggie options available! Children are also welcome. You can choose how many dishes you want to cook, with prices starting at 275,000 IDR per person for four dishes, and reaching 385,000 IDR for six meals.
Stand-Up Paddle Boarding is one the best activities you can do in the Gili islands – it takes zero experience, there’s very little risk involved (good for the clumsy one in your group!) and it’s good fun. You can rent boards on the beach (normally costing around 100,000 – 150, 000 IDR for an hour), or head to Blue Marine Dive for one of their SUP tours – 300,000 IDR for a guided sunset tour.
Gili Air is basically designed to be a yogi’s paradise, with loads of studios dotted around the island. Mandalablue yoga over at Blue Marine Dive offers a unique opportunity to try out SUP Yoga, with classes costing 275,000 IDR each. They offer Fly High Yoga classes for anyone who fancies something a bit more exciting – aerial yoga is an amazing way to spend an afternoon!
Head to H20 Yoga for meditation and twice-daily yoga classes (9am and 5pm), and try out their bamboo stick workshops. Their daily (10.45 – 11.45am) aqua yoga classes are also a must.
If you fancy heading to another paradise island for a few days, here’s some info on Gili islands boat transfers.
There are a couple of options if you fancy setting off to nearby Gili Trawangan and Meno. Fast boats to these island will cost you 85,000 to Gili T and Gili Meno, and run from 9am to 4.30pm.
Slow boats are a lot cheaper – there’s a boat leaving Gili Air at 8.30am which arrives in Gili Meno at 8.45am and Gili T at 9am. The afternoon boat leaves Air at 3pm, arrives in Meno at 3.15 and T at 4.30pm. To come back, leave Gili T at either 9.15am or 4.15pm, stop off in Meno at either 9.30am or 4.30pm (or hop on these boats if you’re in Meno already!), and arrive back in Air at either 9.45am or 4.45pm. These boats all cost 35,000 IDR.
Gili Air is a relatively flat island, and it takes around 40 minutes to walk around the perimeter of it. The harbour area tends to get pretty busy, as this is the main point of entry for most tourist and local boats. Expect to see homestays, restaurants and cafes dotted around everywhere.
The roads here tend to be more like paths, as there are no cars and very few mopeds on the island. Some tracks will take you through dusty areas, others are concrete and easier to use, and some are just footprints winding between palm trees. The beaches here are stunning – expect some coral and be careful where you stand at low tide! Reef conservation (anchor text link to eco Gili article) is becoming a lot more important on the island, so please exercise caution in this area.
Cidomos are the traditional method of transport used across the three Gili islands. These little horse and carts are used to carry people, as well as goods and building materials. Walking is the main way to get around the island, or rent a bicycle from your accommodation and enjoy the sea breeze.
Gili T is the main party island (anchor text link to Gili T party guide) of this little paradise trio, but Gili Air still has plenty to offer for those who are seeking night time fun. There are some great little beach bars with live music, as well as bigger parties on set nights of the week.
A lot of Gili Air nightlife revolves around live music nights. Head to Raja Bar and Bel Air for nightly live music and a great crowd. These two bars are next to each other and alternate their music nights. Sapari’s offers a live band, too, which tends to be pretty adhoc. Some of the smaller bars along the beach will have impromptu music nights, so grab a Bintang and bust out your rendition of ‘Wonderwall’.
Mondays get pretty busy at Lucky’s Bar and Chill Out Bar. Legend Bar is the place to head on a Wednesday – expect house music, a lot of divers and cheap beer. Zipp Bar gets busy on Friday nights, with a live band turning into a DJ set. For something more chilled, head to Pura Vida on a Saturday for Spanish tapas and mellow live music. Full Moon parties are normally held at Space Bar and Zipp Bar. Gili Air nightlife might not be as wild as Gili T, but there’s still plenty going on!
