Lombok is known almost entirely for its pristine white beaches and this beautiful island is fast becoming the alternative to its neighbour, the busy and bustling Bali, which is very firmly established as a top tourist destination for travellers from all over the world.
However, there is so much more to this island than soaking up the sunshine and enjoying the views of crystal clear waters (although of course this is something that the island affords plenty of opportunities for).
Lombok offers a quieter and more relaxed experience than some of the busier islands, although don’t be mistaken – there is plenty to see and do here. Almost 5,000 square kilometres in size, with a population of over 3 million, this island has something for every kind of traveller, from those looking for a physical challenge, to sun-worshippers wanting to top up their tan, to culture vultures searching for their next fix, to foodies hoping to sample some fine cuisines.
Beaches and water sports
Lombok is renowned for its beaches and water sports, particularly scuba diving, snorkelling and surfing, and thanks to its fantastic fishing it also offers visitors a variety of delicious seafood to be tasted. To top to it off, the majority of the beaches are relatively empty, you don’t have the crowds of more established tourist spots and so it feels as though you have your own private beaches to enjoy.
In Kuta in the southern part of Lombok are some of the island’s most famous beaches, and when you walk down the two main streets you will find restaurant after restaurant with the day’s fresh catch sitting on ice outside next to a wood fired barbecue. You can pick your fish and it will be cooked on the barbecue right in front of you – it doesn’t get much fresher or tastier than that! From Kuta there are innumerable beaches to be discovered; the ideal way is to rent a scooter (readily available at cheap prices) and drive. Go west or east, either way there is plenty to be explored, and you will find several incredible white sand beaches.
At Selong Belanak beach, a short scooter ride from Kuta, the surrounding scenery is breathtaking: distant rolling hills come in to give the bay its mouth. This beach is the ideal place for surfing, with great waves and no shortage of teachers for beginners. Mawum beach, also close at hand, is a generally deserted beach that is situated in a half moon bay, with massive headlands on either side, aside from a handful of fisherman and maybe the occasional woman selling sarongs, this beach is an empty little slice of paradise.
One of the major attractions of Lombok is its proximity to so many other islands: often visitors use it as a stepping stone on to further destinations. The most famous of these islands are often called the three Gili islands (Gili Air, Gili Meno and Gili Trawangan) however, there are many more, ranging from tiny spots just off Lombok’s coast to its larger, yet relatively unexplored neighbours. Lombok’s location means that it sits close to Java in a line of islands, starting at Bali, then Lombok, that then becomes the Nusa Tenggara islands, and encompasses tons of individual islands to be explored.
The Gili islands, although all flanked by fantastic beaches and characterised by their small size and the lack of motorised vehicles, each offers something a bit different for their visitors. Gili Trawangan is known as the party island, and has all-night parties, pumping music and readily available mushroom shakes. Meanwhile, Gili Meno is the complete opposite: typically known as honeymoon island, it is the least developed of the three, it is very relaxed, quiet and low key. Gili Air is somewhere in between the two: it has plenty of great restaurants, a few bars, but you will not find the thumping nightlife of Gili Trawangan here.
Aside from the three Gili islands there are many other little tiny islands off Lombok’s shore, such as those just off the southwest peninsula, the most notable of which is Gili Nanggu, which is home to a selection of idyllic visitor’s cottages and incredible snorkel spots. On the other side of the scale is Sumbawa: the largest neighbouring island off Lombok, greater in size than both Lombok and Bali combined, the most notable attractions of this island are the world-class surf spots and its jaw-dropping natural scenery. Particularly the forest trekking and the Pulau Moyo nature reserve, home to various flora and fauna, attract visitors, as do waterfalls and ancient stone sarcophagi.
In western Lombok the city of Mataram is a must-stop on a cultural trip of the island. The Museum Nusa Tenggara Barat contains artefacts that chart the human, cultural and geological history of the local area and neighbouring islands. They also often host special exhibitions from further afield, and it is close to the Taman Budaya culture centre, which puts on performances of traditional music and dance each evening. This city is also home to Gunung Pengsong Temple. Sitting just above rice fields with a large population of monkeys, this space is picturesque and has a religious importance as the mythical arrival spot for Balinese Hindus in Lombok.
In Cakranegara, just outside of Mataram, Pura Meru temple is the island’s largest temple, built in 1720 by a Balinese prince. It is open daily for visitors, its crowning feature is its gigantic pagoda dedicated to the Hindu trinity (Shiva, Vishnu and Brama). This holds huge religious import for the Hindu population on Lombok (and also Bali) and here they host a five day annual festival in the autumn during the September or October full moon. Just over the road from this temple stands the Mayura Water Place, also open daily, constructed in 1744 as the last Balinese kingdom’s court temple in Lombok. A sizeable artificial lake still remains here with the floating pavilion atop it, and with the surrounding gardens it offers a pleasant afternoon’s entertainment and ramblings.
Don’t miss these
Lombok is a step more intrepid than Bali and parts of Java, but is still easily accessible by boat and/or plane, so how can you say no? If you are headed this way then below are a few more specific suggestions of things you really won’t want to miss out on!
- Gunung Rinjani, Indonesia’s third highest peak, standing at 3,726 metres tall, is a volcano found in the northern part of the island. There are daily treks made up to the summit, which can be done over a couple of days, with guides to help you find your way, carry your bags, organise authentic food and decent accommodation. Although physically challenging, particularly the ascent and descent at the top where the ground is quite sandy and slippery, you will find no finer views than watching the sunrise from its peak.
- If you are interested in island hopping, why not try a Komodo tour boat trip? There are several companies that offer three or four day trips that stop off at several islands, including Komodo Island, where the final destination is Flores. This is a really nice way to see many spots in a short space of time, with daily stops to snorkel, visit the pink beach, see the wildlife, and just have a swim. Food and accommodation is included and these can be arranged easily on Lombok or any of the Gili islands.
- Bit of a shopaholic? Then you simply must head to the market town of Cakranegara, on the west side of the island, here you will find wonderful markets selling all kinds of artisan goods and souvenirs. This town is particularly known for the weaving and basket marking industries located here, the goods of which are exported all over Indonesia. Buy them here at a fraction of the price and you can be assured the money goes to the makers not middlemen.