Although Gili Air is closest to the Lombok mainland it is the most overlooked of the three Gili islands in terms of development. However, that is all set to change as the market here is geared very much towards the budget traveller and tropical island explorer. A lot of visitors actually prefer the grass roots atmosphere of Gili Air and the feeling of really being part of a close knit local community.
The circumference of Gili Air island is traversable by foot in around two and a half hours but be sure to pack some supplies as you’re heading well off the beaten track.
As with Gili Meno the pace of life is slow and endearing to those who really want to escape the hustle and bustle of the outside world.
The latest arrival to show how Gili Air is very slowly catching up with big brother Trawangan, is a new ATM machine. It is located on the east side in the middle of what you may call the main strip, basically the concentration from the harbour to another fairly new operation of bungalows called Bibi’s.
It takes all the usual cards like – Visa, master Card, even cirrus and Maestro. With the new power cable from the mainland Lombok installed, the time was right. It is a great advantage to visitors as they don’t have to take bundles of cash, and even though there are still some small “Mati Lampu” or power outages for a few hours here and there it means people may stay longer.
SLEEPING GILI AIR
More accommodation, cafés and bars are slowly starting to spring up to complement the three dive centres on the main beach strip.
There are internet facilities at the Ozzy Shop (who also rent bicycles) and in a tiny wartel (phone shop) behind Villa Karang but the connection is far from reliable.
For its size Gili Air actually has a wide range of accommodation to suit every taste and budget either on the beach or set back in the coconut groves.
There’s a fair cross section of accommodation options on Gili Air sure to appeal to all budgets. The ‘ contemporary villa scene’ has yet to arrive on the fair Air shores so instead expect to find a wealth of rustic and very natural bungalows, huts and rooms set in the charming groves and along the sandy beach strip.
Coconut Cottages is a collection of attractive fan and air-conditioned bungalows set in a huge garden haven set back from the beach. All with hot water and a friendly bank of staff.
Hotel Gili Air has chalet style accommodation for the mid range visitor. It has fan and airconditioned rooms, swimming pool and restaurant on the beach and is extremely popular with the Italian crowd during the month of August.
Sejuk Cottages is a really cool group of Sasak style lodgings, each with its own design identity. Two of the superior huts have an accessible upstairs chill out lounge with hammocks. Recommended for families.
Villa Karang has a pool, restaurant and a mix of inland and ocean facing bungalows. There is a really good range of rooms here to appeal to the middle market.
GETTING TO AIR
Island hopper boats are the preferred mode of transport to Gili Air from Gili Trawangan, neighbouring Gili Meno and mainland Lombok. Gili Air is a thirty minute ride from Gili Trawangan with boats leaving from Trawangan harbour at 9.30am and 4.00pm (IDR 25,000) and stopping at Gili Meno first before continuing onto Gili Air at approximately 9.45am and 4.15pm (IDR 23,000).
Boats from the Lombok mainland leave from Bangsal at irregular intervals when the outriggers are full with a maximum carriage of twenty people.
Rather than waiting for the boats to fill it’s possible to purchase the remaining tickets (IDR 8,000 each) and effectively speed up your departure; the option for a full charter boat is IDR 200,000 fixed price.
Try to avoid the Bangsal touts and head to the Koperassi Karya Bahari building on the beach to purchase tickets where prices are fixed and clearly posted on the wall.
Swimming & Snorkelling
The swimming is shallow along the east coast with the sand giving way to a coral reef table and is perfectly safe provided you don’t adventure into the channel beyong.
Snorkelling gear is available from the local operators and dive centres will point you in the right direction for some marine adventure.
Manta Dive is the new sister operation to the already hugely successful Gili Trawangan dive setup. The centre has five Sasak style air-conditioned huts with hot water and funky outside bathrooms with communal swimming pool. PADI and SSI courses from beginner to instructor level are conducted onsite and also cater to the fun diver with a variety of packages to suit all abilities and demands.
The dive centre boats take divers out to the two most popular spots -Haan’s Reef and Gili Air Wall. Haan’s boasts some specialist muck diving just off the east coast of Gili Air and is largely frequented by photographers seeking to capture a glimpse of stranger creatures like Flying gunard, frogfish and many varieties of pipefish. Gili Air Wall (as the name suggests) to the west is a twenty-four metre vertical drop with plenty of lionfish, Leaf scorpionfish and the occasional seahorse spotting.
Gili Air doesn’t have the full on party vibe of big brother Gili Trawangan but it still has enough entertainment to keep the average traveller smiling. In high season expect to stumble across the occasional psychedelic fluro `Goa style’ beach party with raging techno beats that sometimes don’t stop for the best part of two full days!
Very popular with the older Bali expats, the events are a throw back to the acid house revolution of yesteryear and are no less tame than their late 1980’s counterparts. For those of a less excitable persuasion there’s plenty of social drinking fun to be had.
Most beachfront bars are no frills and all usually close early around 11pm.
Corner Bar is the closest to the harbour and is little more than the name suggests, a set of barugas and tables and chairs on the beach.
Legend Bar has the weekend Wednesday party night during the high season months with lots of reggae and house music and is also the location for the infamous Full and Black Moon beach parties.
Star Bar (next to Blue Marlin Dive) is a popular post dive drinking spot for the expatriate dive community and visiting scuba enthusiasts. Imported spirits available.
Zipp’s (next to Manta Dive) serves food and drinks for the Manta Dive operation and is a popular meeting spot for late afternoon beers. There’s a reasonable amount of restaurants on Gili Air offering good value varieties of Indonesian, Western and European food. Mostly located along the main strip of beach on the east coast, each café and restaurant shares the same stunning views across to Mount Rinjani.
Frangipani Garden Restaurant is situated at Coconut Cottages about half way up the main beach strip and is setback in the coconut plantations serving appetising local and Western dishes. The Sasak inspired `Rice Table’ needs to be ordered at least one day in advance and is a perfect feast for small and medium size groups and couples.
Gili Air Santay is renowned for their Thai dishes although it’s only one example of their wide selection of cuisines from around the world.
Mirage Coffee Bar and Bakery is the place to head to for a full English breakfast. Although situated on the quieter far northen side of the island the trip is well worth the effort for tasty homemade sandwiches and is an ideal spot for a sunset drink.
SURF GILI AIR
What Gili Air is less known for is the fickle but sometimes quality surf scene. The right hand break to the south west of the island is known as `Playgili’ and is far from a playground as the wave jacks up for a speed run over the jagged coral heads and rocks providing solid barrelling sections.