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When I am planning a trip these days I am planning content at the same time. There are very few trips that I will take without doing that and while I am not quite at the point to take my trips according to keyword research, I do consider what a trip will do for this blog and for you. Usually, I don’t mind that because I have come to realize that people seem to like reading my foodie and spa recommendations and let’s be honest – that is fun researching!
But then there are these travels that we just take for the heart. Or to literally follow a dream. For me, that was coming back to Gili Air.
My research showed – things to do in Gili Air – was easy enough to target but the reality is: there is not much to do in Gili Air. Personally, I hate travel guides for places like this that list something like ‘watch the sunset’ as a thing to do. It seems lazy and I rather a writer be honest and say it like it is: in some places, there is very little to do and that exactly is their appeal.
I returned to Gili after having dreamed about it. Now, some of you will roll your eyes and I get it. I am usually not much of a dream chaser myself but in this case, I was a bit stuck with my travel plans. Getting to Gili was going to be expensive but wouldn’t it be nice to disconnect for a while? Could I afford to disconnect? Should I rather stay in Ubud and review more restaurants or finally head to Menjangan island?
For someone like me who is an innate planner, calmed by a set schedule this dilemma lasted a couple of weeks and drove me a little crazy. Going with the flow is not my jam. Mind you, for the last few months I had a trepedition that it was something I needed to finally learn. For my mental wellbeing and to get a bit contentment and happiness in my life. So with the planets and the moon in full swing (and yes, I know I am getting way too loopy for some of you!), I decided to just sit back and ride it out. I didn’t make any decision but just kept my head down, worked and looked after myself, putting in practice what I always like to preach and trust in the universe.
Getting to Gili Air & Getting Around
From Bali, various fast boat companies will take you to the Gili Islands. Make sure you check the various depature points to find one in your vicinity as they will usually include a free pick-up if you are close by but you will end up paying quite a bit more if you are, say in Canggu.
To be honest, some of these companies have the most horrendous reviews on TripAdvisor and since there had just been another boating incident in Indonesia I chose to go with the most expensive one again: Gili Getaway, the one fast boat to Gili I can wholeheartedly recommend.
I also had quite a bit of luggage with all my dive gear and wanted it handled properly (and needless to say, I can’t lift a 25kg suitcase on a boat even on a good day). How to get to Gili Air? Book your ticket directly with them here or below. If you chose their transfer option they will fetch you from your hotel in the morning before taking you to the pier. Here you will have a check-in counter where you show your ticket and get a receipt for your luggage. All super easy and their service was great.
On the boat, you have the option to sit on top or inside. I opted to go on top but a word of warning: chances are you will get drenched by the spray. And once you are not cold and shivering anymore you will bake to a crisp. Needless to say, on my return trip I went for a seat inside – a wise choice as it was a bumpy ride despite the blue skies.
Gili Getaway provides you with water, candy, and a towel and the team will make sure you are safe and comfortable (well, as much as possible). While there is a jetty both in Serangan in Bali and Gili Air, sometimes you will need to get in or off via the beach. This entails walking on the boat’s railing to or from the beach. While it looks safe enough and the crew is incredibly helpful, it might be a bit precarious for people with babies or small children or anyone with walking disabilities.
Keep in mind that the operating times will also depend on weather conditions. While both of my trips were pretty much on time, a friend of mine got stuck on Gili Air due to bad weather for 4 days. Safety first but keep that in mind when planning your onward travel and when in doubt give yourself a bit of a buffer if you have a plane to catch.
In Gili Air, you can watch the sunrise and the sunset in a day because the island is small enough to surround in one hour. And walk you will as there are no motorized vehicles on Gili Air which to me is part of the charm. They have the so-called Gili Taxis, small horse-drawn carriages, but personally, I am not a fan as I feel too bad for the horses. Alternatively many hotels and guesthouses in Gili Air rent bicycles so you can cover ‘longer’ distances.
