Lombok may be part of Indonesia, but it has a culture all of its own. Often eclipsed by next-door Bali, it’s a sedate, relaxed island with a largely undisturbed forested interior and a coast fringed with coffee, rice and coconut fields. You’ll frequently find the powder-fine stretches of sand deserted, disturbed only by the occasional low-rise hotel. The indigenous Sasak culture prevails, their way of life reflected in the thatched-roof artisan villages and mosques scattered across the island.
Things to see and do on Lombok
Senggigi, on Lombok’s west coast, has become the island’s main — albeit very quiet — beach resort. The beach runs along a 10 km (6.2 mile) stretch of coastal road, interrupted by the occasional beachside bar or hotel. At dusk, from your chosen spot you can watch the sun send streaks of red across the sky as it sets behind Mount Rinjani, the island’s highest peak.
Sire Beach is a short drive along the coast, curving around a headland on the northeast corner of Lombok. A few luxurious hotels have been discreetly built behind the thick groves of coconut palms that edge the sand, the occasional daybed or hammock tucked between the trees.
The nearby Gili Islands
Just 15 minutes off Lombok’s northwest coast is a trio of tiny palm-fringed islets: the Gili Islands. Hotels on Lombok often run regular boat shuttles to Gili Trawangan, the largest island, or you can join a small group snorkeling tour to visit all three Gilis.
Each island is surrounded by flourishing coral gardens, sheltering schools of vibrant fish and roaming reef sharks. The sea is so clear that you can often see the hawksbill sea turtles swimming below even before you have entered the water. A number of dive schools operate from Lombok, running trips to some of the deeper shelves of coral.
Wherever you are on Lombok, Mount Rinjani pierces the skyline. Climbing to the crater rim of this still-active volcano is a challenging hike, but the views are arguably the best on the island.
You’ll have an early start from your hotel, driving to Senaru, a village on the mount’s western slope. From here it’s a steep seven-hour hike — depending on your fitness — through thick rainforest. As the trees thin, you’ll emerge onto Plawangan, a flat section of hillside on the crater’s edge. At this position, you can see the light reflecting off the crater’s lake.
Your guide will cook dinner as you prepare to camp for the night. As the sun sets, the stars come out in force uninhibited by a lack of light pollution. Wake early to watch sunrise over the crater rim as the morning mist collects in the crater. After a hearty breakfast, you’ll descend back down.
The Balinese invaded Lombok in the 18th century. The island was then annexed to the Netherlands before being occupied by the Japanese during World War II. Despite these outside influences, the indigenous Sasak people have fiercely protected their culture. On a full-day tour of the island with a driver and guide, you’ll gain an insight into the Sasak community, of which very little has been documented.
Sukarare is an artisan village that produces songket, a traditional handwoven cloth. Walking around, you’ll see bright displays of the carefully folded fabric, which is often made using gold and silver threads on simple looms.
Driving onwards to the potters’ village of Penujak, you have the chance to see how Lombok’s hand-raised pots are made. At another village, Rambitan, you’re able to explore traditionally built Sasak houses, constructed with bamboo frames and topped with thatched roofs.
Festivals, events and seasonal reasons to visit
- Once a year, usually in late February or early March, hordes of nyale (a tropical worm) arrive on the southern beaches of Lombok to spawn. The Bau Nyale Festival celebrates their arrival with traditional music and peresean (sword fighting) as locals paddle into the shallows to catch them for food.
- In mid-July, usually just before Ramadan, the island’s artisans, dancers and musicians gather for the Senggigi Festival. In a celebration of Lombok’s culture, floats and traditionally dressed dancers parade through the town, accompanied by bands of beleq (large drum) players.
- Pura Lingsar, near Mataram on Lombok’s west coast, is a Hindu temple housing a Muslim shrine. In mid-December, Muslim and Hindu communities gather together to celebrate Perang Topat Festival. To nurture good relations, they take part in a huge rice-cake fight in the streets surrounding the temple before everyone enjoys a communal feast.