There are a few clothes and souvenir shops here, which tend to be pricier than Bali but are full of little treasures. Expect lots of beach-front stalls selling jewellery made from shells, woven bracelets, anklets and gemstone necklaces. There are quite a few boutiques selling swimwear, kaftans and accessories, too.
Sorry to break it to you but there are no 7-Elevens or chain-shops here. Instead, there are lots of small shops selling snacks, cold drinks and limited toiletries. There are three main shops on the island here, all nearby the harbour and all offer lower prices than the smaller shops. Siti Shop, Unik Shop and Surujaya are the ones to keep an eye out for.
If you’ve got access to a kitchen, these are the places to stock up on rice, pasta, fresh veggies, canned goods and more. If you’re just after a snack, head here for cheap crisps, nuts, biscuits and fresh fruit. These shops also have toiletries, cosmetics and plenty of other random things available. Word of warning – tampons are incredibly expensive here, ladies, so stock up before you arrive! There isn’t a huge range of haircare products, either, so if you’re after something specific, bring it with you.
Gili Air doctors are available! If you need help in the middle of the night, ask at your accommodation or head to the 24-hour Blue Medical centre near the harbour. There is also Dr. Sahrun’s medical centre – it’s very close to the harbour (opposite Eazy Gili Warung) and open from 8am – 10pm. There’s another fantastic clinic opposite Teddy’s Bungalows in the north, so check with your accommodation where your nearest one is.
The larger shops will sell basic medicines, such as paracetamol, ibuprofen and Imodium for any general issues. Pocari Sweat is a life-saver for anyone suffering from ‘Bali belly’, as it replaces ions lost from an upset stomach and rehydrates you. It doesn’t taste amazing, but it will really help.
In recent years, more ATMs have been added to the Gili islands near Bali. There are some located directly near the harbour, as well as several dotted around the island, so you’ll never be too far away from one. Your cash with come out before your card here, and lots of tourists wander out before they’re given back their card! The main money changer is on the road that leads directly north out of the harbour, next to Sharkbites restaurant.
While you might be visiting paradise island, there are a few things to bear in mind. Remember that you’re coming to an island where there is a large local population who have strong religious and cultural beliefs. Bikinis are fine on the beach and around pool areas, but aren’t really suitable for restaurants and walking through the streets. Please be respectful and cover up if you’re wandering through local villages – sarongs come in really handy!
Stay safe on the island and definitely don’t drink tap water! Tap and shower water will normally come from the ocean, so is salty and not treated, or will be fresh water that is not treated with chemicals.
Drink bottled water and use the refill stations around the island to limit your waste. Restaurants and cafes will usually use safe drinking water to make ice and to wash food in, but ask if you’re unsure – you won’t be the first or last to do so!
The marine life here is stunning, but desperately needs more care and love. There are many initiatives running across the three islands, and it is well worth reading up on to see how much our lifestyles impact the ocean life (anchor text link to eco Gili article). Say ‘no’ to straws, dispose of your waste properly and use the water refill stations instead of buying a new plastic bottle every time you get thirsty. Don’t flush toilet paper – the island’s waste system can’t cope and there are bins and hoses available in most bathrooms here.
Leaving Gili Air island is fairly simple, just follow our guide to Gili islands boat transfers.
If you booked an open-return ticket on your way here, there’ll be an office or representative from the company on the island. Head here two days before you wish to leave, just to reserve a seat and confirm everything.
Don’t leave the island on the day of your flight from Bali, unless you’re flying in the evening. Boat schedules can change depending on weather, so give yourself enough time to get to Bali or Lombok before your flight leaves.
If you have nothing booked, a standard boat to Bali and onward-shuttle will cost you 300,000 – 350, 000 IDR. If you want a boat to Lombok, expect to pay 12,000 IDR for a slow, public boat or 85,000 for a fast boat (running every hour from 9am – 4pm). Packages with a slow boat and shuttle to Lombok airport cost around 200,000 IDR and normally leave from Gili Air at 8.30am and 1.30pm.