When we saw the week of never-ending rain and thunderstorms forecast for Bali and the Gili Islands, we almost canceled our entire trip, in favour of the week of straight sun projected for Phuket. But since doing so, would’ve cost us hundreds of dollars, we stuck with our original plan, weather be damned!
Fortunately (or unfortunately?), the weather app on my iPhone was completely wrong. Aside from a single, dramatic storm that overturned boats and cut power to Lombok and Gili Air for a few days, it didn’t rain at all.
Instead, we enjoyed days of blazing sunshine, chromatic seas and leisurely bike rides around the island.
We’ve long wanted to visit Indonesia’s Gili Islands – 3 tiny droplets of land, a 30 minute boat ride off the coast of Lombok. Each of the 3 islands is known for it’s unique character. Gili Trawangan or Gili T, the biggest of the 3, is the most developed and known as the “party island.” Gili Meno is the most undeveloped, supposed to have the best beaches, and is the sleepiest of the islands. Gili Air, is somewhere in between, and that’s where we ended up.
To say that Gili Air is quiet is an understatement. There are no cars or scooters allowed on the island, and a lot of places don’t even have 24 hour electricity. Bicycles, horse-drawn carts (cidomos) and your feet are the only means of transportation. It only takes about an hour to walk around the entire perimeter of the island (yes, it’s that small).
Our Favourite Experiences
Cerulean waters and blissed-out relaxation were what we were looking forward to most, but sandy beaches alone do not make for a great trip. At least for me.
Luckily, despite it’s size, we found plenty to occupy us on tiny Gili Air. Here, some of our favourite experiences.
Decent coffee and a view at Scooperific
Gili Air has lots going for it, but good coffee definitely isn’t one of them. There’s plenty of grainy Lombok coffee on offer, but I don’t know many visitors to Gili that wake up, craving a cup, and we were no exception. We do need our coffee though, so every day began with a rather desperate search for a decent caffeine fix.
After many decidedly average cups, we finally stumbled upon Scooperific. Gelato, crepes and decent, not amazing, made from capsule coffee, and a gorgeous view on their second floor was like finding an oasis in the desert.
$2 Meals at Warung Muslim
There’s a series of beachside restaurants, serving seafood barbecue, pizza and Indonesian delights like nasi goreng, but to us the best meals to be had, were found in the centre of Gili at humble Warung Muslim.
Don’t be put off by the shabby exterior. You’ll be missing out on a flavourful mix of veggies, choice of meat or fish, tofu or tempeh and peanuts. And all for just $2 a pop. I’m not exaggerating, when I say that we indulged every single day.
Cycling through the Green Heart of the Island
The total absence of motorized traffic is one of the best things about Gili Air, and renting a bike and exploring the lush interior of the island is kinda blissful. I could definitely get used to cycling as my main mode of transport, especially when the surroundings are so beautiful.
Sunset and beanbags at Mowie’s on the Beach
Indonesian sunsets are some of the most picturesque in the world, and watching one while sitting on beanbags and listening to chill out Cafe del Mar style tunes, was one amazing experience. And Mowie’s on the Beach is the only place on the island where you can have it in quite that way. Get there early or risk missing out on a beanbag and a truly exceptional evening.
Where We Stayed
We started out our stay on Gili Air at Si Pitung Village. It took us about 15 minutes to walk there from the pier, but you can hire one of the cidomos, if you prefer.
For 400,000 IDR per night, there was a pool, and a simple breakfast of eggs, fruit, toast and terrible Lombok coffee included. Wifi worked, only by the pool, and not very well. I think that these bungalows must’ve been very nice a few years ago, but now they’re starting to show their age. Though each room had an air conditioner, they were kind of pointless, because they didn’t really work. Did I mention how crazy hot and humid it is in Gili?
After a few nights of suffering, we moved over to Villa Karang, which for the same price (negotiated), was a HUGE step up. Air conditioning that worked, excellent breakfast, an infinity pool and modern rooms. When the entire island lost power for 36 hours, I thanked my lucky stars we’d made the move, because Villa Karang had a generator. I’m pretty sure Si Pitung didn’t.
If you’re visiting in low season, I highly recommend that you simply show up, find somewhere to stay and negotiate the price upon arrival. You’ll have your pick of places.
Getting to the Gili Islands from Bali
You can get to Gili using public boats, regular ferries, or fast boats. The majority of tourists travel using a pre-packaged land/fast boat ticket.
There are multiple ports and routes from Bali to the Gili Islands. There’s not a huge difference in time or cost between the different options. The difference lies in how much time you want to spend on the water vs. land, as the crossing has a reputation for encouraging seasickness in even the hardiest of souls.
