On our brief pass through Indonesia we managed a quick two night stay on Gili Air, one of the three Gili Islands off the coast of Lombok. It was one of the most relaxing and rejuvenating parts of our trip. Gili Air is the smallest of the three Gili Islands, and the least developed. There were absolutely no cars; the main means of transportation was horse drawn carriage. The tiny island was easy to walk around, and was surrounded by awesome beaches. Most of the action takes place in the south east corner of the island, where you arrive on the ferry. However the north west was our favourite, with simple restaurants and large expanses of beaches dotted with bean bag chairs and personal beach huts facing onto beautiful sunsets.
How to Get There
To get to Gili Air from Kuta, Bali the ferries leave from the port city of Pedang Bai (about a 1.5 hour drive north of Kuta). Our arrival to Gili Air was pretty unfortunate, as we were scammed buying our ferry tickets. We had heard of some terrible experiences on these ferries and had decided to spend a little extra to get a good one. Since we had to buy in Kuta, Bali we booked through a travel agent stand we found near our hotel. She recommended the sketchier companies (Semaya, first and we said no to them, then she quoted a higher price for Eka Jaya, a company that we’d heard good things about). We paid for the tickets and were told we would be picked up at our hotel the next morning.
We were picked up a little late (which has come to be expected) and arrived at the ferry docks in Pedang Bai at 8:30am after a 1.5 hour drive (the driving here is pretty insane, be prepared). Our driver showed us to the ferry ticket office where we showed our receipt and received our tickets. Except our ticket said Semaya on it, not Eka Jaya like we were promised. The ferry people were not helpful and said that Semaya had “sold” our seats to them, but not to worry as they were a better ferry. However, reviews and the fact that the Semaya ticket was cheaper told us otherwise. We went to the Eka Jaya office and they couldn’t help us, because our tickets didn’t say Eka Jaya on them. We ended up on the Semaya boat, fairly angry that the travel agent had blatantly sold us tickets to the cheaper company for the cost of a better more expensive company, and had completely lied to our faces. We had bought the “Eka Jaya” ticket for 450,000 rupiah, 7,000 rupiah more than the Semaya ticket should have costed. That’s only about $7 CAD, but the principal of the matter is that she had lied and scammed us. Moral of the story; check that your receipt states the ferry company on it. Stupid mistake by us, but still a very dishonest move by the travel agent.
Enough with our scam story (must still be a little bitter). We left on the ferry at 9:00 am and got to Gili Air at 11:15 am, only making the one stop in Lombok. The trip wasn’t that bad, but we were able to snag seats, some people we forced to stand the whole way.
On the way back to Pedang Bai from Gili Air, it took a little longer, as we stopped at Gili Trawangan and Gili Meno before heading back to the mainland. Be aware that though the drive back to Kuta is included in your ticket price, they will not drive you right to your hotel unless you pay the driver extra. We kept an eye on our MapsMe app and when our driver got close we asked to get out. He was planning on driving up all the way to Legian and dropping us off there!
Where to Stay
- Bintang Bungalow – We stayed on the north end of the island, where the accommodation was a bit cheaper. Bintang Bungalow was a quiet collection of clean, individual bungalows, each with an ensuite bathroom (though the bathroom didn’t have a roof). They had free breakfast and they sold bottled water there which you could put on a tab. We only paid for a fan room, but they left the remote for the A/C in our room so we used it (sparingly!). It’s a little bit of a walk from the ferry docks, but there are lots of really cool restaurants around, and it’s also right on the beach and a short walk from the northeast side where you can see the sunset. You can book online here.
What to Do
- Dive – The Gili Islands are one of the best places in the world to go diving. We booked through Ocean’s 5, a reputable dive shop near the ferry docks. They do trips all around the islands, but we went to Hans Reef, just off the east coast of the island. We dove with another couple, but it was just the four of us and our dive master. It was the best dive of our whole trip. The visibility was amazing, and being our first dive after our certification, we really enjoyed the freedom of being able to look around and just enjoy ourselves. We found some nudibranchs (google it, they’re awesome), ghost pipefish (which are apparently pretty hard to find) , cuttlefish and an orangutang crab. We saw a turtle sleeping in a bed of coral, clownfish, batfish, goatfish and a huge seargent fish. A turtle swam over us, and we spotted a baby scorpionfish and a massive sea cucumber moving along the ocean floor near the end of the dive. We lasted 54 minutes (a new record for us!) and it felt like nothing. The dive was really amazing. If you are looking to get certified, you can do that also, but it is more expensive here than where we did ours in Koh Tao, Thailand.
- Sunset – On the northeast side of the island you’ll find lots of simple restaurants with beach huts or bean bags on the sand, which are optimal for watching the sunset. All you have to do to use their seats is buy a drink or snack and it’s yours. The sunsets are spectacular!
- Reggae Sunset Party – Lasting well after sunset, we chilled out at a restaurant close to our bungalows called Pura Vida for a long time, enjoying drinks and a live reggae band. We seemed to encounter a lot of reggae along our trip, and though we’ve never been into that type of music, it just fit the chill mood perfectly. The band was actually really good too! They played at Pura Vida every night we were there, but from what we heard there were many reggae bands playing around the island.
Where to Eat
- Banga Bar – Our go-to on the northeast side of the island for cheap meals and drinks while watching the amazing sunsets. The food we had there was also delicious, and they had both bean bag chairs and beach huts to sit in right near the water, so take your pick!
- Mirage – Just a short walk from our bungalow farther east is a nice spot called Mirage. It serves some very yummy snacks, including guacamole, hummus, and chips, as well as veggies and bread. We got all of the above and we were not disappointed. They also had a movie room for rainy days, but it was always sunny for us so we stuck to the beach.
- Bar Hop – As we said before, the reggae band at Pura Vida was unreal and we spent our nights drinking there (they also have wood fired pizza there!). However, when we walked down the east side of the island from our bungalow, every beach bar was lit up and offering great drink deals, chill vibes, and dancing. Some of the bars even had more live music! You could easily spend a whole night hopping from bar to bar and making friends.