Lombok lies directly east of Bali across the Lombok Strait. The island is roughly the same size as Bali, but rather than having a line of large volcanoes, Lombok has one massive volcano named Gunung Rinjani, which dominates the skyline.
Lombok offers an interesting alternative, to fast developing, and often ‘in your face’ Bali. Indonesia has 27 provinces (propinsi) Bali being one, Lombok and Sumbawa forming the province of Nusa Tenggara Barat. Each province has a governor. The closest point of Lombok is 35 kms from Bali, however the ferry ride from Padangbai takes about 4 hours 30 minutes to get to the port of Lember on the west coast of Lombok. The island itself is 80kms by 70 kms and is a bit smaller than Bali with a population of 2.3 million.
The native Sasak people are Muslim, and there is also a strong Balinese community on the west coast. Years ago Lombok was under Balinese control, and now both islands are part of Indonesia, so you don’t need to take your passport.
In Lombok people speak Bahasa Indonesia like the Balinese and also have their own Sasak language. The Sasak language is spoken by the Sasak ethnic group, which make up the majority of the population. It is closely related to the languages of Bali and Sumbawa.
Wetu Telu: A very different brand of Islam in Lombok:
Lombok has a branch of the Muslim religion called Wetu Telu, which is a major divergence from all other forms. The Wetu Telu still strongly believe in ancestor worship and the old animist beliefs are still recognized.
Lombok is Bali’s neighbor to the east. While tourism has run rampant in Bali, it has progressed at a crawl in Lombok. A trip to Lombok can be like going back 40 years in Bali.
•Getting to Lombok / Gili Islands:
There are 3 main ways to get to the Gili’s from Bali (4 if you’re Monte Monfore). The first is taking a bus, car, motorbike to Padangbai. Catching a ferry to Lember in W.Lombok. Ferries run every 90 minutes 24/7 and the journey takes anywhere from 4-7 hours depending on port congestion and weather. From Lember you drive to the port of Bangsal in NW Lombok. This will take you about 2 hours. At Bangsal you can catch a small local ferry to the Gili’s, journey time, up to 45 minutes for the furthest island, Gili Trawangan, less for the other 2.
The second way is to fly from Bali to the airport in Mataram. The flight takes 30 minutes and costs around 400,000rp one way. From there you catch an airport taxi to Bangsal, and take a ferry. Airlines that service Lombok from Bali include, Merpati (6 flights a day), Wings Air, GT Air.
The third way is to take a high-speed charter boat from Benoa harbor. This way is the fastest overall, if you left at the same time as the others, but you have a bumpy ride across the Lombok Strait. This cost 690,000rp one way, to the island of your choice.
•Getting Around Lombok:
Perama bus serve Bali and Lombok. Here are the Perama bus times in Lombok.
Boats in Lombok & the Gili Islands:
Here is a quick glance at boat transport in Lombok & the Gili Islands.
Visitors to Bali, as well as expats sometimes look for an close alternative, to the Bali beach scene. One option is Senggigi Lombok. Senggigi is the most developed part of Lombok, as far as tourism is concerned. You can find budget, mid-range and luxury accommodation, get online, have a selection of nightlife activities, visit sweeping bays with no people, hike in the forest and get some R&R. Senggigi is a great place to use as a home base for exploring Lombok.
•Accommodation in Senggigi:
Here is a guide to accommodation options in Senggigi Lombok. Senggigi is the main tourist center on the west coast of Lombok, and the accommodation is spread over a few kms. Central Senggigi has many budget options while north Senggigi has a better choice of luxury accommodation.
•North Lombok: Senggigi to Kokok Putih
The best way to explore the north coast of Lombok is with your own transport, whether that be a car or motorbike. There are local buses that serve the area also. It is possible to catch a bus from Sweta up to Anyar on the central north coast. Coming from the other direction a bus runs from Labuhan Lombok to Bayan. One of the favourite areas on the north coast is the Sembalun valley, which can be accessed via a bus from Kokok Putih and Pringgabaya.
•Central Lombok: Mataram to Tetebatu:
Central Lombok is the fertile strip that runs from Mataram in the west to Tanjung Luar and Labuhan Haji in the east. The 74km long east-west highway from Ampenan to Labuhan Lombok is the busiest road on the island, trafficked by cars, motorbikes, bemo buses and cidomos (horse drawn carriages). Road conditions are good and a speed of 50km/h can be maintained, allowing one to cross Central Lombok in a couple of hours, allowing for breaks. Major towns along and close to the main road include Sweta, Lingsar, Narmada, Suranadi, Mantang, Kopang, Pomotong, Masbagik, Rempung, Aik Mel and Pringgabaya. There is also a parallel east-west road that runs from Mataram and Sweta, to Cakranegara, Praya, Ganti, Tangun and Tanjung Luar.
