Scuba Diving and More on Gili Air

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.

Getting There

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.

Boat coming

Fast boat from Bali to the Gili Islands

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.

Stormy

Rain clouds rolling in, a typical scene over the four days we visited Gili Air.

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.

Walk around

The more developed part of the island, restaurants line the waters edge.

Path

The path around Gili Air. This is a more underdeveloped area.

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.

Signs

Many different options for water sports.

Food

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!

Taco

Yummy tacos at Caballito de Mar on Gili Air

Office

Perfect work space at Caballito de Mar. Their internet was fast (compared to other places) and we liked the food.

Scuba Diving

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

Outside of room

The cheap rooms at Sunrise Cottages on Gili Air

Pool

Pool view at Sunrise Cottages on Gili Air

 

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8 Responses to Scuba Diving and More on Gili Air

  1. Robert Harraka March 14, 2014 at 11:38 am #

    Thanks for the info on Gili Air. I haven’t been to the Gili islands yet, but have been to a few spots on Bali. I highly recommend Tulamben, a great spot for scuba diving and not much else besides relaxing. It’s shore diving there, including the USAT Liberty wreck dive where you can swim out directly from the beach at Ocean View Tulamben. The other favorite of mine in Bali is the dive site Tepekong Island (my most amazing dive to date) which is in the Padang Bai area. I’m going again in June, and will also be visiting the Menjangan Island on the north side. And yes, June – September is the preferred time to visit there — beautiful. I read that one should be cautious of diving in some of the surrounding islands, such as Nusa Penida where the currents can be ripping or the washing machine effect. Great diving, but make sure the experience level is there. Enjoy !

  2. Aurelien March 14, 2014 at 7:14 pm #

    Hi Robert, thanks for the information. We were planning on diving at Tulamben, but Anna-Lisa had an issue with her ear after our Gili Air dives, so we had to skip going to check out the wreck. I’m definitely looking forward to coming back to Bali in the future to dive in some of the places you mentioned.

  3. nan white March 17, 2014 at 3:41 pm #

    Hi Anna Lisa
    we just returned from 9 days on Gili Air, and really recommend it this time of year.
    the weather was sunny all day 8 out of 9 days. The weather sites always show rain in Lombok and Bali, never mention Gili Islands,
    which is misleading, because it is usually quite sunny there, even now when its rainy season in Bali.

    We found Indonesian dishes which serve delicious vegetables at many restaurants on Gili Air:
    Ura -Ura is vegies with wonderful spices and grated coconut sauce
    Ola-Ola is vegies in coconut sauce
    Gado-gado is with peanut sauce on noodles and vegies

    otherwise, you are right, the food scene there keeps you happy for about a week max.
    But it was heaven, so peaceful, so beautiful and pristine.

    And we loved the local life, seeing how they live.
    All 900 locals know each other and take care of each other.
    If someone is caught stealing, he is taken around the island wearing a sign that says:
    “I stole, I am a thief”. So it really feels very safe there.

    And no mosquitoes.

    You can have your own nice new bungalow for less than $20/nite.
    H2o Yoga charges $15/nite, very peaceful feeling there.
    We liked Bellevue Resort $35/nite, also Biba $45/nite (or east -facing for $37/nite)
    And you don’t need air conditioning, we found that fan only felt better.

    Great honeymoon place too
    Nan and Nick White

    • Anna-Lisa March 17, 2014 at 8:53 pm #

      Oh wow! So wonderful that you were on Gili Air and it was sunny the whole time! I guess we were there for a the monsoon part. Thanks for your tips and insights. Where are you headed next?

  4. Jack@biradivecamp August 19, 2014 at 5:27 am #

    Really enjoyed the post! Thanks for the detailed info!

    • Aurelien August 20, 2014 at 12:01 pm #

      Thanks Jack, glad it was useful for you!

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