The first time I came to the Gili islands (April 2012), my two friends and I went from Bali to Gili Trawangan (aka Gili T) for a few nights. It was an experience I’ll never forget, and I know the 2 friends I traveled with feel the same way.
Given the opportunity to come back to Indonesia, I really wanted to show Pete these glorious islands, but I wasn’t sure Gili T was the place for us. We decided to stay on Gili Air instead, and we absolutely loved our stay. Here’s why we stayed on Gili Air, our experience, and some information to help you navigate your stay.
The Three Gili Islands
Gili actually means “small island” in Sasak. When you hear travelers talk about “The Gili islands,” however, they’re probably referring to the 3 islands off the northwest coast of Lombok. From west to east, these islands are Gili Trawangan (Gili T), Gili Meno, and Gili Air.
Each island has a personality. Gili T is the largest, known as the party island; Gili Meno is known for its serene, honeymoon atmosphere and great beaches; Gili Air is said to be a mix of the two.
Each island is very small. You can walk around the entire Gili Air island in under 2 hours (although I bet you’ll want to stop for some snacks, drinks, or a quick dip along the way). You won’t find paved roads, cars or motorbikes here; only carts pulled by horses (which I’m super torn about – please avoid taking them!).
These islands are pretty magical. Come here to snorkel with turtles, laze on beach loungers, and eat Gado Gado (my favorite Indonesian dish) in beach bungalows.
Culture & Respect
Gili Air has the highest local population of the three islands, which is one of the reasons we chose to stay there. Note that it’s Muslim. While it’s perfectly acceptable to wear beach attire while on the beach, you should dress appropriately in the village (the “inland” part of the island).
Indonesian Rupiah (IDR). There are several ATMs on the south side of the island, near the pier.
I found it so much easier to get to the Gilis from Lombok than Bali!
Fly into Lombok international airport. Take a taxi to a port, then a boat to your Gili island of choice. Gili Air is the closest island to Lombok.
There are 2 ports in Lombok: one with fast boats, and one with the public boats.
Teluk Nara: the port with fast boats. It’s a cheaper cab ride from the airport, but the boat is much more expensive (by about $15). The boat ride is a quick 10 minutes. It cost us $22 per person for a round trip speed boat ride, which is much more expensive than the public boat.
Bangsal: the port with the public boat. It’s further north, so the cab ride will be more expensive, but the boat will be much less expensive. This option will also be less convenient; they suggest you arrive to this port an hour-2 hours before the boat departs to ensure you’ll get a ticket and be on that boat. The boat leaves when full.
You’ll have to get a fast boat, most likely from Padang Bai or Sanur. It will cost more than if you came from Lombok, and the journey will be much less convenient. Two and a half hours in a crammed fast boat isn’t the best way to spend your time in Indonesia! If you do need to come from Bali, check out this post for tips.
Finding a Budget Room
While the Gilis are part of Lombok, they don’t exactly reflect the same backpacker prices. We found it a bit difficult to find cheap accommodations that still offered what we consider necessities (clean rooms, private bathroom, wifi). Most people recommend booking accommodation in advance, since many hotels book early. If you have time and are on a budget, I suggest booking only your first night or two, and spending a day exploring the island to check out other options – especially if you’re not there during high season. There are a plethora of homestays and guest homes that offer budget accommodation, but aren’t listed online.
After doing quite a bit of research, I found Firda Homestay, a gem!
Hidden in the winding paths of Gili Air (as in, we struggled to find it the first time), Firda offers everything we were looking for: clean rooms (that are cleaned daily), a private room and bathroom, internet, and a bonus of air conditioning and free breakfast! We liked the location, too – close to the pier and the “main strip” on the southeast coast. The hosts are extremely sweet and accommodating.
Check availability for Firda Homestay here.
To search for more hotels in the area, check Agoda:
Where to Stay
As I mentioned above, the island is very small, but it does have distinct areas. We chose to stay at the southern end, since it’s near the majority of restaurants. The southeastern coast has the highest concentration of restaurants, and in my opinion, the best beach.
If you’re looking for peace & quiet, I’d suggest staying at a resort in the north.
If you want a taste of the local culture, stay inland.
Compared to Koh Tao, the food options were a bit underwhelming on Gili Air. Nevertheless, they still had some great options. For a review of the restaurants we tried, see our post: Where to Eat in Gili Air, Lombok.
There’s not tons to do on Gili Air, but that’s kind of the point. If you’re itching to move, you can rent a bike ($2/day) and ride around the island, snorkel, SUP, scuba dive, kite surf, or watch the sunset (hey, that counts!).
Since we recently got scuba certified, we were itching to try our first fun dive. The Gili’s offer pretty great diving with insane clarity and a plethora of wildlife, especially turtles.
The scuba prices are the same on all 3 islands, among all dive shops. We paid 520,000 IDR ($37) for our fun dive to Shark Point with Gili Air divers. We had a great experience and saw all kinds of wildlife, including turtles, baby white tip reef sharks, and giant moray eels!
Watch the Sunset
Don’t underestimate this one – you need to experience at least one sunset on Gili Air. Go to the west side of the island for the best sunset. We watched it twice at Mowies and craved more!
Lounge at the Beach
For less than $4, you can rent a beach lounger for the entire day at Scallywags. This includes fresh towels and access to the fresh water shower. We thought this was a great deal, since the beach is the best we found on the island (and we walked around the entire thing) and the chairs were extremely comfortable. It was also very easy (maybe too easy) to order food & drinks from their delicious restaurant.
Find this guide helpful? Have any recommendations to add? Let us know!