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Flowers at Gilli Air with sea in the background

Free-diving in paradise: Gili Air

What is it about Gili Air?

There are no cars, no scooters, no motor noise other than occasional boats – just the jingling of horse bells from the carts. Yes, horse carts are in actual use, not just for tourists. Otherwise, bike or shanks pony on sand roads.

Tough biking.

It’s relatively empty of tourists – a particular relief after Bali (and after passing by Gili Trewangan next door, the ‘party island’, which looked like a mini Kuta. Still a fair number, but mostly French or German, and outside the party age.

The air smells of frangipani, woodsmoke, and ocean.

Beach frangipani

Chickens and goats rule, along with many short tailed cats (but no dogs: they’re banned on all the Gilis). Giant butterflies and bees, and swifts darting everywhere.

Beach goats climb trees
The most dangerous critter on the island.

It’s small enough that you can walk completely around it in a couple of hours; or wander to view sunrise on one side, sunset on the other.

Sunrise, looking at Lombok

Sunset, looking at Bali

Everyone smiles, and says hello – and that’s it, no sales. Even us tourists find ourselves smiling and saying hello to every passerby, local or tourist. This friendliness thing is dangerously infectious.

The snorkelling’s pretty damn good. And we learned to free dive – and loved it! Oh, the bliss of going without all the gear and schlep of scuba! Even on our first day, we got down to 15 meters, and 2.5 minutes of breath holding – which we’d never expected. The second day was curtailed – weather got stormy, choppy waves made it difficult to relax – so while we did the basic exercises we needed to qualify, it wasn’t as good. And there were turtles! (Apologies for lack of photo evidence from all this, didn’t have the GoPro on us for the best bits).

V smoothly surfacing after a relaxed 10m

The hotel (PinkCoco), we agreed, is one of the very nicest we’ve stayed in, ever. Not the most expensive or the most luxurious – but just lovely. The owner cares deeply, and pays attention to all the details – and it shows. The tubs for foot washing had a beautiful new sprinkling of flowers daily; the evening turndown includes a nightlight with some essential oils (plus a couple of homemade cookies); the morning coffee and orange juice would put many five star hotels to shame (I judge hotels harshly on those two points, and most fail)… oh, you know, just everything was lovely.

Pink Coco swimming pool

So we wound up cancelling an arduous planned schlep from Gili to Java – 12h travel, between 2 boats plus 6h drive crossing Bali; immediately followed by a midnight start to hike up Mount Ijen for sunrise, hike back down again, shower and resume driving across Java to get to Mount Bromo. And instead had another day of lazing in paradise, and flew to Mount Bromo.

Ever feel like you made the right call?

Sunset cocktails
Fire twirling
Our freediving boat