Gili Air : The Biggest Villages, Spectacular Coral Reefs and White Beaches
Gili Air is the second smallest of the Gilis and it’s closest to the Lombok mainland, making it popular with honeymoon couples and travelers seeking a quiet retreat. It has a population of about 1,000 and administratively lies in the West Nusa Tenggara province. The island offers excellent snorkeling and scuba diving off its east coast, and turtles can be seen along the coral reef.
Proximity to Gili Meno, (population about 300) the smallest and most secluded of the islands and to Gili Trawangan the largest island, known for its many restaurants and parties, makes Gili Air a happy Medium of seclusion with adequate services. Both other Islands are a quick boat ride away and provide many choices to from total seclusion to party central.
Gili Air is the most easterly of the three Gili Islands off Lombok.
Of the three Gilis, this is the island closest to Lombok. Traditionally, Gili Air was seen as the domain of families and couples wanting a quiet, off-the-beaten-path escape, while the rowdier hoardes had their fun on Gili Trawangan. With Trawangan now upscaling so obviously, more and more backpackers seem to be chosing Gili Air as their primary option. This island has more of a rural, established feeling than the other two, and it is no surprise that many of the local Gili Islanders seem to prefer living on Gili Air, and that it has the highest permanent population of about 1,800.
Most of the accommodation and other tourism facilities are on the south and east coasts, facing Lombok. The boat landing is in the centre of the south coast. A coastal path leads you around the perimeter of the island, and a leisurely stroll all the way around will take about 90 minutes. For such a small island, the maze of paths that criss-cross the island can get surprisingly confusing, but these always lead back to the coast path eventually.
The sea is calmest in the morning and all transport stops running in the late-afternoon, well before dark. During periods of southerly winds and in July and August especially, the swell can be a bit hairy and you are very likely to get wet on the crossing. It is advisable to place laptops, cameras and handphones in waterproof bags for the crossing. You will need to wade through shallow sea when disembarking, so wear either appropriate footwear, or none at all.
Public boats depart from Bangsal between 8AM-5PM but often no later than 4PM and are fewer in number than go to Gili Trawangan. The voyage takes about 30 min and the official price is Rp 8,000. Sometimes these services only depart when there are enough people, normally a minimum of 15 is enough. If numbers are insufficient you may have to endure a wait at Bangsal. The official maximum is 20 people but sometimes the boat is overloaded by the time it is ready to depart. The best time to be sure of a crossing to Gili Air is 2PM-3:30PM in the afternoon however this can vary, especially with weather or passenger loads.
Buy your tickets direct from the official Koperasi Angkutan Laut Karya Bahari office. In Bangsal this is located inside the main building near the door at the eastern corner. The Koperasi operate the Public Boat, the Shuttle boat, the Island Hopping boat and also offer (official) Charter boats.
There is a ticket office on Gili Air to buy your ticket back to Bangsal, it is located adjacent to the arrival and departure point.
Public boat (ferry)
This is the standard method to reach Gili Air and is used by both local residents and tourists. The maximum number of passengers is fixed at 20 persons but it is often overloaded with goods and or passengers. If it seems clearly unsafe due to either overloading or prevailing weather conditions then it is most likely best not to board it.
Bangsal to Gili Air 1 way is Rp 8,000
Gili Air to Bangsal 1 way is Rp 8,000
This service supplements the Public boat (ferry) service.
Bangsal to Gili Air departs at 5PM, the official price is Rp 26,000.
Gili Air to Bangsal departs at 8:15AM, the official price is Rp 26,000.
(This is more expensive than the standard Public boat cost officially fixed at Rp 8,000).
The official charter boat service provided by Koperasi Angkutan laut Karya Bahari is permitted to carry a maximum of 12 persons.
Bangsal to Gili Air 1 way is Rp 155,000, return Rp 290,000
Gili Air to Bangsal no published price
Gili Air to Senggigi 1 way is Rp 480,000, return Rp 690,000
Informal and unofficial charters are also available from private operators to travel from Bangsal to Gili Air. If requiring one try to deal only with the boat operator, ignore the touts and ‘facilitators’ and use your time over a negotiation, any hint of haste or urgency is sure to raise the price.
Perama has a small office on Gili Air next door to Villa Karang, and they offer daily transfers from Senggigi at 9AM for Rp 90,000. These should not be relied on outside of the peak tourist season though. Perama is unlikely to take you to Gili Air if you are the only passenger.
Departing from Bangsal to either of the three Gili islands is rarely pleasant due to the very persistent touts who infest the place, just try to ignore them and do not listen to their generally fanciful tales that involve you paying them money to solve an imaginary transportation problem. They often provide a chorus of gloomy predictions regarding the alleged unavailability of services, then if successful they just place unknowing passengers upon the normal scheduled service or a private charter at an often seriously inflated prices.
The situation arising from the activities of pestering touts combined with confusing and inadequate formal services at Bangsal is the source of many disappointments and complaints.