Gili Air, meaning “Little Island of Water” in the Indonesian language, is the island closest to the Lombok mainland and the most easily accessed of the three Gili Islands. With about 1000 local residents, Gili Air has the largest local population of the three, many of its residents being Bugis sailors from Sulawesi who settled there many years ago establishing coconut plantations and expanding the fishing activities. Gili Air therefore combines the charm of a paradise tropical island with easy access to the people and the culture that has made Lombok so special. Many of the older generation here still make their living as boatmen, fisherman and coconut farmers.
Much of the development on Gili Air is on the east coast, facing Lombok and the towering Mt Rinjani, which provides spectacular sunrises, while sunsets behind Mt Agung on Bali are visible from the south and western coasts. On the western side of the island when the moon is high and the tide is low, it is not possible to swim off the beach. Instead, you need to walk to the south or east side, where the best beaches are found, with clear turquoise waters and soft white sand.
Diving facilities abound and there is good snorkelling directly from the shore, particularly from the east and northeast beaches. Gili Air Wall, off the west coast, is a popular dive site, with soft corals that gleam yellow and orange in the sunlight, and harbour scorpion fish and thousands of glassfish, turtles and, if you look very carefully, tiny pigmy seahorses hiding in the sea fans. In the deeper waters are white tip reef sharks and schools of larger fish species. Hahn’s Reef is full of strange critters; it is a popular diving site, and also a superb training site for beginners.
Gili Air also attracts surfers: with the right conditions, there is a good surf break off the south of the island.
There is a good range of accommodation on Gili Air, from simple homestays to more expensive hotels with all the attendant creature comforts, but advance booking is recommended. Dining opportunities range from good quality restaurants to simple warungs on the beach and, while the bars aren’t as loud as on Gili Trawangan, there are still plenty of opportunities to have fun.