If you’re thinking of using the Bali fast boats to get to the Gili Islands, then here’s everything you should know before hopping on board!
It was our travel agent who first suggested we spend part of our romantic 2 week Bali trip on ‘the honeymoon island’ of Gili Meno. And it was the idea of golden beaches, out-of-this-world underwater adventures, quiet island life and waking up to a picture perfect sunrise every morning that sold it to us.
And we were not at all disappointed. I mean seriously, just look at how beautiful the island was and how much of a ridiculously romantic few days we had…
If island life is also calling you, then here’s how to make the most of your journey from Bali to the Gili Islands.
Bali Fast Boats: A Quick Overview
Fast boats are the most popular way to get to the Gili Islands from Bali. There are a few different companies offering this service from Bali with Blue Water Express and Gili Getaway easily having the best reviews of the lot.
We personally went to and from Bali with Blue Water Express and couldn’t fault the service we experienced on either trip (apart from a rather slow disembarking due to crowds in PadangBai upon our return to Bali). You can read our honest review of our experience here.
By using the Bali fast boats, you can get from Serangan in south Bali to Gili Trawangan or even Lombok in around 2-3 hours (not including wait times or delays). Or you can get from PadangBai in central Bali to Gili Trawangan in around 90 minutes.
Pros & Cons of Catching Fast Boats to the Gili Islands
As with everything, there are always pros and cons. We could have made this list extensive, but instead, we’ve focused on the top pros and cons that we feel are the most important to know at this stage.
Advantages of Bali Fast Boats
They’re fairly priced!
The Bali fast boats to Gili Islands are so common that the prices have been rundown by competition. This means you could slip away from the hustle and bustle of Bali for a few nights on the remote Gili Islands for around £50 per person.
Luggage allowances are very fair
With most fast boats allowing you to take a 20-25kg bag on board per person, plus carry on, the luggage allowance is more than fair and easily matches what you’ll have on the plane when flying into Bali.
Plus, some fast boat companies like Blue Water Express put your luggage on board and take it off for you, so there are no issues with taking a proper suitcase. Basically, these boats aren’t just for serious backpackers!
Disadvantages of Bali Fast Boats
Seasickness is likely
This is possibly one of the biggest disadvantages of the Bali fast boats… and there’s no avoiding it.
Even with motion sickness pills or patches, you may still feel a little queasy. That’s because of just how big the waves are when crossing and how much the boats get rocked around and pushed to and fro.
You can avoid the worst of it though by taking seasickness pills (some fast boat services like Blue Water Express give you these for free); sipping plenty of water; looking out of the window at the horizon; avoiding huge meals just before boarding and taking a portable fan for when you’re feeling a little hot and clammy.
Trips might be cancelled or majorly delayed
Because the boats rely heavily on what the water and weather conditions are like, trips can get cancelled or delayed. We haven’t experienced this ourselves but we’ve seen from some reviews that it does happen.
You’ll need to set aside a full day for travelling
Given that you’re unlikely to be staying near a port in Bali and that you’ll need to wait to board after checking in (and possibly when disembarking); not to mention the time it takes to actually cross the Lombok Strait, you’d be wise to give yourself a full day to get from A to B.
This didn’t bother us as we had a full five nights on Gili Meno, but imagine if we’d only given ourselves a couple of days to explore the Gili Islands! Not so worth it then…
Top Tips & Things to Know for Surviving the Bali Fast Boats
From knowing the rules of check-in and luggage allowances to what it’s actually like on board, here’s everything we can think of that you should know before hopping on a fast boat to the Gili Islands…
1. It’s best to buy your tickets in advance… but last minute boat trips are possible
Tickets can be bought online in advance, which is recommended. Especially in the peak season, these boats can fill up fast, so you don’t want to be caught out.
If you have to make a last minute boat trip, some companies can accommodate you if they have space on their boats. In this case, it’s best to either phone ahead or ask in person at the check-in desk if you’re already in the area or nearby.
2. You’ll be asked to check-in just like you would at an airport
Whether you’re going to or from Bali, you’ll usually be asked to check-in at least 30 minutes before the boat leaves.
You’ll be asked to show your passport and confirm how many bags you have to load on, then you’ll be presented with your tickets and a lanyard to show which boat you should be boarding.
3. You might be asked to sign a slip of paper if you have scuffs or marks on your luggage before boarding…
…so don’t even think about claiming for damage you already had! Just kidding!
In all seriousness though, we were impressed when we were given a little pink slip of paper to show where they’d seen damage on my luggage.
It showed that they don’t mind spending the time and attention to check things over and make sure you’re happy.
