Things To Know Before Visiting Gili Air on a Budget
First of all, a mild warning. Indonesia wasn’t one of my favorite countries to visit. Even though we saw some of the most amazing things and visited some of the most incredible and memorable places during our travels, there was something about the way tourists are treated. The whole time we where there, we felt like it was all about the money. Not to mention 90% of our drivers fell asleep…
There’s greed, specifically from men in the tourism business, who constantly prey on visitors in an endless effort of trying to make you overpay for everything. To avoid this, the best thing to do is to be prepared; inform yourself on the rates for transportation and goods before hand and never give in into paying an unfair price.
Escaping from Bali to the Indonesian islands of Lombok
Indonesia was on our list of countries to visit because food, accommodation and transport are cheap and we were even more excited about going to the beaches and exploring the islands. It sounded like the perfect budget traveler destination.
So, there we were. We had spent a few days in Ubud, the cultural center of Bali, feeling pretty overwhelmed with the amount of tourists and traffic in the narrow streets and alleys. It was not our type of destination. We wanted to escape.
We needed some relaxing time and we chose the small, more family oriented and less party island of the three Gilis; Gili Air, closest to Lombok. This should’ve been our little haven for six days. A well deserved break from all the exploring and adventure involving hiking up volcanoes and mountains.
How to get to the Gili Islands from Bali
To get to any of the islands, the cheapest option is to book a ticket that includes all the transportation you need until you reach your final destination. To go to Gili Air, we bought our ticket in our hotel in Ubud and that costed IDR 250.000 per person.
First, from anywhere in Bali, a shared taxi or minivan will take you to the Padangbai Harbor. Then, these are the 2 options that’ll take you to the second stop, Lombok island:
The boat from Bali to Lombok
Ferry. The ferry or slow boat takes 4 hours to arrive in Lombok plus an undefined amount of hours to actually dock. Because the winds change quickly in certain seasons, the sea can become quite rough making this option the safest one.
Fast boat. This is a much smaller boat at a higher price that will take you to Lombok and the Gili Islands in only 1.5 hours. Having said that about the sea frequently being rough, this option takes you on a very bumpy ride. Depending on the weather, these boats are sometimes not available and the only option is the ferry. We met some people that will never take those fast boats again. Ever.
The minivan from Lembar Harbor to the Gili Islands
Once in the Lembar harbour in Lombok, the journey isn’t over. The next step is to find the shared minivan belonging to the company you bought the ticket from and drive around 1.5 hours through the city and mountains to get to the other smaller harbor of Bangsal.
There is always waiting involved when taking shared and/or public transport and this was no exception. Finally, with a packed slow boat, we left on a 15 minute ride to Gili Air, the closest little island to Lombok.
Finding the relaxing vibe on Gili Air
It was a relief to finally arrive at our destination. The island itself can be walked around in less than an hour, it’s flat and the tallest buildings are only 2 stories high. A charming little place most famous for snorkeling and diving.
To be honest, our first impressions of the surroundings were disappointing. Having seen much nicer beaches, it didn’t impress us. The dusty broken roads, some shops and buildings looked randomly scattered. At least it was quiet…
A few nights later though, we started to understand the vibe of the island... Slow, chill, strolls along the beach, lounge by the sea at sunset while having a beer or a cocktail. That’s Gili Air!
What to do on Gili Air on a budget
We were set on exploring the island in search for good local Indonesian food at fair prices but we didn’t find it at first. All the restaurants at the beach were overpriced so, we went inland and finally found some delicious food for a lot less. Definitely look for Waroeng Alam Damai! Delicious!
Budget and free activities
If you want to ride a bike, expect to pay around $5 for a day. To go diving or snorkeling, you’d have to rent the equipment and pay for a tour in a boat that takes you into deeper waters. We didn’t see a lot of snorkeling off the beach. Of course there’s always the 360° beach but there wasn’t a lot of swimming space, the tide was low and it was always incredibly windy.
All in all, we still had enough to do to spend a relaxed couple of days. Maybe not six. Gili Air is not about doing things. It’s more about not doing things and just see what the day brings. Cocktail or beer in hand.
And then, on day four... it came as a surprise. It caught us when arguing about how to kill the cockroach I just found in the bathroom and it shook us harder than anything we’ve ever experienced.
“On August 5th of 2018, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake shook the ground heavily on Lombok killing 350 people. The epicenter was below Mount Rinjani and we were on the small (and really flat) island of Gili Air, only 20 miles away from the volcano.”