Lombok is the lesser-known, and arguably more beautiful sister of Bali. The island sits just to the east of its more famous counterpart and boasts luscious rainforest, pristine beaches, and delicious seafood with a much lower price tag and tourist count. If you want to get just a little off the beaten path in Indonesia, Lombok is a great place to explore.
Although developing quickly, the island still feels very much Indonesian. The roadsides are lined with traditional wooden houses, the coastline covered with local fishing boats. Lombok food is a delight, with local fish and chicken dishes served in roadside restaurants called warungs.
Strikingly different in the north and south, the north is dominated by the active volcano Gunung Rinjani and endless streams and waterfalls. The most iconic activity is, of course, trekking up the volcano itself.
To get up the mountain, engage a Rinjani tour guide who can make sure access is possible (if there have been recent eruptions the park gets closed down for everyone’s safety). If you’re lucky enough to get the chance to walk to the crater’s edge, be warned that it’s a challenging trek and not for the faint of heart. Your efforts will be well rewarded with breathtaking views. Inside the crater is Lake Segara Anak which surrounds the opening of the volcano. Sunrise treks are possible, but the views you will discover atop the volcano are worth it no matter what time of day you make the ascent.
The main town to access Rinjani is Senaru, a lovely one-road village with stunning views of rice terraces and jungle. The climate is cool, and the mornings are misty; wake up early to watch the monkeys play around your guesthouse and the mist roll off the peaks.
After watching the sunrise, walk to the local waterfalls – Air Terjun Sindang Gila and Air Terjun Tiu Kelep. Your Senaru tour guide will advise you to get going early if you want to have the falls all to yourself for your Insta shoot; the place gets busy with locals by around 11 am. You need to pay a small entrance fee to get to the waterfalls, and Air Terjun Tiu Kelep is a bit of a challenge with a stream crossing. Being dwarfed in close vicinity of the falls makes the trek worth your time.
The northern part of the island of Lombok isn’t massively well served by public transport. If at all possible, renting motorbikes for your trip will really add an extra dimension to your exploration. There are reputable companies to hire off in Senggigi and Mataram, make sure you take the number of your rental company and have the right licenses to drive.
Your Lombok tour guide can help arrange biking tours to get to the cool places. A stop at Air Terjun Candi Batu is a great photo op. If the river is flowing gently, you can jump into the beautiful rock pools at the bottom of the stunning falls. The riverside rocks are great for a picnic; there’s a handy rice shack near the roadside stop off for food and coconuts.
A drive through the valleys and farmlands and over the mountain pass is thoroughly recommended for great views and a glimpse of local life. There are some lovely home-stays available, have your tour guide help you with bookings – not much English is spoken here, but the language of smiles will go a long way!
You may have heard of Kuta, the main strip of Bali where the backpackers go to party all night and surf all day. Well, Kuta, Lombok is a world away from all that. The Lombok version is very chilled, quiet, and surrounded by more shades of green than you’ve ever seen before carpeting the mountains and hills.
Surfing happens to the east of the main town, around Mandalika beach. Have your Kuta Lombok tour guide hook you up with boards, lessons and tips on the local breaks. If the standard beach bum lifestyle is more your thing, head west over the peninsula to Pantai Mawan, It’s impossibly beautiful and relatively undiscovered. The sheltered cove has shallow, warm waters that are perfect for paddling.
Further around the island, at Senggigi, there are plenty more beautiful beaches and a few more choices of restaurants. There isn’t much to actually do here, but that’s what islands are for, doing nothing! The beaches are clean and quiet, the seafood fresh and delicious.
Going to the Gilis
Senggigi is about 30 minutes away from the jetty to take the boats over to the Gili islands. You can take one of the big, tourist boats over, or one of the local, wooden boats that leave once they’re full.
You get two choices with the Gilis -
Gili Air – This is the island for relaxing, beachside cinema, driftwood cocktail bars at sunset. Your Gili Air tour guide can show you the best snorkelling spots around and hopefully spot some turtles!
Gili T – An island more for late-night beach parties, and late morning brunches before doing it all over again. The snorkelling and diving are just as good here, and your Gilis tour guide can take you island hopping to some of the more secluded spots.
The capital of Lombok is Mataram, a couple of hours drive away from Kuta. It’s not the most happening of cities, but after the relative seclusion of the mountains and beaches, it is a nice respite.
The local mosque is also an educational centre. Dress appropriately and go and have a stroll around; it’s a great introduction to the primary religion of Indonesia. For less than a dollar, you can ascend the lift to the top of one of the towers and get a great view over the low-rise city.
The mall here has all of your creature comforts on offer, from international food to a cinema and massage chairs to knead out all the knots from hiking.
"Jo has been through many incarnations since first arriving in Asia ten years ago. From backpacker to English teacher, then tour guide and travel writer, she loves the adventure and diversity of Asia."
Image details and licenses: Mandalika beach: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Kuta_Mandalika_Beach.jpg (Ricky, CC BY-SA 4.0), Gili Air: https://flic.kr/p/23KPEUA (Sheila Dee, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0), Mataram Mosque: https://flic.kr/p/iR3C9H (laurent houmeau, CC BY-SA 2.0)