The Complete Guide to Lombok, Indonesia (and why you need to go there and NOT Bali)
Having grown up in South East Asia, I’ve been to quite a few places within a 4-hour flying distance of Malaysia. I’ve been lucky enough to have covered most of Thailand, briefly touched Laos, and been to a few places in Vietnam, but one place we’ve really not seen much of is Indonesia. And you may have noticed from my Instagram (follow me here), that I spent about 10 days in Lombok fairly recently – and it was absolutely stunning.
Lombok is an island located to the East of Bali (so close that if it’s a clear day, you can see the outline of Bali’s Mount Agung!), so it shares quite a few attractions with its neighbour (mainly the Gilli’s – read my guide to them here). But unlike Bali (which is often crudely known as the Australian Ibiza), Lombok is so serene, quiet and relatively untouched (which in the days of aeroplanes and mass tourism is often hard to find).
We flew to Lombok with AirAsia on a direct flight from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The airport in Lombok, although currently undergoing serious renovation, is pretty small so there are no flights there outside of SE Asia. Main flights are from Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta, and there are several flights a day from Bali if you’re planning the hop between the two. The flight from KL took just over 2 hours and was fairly smooth. It was also reasonably priced. As there are flights to several big cities, it’s easy to get to and definitely worth it!
After quite a bit of research on Lombok, we realised that the island was massive and that to cover all the things we wanted, we needed to stay in the south and a location in the north. We first stayed in the South at Novotel Lombok (in Kuta – about 30 minutes from the Airport) and then stayed in the North East at the Katamaran Hotel (in Sengiggi – about 1hr from the airport). Two locations meant that we could split our trips without having to factor in potentially long drives. Both hotels were fantastic.
If you have a bit longer, there are various accommodation options on the Gilli’s – so it may be worth considering whether you want to stay a night or two on them.
Food and Drink.
To be completely honest, we had no idea what Lombok was like and it was quite honestly unlike many of the tourist traps that I’ve been to. I half expected there to be a ‘tourist strip’ like places in Thailand, but the only place where this is in Sengiggi. This meant when we were at the Novotel, the only place to eat was the hotel (unless we were willing to get a taxi). But this was absolutely fine – the food was not particularly expensive (especially not compared to the UK), and there was a huge variety of dishes. Because of the lack of surrounding infrastructure, the hotel also put on entertainment in the evening. So this would be great if you’re not too bothered about nightlife (like us!).
Because Lombok is a Muslim island, the only area (aside from hotels) licensed to sell alcohol, is in Sengiggi – this means there are loads of bars, clubs and beer gardens. To be honest, it was all a bit sleazy – but fortunately, our hotel was about 10 minutes drive from all of this. If you’ve got kids, this probably wouldn’t be ideal so I’d suggest choosing a hotel a bit further from the centre of Sengiggi. Again, we ended up eating at our hotel all the time – because of a buffet breakfast, we didn’t want lunch and again, dinner had so much variation that it wasn’t an issue!
We did eat at a local restaurant when we stopped for lunch on Gilli Meno – the food in Indonesia is very similar to Malaysian cuisine, so lots of rice and curry type sauces! As Lombok is obviously an island, there is lots of seafood available so I’d definitely suggest trying as much as you can!
What is there to do?
Top of our list was to visit Gilli Trawangan, Gilli Air and Gilli Meno and I’ve done a blog post specifically on them if you fancy a detailed read! These tend to be grouped in a day trip – they’re literally minutes apart by boat. We visited these when in Sengiggi as from the south, you’d have to factor in a 2-hour drive, followed by a 1-hour boat trip, but from Sengiggi it was only a 45-minute boat trip from the beach outside our hotel. Go here for snorkelling (great coral, sea turtles and so many fish!)
When we were in Kuta, we also visited Gilli Nanggu, which was a really quiet yet stunning spot for snorkelling. It took about 1-hour drive and 15 minutes by boat to get here. No sea turtles here, but great coral and a good variety of fish. Great if you want to snorkel off the beach and have a quiet day out. I also talk about this in my post on the Gilli’s – head over there for more info!
We also visited Bukit Merese which is a stunning viewpoint that looks over south Lombok and in particular, Tanjung Aan (see above picture!). Tanjung Aan is definitely one of the most stunning beaches I’ve seen – the sea was a myriad of shades of blue and the sand so soft! As Tanjung Aan is fairly touristy, there are quite a few beach sellers but ignore them and you’ll be fine. There’s not much to do on the actual beach (no watersports or anything like that) but it’s worth going to the viewpoint for a great view!
On the way to Sengiggi from Kuta, our driver took us through Mataram, which is the capital of Lombok – much of the architecture is from the Dutch colonial time and still being actively used! It’s probably not worth really getting out of the car as it hasn’t been preserved in a manner that is photo-worthy, but it’s interesting to see! Most of the local transport (aside from cars) in Lombok is horse-drawn carriage so you’ll see plenty of these in the city!
Temples aren’t really our thing, but there are plenty of Hindu temples, reminiscent of Bali, so make sure to factor in a visit to one of them if you like that!
Much like Bali, there are Rice Fields everywhere, and the closer to the volcano you get, the more terracing there is! Lombok is incredibly undeveloped so you’ll pass rice fields (and rice drying at the side of the road) within minutes of leaving the airport!
Unfortunately, we didn’t have the time for this, but on Lombok is Mount Rinjani, which is the second highest Volcano in Indonesia! Treks up the volcano take a minimum of 3 days so it’s worth factoring that in if you fancy a trek! It’s an active volcano but the last eruption was in 2017, so keep that in mind.
Again, because of the size of Lombok, we didn’t get a chance to see this, but the Sendang Gile Waterfall (located in the North), is rather famous and a great day trip out for the family! It was an excursion listed in our hotel and may be worth doing if you have the time!
Again, we completely ran out of time, but one of the things we really wanted to do was visit the Pink Beach. Pink at sunset and sunrise, this beach is pretty famous because of the sand that turns pink! It’s a bit of a trek to get to, located in the South West – and because of the roads, takes a good few hours drive followed by a long boat trip. Because the beach is only pink at sunrise and sunset, it’s worth considering whether the trek is worth it!
There are a good few things to do in Lombok and plenty of cultural activities (which we chose not to do, having lived in Asia for over 14 years!) but the beaches are so pristine that you don’t have to look far to find blue seas! Most of the tourists we encountered were from within the region (or expats from Indonesia) so it’s definitely a bit of a hidden gem – and so much quieter and nicer than Bali!
If you’re planning a trip to this side of the world, definitely factor in time in Lombok – you won’t regret it!