Gili Air, Indonesia:
The Ultimate Guide To Paradise
We first visited Gili Air five years ago, on our first trip to Bali, and it was love at first sight. This tiny little island, kissed by the sun and flanked by crystal clear turquoise water looked to us as a paradise on Earth. On our most recent visit, we were pleasantly surprised to find a very similar place as it was in our memory, slightly more developed but still maintaining that raw, unpretentious feeling about it.
The Gili islands are a group of three tiny islands, Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno and Gili Air, near the coast of northwest Lombok Island. They all have a different ‘soul’ and personality and attract very different types of tourists. Gili T is the biggest of the three, more developed and renowned for being home of parties, clubs and magic mushrooms. Gili Meno, the smallest, is the destination for anyone looking for isolation and quiet. Our favourite, Gili Air, remains pretty small and quiet (you can walk around the perimeter of the island in less than two hours), but still offers a good choice of restaurants, cafes’ and different types of accommodation.
Top 5 things to do in Gili Air
1. Rent a bike and explore the island
The best way to explore Gili Air is by bicycle. You will see that on the island they are still utilizing horse carts to transport things and people, but not knowing how these animals are treated, we preferred not to use them.
You can circle the island by bicycle, even though in some areas you will have to step down and push the bike through the powdery sand. All in all, it will take you roughly an hour (maximum an hour and a half) to cycle the circumference of the island. Otherwise, you can get lost in the small, unpaved roads that spread through the centre of the island, discovering its pulsating heart. You will encounter houses, mosques, little shops, restaurants, guesthouses and cafes. The island is small but vibrant and alive, home to a community of locals and foreigners who live respectfully in peace.
2. Scuba diving
Experience the incredible underwater world of Gili Air, filled with marine life, especially turtles! During our trip, we dove with Ocean 5, a diving school and resort located right at the entrance of the island. Since the last time we dove, sadly had passed a whole year, therefore we decided to first take part in a refresher course. The instructor was wonderful, he took us through all the basics in the pool and afterwards we went out in a diving spot called Meno Slope, only fifteen minutes by boat and dived at 18 meters.
The first dive was rich with marine life, even though, sadly, the coral is bleached or bleaching and therefore not colourful. This is mainly due to raising the temperature of the water, a really sad reminder of how we are harming our oceans. The dive was still wonderful and we decided to dive again the following day to a spot called Turtle City. This spot is a ‘turtle cleaning station’ and we were able to see three huge turtle sleeping while being cleaned by friendly cleaning fish. It was a truly magical encounter and we were able to see turtles very close (always keeping a respectful distance!).
The Gili islands are a real snorkelers paradise. The water is so crystal clear that even just by swimming on the surface you will be able to see the reef and marine life. You can either rent or buy a mask and snorkel and adventure on your own right from the beach.
A reef stretches all the way along the east coast and here you can snorkel straight off the beach. There are smaller sections of the reef on the North Coast and also on the South Coast, just west of where the boats come in.
Another option is to hop on a snorkelling boat that takes your around the island, to the areas where the best snorkelling is and where you have most chances to see marine life. You can book the tour once you are on the island, just walk around the main road and you will find several companies offering day tours. A note of caution, you will be snorkelling with many (sometimes 20 or more) other people, therefore it can be crowded and people can be slightly disrespectful of animals and underwater life. Make sure to choose a reputable one.
4. Sunset at Pink Coco
This bright pink hotel and bar is one of the best spots from where to watch the magical Gilis sunsets. Located on the south of the island, which is our favourite area, quiet and untouched, overlooking the active Mount Agung volcano in Bali. You can either sit on the water swing or on one of the beach sunbeds and enjoy a drink while the sun dips into the horizon.
5. Cooking lesson
Explore another side of the island through food. Gili Cooking classes offers three different courses to learn some of the most famous and delicious local recipes. All classes are conducted in English and they cater to both vegetarians and vegans. After taking the class you can enjoy your self-made meal, dining outdoor with the rest of the class in a friendly environment.
Where to sleep in Gili Air
Slow Villas bring the comfort, style and sophistication of a five-star resort in a set of ten, private villas with one or two bedrooms. Each villa has its own private swimming pool, a very spacious garden (we were impressed at how much garden our villa offered!), a kitchenette, a patio with outside table, a wonderfully decorated room and an outside bathroom opening up on the palms filled sky.
We loved waking up in the quiet of our villa and enjoy the homemade breakfast served right on our own patio or enjoying a glass of wine watching the sunset while taking a dip in the pool. The privacy of Slow Villas gives you the opportunity to truly disconnect from the outside world and enjoy the real essence of Gili Air, its peaceful bliss. Not to be missed is a session at Slow Spa, one of the best spa in Gili Air.
If you are looking for a place where to not only connect with nature but reconnect with yourself through yoga and meditation, Flowers and Fire is the perfect place.
A yoga studio and retreat space, with few bungalows offering a wonderfully relaxing space and daily yoga and meditation classes that can be joined also as drop-ins. The location can also be hired for private events and retreats.
The bungalows are spacious, simple and extremely cosy, with two beds, one on a mezzanine and a beautiful outside bathroom. Breakfast is served in the cafe, which is also a perfect space where to work, overlooking the pool and the lush vegetation. Just above the cafe is the yoga shala built on a bamboo structure, where the daily classes are held.
Where to eat in Gili Air
We fell in love with this restaurant so much so that we returned three times in four days! The food is deliciously fresh and healthy and the atmosphere very relaxed. Boho interior design, with wonderful little details of decor, that you can also but in the shop at the entrance. Adjacent to the cafe is the private pool villa that can be rented accommodation.
Everything on the menu was tasty, but make sure to try the spicy corn and the roast eggplant burrito.
What we loved about this cute cafe, beside the open air, relaxed location and lovely interior design was the inventiveness of the menu. Very unique and tasty vegetarian and vegan dishes, such as Coco BLT, using crispy baked and hickory smoked coconut flakes instead of bacon. The smoothie bowls are everything you can dream of in terms of healthy breakfast options and do yourself a favour and try their Mocha popsicle, to die for!
The island is dotted with local warungs, where for a few euros you can enjoy a classic Indonesian dishes such as nasi goreng (rice with vegetables, chicken, fried egg) or mie goreng, same as nasi but using noodles.
The south part of the island is the area where you will find the open-air restaurants offering grilled fish, locally caught and salad bar, for a very reasonable price. It will not be a fancy meal, but you get to eat under the sky dotted with stars, with your feet on the sand right on the beach. Definitely worth the experience.