Gili Air. A place of crystal clear waters, amazing snorkeling and island community. The Gili Islands really are all they’re made out to be on Instagram. But what’s not generally included on Instagram is how to get there, and how getting there or back can in itself, be quite the adventure.
The first thing you need to know is that the only way to get to the Gili Islands is by ferry since the islands just aren’t big enough for planes. The next thing you need to know is that you can either take a ‘fast boat’ or a ‘slow boat.’ Slow boats take about 8 hours (apparently). And the third thing you need to know is that Bali ferries are chaos, so what should only take about 3 hours, can take a full day. All of this resulted in a long travel day and three exhausted and stressed out travel girls.
We booked our ferries to and from Gili Air using Bali Ferry and chose Padang Bai as our port of departure and arrival. The site we used to book our ferries also includes hotel picks ups and drop offs, but only in Bali.
Our adventure began at 9 am while we were waiting at our hotel to be picked up so we would get to the port in time for our 1:30 am ferry. The port was located around 2 hours from Kuta. We were picked up on time, driven around for about 30 minutes, then dropped off on the side of the side of the road where we were met by another man. He told us to follow him about 500 metres, dragging our bags along a busy highway until we got to a mini bus, loaded our bags, then got on ready to go…
…except we didn’t go anywhere. Instead we sat on the side of the road for about 2 hours while other people were picked up from their hotels and brought to the bus. We finally set off from our road side location at around around 12:30 pm. By this time we had come to the realisation that we were going to miss our ferry. We contacted our provider and they agreed to reschedule us onto the 3:30 pm ferry.
When we arrived at the port I was surprised to see it consisted of little more than a jetty with people lined up along the shore with their bags. We were directed into a small resturant to get our tickets. We were directed to stand with the other passengers who were booked on to the Wahanu ferry and commenced waiting, eating pringles and Nasi Goreng as we did so. At around 3:30, the time we were supposed to have been on our boat, we were summoned to the jetty.
The jetty was insane.
There were literally hundreds of people, standing in all sorts of lines with luggage bags while locals snaked around groups selling iced Bintangs. We spent about half an hour waiting in the stifling heat (there wasn’t a single breeze) before we were finally informed that our ferry had arrived. What followed next can only be described as organised chaos. Somehow, everyone on the boat was able to get off and claim their luggage, and we were able to get our luggage and ourselves on the boat. We made our way up stairs and found seats. The ferry ride was actually pretty chill, even though we went through a small rain storm.
The ferry made three stops along the way: 1 at Gili T, one at Gili Meno, and the final one on Lombok.
Wait, Lombok? I thought you were going to Gili Air?
It turns out that Gili Air is the smallest of the islands and the ferries are too big to dock there. So the solution is to drop everyone off at a small port in Lombok, from which you can see Gili Air, and load everyone on to small fishing boats to carry them over to the island.
By the time we made it to Gili Air, we had been travelling for 9 hours. We were hungry, exhausted and faced a 2km walk to our hotel because there are no cars on Gili Air. But, despite the long travel day, we’d made it! Our adventures on Gili could finally begin. Cue snorkling with turtles and lazy beach days.
Just a quick note on our return.
The trip back to Bali was much more smooth since the jetty at Gili air is far less crowded. However, we almost didn’t make it back to Bali in the first place. You see, there had been a severe storm the night before and the sea was still quite rough. As a result of this, the fast boats were cancelled, which meant we were looking down the barrel of an eight-hour slow boat ferry back to Pedang Bai. Woohoo (can you hear the sarcasm?)
Fortunately for us, our by the time midday rolled around, the fast boats were up and running once more. This time, the ferries took a different approach to boarding us on the ferry. The ferry was docked in the middle of the sea and they chose to have us be transported out to the ferry on small fish boats and board in the middle of the sea.
I was only a little bit nervous about falling over board myself or dropping my bag as I handed it out over the edge of the boat to the guys dealing with the luggage.
If you are planning to add a visit to the Gili Islands, here’s a few things fro you to keep in mind: