As you may know, I spend quite a bit of time in Bali over the summer. While I love the island for its food and overall laid back vibe, diving there is a bit of a challenge for me since the water is usually too cold for my liking. Luckily I discovered a little underwater paradise not far which sports much better water temperatures: Gili Air.
The Gili islands are off the shore of Lombok and scuba diving in the Gili islands is the thing to do. I first came to Gili Air Divers thanks to a lucky coincidence when I visited a few years ago and was looking for a short beachy holiday. Gili Air is perfect to do absolutely nothing or in my case, to hit the water.
I vividly remember one particular dive which took us to Lombok harbor, an ugly dive site if I had ever seen one. Black sand at the bottom required excellent buoyancy and there was trash on the ground everywhere. But besides its obvious lack of natural beauty, it was also a marvelous playground for juvenile fish which had found a home in bottles, tires, and various pieces of junk. And I saw one of my most beloved marine animals: a frogfish. To make things even more exciting it wasn’t just any frogfish but a pink one. As it was, I didn’t have a camera with me and so it was time to return.
Diving with Gili Air Divers
Fast forward a few years and I returned to Gili Air this time with my camera, ready to find that pink frogfish again. Cue Diding – dive guide extraordinaire at Gili Air Divers and my personal pink frogfish finder for my trip.
There are quite a few dive centers on the island that offer Gili islands diving, many of which have shops on all 3 islands: Gili Trawangan short Gili T, Gili Meno, and Gili Air. I decided to head back to Gili Air Divers as I have had a great experience with them before and knew they would be keen to take me muck diving again (something that not every dive center offers).
Gili Air Divers operates from the Grand Sunset Resort where they have a reception and a pool for the confined water session when doing a course as well as some ‘classrooms’ upstairs and a lounge to chill in between dives. That is if you burned your back on the first day like I did and can’t be in the sun; for everyone else, there are loungers on the beach.
Certified divers can do up to 4 dives each day including a night dive. Since all the dive sites for Gili Air diving are within 25-minutes by boat you come back to the dive center after each dive. Perfect as this way you can choose to do as many or as few dives as you want in a day. Most dive centers I have dived with have a minimum of 2 dives when going out with the boat so this comes in handy if you are on a budget, short on time or must adhere to the no-flight time after and just want to get one morning dive in.
In the morning you can have coffee while the team will set up your equipment (unfortunately the minion tank is part of the furniture and can’t go diving) and then you will set out to the boat. Depending on the tide this means a short trip with the dingy or a walk through the tidal flat. Put on your booties on shore if you don’t want to sport a pair of chic Crocs that they provide to get to the boat.
Our first few dives led us to Meno Bounty, Mirko’s Reef, and Turtle Heaven. Dive sites are chosen daily depending on the conditions and course planning (and sometimes special requests if you ask nicely). There is a board upfront at the reception where you can check out the planned dive sites for the next day.
While I was initially so excited to dive at Meno Bounty I was struggling with my new Scubapro Hydros BCD (which I now love, we just needed a couple of days to get used to each other) as well as some current. No pink frogfish but Diding found two black ones for me which made the dive already worth it in my eyes. Oh, and did I mention the pygmy seahorses, the peacock mantis shrimp, orangutan crab, and school of bumphead parrotfish we saw at Mirko’s reef? Diving in the Gili Islands is a treat!
There is also plenty of turtles wherever you go but probably no better place than aptly named Turtle Heaven. You will have a hard time keeping count and I have yet to see a better dive site to get a turtle selfie or get photobombed by one or two. A downside to this dive site: it does get rather crowded on the top but luckily there are enough turtles to go around for everyone!
Muck diving in Gili Air
What is muck diving you may ask? Muck diving is not for everyone. As the name implies you are quite literally diving in the muck. Muck diving isn’t about finding big sharks or mantas or seeing beautiful coral reefs. Muck diving takes you to usually unassuming areas with little more than sand and seagrass. It is here where you can often find the most unusual creatures. But you will have to search for them – muck diving is the Where is Waldo? of diving. As a lot of the creatures you can find are extremely hard to spot, make sure to have a good local guide who knows the area like the back of their hand.
This time we headed to Kecinan bay. You can usually tell when muck diving is on the schedule because the entire staff of Gili Air Divers was joining us. Unlike Lombok harbor, Kecinan bay (close to Lombok as well) is a white sanded dive site. We dove along a mucky slope and here I saw (or at least tried to see) my first Rhinopias, a rare weedy scorpionfish as well as a leaf fish, garden eels, and ringed pipefish which look like tiny snakes thus freaking me out.
Closer to the surface there is a small coral plantation with plenty of sea life; an actual growing underwater garden. We didn’t find me another pink frogfish but I didn’t care. The other underwater magic I saw within a few dives confirmed: diving in Gili Air is one of my new favorites!
Yes, you are looking at fish! The orange/brown ones looking like algae are it 😉
Diving with Gili Air Divers
Gili Air Divers invited me for a few of my dives in return for this review. But as I mentioned there are many dive centers on the islands and they are truly one of the best so it was a very conscious choice to dive with them again.
Unfortunately, their website is a bit tricky to navigate but fun dives start at IDR 540k per dive. Contact them directly via email for packages with accommodation or PADI and SSI courses. Unless you are short on time you don’t need to book in advance just drop in the day before to schedule your dives.
Want to know what else there is to do in Gili Air, where to stay and how to get there? Read my guide below:
Read more: A trip to Gili Air – A travel diary.
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