Gili Air is Home
The beach on Gili Air
may be lined
with tourist catered restaurants
the wifi may stream
with the speed of a sloth
flies may swarm your smoothie
or land on your face
you may find more trash
when beachcombing than shells
you may cut your delicate feet
on the coral covered sand
or step on a sea urchin
in the ocean instead
yet no where but Gili Air
will feel like home
People wave and shout hello
as you ride your bicycle by
no cars no scooters no stress
only big genuine smiles.
Lizards bathe in swamp pools
nothing poisonous here to be found
cows graze in your front yard
giant geckos in your room sing loud.
Joyful children swim in the ocean
or row out to sea in a boat
tourists snorkel with turtles
divers descend to a world more remote.
You can sip a coconut poolside
in a chic beachfront bar
or eat in local warungs
gado gado, urap urap, olah olah
a few dollars will get you far.
If you lose your shoes no problem
most of us walk barefoot
with no snobbery or expectation
feel free to look how you want.
The voice from the Mosque rings out
devoted locals called to prayer
meanwhile the clubs bump
electro, dance and trance.
At sunset beach bums flock
to the West side for stunning views
live music at Safari
reggae, roots, and rock.
On Gili Air I never found catharsis
in the jungle or on an empty beach
but the island became my neighborhood
strangers quickly turned into friends
I developed a routine
I never wanted my time there to end.
I gave myself permission
to take a vacation
and just enjoy myself instead.
but in the comfort of the people I now loved
I found what I needed
I found myself again.
When I left Gili Air
for the unknown in Lombok
after three easy weeks
I was not afraid of becoming lost
because the best thing
about finding a home
I can always, always go back.
How to Get to Gili Air
The three Gili Islands (Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno, and Gili Air) are accessible only by boat from either Lombok or Bali. Gili Air is closest to Lombok.
Public boats run from the harbor in Bangsal, Lombok to Gili Air and take 20-30 minutes depending on weather. If the sea is too rough boats may not operate at all. You will need to take a shuttle or taxi to Bangsal, which is about an hour from the capitol of Mataram. If you are coming from Senggigi you can arrange private boat transfer for about $7 through an agency in Senggigi.
Travel agencies throughout Bali book fast boats that take about two hours from Padang Bai in Bali to each of the Gili Islands. They may quote exorbitant rates, but negotiate to pay between 200,000-300,000 rupiah each way which is about $15-25 and include transfer from many places in Bali to the harbor in Padang Bai. The trip can be rough and sickening if the weather is bad. Ticketing agents may sway you to book round trip saying that booking is more expensive in the Gilis. That is simply not true and sometimes the fast boats stop operating altogether due to weather. Keep your options open and don’t book the return ticket.
The alternative is to take a slow ferry for about five hours from Padang Bai to Lembar, Lombok, then a taxi the 60km to Bangsal harbor to catch the public boat to Gili Air.
How to Get Around Gili Air
You can walk the perimeter of the entire island in about an hour and a half. I recommend doing this at least once to find your favorite beach. Walking is pleasurable, but if you want to get quickly from one end of the island to the other, it’s best to have a bicycle.
You can find bicycle rentals throughout the island and at most hotels for 30,000 rupiah ($2.50). Bear in mind some roads are very sandy and difficult to peddle down, but inside the village there are paved roads to cut across.
I felt conflicted about this as I am very anti horse and carriage rides, however the only other form of transportation on the island is by horse. When you come off the harbor with a lot of luggage it might seem like a godsend. The price is 60,000 rupiah flat rate ride but really, unless you absolutely feel you must use it, get some exercise and use your body instead. You’ll get in shape and save money.
Where to Sleep on Gili Air
Bungalows abound on Gili Air. Your best bet is to walk around, find a place you like, and negotiate a price. The cheapest places are in the village, but if you don’t mind a cold shower you can find budget bungalows on the beach. These are a few of my personal favorites. During the low season it’s easy to negotiate for much lower rates if you plan to stay for more than a few nights.
400,000 rupiah for a bungalow that sleeps up to 3
I stayed here for all three weeks on Gili Air and it became my home. It’s away from the busyness on the East side, but a short walk away from many of the popular bars and restaurants, on a quiet beach. The property is big with grass fields that cows graze in and it’s common to see the monitor lizards here. Rooms have wifi (that hardly ever works), cold water showers, and includes a big breakfast of coffee or fresh fruit smoothie, fruit salad, and fruit crepes or eggs. The staff is so, so nice and helpful at all hours. If you decide to stay at Seger, tell Satu I sent you!
250,000+ for bungalows, 500,000+ for the villa
Right next door to Segar Villages is Gili Air Santay owned by a now dear friend Andy. If you’re with a group or a family consider renting the villa which is brand new and spotless. The room rates include breakfast at their restaurant directly on the beach, my favorite restaurant on the whole island.
$100+ for bungalows
Casa Mio sits on the quiet sunset side of Gili Air on a beautiful beach overlooking Lombok. Rooms are luxury with wifi, A/C, and hot water. Several bars and restaurants are next door including my favorite bar to listen to live music, Safari. The hotel has its own restaurant with Indonesian, Western, and Italian food.
Lucky’s draws a fun, young traveller’s crowd and is also on the gorgeous, laid back sunset side. I haven’t seen the rooms personally, but a friend who was traveling solo managed to negotiate a bungalow here for 100,000 rupiah which is a total steal. I assume showers are cold and there is no wifi.
