Best things to do in Gili Air, Indonesia
Gili Air is one of the most popular spots to visit on a trip to Bali, or just Indonesia in general. It’s a great choice for those looking to escape some of the hustle and bustle of Bali, and just take it easy for a few days. Here’s what to do in Gili Air, and what to know before you go.
In this guide to Gili Air you’ll find things to do in Gili Air, how to get from Bali to Gili Air, and where to stay in Gili Air (definitely don’t stay near the mosque unless you like getting woken up at 4am!).
What to do in Gili Air: Learn to dive
The first day we arrived in Gili Air we discovered Gili Divers on Air, and decided to take diving lessons. Neither of us had SCUBA dived before, but we figured when in Rome, do as the Romans do. If you’re interested in learning to diving, or if you are an experienced diver and want to go out with a nice team, I can really recommend Gili Divers on Air. If you’re serious about diving consider getting a dive watch.
I didn’t know anything about diving – seriously, I didn’t even know that divers wore weights – and the instructor at Gili Divers on Air was so friendly and patient with me. We had a great time taking classes from them – and best of all – they were also very kind when I decided I didn’t want to dive. On my first real dive in the ocean I felt too uncomfortable and claustrophobic to continue. I was relieved that Anni, my instructor, completely understood and didn’t pressure me to continue.
I wish I did enjoy diving because diving in the Gili Islands is so incredible (or so I’ve heard 🙂 ). The waters are filled with turtles, so jump in and enjoy!
If you choose to go with Gili Divers on Air, ask the owners about how they started their business on Gili Air. They have a lot of interesting stories to share 😉
Looking for a great dive in Indonesia? Check out how to find the perfect liveaboard in Indonesia
Gili Air Snorkeling
If you’re like me, and diving isn’t your thing, then do the next best thing and book a snorkeling tour. My tour on Christmas day was only €7 for a 5 hour trip. We visited several spots around Gili T, Gili Meno and Gili Air. Be aware though, that some of the reefs around the Gili Islands have been ruined due to dynamite fishing 🙁 Before you book it might be best to ask around for the best snorkeling tour.
Best things to do in Gili Air: Dance with buffalo soldiers at a reggae party
One thing I loved and also found pretty hilarious about Gili Air was how the sounds of Bob Marley followed us everywhere around the island. Everywhere you go on Gili Air you’ll find the locals who are like a bunch of mini Bob Marley’s. On Christmas Eve we ended up eating barbecued fish at Zipp Bar and finishing the night dancing to a reggae band. Isn’t that the way Christmas is meant to be ;)?
Anyway, it’s one of those things you just have to do on Gili Air. So kick off your flip flops and groove.
Gili Air Swing
You’ve seen it a million times on Pinterest, I’m sure. The bikini clad girls sitting on an ocean swing without a care in the world. The truth is, the swings are ALL OVER Gili Air. You’ll find plenty of these swings to take your Instagram perfect shot on a swing. No shame, I did it too 🙂
Getting your shot on a swing is one of the best things you can do on Gili Air – don’t miss your chance!
Things to do in Gili Air: Just chill
Isn’t this what the Gilis are meant for? Lounging on a stretcher, bintang in one hand and a book in the other. Gili Air really is idyllic, romantic, beautiful… the list goes on. Be sure to take a moment to chill out and enjoy the beauty. Chilling out is one of the best things to do in Gili Air – after all, this is paradise!
How to get around Gili Air
Getting around Gili Air is super simple – you can just walk everywhere!
If you aren’t up for walking, the second option is to rent a bike. You can rent a bike all over the island, but I recommend renting one from Scallywag’s – it is also a great place to eat and have drinks on the island!
Whatever you to, please don’t take a cidomo. I’ll get more into it below, but these horses are typically not treated very well, and I don’t support riding these.
What to know before you go to Gili Air
- Wake Up Call: The Gili Islands are part of the Lombok Regency, meaning that they are Islamic. Which means there are mosques. Which means there are calls to prayer. Everyone told us how peaceful the Gilis would be – how gorgeous it is and romantic it is. Gili Air IS romantic and relaxing. Just be careful about where you book your hotel on the island. We unknowingly booked our hotel nearby the island’s mosque – which we didn’t know that until we were woken up at 4am with a 20 minute call to prayer. It was so loud, and went on for so long, I suspected the imam was standing outside of our bungalow singing into megaphone for 20 minutes.