We asked our Ubud area hotel to recommend a fast boat company, and they took care of all the arrangements, including dropping us off at the pickup point early in the morning, at no extra cost. Travel by mini-bus to the port at Padang Bai took approximately 90 minutes. We waited around the port for approximately 30 minutes and then made the 1 hour journey to the Gili Islands. Our ride was relatively smooth, but I took some Antimo (motion sickness pills), which I purchased the night before in a drugstore, just in case. The cost of our 1 way ticket was 350,000 IDR each.
We booked our tickets the night before, without too much trouble, but the first company our hotel called was sold out, so if you’re traveling in high season, definitely book in advance.
Getting to Lombok from the Gili Islands
For our return to Singapore (where we were connecting onwards back to Seoul), we flew directly out of Lombok’s International Airport.
There are multiple ways of getting from Gili Air to Lombok, including slow boat, fast boat or speed boat. We elected to take the speed boat, which we reserved directly at the pier (make sure you book at the government office, not the tourist office across the street). The trip took 15 minutes and was completely refreshing.
When you arrive on the other side, in Lombok, you’ll have to wade through a bit of water to get to land. A bunch of touts will assault you upon landing, and try to take your bag to shore for you (whether you want them to or not). Make sure you grab it yourself, unless you’re willing to give them a tip. The boys will continue to bother you to provide taxis or onward service. Be firm with them, and if you do decide to go with one of their drivers, negotiate firmly, and make sure you’re getting a private, air conditioned car.
The drive from Bangsal pier to Lombok Airport is about 2 hours. We paid 300,000 IDR and paid our driver directly at the airport, even though the boys wanted payment up front. Have the driver take you through Monkey Mountain, where a plethora of monkeys line the roads, waiting for food, that is offered to them by locals praying for good luck.
Have you visited any of the Gili Islands? Which is your favourite?
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You really are an expert when it comes to island getaway. Looks really really good ….. including the food. 🙂 By the way, I’m going to adapt the bean bag concept here in Crete. 🙂 The Greeks are not going to see that coming- Asian guy with a bean bag on a beach. Bwahahaha
Haha, well I do like by beaches and islands! 😀 Honestly, I don’t know why the beanbag has not made it to all the beaches of the world. It’s the perfect seating for that kind of environment. Lol…I think it’s a great business for you Rommel. You’ll really stand out there in Crete, with your beanbags and your sales pitch. 😉
Gili Island looks like a perfect place to relax and have fun. So glad the weather worked out for you. Beautiful photos. 🙂
Lovely Gili 🙂 I was there for snorkeling holiday. We stayed in Gili T and for couple days, renting a local boat privately to sail around other Gili islands for snorkeling. I like Gili T, I remember delicious BBQ and cocktail in one of the restaurants there 😀
I am not sure if I will ever return to Gili Islands though, but I love the fact that the islands have plenty of turtles!
Gili is gorgeous, isn’t it?! 🙂 What a fabulous experience to sail around privately and snorkel. Lol, originally we planned to do a few days trips to Gili Meno and Gili T, just to check them out, but then we got so relaxed and lazy on Gili Air, that we didn’t make it anywhere. Good excuse to go back one day I guess!! 😀
Really wish I was there now! I spent two weeks in Bali and Lombok, traveling with an old friend and we had an amazing time. I’d love to return one day. We were on our way to the Gili islands after trekking Rinjani volcano but our guide convinced us to go to a different island, Gili Nanggu, in the south. We had the whole island to ourselves as there were only two other guests staying there! It was very peaceful. Luckily my friend and I had a lot to catch up on so we were never bored.
Heh heh….I wish I was there again now too. 😉 I think I could spend months and months in Bali and Lombok without getting bored! Gili Nanggu sounds amazing, like your very own deserted island. Glad you were with a good friend and had plenty of time to catch up! 😀
My kind of island travel…whew! Gili island sums up pretty much what paradise is to me…white sand beaches, blue waters, tropical landscape, amazing food, friendly people, simple yet quiet, relaxing happy life…Thanks for the unforgettable blog adventure!
Yup yup, Gili was certainly island paradise! I’d love to go back one day and really get into the rhythm of the island. Loved the fact that there was no motorized transport there! 🙂
I still have yet to visit anywhere in Indonesia, but now I know where I want to go. 🙂
Definitely a great choice! 🙂 We had such a relaxing time, and the water and beach was really stunning. Hope you make it there one day soon. 😀
gorgeous!!! I mean…I need to be there NOW!
