In April 2016 I wrote 10 Reasons To Make Gili Air Your Next Travel Destination.
I’d just returned from my third trip to Gili Air and had a strong urge to share it with the world. Over my three trips I’d seen the island develop from a quiet beachy paradise to a bustling travel destination. It was my favourite place on earth, the place I learnt to dive and the location of my first trip with my now fiance.
That blog ended with a but. An enormous but with huge flashing lights on top saying “But”. As much as I loved the island, I could see the cracks emerging. The tourism bug was beginning to bite. I was worried, at the time, that the island I loved so much would soon be tainted and would never be the little patch of paradise I first found in 2013. More and more bars were appearing on the beaches, the music was getting louder and the litter was starting to pile up.
Since then I’ve watched from afar as the Indonesian government wised up. They saw how the bars and restaurants were sprawling onto the the beach, ruining the natural beauty. They noticed the demographic of people they were attracting to the islands and most importantly, they realised what they were about to lose. They acted, they pulled it all back, they cleared the beaches, replacing ugly concrete structures with colourful bean bags. It was the small changes that made the biggest difference and what they left behind was a serenity that far surpassed even what they had before.
But then the cruel hand of fate played its part. On 5th August 2018 a powerful earthquake struck Loloan Village in the northern regency of Lombok. The shockwaves caused considerable damage to Gili Air, they knocked out power and restricted access to the island. The boats stopped running and so the tourists stopped coming.
In October this year, I finally made it back to the island and was blown away by what I found. The contrast to my previous visit was startling. The calmness and quiet that had settled over the island was incredible. But I don’t think the locals would agree. The boats were running again, but ironically, at a time when the Gili islands needed it most, the tourists were nowhere to be found. For them it’s an uphill battle, they are desperately trying to rebuild but to keep their businesses afloat they need the lifeblood of the island to return.
So in stark contrast to my last post on Gili Air, here are 5 reasons why NOW, is actually the best time to Visit Gili Air.
It’s Delightfully Quiet – Although the hardworking locals wouldn’t agree, there’s something really attractive about this island when it’s quiet. It lives up to the image you have in your mind when you close your eyes and dream of paradise. The beaches are clean, the ocean is clear and the palms sway calmly in the salty breeze. At times you can go an hour without seeing another person giving you that liberating feeling of chosen isolation, even if its just for a moment. Although I desperately want the tourists to return, I felt lucky to experience the island again when the only sounds you could hear were that of the waves crashing on the shore and the squeaky bicycles wading through shallow sand.
The Ocean – The best thing about being on an island is that you’re surrounded by water. Wherever you go, whatever you do, you’ll always be able to hear the gentle sloshing of the waves upon the shore. What makes the water surrounding Gili Air so inviting, is that it has something to offer everyone. If you just need to cool off you can wade in up to your waist and feel instantly refreshed. If snorkelling is your thing then all you have to do is wade a little further. The island is built upon a bank of shallow reefs with a light current that will allow you to drift leisurely over beautiful corals, tropical fish and the occasional curious turtle. For the more adventurous, there are so many amazing dive sites surrounding Gili Air that you’d have to stay for months to see them all. To compound all these elements you have to appreciate the effort of the government, local people and the dive schools, who have collaborated to keep the ocean and the reefs around the island clean. They are fighting against the use of plastic and have friendly reminders throughout the island. The quiet has helped to make a significant dent in the fight against plastic so the best way to show your appreciation is to dive in and enjoy the beauty they work so hard to maintain.
The Sunsets – As the sun sets each evening you’ll find yourself in the perfect position to watch it sink beneath the majesty of Mt. Agung. But it’s not just its ideal position which makes the sunsets so special; it’s the atmosphere. The western shores of Gili air have set themselves up to make watching the sunset a nightly ritual. There are bean bags sprawled along the shoreline, acoustic music drifting along the breeze and of course a nice selection of drinks to toast the end of another day in paradise.
The Food – On Gili Air, if you aren’t frolicking in the water or relaxing on the sand, you’re probably thinking about food. Thats OK, because the island does it so well. From simple fried Rice Dishes (Nasi Goreng) to delicious vegetable curries (Cap-Cay), if you eat like a local, you can’t go wrong. For breakfast you’ll be treated to fruit, eggs and delicious Lombok Coffee. Lunch is a hearty rice dish with meat or vegetables. But where Gili Air really excels is at dinner time. Most restaurants have a beachfront bbq on which they grill fresh seafood, meat and vegetables. The smell of sambal spices as they drip slowly on to hot coals is incredible. The restaurants on Gili Air have figured out how to do this so well. There’s nothing tacky, they aren’t trying to mimic western food and what they do offer uses the best fresh and local produce. For me, Gili Air has become a bit of a foodie paradise without even trying to be.
Friendly locals – The people you meet on any trip can make or break your experience. Gili Air has always been an island of smiles, but this time in particular we felt a genuine warmth from everyone we encountered. They couldn’t have done more for us. We were greeted by everyone we passed in the street in an honest and grateful manner. I felt a genuine appreciation for our presence and in return they welcomed us to their home like old friends. Their mix of courteous hospitality, good humour and kind hearts makes every interaction a pleasant one. In the past, competition between vendors has caused some aggressive sales techniques. But this time I encountered none of that. In fact everyone we spoke to was more than happy to give us information without the promise of a sale in return. It opened us up to some real and interesting conversations, which in the past we might have avoided. It seems they’ve learned from their mistakes and now the locals can just be themselves, happy, humble and glad to see you.
When I sit back and imagine my perfect day, I find that I always wake up on Gili Air. The sun beams in through a gap in our curtains and outside I can hear the waves. I’m away from normal life, I don’t need shoes, I don’t a shirt and I never have a plan! It’s the reason I keep coming back!
Right now Gili Air is the best version of itself, calm, tranquil and serene. It might not last forever, but who knows, in another couple of years I hope I can write another blog telling you I was wrong again. With any luck Gili Air will just keep getting better and better, and to do this all it needs to do is stay the same!