Pinch and zoom on the Map to the North West of Lombok and you’ll find three tiny drops of land known as the Gili Islands. These minuscule paradise islands, each offering a slightly different atmosphere, are the de facto destination for anyone wanting to recover post Rinjani. We selected Gili Air, the middle ground by all accounts; not as developed as party hub Gili T, but more bustling than tiny Gili Meno. One thing we’ve discovered whilst travelling for a prolonged period of time is that sometimes you really need to take a break and do nothing. As you can imagine, this doesn’t leave a lot to write about in a blog post, but we’ll try to give you a sense of why Gili Air is the perfect place to wind-down.
Gili Air is so small that you can walk from one end to the other in 25 minutes. Understandably, there’s no need for petrol/diesel vehicles on an island that size. This creates a tranquil space full of anachronisms like horse drawn carriages and a liberation from noise and air pollution. Our visit coincided with the national holiday Eid al-Fitr which sees the predominantly Muslim population of Lombok celebrating the end of Ramadan with joyous feasts. With most of the locals away on the mainland, half of the warungs were shut, making the island even more peaceful than usual. Most of our time was spent reading by the pool or taking slow walks through the quaint little streets, looping back along the coastline.
Whilst Gili T is saturated with resorts, Gili Air has a more eclectic mix of cute westernised cafes/boutiques and authentic local eateries. The island seems to be setting itself up as a digital nomad hot spot, with sandwich bars, organic cafes, yoga studios and even a gym. Enormous satellite dishes provide surprisingly good internet outside the occasional power cuts. During our stay it felt as though time had stopped, but in a good way (think Bernard’s Watch). It’s easy to see how anyone could come for a weekend and end up staying for a month. We sampled quite a few cafes and Pachamama, despite being expensive, stood out for the serenity of its white washed garden setting. But our favourite place to eat was a tiny one-woman operation on Jalan Mojo called Burger Harbour. We took to calling the proprietor Gili Mama because eating at her place felt like walking into a friend’s house to get a home cooked meal from their mum. Everything was delicious and significantly cheaper than any of the surrounding establishments, we couldn’t recommend it enough!
One of the main attractions of the Gili Islands is their marine life. Snorkel tours are readily available from countless vendors along the street. After getting a few different quotes during our walks, we eventually booked a 5 hour tour for 100000IDR (~ 5GBP) each. The following morning we arrived at 9am, selected some gear and headed out with the rest of the group on a glass-bottom boat. The weather conditions weren’t in our favour with rough seas causing low visibility and serious nausea. We did spot a sea turtle which is always amazing, but otherwise it was quite underwhelming compared to what we found later in Amed and Nusa Penida. The boat takes you to several spots around Gili Air and Meno, stopping for lunch on the latter before a final visit to the instagram famous underwater statues. Sadly, the visibility was far too low for us to see the statues on this occasion. Given how cheap the tour is, many people give it a try on multiple days which is a good strategy to increase your chances.
On our final day the humidity rose to unbearable levels, causing the air to stagnate and the temperature to sore so high that even the electricity refused to flow. There was a promise of a thunderstorm brewing on the horizon, but we didn’t catch a drop of rain until a day later. Vegetating in the shadows by the hotel swimming pool, we discovered that despite the oppressive heat we were full of energy and itching to continue the adventure. Gili Air had done what it promised and healed us just in time for our return to Bali.