Travelling between Bali and the Gili Islands is easiest by boat, right? Not necessarily.
Now that the old Lombok Airport near Senggigi has closed and been replaced by the much more distant Lombok International Airport, fastboat operators are taking advantage of the more direct sea route between Bali and the Gili Islands.
So how does sea travel to the Gili Islands compare to air travel?
Below is a comparison in three key areas:
In Lombok, planes take off and land far from the Gili Islands, while fastboats travel directly to the Gili Islands and dock at Gili Trawangan.
However, in Bali the opposite is true: the airport is close to the main tourist areas of South Bali, while many boats to the Gili Islands depart from a distant location.
View Transport Between Bali and Lombok in a larger map
The Gili Islands are the 3 green markers
The main harbour for boats to Lombok is in Padangbai; in the map above, it is the harbour directly north of Nusa Penida. Padangbai is a two-hour drive from the main tourist areas of Kuta and Ubud. Considering that most ferries from Bali to Lombok only operate once a day and depart at 9am or earlier, this makes for a very early start.
Fortunately, there are some alternatives.
A smaller number of fast boats to Gili Trawangan depart from Serangan (near Sanur) and Tanjung Benoa (near Nusa Dua). On the map above, they are west of Nusa Penida. These boats have further to travel than those from Padangbai so are more expensive, but this can be cancelled out by the shorter distance to travel by road/taxi.
At the Lombok end of the journey, travelling by fastboat to the Gili Islands is most convenient, if you are staying on Gili Trawangan. However, if your final destination is Gili Air or Gili Meno, it is not so suitable. Inter-island ferries only operate twice per day; the timetable is at the Gili Trawangan dock.
If travelling by plane, the choices between Lombok Airport and the Bangsal ferry terminal are:
|Lombok Airport and Senggigi
|Senggigi and Bangsal
|DAMRI Airport Bus
|Minibus to Pemenang, then 1km walk
Unlike the old Lombok Airport and most other Indonesian airports, taxis use their meters and not a pre-paid voucher system. The approximate cost of a taxi fare between Lombok Airport and Senggigi is Rp250 000 ($28 €21 £17) and for Lombok Airport to Bangsal Rp330 000 ($36 €27 £22).
Please note that ferries between the Gili Islands and Bangsal stop operating around 4-5pm, and during inclement weather or rough seas. The only schedule is “leave when full”.
If you are travelling from Lombok Airport to Bangsal/Gili Islands in one trip, a morning flight from Bali is recommended.
If you are travelling from Gili Islands/Bangsal to Lombok Airport, an afternoon or evening flight is recommended. A no risk option (particuarly during the wet season) is to return to Lombok the day before, and stay one night in Mataram or Senggigi.
Boats are slower and use less petrol than planes so will be cheaper, right?
You would think so, but actually flying is cheaper. The average cost of a one-way flight ticket is Rp300 000 ($35 € 25 £20). Using this price list as a guide, the average cost of a one-way fastboat ticket is double: Rp600 000 ($70 € 50 £40).
Maybe it is because the planes can carry more passengers than fastboats, or airline companies are larger, fly more routes and have an “economy of scale” advantage over fastboats.
Of course, the boat or flight trip is only part of the story. There are additional expenses.
|Mode of Transport||Additional Expenses|
|- Transport between hotel and harbour in Bali*|
|- Transport between hotel and airport in Bali
- Airport tax
- Transport between airport and Bangsal in Lombok
*Some fastboat operators departing from Serangan and Tanjung Benoa advertise free hotel to harbour transfers.
Once these additional expenses are included, the difference in price is much reduced.
Other important considerations in this area:
- Different fare structures
Flight ticket prices vary, fastboat fares are fixed. Last minute purchasing of flight tickets will be more expensive than usual, while advnaced purchasing will be cheaper.
- How many passengers?
Transport costs between hotel and harbour/airport can be split between multiple passengers if travelling in a group. However, airport tax is a flat fee per passenger.
- Baggage allowance
Most flights between Bali and Lombok have a loosely-enforced 15kg baggage allowance. Garuda Indonesia is the only exception, with a 20kg baggage allowance, but its only flight departs in the evening. Within reasonable limitations, there is no limit on baggage for fastboats.
- Excess baggage fees
Sports equipment such as diving gear and surfboards incur excess baggage fees on flights, except on Garuda Indonesia. They do not on fastboats.
- Payment method
Paying for multiple boat tickets by cash may require more than one withdrawal at an ATM. The maximum withdrawal for an ATM issuing Rp50 000 banknotes is Rp1 250 000 (enough for two tickets), for an ATM issuing Rp100 000 banknotes Rp2 500 000 (enough for four tickets). You should prepare this amount of money in advance. On the Gili Islands, only Gili Trawangan has an ATM. For more information about acquiring local currency safely and easily, please see here.
To summarise, travelling by plane will be cheaper overall, unless your ticket is expensive, and you are travelling solo by taxi or bringing watersports equipment.
Of the airlines, Garuda Indonesia and Wings Air currently have the two best scores for on-time performance (> 80%), while Merpati Airlines is trailing the pack (66%). The on-time performance of smaller airlines that also fly between Bali and Lombok (TransNusa, Sky Aviation) is not measured.
Boat reliability is not independently assessed, so here is some general guidance:
- Each fastboat company only has 1-2 boats
A mechanical issue or scheduled maintenance for one boat would seriously affect the schedule.
- Fastboats are more affected by inclement weather and rough seas than planes
Seas are calmer in the early morning, so this is one reason why most boats depart then. Also, during the wet season (November to April) tropical storms tend to occur during the afternoon. Then again, ferries between Bangsal and the Gili Islands are smaller than fastboats, so are also susceptible to weather and ocean conditions.
- Fastboat tickets cannot be pre-booked
As explained here, e-commerce is still widely mistrusted by local residents, so currently Indonesian fastboat operators do not have an online booking system. The only way to guarantee getting a fastboat ticket is to arrive earlier than necessary. This would be especially true at times of high demand: June to August and December to January.
To summarise, flights are recommended when your timetable is not flexible or you have an important onward connection.
If you are interested in booking a flight to Lombok from Bali (or another city), please fill in this enquiry form.
Firstly thanks so much for your good explanation above. My dilemma is as follows:
My wife and I are travelling to Gilli Trawangan for a short holiday in December (20 december to 23 december 2014).
On our return, we have a flight departing Bali at 5pm (23 December), landing in KL and then on to our onward flight to India. Due to our already short time on Gilli T, we do not want to leave on the day before our flight.
I am wondering, is it safe for us to take the boat from Gilli Trawangan to Bali on Tuesday 23 December at 830am?
I understand the boats will arrive in Bali at 1030am (leaving us ample time to get to the airport by 5pm) but is there a possibility of the boats getting cancelled during this time of the year due to bad weather and thus leaving us stuck in Gilli?
Are we better off taking a flight from Lombok to Bali?
Taking the boat is definitely my preferred option, but we do not want to miss our flight that evening.
What do you think?
There is a small possibility that the boat could get cancelled, but it is less likely in the early morning (when seas are calm) than later in the day (when there may be a thunderstorm).
Even if you flew from Lombok to Bali, you still need to get a ferry from Gili Trawangan to Lombok; if seas were really rough, no boats would sail and you would still be stuck.
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