We took a family trip to Gili Air, complete with grandparents and our two children, ages three and five, first departing for Bali in January 2015. We imagined our trip consisting primarily of the kids and grandparents lounging on the beach while we explored the local shops. We were wrong. Upon arriving at the beach in Seminyak, our oldest said, “I’m not gonna stay here. It’s so dirty.” “It smells,” the little one complained. The well-being of our trip was suddenly in jeopardy—how can we make everyone happy for the entire month-long vacation?
We booked two villas in advance, one in Seminyak the other in Sanur. We did all we could to help the kids enjoy the pool, in between visiting noteworthy local sights like the Monkey forest in Ubud. After the first two days, we headed directly to the harbour in Padangbai to catch a speedboat to Gili Air.
On Sunday we arrived to the island without any sort of booking in place. Figuring we shouldn’t have much trouble with only six people, we simply checked Booking.com two days before arriving. There were plenty hotels still available—no need to fret. My husband found a horsecart and drove along the main drag to visit the hotels he liked.
We waited for him in a charming cafe opposite the harbour. He soon returned, boasting of a lovely hotel with a pool nearby. Good news, since the kids insisted they’d only stayed at a hotel with a pool. I guess they were scared of sitting on a dirty beach again.
A few things that make a family trip to Gili Air an ideal vacation:
1. No cars allowed—only horsecarts and bicycles. It’s perfect for parents, who need not worry about their children’s safety here. They can’t even get lost, since there’s only one main road.
We arrived at the Sunrise Hotel via horsecart. We didn’t know it initially, but our Travelguide later informed us that the hotel is directly in front of the best snorkeling spot on Gili Air. The Travelguide was soon proven right. Every morning three boats arrived at the beach to drop off snorkelers eager to explore the exotic underwater world. We walked into the water on our own. Surprisingly, we saw an enormous variety of colorful fishes almost immediately, hardly five meters from shore. Luckily, we had swimming shoes with us to protect against the seaweed and small stones underfoot.
3. Very good hotel
The Sunrise Hotel itself belongs to a nice man who purchased the piece of land several years ago. He began building bungalows in the local style. Ours was very convenient, with one bedroom and bathroom downstairs, plus a sun-lounging area upstairs, whereas some bungalows have an opposite floorplan. While the kids slept, we sipped glasses of wine and relaxed after our long days
The kids quickly fell in love with the hotel pool, complete with a deeper area and a kids‘ pool. Gili Air proved to be child-friendly at every corner. The staff was lovely, always cracking jokes to delight our children, the ocean was shallow, and there were, of course, no cars around.
We had breakfast in the restaurant while the kids got an early start playing in the sand, only meters away from us.
4. Dining on the beach
In the evenings we dined directly on the beach. Our go-to pick was often Scallywag‘s, where they offered fantastic meat and fish always freshly grilled on their BBQ. The Sunshine Restaurant was also a great option; clown sausages with mashed potatoes were the kids‘ favorite whereas we loved the tuna.
5. Scuba diving
In the mornings and afternoons, we went diving with Gili Air Divers several times. There are countless diving spots to choose from, offering visitors the chance to see sea turtles, manta rays and even whale sharks. One afternoon, my daughter decided to come with me on the boat. The boaters told her to take her snorkel equipment with her, so she could go snorkeling with them while I dove deeper. If that isn’t paradise, I don’t know what is.
Have you ever been to a similar island? Please share your experiences!