All About Lombok Indonesia
Lombok island lies just east of it’s more famous and glamorous neighbor, Bali. Roughly the same size as Bali, Lombok is much quieter, laid-back and strikingly less developed than bustling Bali. I liken it to Bali’s ‘back-water’.
Like most of Indonesia’s main islands, Lombok is a mountainous volcanic island full of stunning scenery: lush terraced rice fields, dense jungle and forests, strapping waterfalls, awe-inspiring coastlines and gorgeous beaches.
Since Lombok has a low population density and is fairly undeveloped for tourism (or anything else for that matter) the island is bursting with undisturbed natural places. Along Lombok’s northern coast, particularly, very few villages, towns or houses are found. You can drive for hours a passing through only a handful of settlements. That’s literally impossible on Bali, Java or Sumatra.
When you start driving around Lombok, you suddenly realize how crowded, bustling and highly populated Indonesia’s other major islands are.
Here are the highlights (and low points) of Lombok island:
Lombok is gorgeous! Nature is the best reason to visit Lombok, in fact.
The island is blessed with absolutely stunning coastlines that consist of miles and miles of hilly terrain: tall headlands dipping into wide bays of aquamarine seas, wide sweeping beaches and vast coconut plantations. Occasional discreet upscale resorts grace a few of the bays. A few miniscule villages are situated in some bays as well, but overwhelmingly the area is undeveloped and au naturale.
Lombok is overseen by volcanic Mt. Rinjani, one of Indonesia’s highest volcanoes outside of Irian Jaya, peaking at 3726 meters. Rinjani’s vast, jagged crater rim peers above clouds in early mornings and late evenings, but otherwise is often absent from sight, hidden behind dense clouds. Mt Rinjani is Bali’s version of sacred Mt Agung.
Rinjani is a popular mountain trek among both western travelers and Asian climbing buffs, who consider it a major climbing expedition. The usual guided treks take 3 days up and 2 days back down, camping along the way.
Mt Rinjani’s lower slopes, the whole way around, are extremely fertile regions full of rice fields and dense forests. Many huge trees still stand all around Lombok.
But Lombok is probably most famous for its three Gili islands (‘Gili’ meaning ‘island’), just off Lombok’s west coast- Gili Trawangan, Meno and Air. All three islands have vetoed motorized vehicles entirely! The only transportation found are pony & carts and bicycles. That makes the Gilis supremely quiet and traffic-free. The only ‘traffic’ noise is the charming jingle of pony bells as they trot around the islands sandy ‘roads’.
Trawangan is a roaring party island with dance parties and bars galore most nights of the week. Gili Meno and Air are much quieter. While Gili Air has occasional parties, the inhabitants of Meno prefer to stick to quiet and more quiet.
More Gilis, in the same vain as quiet Gili Meno, are located just off Lombok’s southwest and northeast coasts.
One curiosity of Lombok is its alternating terrain of parched, dry regions and lush, fertile areas. Along the north coast, the terrain continuously and suddenly alternates between the two. You’ll find yourself driving across a vast parched lowlands, turn a corner, and suddenly drive smack into an emerald green forest or neon green rice fields. It’s quite remarkable.
Traffic, roads and getting around
Lombok is a fantastic place to drive, especially compared to Bali or Java. Most of Lombok’s roads are in excellent condition. The roads are practically empty (outside of Mataram and the main east-west highway) and Lombok residents drive much slower and more cautiously. If you’ve ever driven in Bali or Java, Lombok is a dream.
The only congested traffic areas are found around Mataram, Lombok’s capital city, and the main east-west road, which runs from the western ferry port of Lembar (ferries to Bali), through Mataram, and eastward to the ferry port of Labuan Lombok (ferries to Sumbawa). That’s a 2-3 hour drive.
Otherwise, Lombok’s roads are practically empty.
Most of the people living on Lombok are either Sasak or Balinese. More specifically, about 90% are Sasak while most of the remaining10% are Balinese. Basically, Lombok is a predominantly Sasak island with a smattering of Balinese people, culture and temples tossed in.
Apparently the Sasaks are thought to have originated in India. They are Muslim, so you’ll find many beautiful mosques all over the island. Although Muslim, I’ve found the Sasaks to be very laid-back in terms of religious practices. The majority of women don’t cover their heads or wear long sleeves, except when dressing up to go to the mosque, business or major shopping. Most women wandering around their villages, shops and homes and go about their daily lives without covering up.
