Closest to Lombok and the middle island in all other respects, Air was a surreal but amazing location to begin our Gili experience. I often likened it to being in a resort (albeit far less formally developed and polished) as restaurants, shops, activities and accommodation options were closely mixed together.
To book or not to book?
We opted to turn up and arrange accommodation on arrival, risking the unlikely chance that we wouldn’t be able to get something within our price range. Being low season, this was an even smaller chance but, from our observations and talking around, this is still a routine occurrence even during busier times.
The full range of budget accommodation options exist across the island from basic guesthouses and dorms to high-end hostels with private rooms. We opted to stay at the Lonely Planet-recommended 7 Seas hostel, taking a four person dorm for our three person party. This hostel came with shared bathroom facilities, a central location, free WiFi and a pool (this was a diving pool so was incredibly deep at points).
Top tip: if turning up with no accommodation booked doesn’t work for you, it is worthwhile only booking the first night in advance. Prices are generally cheaper when you walk in and it is a regular routine for people to swap hostels in the morning.
What to do
Gili Air has a range of things that you can do, from very much to very little. There are a range of restaurants, bars and dive centres in which you can spend your time. If you’re interested in taking up snorkelling or scuba diving, there are day trips you can take to experience this.
If you’re looking to gain scuba diving qualifications, PADI and SSI-accredited courses are run on a regular basis. Whilst we didn’t partake in these nor enquire, it appeared that advance booking wasn’t always necessary although some date flexibility to be available for the whole course would be required.
If you like to walk, the island itself can be easily circumnavigated in a couple of hours at a leisurely pace. If you time it right, a pause on the west coast looking out towards Gili Meno can give you a fabulous sunset view.
For those of the swimming and snorkelling persuasion, there are many, many beaches from which you can just stroll into the water and be quickly amongst tropical fish mere metres from the shoreline. Boat trips run regularly to help you explore these more rapidly if you choose: advertisements run along the island’s main thoroughfare to help you access these. We opted for snorkelling off the beach, with hundreds of tropical fish swimming amongst us – I even spotted a meandering turtle swimming back out to sea. The waiters at the restaurant we were based out of said this was a rare occurrence as they only come into the area around Gili Air when they are tired – a real treat for me! For Claire, this was an even more significant experience given that she had never snorkelled before – I can’t think of a better location for a first time experience and she wholeheartedly agreed!
Eating and drinking
If you’re looking for somewhere to eat and drink, we partook in both the Waterfront bar & restaurant and the Le Cirque which has a French patisserie attached. That’s right, we did say French. This is just a small snapshot of the wide range of foods available on the island to choose from. On the menus, we saw French, Italian, Mexican and Chinese plus pizzas, steaks and BBQ foods alongside the expected seafood and Indonesian dishes. Not bad when you consider everything (and we mean everything) has to come onto the island by small boat from Lombok. To put it into perspective, we travelled with a friend who lives in Malaysia, outside of Kuala Lumpur. Despite this being a principal city within the country, she found a greater choice on Gili Air than she could find at home!
In terms of what foods to order, the choice is really your own. We took full advantage of the range of cuisine on offer, mixing up between Indonesian and Western as we went through. Based on our own sampling, we recommend the Chill Out Bar for a 55 000 IDR BBQ, with a plentiful serving of a kebab skewer of your choice, a potato choice (jacket/fries), salad and a sauce to compliment. This was amazing value for money and to eat this at a table literally on the beach with the water lapping only a few feet away from you is extremely hard to beat!
If you do intend to visit Le Cirque, we enjoyed the delicious Pecorino burger followed up by a wholesome and refreshing homemade strawberry cheesecake which was simply divine.