By far the cheapest way of getting to the Gilis is with the Public Ferry. This daily service starts with a shuttle bus from Kuta, Bali, which passes through many pick-up points on the way to Padang Bai. You will arrive in Gili Air by sunset, having traveled by two shuttles and two boats But from Kuta Bali the journey including shuttle buses only costs around 180,000 IDR.
Departure from Kuta Bali is around 6:30 am to Padang Bai, where you will get on public ferry to Lembar, Lombok at around 10:00 am arriving around 15:00 pm. From Lembar, after fighting off the “porters", you will transfer to a minibus for the two hour plus journey to Bangsal harbor, where you reach the final leg of the journey, a 30 minute boat ride to Gili Air, arriving around sunset.
If you don't want to do the whole journey as a package you can make your own way to Padang Bai and buy your own ticket to Lembar. The ferry should cost round 26,000 IDR but make sure you buy it from the ticket office as hawkers will try and sell you the tickets for up to 3 times the real price.
The Ferry company advertises that they leave every hour, but this is rarely the case, and journey times can vary between 4 to 8 hours. As there is only 1 docking point the ferries often can sit outside the harbor for a up to a couple of hours waiting for the next boat to leave before you can dock!
The public boat runs when it is full, this means it starts around 7.30 am in the morning, and the last boat is going around 5 pm. The price for the ticket is 40.000 IDR per person.
Other options if by that point you are tired of slow transport, there are the public Speed boats or you can even charter a private boat. The speedboat runs every hour, from 8 am until 5 pm, the price per person is 100,000 IDR. The private charters will go whenever you want, also between 8 am and 5 pm, there are additional fees for arrivals outside these hours.
Traveling on the public ferry system in Indonesia is not an easy journey. expect to be hassled by “porters" and hawkers at both ends of the journey. This is really the hardcore travelers option! For those of you wanting an easier journey, there are other options in our "Getting Here" section.