Crystal clear waters teaming with marine life, sandy beaches, a traffic-free zone, laid back friendly people, epic sunsets – what’s not to love about Gili Air! The bonus for coeliac travellers is that Gili Air is a great place for gluten free, as long as you follow the usual gluten free travel rules. Here is my guide to gluten free Gili Air.
Gluten Free Travel Rules for Gili Air
- Be wary of “gluten free” menus: many countries do not take coeliacs into consideration when declaring dishes to be gluten free. If you are coeliac, avoid deep fried items unless they specify a dedicated gluten free fryer (risk of cross-contamination).
- Take a Bahasa Indonesian coeliac restaurant card and have it on hand in case no English is spoken.
- If there is an English speaker, take the time to explain the main gluten-containing food types to staff in basic terms. For example, “I have an allergy to soy kecap manis (Indonesian soy sauce), wheat flour and bread”. In Indonesia these are the main gluten-containing ingredients used and some people won’t fully understand what “gluten free” means.
- If in doubt, ask: if there is a risky element to a dish or side, ask them to leave it off or if you can substitute it.
- Be patient: people are so nice in Indonesia and they want to help, but not everywhere has an understanding of coeliac disease. Take time to explain your requirements. It’s worth it when you end up with a big tasty plate of beef rending.
Oh and dairy free travelers will have an easy time here, as very few dishes use dairy products and there are lots of vegan options available too.
Gluten Free Gili Air Restaurants and Cafés
Ruby’s – owned by an English gent, they were really helpful at keeping my meal gluten free. A divine pumpkin, chickpea and spinach curry with rice was really delicious and very reasonably-priced too.
Scratch Beach Club – very very helpful staff at Scratch on Gili Air (and you also get a beautiful view with your lunch). Our waiter understood about the risks of cross-contamination for coeliacs. They prepared my grilled prawns without the usual sauces on the rice and salad, giving me a basil and chilli pesto on the side instead. Excellent service.
Mexican Kitchen – lots of gluten free options here and the menu is marked up, plus they do a mean margarita too. I recommend the saucy prawn and avocado enchilladas in corn tortillas. They also had gluten free cake – proper baked chocolate cake (cashew flour) that I may have been a teeeeeeeeny bit excited about.
Mowies – we ate here a couple of times and it’s one of my top recommendations. From pesto chickpea with cucumbers, tomato, feta and chilli and herbs to prawn laksa curry and freshly caught snapper fillets with brown rice, rocket and pineapple salsa, everything we ate here was delicious. Their puds are so good too. A gluten free strawberry and coconut cake make from a cashew nut flour base, had a really good texture, with a creamy and fruity topping and decadent chocolate sauce. Gluten free items are marked on the menu. Great cocktails here too (mmmm strawberry daiquiri) and the perfect spot for watching the sunset. One of my gluten free Gili Air highlights.
Sunrise – we found a marked up gluten free menu at Le Cirque/Sunrise on the east beach. Beautiful tuna tartar with mango, coconut and chilli from Sunrise beach club on Gili Air. Fresh and gluten free.
Santay – mmm fresh barbequed snapped straight from the grill. The owner was so helpful and made sure there was no gluten in my meal, advising which sauces I could have and cooking my rice and vegetables separately. The pina colada here was preeeeetty punchy…possibly the strongest drink I have ever had…I couldn’t finish it!
Coco Loco at Captain Coconuts – Raw mixed berry cheesecake, gluten free, dairy free, vegan from Coco Loco at Capitan Coconuts. On the West side of the island. Open for breakfast and lunch, they have the gluten free items marked on the menu and are very allergy friendly. The owner’s son has various intolerances, so everything is also dairy free and refined sugar free. We had the vegan bean nachos and the courgette and sweetcorn fritters – both really good. An easy bet for guaranteed gluten free Gili Air goodness.
Waterfront – salads are a good gluten free bet here and you get a fabulous view with your lunch. Ask for no bread and no soy, just in case they put it in the dressing.
Lemongrass Warung – the owner here is super helpful and made me a gluten free Balinese beef rending (normally contains gluten). The waiter stressed the importance of no soy sauce/wheat flour to the chef. Such a nice little place and amazing value. I found across Indonesia that the small restaurants are often the best at catering for gluten free. The kitchen staff seem to care more and they are likely to have a single chef overseeing the whole cooking process.
Coeliac Friendly Places to Stay
Slow Villas – Australian breakfast at Slow Villas is very instaworthy and what an amazing place to stay! I really recommend it. I brought some schar gluten free brown ciabatta rolls with me from home, so lightly toasted one to go with my yummy breakfast. The villas have self-catering facilities available.
Other Gili Air Recommendations
A totally free activity if you have your own mask and snorkel, else you can hire them cheaply. The best area to snorkel is the South East and lower East side of the island. There is a bio reef set up by the dive schools that attracts a lot of fish, plus natural corals. You may even spot the odd turtle!
I am a qualified Dive Master and am very fussy when it comes to professional dive schools. Many resorts in other tropical locations operate rickety diving with old equipment and unsafe practices. However, this was not the case for Manta Dive on Gili Air. We dived with them four times and found them to be excellent. My husband did his first ever scuba dives and our instructor Terri was brilliant. They only dive in small groups and their kit is top notch, plus the diving itself is very good value and you will see SO MANY TURTLES. I saw more turtles in four dives here (25 to be exact) than I did during the 3 months I lived and dived in Fiji or during my summer teaching diving in Thailand.
Stand up paddle boarding. The watersport beloved by social mediaites across the globe and oh so instagrammable, until you fall off and elegantly belly flop into the waves. Give it a go though, as there is a hire place half way up the East beach at Blue Marine Dive.
The island is ringed by beautiful beaches. The most developed (that’s not saying much) part of the beach is the South East segment. Here there are lots of good places for lunch, snorkeling spots and sunbeds for hire if you don’t want to lie in the sand. For total peace and quiet and beautiful sunset views, head for the North West beach (you can grab lunch at Scratch Beach club if you walk over to the North). If you prefer your sunset with a cocktail, music and a sea swing, then you’ll be wanting the West beach around Mowie’s.
There are a few places around the island where spa treatments are available – I recommend the lovely new spa facilities at Slow Villas.
We didn’t get round to hiring kayaks in the end as we were too obsessed with the amazing scuba diving, but you can hire clear bottom kayaks by the hour from a rental shop in the North end of the harbor (where the Gili Island Hopper and the main boats from Bali dock).
Another activity we didn’t get round to doing, but there are a number of yoga outfits scattered across the island.
Enjoy your trip to wonderful, gluten free Gili Air!