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•Central Lombok: Kotaraja to Sapit
Kotaraja in Central Lombok, is located 5kms south of the mountain village of Tetebatu. Centuries ago the Langko kingdom fell to invaders from Bali and the royal family took up residence here, hence the name ‘City of Kings.’
Lombok has one huge volcano, Gunung Rinjani (3726m), which is even taller than Bali’s Gunung Agung. Surrounded by forest, but itself consisting of bare trails and summits, Gunung Rinjani is a popular place to hike. At the top of the mountain sits Segara Anak, the mountain lake 8kms long. The slopes from the mountain cover 65kms across the north of Lombok and make a great place for some peace and quiet. Trekking to the summit of Rinjani is a 3-day trip and can be done with the aid of a local guide, or with a tour group. It is the most challenging hike in Bali an Lombok. There are 2 main access points which are Senaru to the north, or Sembalun Lawang to the east.
•Tetebatu Lombok and surrounding areas:
Tetebatu is located on the south slope of Gunung Rinjani, 11km north of the main road that runs east-west across the center of the island. Tetebatu’s elevation is 400m, about half that of Sanda / Pupuan. Views are wonderful and Tetebatu’s local scene very peaceful with rice and tobacco being farmed. Temperatures are cool and cloud will often cover the sky providing relief from the intense tropical sun.
Accommodation in Tetebatu Lombok:
Tetebatu in the highlands of Central Lombok could be the perfect place to relax. Its beautiful scenery, cool temperatures and lack of tourists can feel like heaven. Here is a description of the accommodation options.
•South coast of Lombok:
Longterm Bali visitors, tell me stories of Poppies Lane being a sand track, and Legian being the outer reach of westernization, warungs serving only Indonesian food, and the barest of western dishes. Those days are long gone, but a trip to the south coast of Lombok, will put you right back in that era.
Accommodation in Kuta Lombok:
Most of the accommodation in Kuta Lombok is budget style, simple places lined up on the beach road. There are however mid-range and luxury places, which will no doubt increase. The great thing about the cheap places in Kuta Lombok is even with a cold water shower, it feels luxurious after the salt water showers of the Gili Islands.
Visible from the east coast of Bali, the SW corner of Lombok offers an entirely different experience in terms of culture and scenery. Complete with quiet bays, white sand beaches, a tranquil village style and half a dozen small islands, SW Lombok can be the break you’re looking for.
•Tembowong, Bangko Bangko & Pandana: SW Lombok:
Bangko Bangko is the location of the famous Desert Point surf break in SW Lombok. Surfers and other visitors arriving from Bali and intending to get to Bangko Bangko, can find accommodation at the village of Tembowong, which is 11km west of Taun. The Putri Duyung Homestay (0812 – 3752459) offers simple cold water mandi rooms with traditional toilet for a bargain price. This is also a good stop off point if you are looking to explore Gili Gede, another island offshore. Boats can be arranged for a day, prices negotiable.
East Lombok is probably the least popular part of the island as far as tourists are concerned. Stories circulate about unfriendly locals are in this part of Lombok, although in reality they can be very friendly once contact has been made. The Sasak Muslim culture of Lombok means people are generally more reserved than in Bali, which could be misinterpreted as unfriendly.
The Gili Islands are located of of Lombok’s NW coast. Basically they are 3 sand islands, (Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno, Gili Air) with no rivers, streams or lakes, hence no fresh water. The Gili islands have peace a and quiet, no cars, white sand beaches, snorkeling, diving and some good hotels.
The Gili’s are part of Lombok and the population is Muslim. I spoke to many people who were from the mainland or a different island. People seem quiet and respectful and are used to westerners in bathing suits. Donovan told me about one Italian lady who was strolling down main street topless and said that she was getting more than a few glance from the local guys. If you need more privacy it’s not hard, you simply move around the coast a little way and another nice thing is that the locals will leave you alone.
Gili Trawangan is the largest and busiest of the Gili Islands. Gili Trawangan has good hotels, pools and an Irish pub, Gili Air has a selection of guest-houses and Gili Meno has not much going on. I know people think of going to a tropical island would be paradise but if the food isn’t good and you can’t get a cold drink how long are you going to stay there?
Gili Trawangan has the reputation as the ‘party island’ but my impression was that most of the island is undeveloped, even for farming and the strip of wall to wall bars and restaurants was originally set up for scuba divers, not the low budget beer swilling crowd.