All this, may or may not make sense to you and that is fine but my takeaway was to learn that sometimes it is okay to stand still, sometimes it is necessary even for a traveler and over-planner. And sometimes the universe will provide if you just trust it a little.
Whether you believe in my mumbo-jumbo or not, it worked for me and all of a sudden one thing after the other came together and fell into place the most beautiful way possible. The first one was my dream about Gili Air.
While I knew I wouldn’t be able to write a “Top 20 things to do in the Gili Islands” guide, I knew I wanted to return if only to find myself another pink frogfish and finally get a picture of it. I didn’t find that pink frogfish and while that was sad, I found so much else. This came as a surprise to me. I don’t like to put too big expectations onto my travels or a specific destination. I think doing that sets you up for disappointment. Therefore all I came with was a vague notion of wanting to have a nice time, something that seemed not too much to ask for after that dream.
Within 24 hours I was in utter and complete island mode. Sundowners and toasting to some of the most magnicifent sunsets I had seen in a while, perpetually dirty and sandy feet, not that it bothered me much, my nose slightly sunburned and my face make-up free. I didn’t care for the bad wifi, the power cuts or the call to prayer that kept on waking me at 4 am with full force. I found myself delighting in roaming goats, ever crowing roosters and the kids who constantly seemed to race around on bikes taller than them, making them the one and only traffic hazard on the island.
I didn’t quite trust my mood for the first day. Surely my good mood was due to the chilled rosé or the fact that I was finally back underwater, seeing black frogfish and my first Rhinopias. A fluke, a little reward after putting my head down for the last few weeks and getting to work. But the mood continued. I found myself enjoying small things, conversations, and smiles, and most of all – traveling on my own again. I didn’t miss anything or anyone but rather enjoyed what I had, most of all my own company which was good company. I didn’t do much and only what I truly wanted. That included eating the same burger with the same sunset view a few nights in a row, getting up early one morning to walk around the entire island, and reading too many cheesy scuba diving novels by the pool.
I didn’t plan but just was. I did a whole lot of thinking but no planning. I looked forward to my upcoming month but relished the moment.
After two days I realized that this was what they call contentment, a novel feeling that felt like a breath of fresh air after the last months which had either held ultimate happiness or sadness or numbness.
During a spa visit, I met a girl with a tattoo on her foot: this too shall pass. It is one of my favorite sayings and I told her as much. She told me that the quote was written in her mother’s handwriting and that she used to remind her of those words since she was a child. For both of us, a wonderful reminder not only during sad times but also during happier ones if only to revel in and cherish them a little more.
And for the next few days, I did just that. I spent less time at my laptop and worrying about the past or the future, and more times leaving voicenotes for a friend who needed me, watching the stars, and having saltwater and the island work their magic on me.
Things to do in Gili Islands
If this all sounds too airy-fairy for you, I don’t blame you. I didn’t go to Gili Air expecting an epiphany either, dream or not, and I have yet to see how long my contentment shall last. But you could always plan a trip simply to have a wonderful holiday and disconnect for a couple of days as the island has everything for that. Especially after the earthquake in 2018, the Gili Islands are still recovering and tourism is desperately needed – the perfect time to plan a trip.
Needless to say, snorkeling and diving are the things to do in Gili Air. If you don’t have your own equipment don’t worry as there are plenty of spots to rent a mask, snorkel, and fins. If you want to go scuba diving check out Gili Air Divers, my favorite dive center on the island.
For those wanting a bit more than a chilled sundowner on the beach, Gili Trarawang short Gili T is probably a better choice. Mind you, overhearing some conversations it sounded like Indonesia’s version of Koh Phi Phi which would make it not my cup of tea but to each there own – Gili T is party central in the area.
There is also a little gym on the island and I saw quite a few people bring their running shoes. If you want to pamper yourself instead head to the Slow Spa.