4. Don’t worry about your luggage; it will be taken care of for you
Before catching our fast boat to the Gili Islands, I’d had visions of us having to carry our 20kg suitcases on board the boat ourselves… up a tiny ladder. I think I’d seen a couple of photos on TripAdvisor to that effect.
But thankfully, our trip on the Blue Water Express fast boats meant our luggage was taken care of for us.
We dropped our bags off before checking in, and after a quick inspection, they took them on board for us and unloaded them once we got to our final destination.
And don’t worry about your bags getting wet either! The luggage is loaded into the bottom of the boat where they should be protected.
5. Take the pink pill and it’s “goodbye seasickness…”
…ignore the pink pill and it’s “hello horrible journey!”
Scott and I don’t usually suffer from seasickness but the fast boats to and from Bali were the exception!
The boats speed over sometimes giant waves in order to get you to your final destination and you’ll be thrown every which way in the process!
Blue Water Express give you little pink pills, which you should aim to take as soon as they give them to you (ideally 30 minutes before boarding).
Although they might not work their magic completely on you, they will help you save face… we were taking no chances, and given the issues we saw from the Asian family near us, we’re very glad we didn’t!
6. You probably won’t be allowed to open the window for fresh air
The boats can get quite hot inside especially when they’re busy, but you probably won’t be allowed to open the window for fresh air.
As mentioned before, the waves can get very big when crossing the Lombok Strait so you’ll likely be asked to close the windows to avoid water coming in.
7. You might be allowed to go on the upper deck… you’ll need strong sea legs though!
If you do want some fresh air then you’re occasionally allowed on the upper deck when the crew says it’s safe to do so. That said, you’ll need some strong sea legs to get up the stairs so hold on tight!
8. There’s almost always a toilet on board you can use
It might not be the nicest toilet in the world and the rocking boat definitely doesn’t help, but at least there is one you can use when it’s urgent.
9. It’s best to pack some diarrhoea tablets in case you get a very REAL case of ‘Bali Belly’ the day you’re due to catch a boat
‘Bali Belly’ is no joke. In fact, it’s very real.
You can be the most diligent traveller in the world; wash your hands regularly, avoid drinking the tap water in Bali, check TripAdvisor reviews before eating out anywhere, maybe even stay within the hotel resort for meals… but you could still get a very real case of ‘Bali Belly’.
I may or may not be speaking from experience when I say you’ll want diarrhoea tablets… especially if you have issues the day you’re due to get on a boat for a couple of hours!
10. The boats might be fast but that doesn’t mean the journey from Bali to the Gili Islands doesn’t feel like it takes FOREVER!
In our opinion, the name ‘fast boat’ results in very unrealistic expectations.
The boats are fast in the sense that they’re speed boats rather than sailing boats or little diesel powered ones, but because of the waves and large stretch of water they have to commandeer around, the journey itself takes longer than you think.
For example, a trip from PadangBai in central Bali to Gili Trawangan takes around 90 minutes, while Serangan in the south takes 2-3 hours to get to Gili Trawangan.
And that doesn’t factor in wait times for boarding and docking or if there are any weather issues causing delays.
If you need to be somewhere urgently, the fast boats won’t be your friend.
But if you’ve got freedom and flexibility on when you’ll actually arrive on the Gili Islands or in Bali, then they’re a convenient way to get around.
11. Always leave extra time for getting to the port in Bali (and when you return!)
Just as the boats take longer than you might think, getting to and from the ports in Bali will probably also take longer than you think.
Even Google Maps likes to play a trick on first time visitors to Bali by saying a trip from PadangBai harbour to Ubud takes roughly one hour.
But in reality, it’s likely three hours because of the crazy Bali traffic and winding roads you need to take to get from A to B.
So the rule of thumb is to always leave stacks of extra time when getting around Bali.
12. Boats might be cancelled in adverse weather conditions
Even on beautiful clear days, the waves are huge. So can you imagine what they would be like if you had to cross stormy seas?
Cancelled boat trips due to adverse weather are unusual outside of the rainy season (January to March) but still possible.
In the event of a cancellation, you’ll usually be given a couple of different options:
- Reschedule for another day free of charge (if they have spaces!)
- Cancel your trip, make other arrangements and receive a refund
Blue Water Express fast boats also offer you the option of catching a flight to and from select airports… usually at no additional cost.
13. Don’t fly from Bali the same day you’re catching a boat
Even if you experience no delays or cancellations, it’s never advisable to catch a fast boat to Bali on the same day you’re flying.
It’s best to leave at least an extra day in between boat trips and flights, if not several, just in case.
