From the original article by Escape Magazine, the confirm by Jenne Hewett of what we know from long time which is that for many of us, Bali is the benchmark for affordable, accessible island travel. So it’s only natural to want to compare neighbouring Lombok, Indonesia’s hottest up-and-coming destination, to the enigmatic Island of the Gods. And everyone does.
As development creeps up Bali’s coastline and intrepid travellers discover the road less travelled now lies further afield, sleepy, spectacular Lombok, with its pristine beaches, rugged coastline and low-key vibe, sells itself on nostalgia. “This is Bali 30 years ago,” quips a local tour guide one day and a hotel GM the next. But, despite the obvious geographical parallels, the two are inexplicably different.
Here’s our guide to the best sights, eats and sleeps on Lombok.
To the east of Bali, across the Badung Strait, Lombok forms part of the chain of the Lesser Sunda Islands and is a zippy, 25-minute flight from Denpasar. Lombok’s Sasak people share many ancestral similarities with the Hindu-practising Balinese, but despite their proximity, faith is not one of them. Known as the “island of 1000 mosques” (the real number is more like 10,000), Lombok has its own unique culture and the Sasak people are predominantly Muslim. Befittingly, charming, pastel-painted minarets sprout from the island’s leafy landscape like Disney castles.
WHERE TO STAY
There are four main areas that cater to tourists. Either plant yourself in one spot, or hire a driver (the standard rate is between $50 and $65 a day) and explore the island in its entirety:
The main tourist hub lies on the west coast and is just over an hour’s drive from Lombok International Airport. Home to luxury resorts and boutique hotels, it offers calmer seas and black-sand beaches.
Ideal for families, the colonial-inspired Sheraton Senggigi Beach Resort features immaculately manicured gardens, a beachfront lagoon pool and a breakfast buffet that puts Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory to shame; think chocolate fountains, jars stacked with sweets and sorbet. From here, it’s about a three-hour hop to the vertiginous Tiu Kelep waterfall in Senaru or around 1.5 hour’s drive to Benang Stokel ‘Kelambu’, meaning ‘curtain’ in Bahasa, where the torrent cascades over greenery like drapes.
For the best street food on the island, drive half an hour to warung-style Istana Rasa in the frenetic capital of Mataram to slurp on Lombok’s most iconic dish. It’s signature oxtail soup, succulent, sinewy and served falling off the bone, is the best we’ve tasted, anywhere. Wash it down with cincau madu, a traditional, cold ‘leaf jelly’ beverage with gelatinous cubes.
On the south coast, this spot draws a more youthful crowd and serves as a launch pad to unspoilt surf beaches, shack-style reggae bars and hip cafes. Nestled on its own private cove, a short drive away from the buzz of Kuta, Novotel Lombok Resort and Villas offers generous rooms, lush, maze-like Mayan-inspired gardens and a beach that goes on forever. With its modern decor, sunset-loving beach bar, daily yoga sessions and activities including beach volleyball, snooker and foosball, the vibe is anything but stuffy.
In town, try El Bazar for authentic Middle Eastern falafel plates, or zip across the road for big, bad-boy burgers at KRNK. From Kuta, the silky-soft, icing sugar-like sand of Selong Balanak beach is only a 45-minute drive away and it’s worth spending a day here to learn to surf, get a beachside spa treatment or sip Bintangs at Med-inspired Laut Biru. Stay late enough to watch local farmers herding water buffalo along the beach before sunset.
On the way there, make a quick detour at Mawun Beach for a dip in its horseshoe-shaped bay. Later, stretch out at hilltop Ashtari Yoga, which offers classes from sunrise to sunset on an outdoor deck with sweeping views over Kuta. To reach the pastel-pink shores of East Lombok’s famed Pink Beach, drive an hour to the harbour at Tanjung Laur and then charter a boat, which stops there as well as various snorkelling spots.
With its piercing blue coastline, pristine beaches and dramatic Mt Rinjani backdrop, this remote spot in North Lombok is ideal for those seeking seclusion. A small handful of luxury hotels have sprouted up on Sire Beach, including Indonesian chain Hotel Tugu, with its cultural approach to design, and the ultra-modern, nine-suite The Lombok Lodge, ideal for honeymooners. Air Tejun Gangga waterfall is about 50 minutes by car, while Mt Rinjani, which nestles the tiny active Gunung Barujari volcano in a caldera lake inside its crater, is about three and half hours drive away. Those wanting to conquer the mountain can summit its 3,726 metres on a tough, three-night trek with Rinjani Hero, waking up to sunrise on the rim of the crater.
Just 15 minutes shuttle boat from Tanjung, ‘the Gilis’, as they’re colloquially known, comprise of three small islands: Gili Trawangan (Gili T), Gili Meno and Gili Air. Perpetual party island, Gili T, is the largest of the trio and is rampant with rosy-cheeked backpackers seeking sun, snorkelling and Instagrammable sunsets.
To escape the buzz, book in at the tranquil Pondok Santi Escape on the quiet side of the islet. Despite the crowds, a snorkelling trip is worth doing for the turtle sightings and underwater sculptures alone. Gili Air is more low-key, with beach clubs and sandfront restaurants offering a slower pace, while Gili Meno is still largely undeveloped, save for a handful of boutique resorts including Karma Beach Gili Meno. You won’t find ant motorised vehicles on the Gilis, so jump on a bicycle or a horse-drawn cart and get exploring.