- Drugs: Everyone will offer you drugs. The guys who “managed” our bungalow hotel (I’m using managed here in quotes because all they did was lay in the grass all day smoking weed) offered us drugs every time we came back to our hotel. Locals on the street asked us all the time as well. My advice is not to buy drugs – Indonesia is not exactly known for its drug friendly policy. Ever heard of the Bali Nine?
- Animal welfare: There are no cars allowed on any of the Gilis, so instead there are small horse drawn carriages (cidomos) that take tourists around the island. They are really cute, but I tried to avoid them from the start. The horses are often abused and do not have enough rest or clean water. Think twice before hopping on one. The Gili Air isn’t very big, after all, so you can probably walk to your hotel. Thankfully, the Gili Eco Trust has a free veterinarian clinic where the horses can get treatment and is making strides in improving the lives of the animals and educating locals on animal welfare.
- Garbage: I mentioned this issue before in my post on Seminyak because there seems to be no system for recycling or disposing of garbage. You probably wouldn’t come across it, but in the middle of Gili Air there is a huge pile where all garbage is collected and burned. On our last morning we actually woke up from the smell of burning plastic. Most of this garbage is from tourists. So, do your part, and think twice about the amount of trash you create while you are there. This is another one that the Gili Eco Trust is working on.
- Lights out: There are no street lights on Gili Air. The only lights come from hotels and restaurants. So do yourself a favor and bring a flashlight with you! Or risk tripping over rocks – which is even more likely after a few bintangs at dinner!
- If you snorkel…: I was continuously on the look out for boats when I was snorkeling. The thing is, most tour operators there are not really operating a boat with safety of you, or other snorkelers in mind. So just be aware and look up once in awhile to see if a boat is coming near you. Also, be aware that sometimes the local snorkel guides will disturb turtles to get them to swim to the surface. It goes without saying that this is not nice for the turtles.
- ATMs: There are several ATMs located nearby the port where you can get cash!
What to pack for Gili Air
Luckily, Gili Air is not a malaria zone, so no need to worry about bringing malarone here.
- Go-Pro accessories: If you plan on snorkeling or diving and have a GoPro you should definitely attach it to a floating device! I used our GoPro for snorkeling and never had to worry about it because I had the floating handle grip attached. Do yourself a favor and buy one (usually part of a set of GoPro attachments) so you can stay worry free in the water!
- A travel flashlight: As I mentioned, it is REALLY dark on the island at night, so definitely consider bringing a travel flashlight so you can find your way… and so you don’t trip over anything!
Where to stay in Gili Air
Funny story: when we arrived from that god awful boat trip we walked to the hotel we had booked, only to find no one there with a small printed sign that said “CLOSED UNTIL 2017.” Ah, well. Ever the flexible folks we are, we just turned the corner and ran into a small bungalow hotel that looked decent. We stayed there, at Gili Glamours, and it was pretty convenient – and cheap! I think we paid about €20 per night.
- Very close to boat terminal – like a 5 minute walk
- Breakfast is included – the standard eggs, fruit and smoothie you get in most Indonesia hotels
- Outdoor showers – I loved these. Luckily everywhere we went after Gili Air also had these. Something about having an outdoor shower made me really feel like I was on vacation
- Strong air conditioning – duh this is important cause its super hot
- It’s cheap!
- Nearby the mosque – not really a problem unless you are there Thursday to Friday. Or not a problem if you like getting woken up at 4am by the call to prayer
- Service isn’t exactly their specialty. But that goes for pretty much all of Lombok.
Next time I would probably want to stay on the east side of the island, where most restaurants and hotels are, but Gili Air is so small, it really doesn’t matter where you stay.
How to get from Bali to Gili Air
How to get to Gili Air is honestly a bit of a joke. I wrote another post about how shady the boat rides are to Gili Air and I don’t have a very good recommendation of how to get there, since my experience was TERRIBLE!
I would recommend visiting Gili Bookings and looking at the options there – but please search the reviews for your boat company before you book!
Looking for more tips for your trip to Indonesia? Don’t miss these:
Did this post help you decide what to do in Gili Air? Let me know in the comments below!
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Gabby is a native (Northern) Californian who spent the majority of her 20’s living the expat life in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, exploring Europe and beyond. 27 countries later, she’s relocated back to her home base in California where she explores her passions for the travel and the outdoors.