Gili Air is the most easterly of the three Gili Islands, and the closest to Lombok. The island offers the best of both worlds, with plenty of bars and restaurants, excellent diving and beautiful beaches. It is quieter than Gili Trawangan, but livelier than Gili Meno.
Gili Air was the first of the Gili Islands to be settled, by Bugis fishermen in the 1970s. It also has the largest local population of the three islands. As a result, this is where you’ll get the strongest impression of a local community on the islands beyond tourism.
Getting to Gili Air
There is no airport on the Gili Islands, but their proximity to Lombok means they are easy to reach by boat. Boats depart from Bali, or from the mainland on Lombok. The most popular way to get to the Gili Islands is by boat from Teluk Nara, which is a 25 minute drive North of Sengigi. Things are quite well organised and there’s a ticket counter where you should purchase your ticket.
The increasing numbers of visitors to the Gili Islands mean there are now many companies offering ‘fast boat’ services from Bali and Lombok to the Gili Islands. Many of these are reputable companies offering a good service. However, the regulation is not great and some have bad safety records. Some companies overbook their boats and travel in dangerous weather, just to keep their customer numbers as high as possible. This is particularly dangerous given that the Lombok Strait, one of the deepest bodies of water in the world, can get very rough in bad weather.
It’s a good idea to do some research, and book only with reputable companies, such as the recommended Gili Getaway. Most of the fast boat services travel to Gili Air as well as to Gili Trawangan. They depart form Serangan on Bali and Senggigi on Lombok. The journey from Bali takes a little over two hours.
Getting to Gili Air by Public Ferry
It’s also possible, and cheaper, to travel to the Gilis by public ferry from Lombok. Ferries depart from Bangsal, around 25km north of Senggigi. They depart at irregular intervals throughout the day, between around 7.30am and 4.30pm. Some public ferries do go to Gili Air, but you may have to get off at Gili Trawangan and charter a boat or jump on the twice-daily ‘island-hopping’ boat for the short trip between the Gilis. There’s more information on all the services in our guide on how to get to the Gili Islands.
Where to stay on Gili Air
Gili Air does not have the same selection of hotels as Gili Trawangan, but there is a decent range of places to stay. As on Gili Trawangan, the eastern coast is busier than the west, and the southern busier than the north. The island has hotels to suit all budgets.
A great budget choice is Gecko Backpackers, around five minutes’ walk inland from the south coast. As the name suggests, this is a classic backpacker haunt, complete with wall art and guitars at reception. Accommodation takes the form of thatched bamboo bungalows, with either shared or private bathrooms. The rooms are basic, but clean and comfortable, and with prices starting at around Rp 130,000, it’s good value. Outside there are communal seating areas with tables and beanbags.
There’s a good selection of mid-range hotels on Gili Air. Sunrise Gili Air is a lovely hotel on the island’s southeast coast. It features a beautiful outdoor pool surrounded by palm trees, and comfortable rooms with wooden thatched verandas. If money’s no object, I’d recommend Villas Sama Lama, which sits on the quiet western coast of the island, far from the crowds. Each villa is supremely comfortable, beautifully designed in a traditional style, and features a private swimming pool and a kitchenette.
Best Places to Eat and Drink on Gili Air
As with hotels, Gili Air has a good range of restaurants and bars, but again not as extensive as Gili Trawangan. One must-visit is Scallywags, a restaurant which also has a branch on Gili T. This is well worth a visit for its seafood barbecues, where you load up on a buffet of rice and sides and select beautiful, fresh barbecued seafood dishes to accompany it. Several seafront restaurants offer similar barbecues, but Scallywags do the best. Washed down with a cold beer, there’s no better way to end a day on the beach.
Another popular place, just down the road from Scallywags on the southeast coast of the island, is Chill Out Bar & Bungalows. This beach shack restaurant, which also has bungalow accommodation, does great Indonesian food, especially, of course, fresh seafood. It’s also a great spot for a beachside cocktail or beer – the kind of place where it’s all too easy to watch the hours melt away.
Gili Air is the closest of the Gili Islands to Lombok and was the first to be settled by people. It offers a bit of balance between Gili Trawangan and Gili Meno. It doesn’t have the ‘party island’ reputation of Gili Trawangan, but it is a lot livelier than Gili Meno. The same is true of its range of hotels, bars and restaurants, which is not as wide-ranging as Gili Trawangan’s but is more extensive than Gili Meno’s. There are places to stay for every budget and a decent selection of places to eat and drink.
Have you been to Gili Air? Do you have any suggestions other than those mentioned above? Please let us know in the comments below.