14. Remember there are several different ports to get the boat from
There are several different ports in Bali that operate fast boat services to the Gili Islands.
Some of the most common are Serangan in the south, PadangBai in central Bali and Amed in the north.
Amed has the shortest boat crossing time but operates fewer boat services than the other two ports. And I don’t think Blue Water Express even goes from Amed at all.
15. You may need to arrange your own onward journey from Gili Trawangan to the other Gili Islands
If you’re trying to get to somewhere like Gili Meno, then you’ll likely need to head to Gili Trawangan first and arrange your own island pickup.
Some hotels on the neighbouring Gili Islands will send their own boats to pick you up. We had this with Karma Reef Resort on Gili Meno and it definitely made things cheaper and easier for us!
16. Gili Trawangan will probably be busy upon arrival and departure
Not only is Gili Trawangan the busiest of the three Gili Islands, but it’s also the docking point for most boat routes between Bali, Lombok and the Gili Islands.
Basically, it’ll be super busy, so just keep an eye on where you need to go and when your boat is boarding!
17. Don’t get on the wrong boat at Gili Trawangan!
There will also be a few different fast boats and other boats leaving Gili Trawangan, so make sure you get in the queue for the right one!
You should be told where to leave your luggage and some fast boats give you lanyards you have to hand over when boarding to avoid any issues.
But either way, it’s better to listen to what you’re told and keep your eyes peeled for your boat.
18. The boats from the Gili Islands to Bali sometimes make a quick stop near Lombok for paperwork checks… but you can’t get off the boat!
This was definitely something we weren’t expecting; mainly because Lombok was in the opposite direction from where we were going!
But it’s a necessity for the crew to show certain paperwork before ferrying you back to Bali, so this slight detour isn’t something you can avoid.
It should only take a few minutes and you will be asked to stay inside the boat while all this goes on.
19. You might be asked to dunk your shoes in water before boarding at Gili Trawangan, so avoid slippery shoes or non-waterproof shoes
When boarding the boat at Gili Trawangan to head back to Bali, you’ll have to walk across lovely golden sand.
But most fast boat companies want to keep their boats nice and clean, so you’ll probably be asked to dunk your shoes in a tub of water on the upper deck before going to your seat.
In this case, it’s best to avoid slippery shoes (like flip flops!) or non waterproof shoes (like trainers!)
Scott chose to wear water shoes, which worked well as they’re quick drying, comfortable and non-slip, so we’d definitely recommend getting some if you can.
20. You might have to board the back of the boat and make your way around the side of it to get to your seat
Speaking of slipping…
We were really surprised when boarding the boat back to Bali as we had to climb up a small ladder on the back of it, cross the upper deck and shimmy our way around the side of the boat in order to reach the door leading to where all the seats are.
Definitely avoid slippery shoes and avoid carrying anything in your hands as you’ll need to hold on tight… or yes, you will be in that water quicker than you can say “Shit!”
The ledge is quite narrow… so we also feel sorry for anyone with big feet; you might find it tricky so take your time!
21. You can make changes to your tickets… but it might cost you!
Should you need to make changes to your ticket or the day you’re travelling, you usually can providing you’ve given more than 48 hours notice and if they have space on the boat you want to catch instead.
However, if you give less than a week’s notice, then you may be charged a cancellation fee, which can be as much as 50% of the price you paid.
So if you need to make changes, it’s best to give as much notice as possible to avoid fees or disappointment.
22. Fast boats are NOT suitable for pregnant women or people with back problems
We mentioned the waves once, twice, three times… and we’ll mention them again one last time.
The huge drops that the boat can experience throughout the journey make Bali fast boats unsuitable for pregnant women, the elderly or people prone to back problems.
If you really can’t avoid travelling if any of the above applies to you, then you may be asked to sign a disclaimer stating that you’re aware of the issues and can’t hold anyone else responsible.
Our Final Thoughts On Bali Fast Boats
We appreciate that we’ve raised a lot of points above, but please don’t take this as a sign of these boat trips being complex or unsafe – especially in the case of Blue Water Express and Gili Getaway, which do seem to have the best reviews.
Aside from the real chance of seasickness and very rocky sea conditions, our experience with Blue Water Express was great. Check-in was simple, we never had to worry about our luggage and the trip between the Indonesian islands was straightforward.
We just wanted to cover every possible angle and travel tip we could think of so you have just as great an experience as us.
We hope you find our tips helpful but just let us know if there’s anything else you want to know that we haven’t covered. Pop a note in the comments below and we’ll reply asap. For now though, enjoy planning your trip to the Gili Islands!
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