Where to Eat on Gili Air
$1-7 for breakfast, lunch, and dinner
This restaurant became my home away from home. In addition to the wonderful owner Andy, and the entire staff, I made friends then soon family with many patrons of this restaurant. I loved the food here so much that I had to force myself to go try other places. The price for value beats any other restaurant on the island. Some of my favorites are the fried tempeh appetizer with sweet chili sauce, the Indonesian curry with homemade coconut milk, and anything off the fish grill.
Inside the village and scattered around the beach are local warungs, the cheapest places to eat on the island, serving typical Indonesian food. Gado Gado is steamed veggies with boiled egg and peanut sauce, Urap Urap is steamed veggies with grated coconut, Nasi Goreng or Mie Goreng are fried rice or fried noodles with egg and vegetables, and Olah Olah is a coconut stew with veggies and your meat of choice.
$3-5 for lunch and dinner
In the busiest part of the beach many restaurants serve up BBQ and kebabs at lunch and dinner. For the price, the setting and the food, Chill Out Bar is my favorite. I ordered a huge veggie kebab cooked on the grill with a big greek salad and potatoes. The pizza here also looks amazing which is thin and also cooked on the grill.
$5-10 for lunch and dinner, $3-10 for drinks
Scallywag’s is easily the most famous restaurant on Gili Air. They have fast wifi, wheatgrass shots, and solid Western food. At dinner if you order something off the grill it comes with two trips to their salad bar. This was amazing as getting a big filling salad is nearly impossible on the island. However, the service at Scallywag’s can be borderline rude. Personally I had a bad experience there and heard similar feedback from others. Still, it’s worth hanging out there in the day as it overlooks a gorgeous beach, or coming in for dinner and taking advantage of the great salad bar.
$5-10 for lunch and dinner, $3-10 for drinks
You may think you’ve been transported to Ibiza the moment you step foot in Caballito. The interior is posh with leather loungers, a swimming pool, and a sleek bar. However the service is unpretentious, accommodating, friendly, and professional. It was my favorite place to come in the morning to use some wifi and enjoy a young coconut. The gazpacho is delicious and healthy and I heard the burger was quite good.
$1.50 single, $2 double scoop
I had not planned eat ice cream five days in a row while on the Gilis. In fact I typically avoid dairy. However one bite of the yogurt flavored homemade gelato and I was sold. The texture is incredibly creamy and light and it comes in a crispy waffle cone. Heaven. I also tried the dark chocolate which I loved and heard glowing reviews of the white chocolate. Scooperific ice cream stands are scattered around the island but the main location is next to Chill Out Bar.
$3-10 for lunch and dinner
Le Cirque may have the best Western food on the island. Homemade bread, elegant pastries, and a European fusion menu is a nice break from traditional Indonesian fare. I tried the apple, carrot, mint salad with sesame seeds and raisons which I loved, as well as the creamy pumpkin soup which comes close to being the best I’ve ever tasted. Friends recommended the homemade baguette and the chocolate mousse. The beachfront location is likewise wonderful.
Where to Drink on Gili Air
Wednesday nights Legend throws the biggest party on the island with a live band followed by dance music from a DJ. It lures a big crowd with crazy dancing on the beach. It’s good fun albeit a bit crazy.
Most nights of the week Safari has live music after sunset. The vibe is typically chill and a great way to meet locals and travelers. It’s my favorite place to come watch the sunset and I always meet cool people there. Tell Harry I say hi when you’re there.
At sunset people crowd on the beach in front of Lucky’s for epic views and happy hour cocktails. They also throw dance parties occasionally with DJs on the beach.
What to Do on Gili Air
100,000 per class, cheaper if you buy a package
H2O offers yoga classes twice daily and meditation classes a few times a week. I came here at least once a day during my stay and it made a tremendous difference in my ability to recenter myself. Both instructors teach mindfulness in their classes, adding pranayama and meditation in with their asana. Classes are beginner level, yet I still was able to gleam plenty whether it was subtly improving my alignment or becoming more aware and present. They also offer week long retreats every month and occasional Yoga Teacher Trainings.
Many people come to Gili Air for one reason: to dive. It’s one of the cheapest places on the planet to get dive training and I hear some of the dive sites are exceptional, better than famous Koh Tao. While I did not dive on Gili Air I heard from multiple sources that Manta Dive is the best dive outfitter on the island.
Snorkeling and Fishing
You can easily rent a snorkel and walk out from any beach and explore. It’s possible in some spots to see turtles. Many hotels and restaurants also offer snorkeling and fishing tours you can arrange.
Tour Other Islands
Public boats leave daily in the morning to Gili Meno and Gili Trawangan if you want to make your own day trip.
Hang at the beach. Swim at the pool. Walk around. Chat with your friends. Watch the sunset. Take it easy. This is island life.
Things to Know About Gili Air
There are two ATMs on the island which sometimes run out of money or stop working. Some of the higher end establishments accept cards but for the most part places are cash only. You can always go over to Gili Trawangan and use the ATM there if you have problems.
When you first come off the harbor people will try to take you to stay somewhere. This can be tiring and inefficient. It’s better to just explore on your own, North or South, and negotiate a price.
Many people living on the island, especially in the village, are conservative Muslims so try to cover up when you’re off the beach.
The ocean can be full of sea urchins, especially in front of Seger Village, so when visibility is poor you may want to wear shoes in the water. I learned this the hard way. If you do step on a sea urchin, soak your wound in vinegar to try to dissolve the pieces still in your skin.
Most hotels have cold water showers consisting of saltwater mixed with freshwater. If this is a problem for you, make sure to ask the hotel what kind of water they have before booking.