Practical Tips for your trip to Gili Air
Keep in mind that unlike Bali the Gili Islands are part of Lombok and thus Muslim. While there is no dress code for visitors do not walk around in your bikini in the village and cover up a bit when you leave the beach.
We had two power cuts while I was there and one lasted almost the whole day. I am not sure how frequent those are in general but it is wise to keep your electronics charged if you are not staying in a resort with a generator.
There are a few ATMs around the island but from my experience, it is not unusual that they run out. Come prepared and bring enough cash.
As with so many other parts, trash is a problem in the Gili Islands. Most restaurants and bars do offer paper or bamboo straws but unfortunately, some bars don’t – Happy Hour and all. Luckily many places will offer to refill your water bottle so make sure to bring your own.
My favorite Gili Air Restaurants
To be honest, after Bali the food on Gili Air was a bit disappointing. Since produce needs to come from Lombok or Bali, restaurants sometimes run out of certain dishes, and overall it wasn’t as healthy or innovative as I had gotten used to. And the service while lovely had a very relaxed island attitude. Nevertheless, these are the places I ate at and enjoyed on Gili Air:
Blue Marlin Divers Restaurant
I spent most of my evenings here as their restaurant has the best sunset views and my favorite Indonesian wine. They also make a really good chicken burger with fries, and the service is lovely if a bit unattentive at times. Since it was within walking distance from my hotel and my dive center I spent most of my evenings here. Oh, and they are one of the places where you can have your water bottle refilled for free!
I was craving tacos and so I took a trip to the Mexican Kitchen. I had read before that their prices were steep compared to other restaurants in Gili Air. While that was true (80k for a Corona…ugh), the food was quite nice even for a Mexican food snob like myself and the setting was great as I managed to snatch a place right by the ocean. Do keep in mind that this part of the island faces Gili T so you won’t get a sunset view here.
I remember Mowies from my first visit to Gili Air and love this place. I don’t know what makes it so special (and crowded for sunset) because objectively it is not very different from all the other beach restaurants around but there is something about it. For Happy Hour you get 35k glasses of wine and they make a decent pizza. If you come for breakfast have one of their moringa or spirulina juices.
Captain Coconuts Restaurant
After too many chicken burgers and fries, I was craving something healthy and found it at the restaurant of Captain Coconuts. A great salad bowl with quinoa, watermelon and some of the best crunchy tofu I have had. They also have vegan cakes, Jamus and other healthy options making this a great choice if you need something green and fresh.
Gili Air Accommodation
While there are plenty of Gili Air hotels, you will have a hard time finding huge resorts or international chains on the island – yay! Instead, there are quite a few typical bungalow resorts, many homestays, and various guesthouses.
During my first visit, I stayed at the Elephant Guesthouse in their open-air room which was a rather unique experience though I guess not ideal for a couple or someone looking for a lot of privacy.
This time I stayed at Beranda Ecolodge and can’t recommend it enough. While my Google map kept on calling it a hostel, there is nothing hostel-like about it except the shared bathrooms. The prices are unparalleled and while the huts and beds are tiny and quite spartan the whole set-up is simply stunning. Palmtrees, fairy lights, a large pool, and a simple but good breakfast is included in the price. In addition, you are at my favorite part of the beach within a few minutes. If you don’t want to venture far in the evenings there are plenty of warungs in the vicinity.
One of the Gili Air hotels I have been eyeing is Slow, a beautiful villa resort in the middle of the island. While I didn’t stay there I went to their spa and had a look at one of the rooms. If you are looking for a romantic and simple yet luxurious set-up this is the place for you. Each room comes with a private pool, loungers, and open-air bathroom.
Captain Coconuts was also a Gili island accommodation I had looked at before as they offer both dorm beds as well as beautiful rooms. They also have a nice pool and a great little restaurant with some of the healthiest bowls on the island.
Have you been to the Gili Islands? Which one is your favorite?