Lombok is an Indonesian island just east of Bali. It is slightly smaller and not so densely populated but features breath-taking sceneries and amazing landscapes.
Outside of Asia, nobody probably heard of this island, which is said to provide a pleasant holiday experience; sort of an “unspoiled Bali”.
Let’s change that a bit!
While both islands share a lot of similarities, Lombok has its own attractions and plenty of contrasts as well. This trip report from last week shows where are the differences and what would be worth checking out during your trip to Lombok:
What can be found?
First, it has a mainly Muslim population, compared to Bali, which is almost 90% Hindu right in the middle in Islamic Indonesia. Lombok is literally plastered with Mosques in all varieties. The biggest and most colorful ones we found in the south-eastern part of the island around the area of Selong.
But every small village and town features at least one Mosque, most bigger settlements have 2 or 3 and almost everywhere it seems new ones are currently build.
Roads are generally in good shape and with less traffic, so it’s really fun to rent a bike or car and drive your way around the island, which is rich in natural wonders like waterfalls, hot springs, rice paddies, beaches and unspoiled bays, mountains and trekking paths. There are still plenty of colorful horse carts operated like they’ve been for hundreds of years.
The island is full with animals – both domestic and wild – and you will see your fair share of cows, ox, monitor lizards, countless bird species, goats, cats, dogs, pigs and whatever else is running around on 4 legs or flying through the air.
Traditional villages (Kampungs) are nested at mountain slopes and long-winding roads lead you to the most remote places on the island. Traffic is of low density and in most places you will still even see Horse Carts, which are used to transport good, people and produce around the island.
The majestic Mount Rinjani Volcano is a 3,726m high peak, which features an impressive crater lake and caldera, which can both be visited, hiked or trekked along well-marked routes.
How to get there?
While Lombok features an international airport with direct flights from Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, most tourists will either arrive from Jakarta or other Indonesian airports, or by ferry from Bali. There is also a fast boat (Gili Cat) directed from Bali’s Padang Bai directly to the Gilis, a group of 3 small pristine islands, located in the north of Lombok. The Gili Cat is probably the fastest, though not cheapest mode of transportation to get there from Bali, the whole trip is only taking 2 hours.
Last week we took the cheaper way with the regular ferry. These are starting from Padang Bai in the eastern part of Bali. You can either go as a passenger or with your own (rented) bike or car. Ferries are said to go every 2 hours around the clock, although heavy weather or stormy sea will see cancellations. The one-way ferry trip takes about 5-6 hours, per bike you will currently pay Rp 85.000. On the ferry itself you can sit on one of up to 3 decks or can rent a private cabin for an additional Rp 50.000, where you can sleep in a bunk bed for more convenient travel. We found the cabins well worth the added costs, as you have more room to stretch your bones and are not confined to a small bench seat in the main compartments.
What to do in Lombok?
Being in Lombok for the first time and having only 4 days, we decided to simply drive around the whole island and check out the most favorite sites. Thus we would get a better overview on where to spend some more days the next time around.
Getting around is pretty easy, give the fact that we brought our motor scooters. From the harbor town Lembar, it’s only a 45 minute drive up to Senggigi, the most touristy spot on the whole island. Here you can find plenty of accommodation in all price ranges, although I found the hotel prices a bit more expensive than comparable venues in Bali.
Restaurants are aplenty, most feature live bands in the evenings and they even have some disco or bar entertainment options in the evenings although on a very small scale. The surrounding beaches near Senggigi are good for snorkeling or a swim, but pretty stony compared to other bays more in the North.
Still, for staying your first night and enjoying great food, meeting other travelers and inquiring about road conditions or directions to other more remote natural sights, it could be your first choice in Lombok.
Leaving Senggigi into northern direction is where the fun really starts. Just within 2-4 hours of driving the long-winding coastal road, you will find Waterfalls, Hot springs, pristine and secluded beaches in black, gray or white colors aplenty. The northern shores are picture-perfect and more than once you will find yourself in awe of the beautiful landscape.
After a short drive you will also notice 3 islands just north of the shores of Lombok, the famous Gilis (Trawangan, Meno and Air) which will accompany you for a while as you drive your way up and downhill along the shore.
If you want to cross over the small straight to the Gilis – the port village Pemenang will be your best bet to catch one of the many small boats or catamarans, which commute from here frequently and at much cheaper rates than from further away Senggigi.
Apart from the beautiful bays and beaches, water seems to be a main attraction in Lombok. There are countless hot springs where you can rest your achy bones and waterfalls, which will refresh you in no time.
The first waterfall you will find on your way is a smaller one, called Gangga Waterfall. That’s where this other post relates to. It’s in the middle of nowhere, a bit harder to reach, about 7-15km south from the main road over a sloppy and pot-whole infested small track towards the mountains.
But the view you will get when reaching there is quite amazing. Nested in Rice Paddies with the mountains as your background, the Gangga Waterfall consists actually of 3 smaller separate falls, one hidden behind a small track through the rocks in a shady cave-like hall. They have as well a bat cave further down the stream, if you don’t mind tracking another 10 minutes through the rice paddies.
After you could rest a while, drinking strong, home-grown Lombok Coffee, spiked with fresh Bourbon Vanilla Beans or Chocolate Fruit, which are grown here in the paddies as well.
A good place to spend the night is Senaru, further east on the coastal road, which is a starting point for trekking Gunung Rinjani, the highest peak on Lombok, as well. Reaching the crater and Mount Rinjani can be a bit tough though, as it will take at least 2 days for the tour. You will have to spend the night in a base camp, starting the final approach to the top the next day around 2am, just reaching the summit around 6am, when the sun rises and reveals a great view over the crater lake and even to neighboring Gunung Agung of Bali, if there is clear sight.
