Unless you have been to Bali, you have probably never heard of the Gili Islands, but they are worth a visit if you are in the area and looking for a more laid back and secluded experience. The Gili islands look right out of a postcard with bright turquoise water, white sand beaches and a lot of friendly smiles.
After spending a few days in Seminyak, Bali (not a place we would recommend due to trash on the beach) we cruised on a speedboat over to Gili Air island for some scuba diving. The Gili islands are between Bali and Lombok, and consist of three tiny islands: Gili Trawangan (the most developed and popular one), Gili Air and Gili Meno (the smallest and least developed, dubbed the honeymoon island). The three islands are very close to each other, but require a short boat ride. Don’t try swimming, the currents are extremely strong. Another short ride gets you to Lombock, a large Indonesian island that you can view from the Gili islands; when it’s clear it’s hard to miss Mount Rinjani looming in the distance. We only visited Gili Air, but heard good things about the other two islands.
We have a separate post about this. Short story we took the fast boat to Gili Air and had to take the long ferry back due to weather.
Where to Stay
There are only about 30-40 places to stay on Gili Air, but over 150 more on Gili Trawangan. We ended up staying at Sunrise Cottages because the scuba dive shop we used was based there. See more about it toward the end of this post.
It was raining and stormy almost the entire four days we spent on the Gili islands (and for much of the next three weeks that we spent in Bali after). It turns out February is in the middle of the monsoon season in Indonesia, though of course some years it doesn’t rain as much. We had no idea because the rest of SE Asia is hot and dry from November to March, so we didn’t think to check. Because of this, if you are planning a shorter trip and want to escape winter by going to a sunny beach, don’t go to Indonesia in Oct-April. I suggest going to Thailand, Philippines, Malaysia or other places that are not in the middle of monsoon.
Despite the rain, we enjoyed our time on Gili Air. After a lot of sun and heat in Thailand, it was kind of nice. We were able to get work done and escape the sun! Thankfully it wasn’t too stormy so we were able to complete five dives to earn us our Advanced Open water diver certification. Now we can go down up to 30 meters!
How to Get Around
Gili Air is a small island; it took us 1.5 hours to walk the entire circumference, including a 15 minute rain delay under a tree. It was lovely and really easy to just follow the sandy path all around. There are no cars, just a path made of sand. If you need a ride you can pay 50,000 INR (a little under $5) for a horse and carriage ride, the island’s taxi. Most of the hotels and bungalows are on the South/East side, with all of the restaurants lining the shore.
What to Do
The main thing to do on this island is to relax! Internet is slow and there is not much to do. It’s a perfect place to unwind, get massages, hang by the pool or beach and read some books. The other main attractions are water sports. There are at least five diving shops on Gili Air, and many more on Gili Trawangan. If you aren’t into diving there is also snorkeling, swimming and excursions by boat.
Not to sound picky, but as a vegetarian I wasn’t impressed with the food on Gili Air. I imagine if you ate fish there would be some delicious fresh fish to enjoy. All of the restaurants had very similar menus, all catering to tourists with a strange mixture of Indonesian, Thai and Western. We did find one restaurant near the end of our stay called Caballito de Mar (turns out it’s rated #1 on Trip Advisor, out of 30 restaurants). We enjoyed the food, as they had a few vegetarian options that actually featured some vegetables. The service and atmosphere was excellent, it was a very classy place to hang out and work at. Both times we went a storm came through so we ended up sticking around for quite a bit, and we didn’t have a problem with that at all. 🙂
I can’t talk about food without mentioning gelato, are you seeing a theme here? There is a really yummy gelato stand called Scooperific on Gili Air. In fact, a French man who was one of our scuba instructors, makes the gelato on the island. It’s creamy and delicious!
The main reason we came to visit Gili Air was to do more scuba diving. We picked Gili Air Divers due to their low costs. It turns out they are SSI, not PADI, which is interchangeable, but also explains the lower price. Their shop was in the Sunrise Cottages grounds, where we stayed as well. The diving wasn’t quite as nice as in Koh Lanta, mainly because the visibility was lower and the currents were quite strong on a couple dives. We also were used to very individual attention in Koh Lanta; but Gili Air Divers were really busy, and thus it seemed more hectic and rushed until the last day, when there weren’t as many customers. We did see some beautiful turtles on four of the five dives, which was incredible! We also managed to spot a huge Moray eel chilling in one of the rock formations during our night dive. Overall, we had a fun time, everyone was sweet, and most of them spoke French. If you speak French you would enjoy your time more.
At Sunrise we were given a 10% discount on the room because we were doing the diving course, but of course this was for the smallest room in the back of resort, just like in Koh Lanta. 🙂 The rooms were basic and clean. I liked that they had a mosquito net, though some spider enjoyed eating me at night anyway. The walls were way too thin, but it was a fine place to stay for four days. Most people stay in actual two story bungalows which are much nicer but twice as expensive