how to visit the gilli islands

What to do on Gili Air and the Gili Islands

We are in the Gili Islands.  On Gili Air to be precise.  We have two American benefactors who are responsible for us being here today.  That’s right. We were sat on the covered platform waiting for there to be enough people for the public ferry to go from Port Bangsal to Gili Air (we were tickets 8 and 9  – they needed 30 – when two young Americans joined us.)


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They have just hiked Gunung Rinjani, well to the crater anyways. It has been two days since they had a shower. They consider that if we (that’s the royal we of course) buy the remainder of the tickets for the ferry, then it can go NOW.  We’ve been waiting 25 minutes. They’ve been waiting 5. The whole discussion between the two of them is carried out in a loud passive aggressive manner, daring any one of us who are sharing the platform with them to pipe up that we’ll chip in and share the costs.

The rest of us?  we can hear what they saying, but they seem quite happy to talk themselves into paying the additional US$13 for the tickets, even though they kid themselves that it’s only US$10.

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Still, they pay, we splash through the thigh deep water to clamber onto the boat and we all leave maybe an hour earlier than we would have done. So, American benefactors, thank you, we appreciate it, even if we didn’t communicate that at the time.

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We’ve been on a boat for the last 6 days and didn’t have internet before that for a couple of days, so we arrived on Gili Air Island with nowhere to stay and little research undertaken as to where to look and so, after one failed “we’re full”, we found the last remaining bungalow at the Nusa Tiga “Resort”, a few minutes walk from the boat drop off point and inland.  (Take a left after Sunrise Gili Air and walk until you find it).

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We have a somewhat ratty bamboo bungalow on stilts.  With wifi in the bungalow. For 200,000 IDR per night.  Including breakfast.

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There’s major gaps between the floor boards, a mosquito net that we immediately dismantle and replace with our own, an attached “bathroom”, a light, a table, a table based fan and a deck on which we can sit and watch the family sweep the dust around or lie in the hammock.

The mattress is the saggiest I’ve been on in months.   But there’s power – a three way adapter anyways.

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There’s also a bathroom attached at the back.  It’s tiled.  Mostly.  It’s roofed.  Mainly.  There’s a shower head that comes to shoulder height on a 160cm person.  There’s an icky square tub in the corner.  And a sink, with a waste pipe that’s not connected.  Bonus!  You get your feet washed while cleaning your hands!

We book for one night (our time here equates to US$17.52 a night for the hut) and make the decision the next day to stay two more. At which point the electricity for the island fails.
Surely our research, however, minimal would have indicated that we should have picked somewhere with a generator. Nope. So instead of quickly getting a shower, we amble off for the provided breakfast, assuming the electric will be back on soon.

By the time the electricity comes back on some 38 hours later, we’ve been intensely amused by the solo American traveller understanding that the lights wouldn’t come on, but not that the Internet wouldn’t. We’ve thanked our lucky stars that we didn’t pay for an A/C bungalow, like the couple across from us, who bugged out after 2 hours. And we’ve learned that on an island where the water pump is run by electric the first thing you do when the electric goes out (because you’ve already got your torch by your bed) is take a shower and fill a bucket to flush the loo.

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We’ve also been snorkeling, which, as most of the water in showers (unless advertised) here on Gili Air is salt water, is just as good as a shower.

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Of the three Gili Islands, Air is the “in-betweeny” – Trawangan is the party island, Meno is the quiet one and Air gives you the best of both worlds, although the places to eat and drink that we’ve found are shutting up by 10pm and mornings are lazy starts too.

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It’s a travelers paradise of sorts. Lovely views, mostly with volcanoes in them.  It’s not the island paradise, though, that we were looking for, we should have gone to the Karimunjawa Islands in Indonesia, off Java, now they sound like true island paradise.

We did however hike a few volcanoes here in Indonesia – there was Kawah Ijen, then Bromo – both amazing experiences that we organized independently.

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Gorgeous sunsets, bike rentals and easy walks (you can walk around the outside of the island in 90 minutes or cut across the middle in a shorter time).

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Everyone speaks English. Wifi is pretty much everywhere for the price of a coffee or a beer. There’s great pizza, super seafood and lots of sunbeds. But it feels highly manufactured.

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Oh don’t get me wrong, I’ve enjoyed the three days that we’ve spent here, despite the lack of electricity. I’ve loved the ease of it all. I’m even coming to enjoy the heaviest pancakes in the world, which I’ve discovered aren’t just a “provided on the Kencana Adventures boats”, but an Indonesian thing.


I have loved that there is no motorised transport on the island (well apart from a couple of electric motorbikes, which I hope don’t breed too freely), its pedal power, flipflop rubber or horse drawn carriages.

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I enjoyed the glass bottomed boat snorkeling trip that we went on – you know, the one where the boat is designed for 40 people, where there were 4 life jackets and 70 passengers plus crew? The snorkeling was good, even if I did get mad with the morons standing on the coral and chasing the turtle. I was even amused when after our lunch stop on Gili Meno we lost two of our three Australians onboard, we found them at the next stop, when they hitched a ride with another boat.

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We had glorious sunset, a chilled out time and some respite from fried Indonesian food.

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But I’m afraid Gili wasn’t the paradise that it had been hyped to be, for me at least, so we’re off to Bali, again.

Travel Tips for Exploring Indonesia

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