To get from Nusa Tiga on the north end of the island to the main strip would cost 25,000rp on a cidomo. This seems a little expensive considering a cheap room might cost 50,000rp. The cidomo’s have a monopoly unless you like to walk. Since the island has no lakes, rivers or wells you have to buy bottled drinking water and also a large water jug of river water from the reception for 5,000rp. Salt water showers are the norm is most guest houses.
Apart from small patches of road paved with bricks the whole perimeter of Gili Trawangan is a sandy track. You might feel like you are walking in the desert and should bring water along. To walk around Gili Trawangan takes about 2 hours. At the southern end of the island is a hill fairly close to the beach. This is the highest point of the island. Tourists like to head down there for the sunset.
The scuba diving infrastructure is responsible for a wide selection of western food, some of it pretty decent. One of the favourite places is the Irish pub. For some people the mention of an Irish pub is enough to send them packing, but this place is cool. Located downtown on the inland side of the beach road its was large with high ceilings, large screen showing Premiership soccer on Saturday night. Outside are many bale structures each with it’s own DVD player. It is possible to eat dinner while watching a DVD. Across the street is the beach-side part of the pub where you can sit up at the bar. A nice atmosphere and not 200 drunks going crazy.
Villa Almarik is Italian owned and serves good food. An Almarik house sandwich with all the trimmings including bacon is around 35,000rp. There are 4 internet cafes in Gili Trawangan. The time I tried to get online the connection had failed. Donovan tells me the price is around 30,000rp per hour.
Going back from Gili Trawangan to Lombok you go to the main beach and check with the guys who run the little ferry office. The Public ferry had needs 25 people before it can leave. A charter boat might cost anywhere from 100,000rp for the boat or 100,000rp for each person depending on what you look like. Its all negotiable. Funny that the prices coming back to Bangsal are way cheaper than coming in the opposite direction. The crossing takes 35-45 minutes and can be a bit rough. There is no safety gear on the boat. From Bangsal a taxi back to the airport might cost you 85,000rp.
Accommodation on Gili Trawangan:
Looking at a map of Gili Trawangan, you will see that most of the accommodation is located on the south eastern side of the island. This is also the location of most everything else, such as bars and restaurants. For people with money, the best place to stay is probably Vila Almarik on the NE side. A good budget option is Pondok Lita, just inland from the Beer Shack on the SE coast. Being close to the ‘action’ in Gili Trawangan, isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as its not an ‘all night rocking party’.
Located in the middle of the 3 Gili Islands, Gili Meno is the quietest island with the least infrastructure.
Accommodation on Gili Meno:
Gili Meno has a good selection of accommodation options ranging from guest houses to modern boutique hotels. As with Gili Trawangan, most of the accommodation is located on the southern and eastern coast, with scattered places further north.
Gili Air is the second largest island of the 3 Gili Islands. It is also the second busiest.
Accommodation on Gili Air:
A map of Gili Air shows that most of the accommodation is on the west and south coasts. There is also a mosque on the south coast, which may be one of the reasons the local population, of 1,000 Muslims, keep a tight lid on the partying activities. Late night action is limited to 3 nights a week. Although quieter than Gili Trawangan, Gili Air still has a good choice of accommodation.
•Diving in the Gili Islands overview:
There are dive operators on all 3 Gili Islands, and there is a developed industry there, with well known dive spots and plenty of supporting infrastructure as far as transport, hotels and food places. The Gili Islands are surrounded by reef and located on the northern side of Lombok, are sheltered from big swells. The depth is around 25 meters, with visibility around 15 meters, water temperature warm.
•Learning to dive in Gili Trawangan Lombok
Gili Trawangan offers a good place to get a taste of diving in Indonesia, before moving onto more challenging sites. Learning to dive in something that many tourists have on their agenda. A 4 day PADI course will get you your Open Water certificate, allowing you to rent equipment and fill tanks anywhere in the world. Gili Trawangan has several dive shops offering Open Water courses, many with their own training pool. It always pays to check out your dive operator and choose one you trust.
•Dangers and annoyances in the Gili Islands / Lombok:
Exploring the Gili Islands and Lombok myself, first solo on a motorbike, and secondly, with friends in Gili Trawangan, I experienced no dangerous or annoying situations. I found the people in the Gili’s / Lombok, to be reserved, respectful and the place in general to be quiet and laid back. Bali is way more in your face, and 10 times times as busy, with people hanging out, watching what you are doing etc. There are dangers in the Gili’s / Lombok, however and they are worth pointing out.