Go west! That’s the likely reason you’re in Gilimanuk -- you’re heading to Java (or arriving in Bali), as Gilimanuk is built around the main ferry terminal, which operates 24 hours a day to assist in transporting just about everything (except rabid dogs) back and forth across the Bali Strait.
Gilimanuk is the most western town in Bali, sitting at the beak of the chicken-shaped island a mere four kilometres from East Java. (Gili means a small island, and manuk is chicken, in both Javanese and Balinese, so there must be something in that.) Given that it’s located halfway between Pemuteranand Negara, there’s really no reason to to use Gilimanuk as a base for exploring, so it’s best to move through here as quickly as possible. However if you do find yourself stuck waiting for a ferry, there are places to stay, plenty of food options and even a museum to visit.
Looking west to Java, the jaw-dropping peaks of Gunung Raung and Gunung Ijen dominate the skyline. A stroll along the beach watching the ferries wait their turn to dock, gazing across at the impressive vista is not a bad way to kill half an hour. When we asked locals about the Gilimanuk tourist attractions, several pointed us towards the large Shiva statue near the port. He’s impressive, and makes for a good selfie, so there’s five minutes of your time.
The muddy bay north of the harbour, known as Secret Bay to divers, is reputedly the ultimate muck-diving site for macro-photographers in Bali. However no dive operators are based in Gilimanuk, so you will have to organise a dive from Pemuteran. Secret Bay is home to a couple of mangrove-filled islands: Pulau Kalong, Pulau Burung and Pulau Gadung, which can be explored via boat with guides from the West Bali National Park. The head office for the park is three kilometres south of the ferry terminal, near the intersection where the road forks to Pemuteran and Lovina. Here you can also arrange trekking in the national park, but this can just as easily be done closer to Pemuteran at Pelabuhan Lalang, where the boats leave for Menjangan Island. However, if you are stuck and have exhausted other entertainment possibilities, local guide Iwan can sort you out with trekking, boat trips or birdwatching: T: (0819) 3167 5011; email@example.com.
About one kilometre southeast of the port, Museum Manusia Purba, is a small dusty run-down archaeological museum with some interesting artefacts. It's well worth a short stop if you’re keen on the history of the human race.
Geographically, Java and Bali both share the Sunda Shelf tectonic plate; until the end of the last Ice Age they were joined by a land bridge. As the ice caps have melted and waters risen, now the only way across is by ferry. On again, off again discussions have proposed the building of a bridge across the strait, strongly resisted by the Balinese authorities. At least for now, there’s no bridge on the horizon for the near future.
The ferry ride between Bali and Java takes around 45 minutes to an hour to cover the few kilometres between the two ports although loading, waiting to dock and unloading can take much longer. Be prepared for some long queues especially during holiday periods like the end of Ramadan. If you are on foot rather than a public bus or private transport, you’ll get through a lot more quickly. Despite the small distance, the currents here are treacherous — don’t attempt to swim it, however long the queue! A large ferry dramatically sank on this route in March 2016. For onwards travel, the bus station is beside the ferry terminal and has buses to all major centres in Bali including Denpasar, Tabanan and Singaraja.
Most accommodation in Gilimanuak town caters to truck drivers waiting their turn to board the ferry, and as such, a few offer short-time rooms. However if you need to stay, most legitimate hotels and homestays are within a kilometre of the port.
Food and snack sellers are found all over town and you won’t struggle to find simple fare, all very local and affordable. Hidden away in the old bus terminal is one of Bali’s culinary delights: Warung Men Tempeh serves Bali’s original ayam betutu recipe. This wonderfully spicy smoked chicken dish is worth the trip the Gilimanuk. Make sure you visit, and watch for imposters, although they’re probably pretty good too.
ATMs are strung along Jalan Raya Gilimanuk-Denpasar, the main drag that runs to the port. The post office is on the same road, 600 metres from the port. A large police presence in Gilimanuk patrols the comings and goings at the port. The main police station is about 300 metres from the ferry terminal.
Gilimanuk is laid out in a gridlock patten covering about two square kilometres and is easy to walk around.
By Sally Arnold.
Last updated on 12th September, 2016.