Let’s trade, Diana. I’ll sit on the beach in Italy, and you can sit on the beach in Gili Air! I think we’ll both be very happy. 🙂
Lifestyle In Motion
We visited Bali this past Chirstmas/New Years but did not make it to the Gili Islands. We heard it is really nice there and your post confirms it! Looks like you had an awesome trip! Love the beanbags on the beach 🙂
We’ve been trying to make it to Gili, since 2011, so I’m glad the island didn’t disappoint! 🙂 The water was really gorgeous and it was so relaxing there. The beanbags were definitely a highlight!
Lifestyle In Motion
That is great you finally made it there! Sometimes it is the simple things – like beanbag chairs that make the difference 🙂
Sounds amazing! So glad your weather app was wrong.
I wish we would have had time to get to Bali and Thailand before we left. We had hoped maybe a short vacation before we left, but we have spent the last 10 days sorting, giving away, packing and cleaning. In a few short hours we will be leaving and moving back home. It has been quite the adventure and I am sure we will brave that long trip again…. Asia has certainly made an impression on us.
Oh, it’s really too bad you didn’t have time to take a little trip around! I’m actually checking out possible SE Asian destinations for our summer vacation, and can’t get over how cheap flights are right now! But yes, I think Asia definitely gets under your skin and once you’ve spent some time there, a return trip at some point is all, but guaranteed. Good luck on your move back home!! 😀
We made it 🙂 We had a 5 hour delay and poor kitty was in her crate for 26 hours. She did well considering. Now we need to get a place and get settled, but first we need to relax and catch up with friends and family.
Glad you made it safely! (poor kitty though) 🙁 Look forward to reading all about your transition back home… 😀
Thanks Shelley… so far just feels like a regular summer holiday. I think August will be when it really starts to sink in. Maybe sooner as we are now looking for a place to live. I want to get back to some normal and not live out of suitcases… I hate not being able to find anything. Kitty has been awesome. Yesterday we did a big road trip and she slept most of the way. She is adjusting to life in a new house. It was hilarious when she saw a tree for the first time. They look very different from ground level vs the 14 floors up she is used to 😉
I want to save this for future info! That part of the world is near the top of my wish list and your trip sounds amazing.
I’ve only been to Bali and Lombok, so far, and they are definitely one of my favourite places in the entire world. I always feel so calm and peaceful there. I’d love to explore the rest of Indonesia one day too! 🙂
This looks beautiful! It must be quite rare these days to be able to stay somewhere that is totally car-free – looks like you made the most of it!
I think that was one of the best things about Gili! It’s so peaceful and relaxing to be in a place without any motorized transport. I’d love to go back one day and check out the other Gili Islands! 🙂
Sometimes ignoring the weather app can be the right call. Last summer I went to Block Island despite the the forecasted rain, and it turned out to be a gorgeous day with the added plus of being relatively tourist free. Sounds like you had a great trip!
I’m amazed by just how wrong these apps can be sometimes! The margin of error is huge. Lol, but now that you mention it, less tourists is definitely one big advantage. 🙂
It just looks amazing, hope to manage it to Bali this year 🙂
It was really fantastic…some really gorgeous water, and sooo relaxing. Book those tickets fast, before wifey changes her mind again!!!! 😉
I am checking for nice hotels for the past day already, there is just too much to choose from!
I really wonder now what the best place in bali for would be for a “homebase”/ hotel to reach nice places easily by car/bus/ taxi and is close to a beach
Oh gosh, that’s tough! Bali is such a big island, that I think you have to decide what your main priorities are and base yourself there. Honestly, I don’t think Bali has the best beaches for swimming – they’re beautiful, but more for surfing. I’ve heard that Sanur is good for families, but I’ve never visited myself. We always stay on the outskirts of Ubud in the rice paddies, and it’s always worked out wonderfully for us. Easy access to great food, massage etc… but not necessarily the closest to the beach…
This is definitely a place that I’ve been meeting to visit…after the xxxx many other beach places to visit that I keep reading about..hahaha…hopefully I do get to visit one day but it all looks awesome there…????
Lol, there’s always a never-ending list of beaches to visit, isn’t there? I was glad to cross at least this one off my list, been wanting to get there since 2011!! It’s so close to you!!! Go soon, so I can live vicariously through you. 😀
Justine of The Travel Lush
Glad you didn’t cancel your trip! My weather app always said that Jakarta was raining with thunderstorms…even if it was sunny outside. I think that’s just the norm in the tropics. You really can’t believe those apps.
Seriously! I can’t believe how completely wrong the app was! It forecasted straight thunderstorms for both Ubud AND Lombok, and we barely got a drop. Sooo glad we went anyways…not sure we would’ve had a chance to make it there anytime soon otherwise.