Tourists deplaning at Bali’s Ngurah Rai International Airport can be in for quite a surprise: bumper to bumper traffic, suffocating exhaust fumes, enormous billboards obstructing beach views, and construction everywhere. The small island with four million residents welcomed 13 million visitors in 2016, a statistic that securely drops Bali into any legitimate “overtourism” conversation. This is not to say that the island doesn’t have its charm and beauty, but it’s not the wide-open paradise of inner-soul-searching that it was in the days of Eat, Pray, Love.
Luckily, that paradise still exists on the beautiful island of Lombok, only a quick ferry from the hustle and bustle of Bali. Lombok’s coastline is kissed by beaches, waterfalls you can swim in, and miles upon miles of emerald rice paddies. The island is headlined by the looming Mount Rinjani, the second-tallest volcano in Indonesia, which peers over all from the island’s center. In recent years, the construction of an international airport, well-paved roads circumnavigating the entire island, and increasing options for comfortable accommodation have helped the island vie for more tourism. If you desire a secluded experience, now is the time to visit. Here’s what to see and do.
Trek your way up Mount Rinjani.
Mighty Mount Rinjani is Lombok’s most famous attraction and many visitors’ main reason to visit. It is also a holy site where people visit yearly to perform a ceremony to the mountain spirit. The native Sasak people of Lombok, whose Wetu Telu belief is heavily influenced by the large population of Balinese living on the island, also regard the lake as holy and visit to pray on full moon nights.
Standing 12,224 feet above the ocean below, Mount Rinjani is an active volcano. Visitors can undertake a trek to the crater at the summit to take in vistas of the massive cobalt lake and other amazing views over Lombok, which is similar to (but tougher and longer than) the Mount Batur trek in Bali. There are a variety of different trek options, most of which last multiple days and depend on your fitness level. Browse the site of your tour operator (we recommend Trekking Rinjani) to find the most appropriate option for you and your group. Note that it is not for the faint of heart.
Party and find your yoga flow on the Gili Islands.
The Gili Islands might not be as under-traveled as Lombok itself, but they still deserve a spot on everyone’s Lombok itinerary. Gili means “small island” in the local Sasak language, and there are dozens of them off Lombok’s coast. Though small geographically, each has a big personality. A group of three Gilis of Lombok’s northeast coast has captured the hearts of thousands of visitors. With legendary parties on any night of the week, the “magic” shakes, and the beach bars, Gili Trawangan (Gili T, to the party crowd) in particular is a backpacker’s dream. It’s also easy to access via direct ferry in just a couple of hours, for only a few dollars.
After a night of partying on Gili T, you may need a few days to recover and chill out. One of the world’s most scenic, relaxing places is just a stone’s throw away from the hedonism on Trawangan. Motorized vehicles are prohibited on the Gilis, and nowhere is that more apparent than Gili Air. If you love yoga, smoothie bowls, sunset swinging, and feeling more relaxed than you ever have in your life, Gili Air is for you. There are three world-renowned yoga studios on the island. Feel free to rotate between them morning, afternoon, and sunset, and get your vinyasa flow on.
Search out the swells or enjoy quiet, meditative beach time.
The beaches of Lombok are the stuff of dreams with white, fine-sand stretches lapped by crystal clear seas. Start with Selong Belanak Beach, which unfurls its beauty along a scenic bay on the southern part of the island. Surfers come for the breaks, but you can also just rent an umbrella chair and chill on the sand. Less than an hour east by motorbike, Tanjung Aan Beach’s vast stretch of white sand sees fewer people and is an ideal place to lounge in solitude. Tangsi Beach, more commonly called “Pink Beach,” has an unbelievably pink hue that makes it among the most photogenic spots on Lombok — which, given the views from the top of Rinjani, is saying a lot.
For years, only dedicated and well-traveled surfers were even familiar with Lombok. That’s changing, as its swells rival Hawaii and Bali in terms of diversity and challenge. Lombok’s most legendary surfing destination is called Desert Point, positioned on the southwest coast. The three- to eight-foot waves break for nearly 1,000 feet before reaching the shore, making it a perfect place to hone your skills. Hit up Surf Camp Lombok or Sasak Soul Surf School for a lesson or guidance on conditions. If you just want to rent a board and hit the waves, head to WhatSup surf shop in southern Lombok or one of the smaller rental shacks located near most beaches.
Partake in local cultural celebrations.
The practices, traditions, and cultures of the Sasak people prevail strongly today. Sasak culture is a blend of identities and religions, predominantly Muslim interwoven with animist beliefs. As a melting pot, nearly any time of the year there are festivals being held and visitors are often invited to partake. Dance the night away to the beat of the Gendang Beleq (Big Drum) while observing Presean, a traditional stick fighting game.
How to get to Lombok from Bali
There are daily flights between Denpasar, Bali, and the capital of Lombok, Mataram, which is the easiest option. Flight prices hover around $25 one way into Lombok International Airport (LOP). For travelers who are even more budget-conscious, a public ferry travels between Padang Bai (east Bali) and Lembar (west Lombok) every hour. The trip takes four to five hours and costs about $16. Motorbikes and cars can be taken on the ferry, and motorbikes are available for rent in Mataram. If you are prone to seasickness, be aware that the trip can be quite rough.
There are also numerous speed boat companies that will shuttle you between Bali and Lombok. Tickets can be booked online, and there are two departure points from Bali: Serangan (just near the Benoa harbor) and Padang Bai’s harbor. This cuts a couple of hours from the travel time, but increases the price to about $50.
If you have an adventurous heart, renting a motorbike to get around is definitely the way to go. Many beautiful places on the island will be more accessible to you if you have your own set of wheels. There is also a public transportation option: a minibus called a Bemo. It will take you to most tourist attractions, but only operates during the day.
Where to stay in Lombok
Whether it’s a fancy oceanfront resort, a luxurious hostel, or a tent on the beach, Lombok has a variety of options set to accommodate any budget or personality type. The three most popular places for overnight stays are Kuta (not to be confused with the popular Kuta in Bali), Senggigi, and Mataram. For a high-end experience, try The Oberoi, a five-star resort with on-site amenities like snorkeling, swimming, and tour booking. Rooms start around $230 per night. If that’s out of your wheelhouse, Pipes Hostel in Baturiti rents beds for $11. In between, opt for a bungalow or homestay at a place like the Sudamala Suites and Villas, which starts at $86 per night.