When it comes to traveling abroad, I’m a researcher and planner. But even after spending months reading everything I could about Gili Air, I was still confused.
Now that I’ve been there, I can tell you all about this remote slice of paradise. Hopefully I can save you some time when planning your trip–or inspire you to make this a destination.
First, Gili Air is one of the three well-known Gili Islands off the coast of Bali.
Gili T is the party island and the most developed of them all–it’s loud and attracts backpackers. Gili Meno is the least developed and ideal for honeymooners who want their privacy. And Gili Air is jussssst right–it’s not a party island but there are plenty of restaurants and bars to choose from.
Since I’m not about raving until 3 a.m., and I always appreciate having plenty of taco and cocktail choices, Gili Air was my perfect island.
Welcome to Paradise.
There’s one main dirt road that goes around the perimeter and you can walk it in about an hour. We did this on our first full day to get the lay of the land–a great activity if you want something to do other than tanning on the beach.
What they don’t tell you on the Internet is that low and high tide can dramatically change what the beach looks like in certain locations. And low and high tide are totally unpredictable on Gili Air.
That explained why pictures looked inconsistent when I was doing my research. So, if you see a picture on Instagram or a booking website and think to yourself, “the beach in the west looks awesome” you may be in for a surprise when you’re trying to swim in puddles.
When the tide is low it’s impossible to swim on the western side–there was no water at all. The exposed beach was bright white, but made of sharp coral that was hard to walk on without shoes.
However, whether the tide is low or high, the west is the best place to catch a killer sunset. I wouldn’t recommend staying here, but walk over to Mowie’s and have a glass of wine (or a bottle) while you watch the sun go down.
We also found a couple of places showing movies on the beach, which was a fun way to spend an evening after sunset. If you’re on the western strip, you’ll see people on the main road advertising the movie of the night. Definitely do it.
Good for: Sunsets, cocktails, movie nights on the beach, near the harbor.
Shannon, who I’ve been friends with since high school, settling in at Mowie’s just before sunset. (Both photos are Mowie’s.)
The northern side of the island feels deserted. This is a positive and a negative. There were many restaurants and hotels lining the beach up there, but they were relatively empty.
We loved walking around the northern side because of how peaceful it felt. I had never experienced an island that felt so deserted. It’s probably so deserted because it’s a far walk from the harbor, which means guests would have to walk for 30-45 minutes with their luggage.
The ocean views are breathtaking here because it’s the only place on the island where you can’t see nearby land–just crystal clear blue water as far as the eye can see. There are some areas where there’s not much sand, and other places where there is a rough white beach like the western side.
I don’t recommend staying here, but definitely check it out for a quiet afternoon escape. The northern side of Gili Air is truly paradise.
We walked back here for a few hours of R&R one morning. With a book and some sunscreen, we posted up in a little hut we had scoped out on our walk the day before. The views were stunning and a few vodka sodas kept us refreshed.
The emptiness of the northern side meant slower service, lower quality restrooms (like, without toilet paper in our case) and a long walk to the more energized part of the island–or for me, a toilet with actual toilet paper.
Good for: Vast ocean views and pictures, peaceful afternoons of reading and relaxing.
This was where we stayed. All of my research paid off because it was the best place on the island to call home. The best strip of the beach on Gili Air is in front of Chill Out Bungalows (where we stayed), Gili Air Beach Club or Scallywags.
Whether it’s low or high tide, the water is perfect for swimming. The beach is white and sandy. The turquoise water is so clear that you can see your feet.
When you look out to sea, you’ll see the lush green mountains and volcanos of neighboring Lombok island, which are truly breathtaking. Imagine a landscape as green as Ireland edging up against turquoise waters. The best way to describe the scenery is majestic and ripped from the pages of a fairytale.
Speaking of the water, this is the best area of the island for snorkeling. There is coral just to the left of the beach in front of our hotel. We didn’t snorkel, but we rented a clear kayak to scope it out.
We also learned that we aren’t kayakers. And that I shouldn’t be in charge of the kayak just because I went to Girl Scout camp when I was 12. ANYWAYS.
The restaurants and bars on this side are lively and buzzing with guests (but not overcrowded). Most offer a seafood BBQ, including Chill Out. Pick your fresh fish and they’ll BBQ it for you and serve it with a baked potato and salad.
If you don’t stay at Chill Out, I’d recommend eating there for lunch or dinner (or both) one day. The food and atmosphere were top notch and the service was excellent. Try the tacos! The Indonesian food is also delicious–so good, we had it for breakfast, too.
They also have lounge tables right on the beach. They are covered and provide some much appreciated shade.
The hotels I mentioned in this area are about a 10-minute walk from the harbor where the boats drop you off and scoop you up. Also, the southeastern side is only a 15-minute walk to Mowie’s on the western side, making it an ideal location.
Good for: Relaxing on the beach, swimming, best snorkeling on the island, views of Lombok, good restaurant selection, near the harbor, close walk to western side for sunset.
The food at Chill Out Bungalows got a thumbs up from us. They had both Western and Indonesian choices.
Typical Day on Gili Air
Most of our days had the same structure: breakfast on the beach at our hotel + activity/exploring another area of the island + back to our hotel for swimming + showering + sunset happy hour in the west + dinner + movie or cocktails + bed. Repeat.
Since there are no paved roads or airports, you must get to Gili Air by boat. I wrote a blog post about how we got there, with prices and various options.
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