Although Lombok’s mosques do broadcast pray five times per day, as usual for Islamic mosques, most people don’t pray 5 times per day, nor even attend mosque on Friday afternoons.
As far as I’ve observed, the Balinese on Lombok observe their Hindu customs much more vigorously than the Sasaks observe their traditions.
Most places around Lombok locals are quite friendly, down-to-earth and laid-back. They’re certainly not as entrepreneurial as the Balinese. Taveling around Lombok it’s quite refreshing to not be hassled by touts or by locals inflating prices on tourists.
On the other hand, there are a few places on Lombok which are noted for theft and trickery, particularly Kuta Beach in south Lombok and Batu Koq / Senaru, the starting point for treks up Mt Rinjani. Other areas seem very safe and crime-free. I personally didn’t experience any problems anywhere during my travels.
Quite unfortunately, Lombok’s food is a huge disappointment. While Bali, Java and Sumatra all have a huge variety of delicious food everywhere, the same is not true on Lombok! Local food, in my opinion, is not nearly as good as Balinese and Javanese food. What’s more, there’s a lot less variety. Meat portions are quite small. As if that’s not bad enough, the food costs more than in Bali and Java!
To me, it feels like a big slap in the face or to have to pay more to eat food that’s not even tasty.
Culture and arts
Unfortunately, art and traditional culture are not prevalent on Lombok like on Bali. In Bali travelers are constantly immersed in interesting, lively Balinese Hindu culture and gorgeous Balinese arts. Every day, local people dress up and make offerings to local shrines. Every week there’s one Hindu ceremony or other. And everywhere in Bali you’ll observe beautiful architecture, stone statues, wood carvings, gardens, walls, paintings, and tingling Balinese gamelan. Balinese culture is constantly prevalent.
On Lombok that’s all missing. There’s nothing replacing it. The Sasaks are, in fact, skilled at several amazing handicrafts, including sophisticated weaving, intricate basketry, blacksmith-ing, knife making, and simple pottery. However, none of these arts are prevalent. For the most part, those handicrafts are practiced only in a few rural villages, scattered around the island in the south and on the southeastern slopes of Rinjani. Instead of being immersed in art and culture, visitors have to seek it out, and with quite a bit of effort.
The only local culture you will find everywhere on Lombok are the charming cidomos (pony & carts), beautiful mosques and daily prayer calls.
Cities, towns and villages
Lombok’s cities, towns, and villages are pretty crap. They have no architectural, cultural or aesthetic merit. Like most places around Indonesia, towns and cities consist of a bunch of ugly buildings and traffic. Most of Lombok’s villages are poor, scruffy, and messy affairs. When visiting Lombok, it’s better to just skip them entirely.
On the other hand, a few traditional Sasak villages are scattered around Lombok in very rural areas. They consist of a dense cluster of thatched houses, which look quite charming to western eyes. Whether or not they’re pleasant places to live is a different story. But travelers can visit a few well-known Sasak villages, take photos and perhaps buy some beautiful handicrafts or chat with the few locals who speak English.
Tourist infrastructure on Lombok is quite minimal outside of Sengigi beach and the Gili Islands. Elsewhere on Lombok, there’s almost nothing geared to westerners or western tastes. Very few people speak English, even guest house owners in Mataram, Lombok’s capital city! Officials, including police and immigration officers for the most part don’t speak English either.
That can be viewed as either a plus or a minus. If you prefer authentic places, you can certainly find that on Lombok. But if you like to have access to a touch of modern life such as good western restaurants, espresso coffees and nice cafes, designer shops, movies and books, then you might find Lombok quite lacking in appeal.
Lombok is a gorgeous, little-developed and laid-back island which is best visited for it’s stunning scenery. It’s great place to drive and explore independently. Overall, it’s safe and peaceful with friendly, somewhat shy people. Lombok is a great place to relax, unwind, get away from bustling life, and immerse yourself in nature.
On the downside, the food is not very good nor varied. Lombok doesn’t have much in the way of culture and arts. Very few people speak English outside the major tourist areas. Not much is geared to western tastes or needs.
If you’re visiting from Bali, Lombok and the Gili islands are great places to escape Bali’s horrid traffic, noise and masses of people. Lombok is equally refreshing for escaping Bali’s pushy touts and feeling that everyone’s out to get your money.
Have you ever been to Lombok or the Gili Islands?
If so, which places did you like best?
If not, does this sound like a place you’d love to visit?