Not that you will get bored in Senaru, if you don’t like to trek mountains. Did I mention Waterfalls already? This is the place, if you want to see more than one bigger one in just a short time. You have 3 huge cascades in short proximity, about 10-15 minutes jungle trekking from each other. The Sendang Gile Waterfall alone is 80 meters in height and although you can walk to the base of it, I would recommend against it. The forces of the water are so powerful, that it would probably smash you to pieces. You can enjoy a bath in its spray though, if you feel too hot after the short jungle trip down the cemented stairs.
Afraid of Water? Head into the mountains!
Enough of water already? No problem. Just follow the main road eastwards, until you see a sign to ‘Sajang’. Don’t stop here, as there is nothing to see. Drive further north up the mountain slopes until you reach the pass across into a beautiful valley with 2 villages grown together, called Sembalu Lawang and Sembalun Bumbung.
You should reach there before night falls, as there is limited electricity on the way and when it’s getting dark – it’s really getting dark! Only the stars can guide you now. Make sure you wear some warmer clothes than just your usual T-shirt and bermudas. As soon as the sun will set, temperatures drop here significantly. It was only between 10-15 degrees Celsius, when we reached there, but some locals told us that temperatures can drop as low as 2-3 Celsius.
I can tell you that 10-15 windy degrees feel already like early winter in Europe, even when wearing 3 T-shirts and long cotton pants. Definitely something to consider for better preparation next time.
Unfortunately there aren’t many options to stay the night here, just 2 or 3 homestays for mountains trekkers, pretty basic, but you will probably have to shell out around Rp. 150.000 when coming late.
You can rent a trekking guide here to bring you into the crater lake with a small volcano cone in the middle, you can find Makake monkeys here, lizards, another couple of hot springs and plenty of rare highland flora and fauna.
Of course Mount Rinjani gives you a spectacular sight, throning over the whole scenery, but the mountains around the valley are equally impressive. Take a look at the pictures left and right and you will know what I mean.
It’s almost an unbelievable mystic sight to star at a cloudless sky at night. I never seen so many stars so near, illuminating the whole area in a fantastic way. The whole Milky Way is visible and you can easily recognize plenty of the usual stars and famous constellations.
The village life in 2.000 meters is pretty slow, but that doesn’t prevent the locals from going their usual ways. Colorful morning markets pop up the the early mists of the day, the whole setting has something surreal in it.
Leaving the mountains behind
Coming down from the mountains you will reach the eastern shores passing Sapit, reaching Labuhan Lombok, a popular starting point for exploring the eastern parts of the island, for snorkeling or other water sports.
The whole southern area of Lombok is the least developed and you will drive through many scenic villages and agricultural areas on your way westward.
If you want you can make a shortcut to Lombok’s Kuta beach, although we found it a bit disappointing. Kuta saw its ups and downs and there are even some 5 star developments, but the whole place looks a bit deserted and rundown.
It’s said that tourism catches up here in August or September, when the Kuta will see plenty of surfers. Still it can be an interesting spot, if you seek tranquility and empty beaches, with a few good food options thrown in. Fresh seafood you can get here in abundance and the locals seem friendly enough not to rip you off or trying to sell you something every few meters.
To get an overview of Lombok, it could be a good idea to drive around the whole island in just a few days. Still I would recommend it only if you want to soak in as much as possible in a short time frame.
It would be a better option to either take more time – let’s say at least a week – or concentrate on the areas of your interest only.
Especially if you plan to trek Mount Rinjani or any of the other mountains, you probably don’t want to rush through. Good preparation clothing and equipment-wise should be the key. Of course you can get everything here as well, but expect to pay more than bringing your own stuff. Trekking can be quite exhausting as well, so why not plan some recovery time at one of the many beaches?
Driving in Lombok is a pleasant and easy experience – due to the easy traffic conditions. Avoid driving at night, as the odd pothole among general good road conditions can easily derail you and spoil your further plans. Insects are abundant during night time as well, even at higher altitude. We had plenty of encounters with swarms of flying ants, grass hoppers and others, not-so-easily-identifiable crawling creatures. The lights of your bike attracts them in numbers you won’t even imagine.
Of yeah, the mountains can be quite demanding to your driving equipment, read: bike. But if you break down, as happened to my old trusty Kymco Scooter, fret not. There are plenty of small garages in every town, called ‘Bengkel’. The locals will help you with plenty of effort and for small fees.
For larger repairs it could pay to drag yourself at least to a town called Sweta, near Mataram, which even calls itself ‘Desa Bengkel’ – the Village of Garages – as almost every brand of manufacturers has a larger local branch here. I saw Yamaha, Honda, Suzuki, Kymco, Kawasaki and dozens of other garages.
As the drive chain was the culprit of my breakdown, we had to tie 2 large towels together to pull my bike to the next station, about 15 kilometer. Imagine that scenario in Europe or Australia, I’m not sure if that would be possible. Here you will get only lots of hand wavings and friendly laughter, ‘wishing you luck’ along the way.
So, will I return?
For sure, the Gili Islands are still on top of my list and I simply can’t get enough of Waterfalls and Hot Springs! Will probably concentrate a bit more on the northern part and maybe even climbing a bit is an option for a future visit. After all I missed out on the fantastic Crater Lake, which isn’t accessible with a vehicle.
What were your highlights in Lombok? Can you recommend an interesting, not-so-well-known spot on this beautiful island? Or would give this place a miss, favoring other shores instead? Please help other readers to complete the picture by commenting via the form below.
or save article to your Facebook with 1 simple click: