Welcome to Paradise! If you’re in need of a little quiet and relaxation from crowded, motor-scooter-filled Bali, head over to the nearby Gili Islands. I decided to end my Indonesia adventure on Gili Air after my month living in Bali and right before heading home to New York. It was the perfect ending to my backpacking trip, and it was just the right amount of relaxation and adventure I was looking for. I hope this guide inspires you to hop over to the Gili Islands and experience this magical oasis. 🙂
The Gili Islands are a collection of 3 small islands in Indonesia: Gili Trawangan (go here if you want to drink, take some mushrooms, and party into the early morning), Gili Meno (the quietest island and ideal for honeymooners), and Gili Air (the smallest island but has a mix of both nightlife and peace & quiet). All three islands all accessed by boat from Bali or Lombok.
Upon arrival, you can either walk to your destination or if your accommodation is on the opposite side of the island like mine was, you can take a horse + carriage and be there in 20 minutes. Note that there are no cars or motor scooters on the island like there is in Bali or Lombok. So you’ll need to rent a bike if you plan to get places quickly.
I, although hesitant at first to support horses in the carriage industry with the intense heat in Indonesia, learned quickly that the people take great care of the horses. The working horses take breaks, running either a morning, afternoon or evening shift and are groomed, washed and given water and food at the end of each shift. In addition, the roads on Gili Air are made of silky, soft sand, which which makes it much easier for a horse’s hooves. After speaking to many people on the island about the horses, I’ve learned that it is completely safe and comfortable for these animals, and you can support this industry without feeling guilty, like I at first was.
After booking my room with Airbnb, I lugged my backpack and camera bag to the quaint bungalows of Bintang Beach 2 Bungalows and checked in. I loved my five days at the bungalows. The staff was lovely and always helpful, and they serve FREE yummy breakfast every morning at their restaurant…which is directly on the pearly, white sand beach. Every morning, I ate a stack of banana chocolate pancakes and watched the delicate waves pour onto the shore – paradise, indeed. I was also on a budget and did not happen to splurge on one of the air conditioned bungalows, but a fan and a cold shower was all I, personally, needed to stay cool on sunny Gili Air.
Favorite Food Spot
The Gili Islands are not known as a foodie spot. Although it was tricky finding yummy dishes (and to be honest, you won’t find as good as food as in Bali), here are a few hidden gems I discovered.
You do NOT want to miss out on their delicious, authentic Mexican food! They are known for their fresh, local ingredients, drink selection and beautiful nighttime ambiance. This beach spot is always very popular for dinner, so be sure to grab a spot at sunset. I ended up eating here twice.
If you love Thai food and relaxing on the beach, don’t miss out on the Waterfront. The Pad Thai and Chocolate Mousse are very popular, and after reading a positive review about them in a magazine, I ate here and fell in love. They are also next door to Manta Dive, and you can eat next door and have them add it to your diving bill, making it easy to pay everything in full at the end. The ocean views aren’t too shabby, either.
Favorite Gili Air Experiences
Rent a Bike
The best way to explore and experience any island is on foot and by bike. And it only takes 30 minutes to bike the perimeter of the entire island! You can find bike shops, and most homestays and hotels rent them for their guests.
Catch a Gili Island Sunset
The Gili Island sunsets (or just the Indonesian sunsets, alone!) are miraculous. I grew up in San Diego, California where the sunsets along the beach and cliffs are always stunning, but no sunset I’ve seen comes close to the colorful ones in Indonesia. Find a casual restaurant spot, preferably with lounge chairs and bean bags on the beach, and plan to arrive an hour prior to sunset to catch those golden glows. It’s worth catching one every night, as each sunset is never the same.
Diving + Snorkeling
Diving along the Gili Islands is the most popular activity – and for good reason! The diversity of marine life, clear waters, abandoned ship wrecks and piers, abundant coral reefs are just a few to mention. I spent 4 full days learning and diving with Manta Dive (one of the best and safest dive centers in Indonesia) and was awarded my Open Water Diver Certification – good up to 30 meters! If you dream of getting your scuba diving certification, plan to get it here in Indonesia. It’s much cheaper and you have the most interesting aquatic life to swim alongside with. We swam alongside massive Green Turtles, Hawsbill Turtles, colorful fish, eels, and White Tip sharks. During our night dive, we swam with our flashlights, guiding the way through the pitch dark waters, past an abandoned shipwreck, and swam face-to-face with plenty of Octopus, shrimps, crabs, and sea snakes. When it comes to diving, I, personally, think you can’t beat Asia.
Out of the 6 dives I swam, my favorite dive sites were Shark Point, Halik, and Meno Point (a neat spot where you can find a destroyed pier that sunk several years ago!).
Right next to Hotel Ombak, you’ll find a two-person swing directly in the water along Gili Air beach. If you plan to check it out around sunset like I did, you’ll have to wait your turn alongside all the other millennial Instagram-ers and photographers, but it’s quite fun to swing on, and it’s worth the snapshot!
Dip in the Pool
If your homestay doesn’t include a pool with the price, not a problem! Walk down the sandy road, and you’re bound to find plenty of pool options in the other homestays next door. It’s not illegal, and the homestay staff are usually never around, so it makes it quite easy to hop into one of the fancy pools alongside the road. Just walk in like you’re a resident, and take a refreshing jump! I lounged around many fancy pools in Gili Air
I spent 5 full days on the tiny island of Gili Air, and it was the perfect amount spent. From diving in the morning and afternoon, to eating Nasi Campur and watching the sun disappear behind the horizon at sunset, I thoroughly enjoyed every moment in my time in Paradise. I’m looking forward to coming back to the Gili Islands someday. Gili Meno, I’m excited to explore your sands and oceans soon!