It was the waves that first attracted tourists to Lombok, located centrally in the Indonesian island chain just a short distance from better-known Bali, and while the surf scene still flourishes, there are also no scarcity of other attractions in or out of the water. Here then are the 12 best things to do on Lombok Island.
Lombok’s beaches are universally adored for their fine sand and bliss-inducing desert island look, and there are plenty of crowd-free stretches to choose between. But for that extra sense of distinctiveness you’ll want to head to Tangsi Beach, one of only two pink beaches in Indonesia. Here you can enjoy sunbathing on the oddly-hued sands before snorkeling amid the offshore corals, or even heading out onto the sheltered bay by canoe.
Not only is Rinjani the second highest mountain in Indonesia, it’s also an active volcano. Towering over the island at 3,726 meters high, a hike to its summit is a phenomenal multi-day experience that also takes in another wonder, the crescent-shaped crater lake Segara Anak. But if you don’t fancy the long hike here, there’s always Bukit Pergasingan, a hill that looks out onto Rinjani and the colorful patchwork quilt of fields below.
Offering two very different slices of Lombok life, by day Gili Trawangan – the largest of three islands – is a tranquil beach getaway. However as the sun goes down the beach bars take to the fore, offering live music and the odd dancefloor too. By comparison, Gili Air can’t boast about its nightlife, but has some highly-rated diving spots, while Gili Meno is a good bet if you’re eager to encounter a sea turtle.
The indigenous Sasak people of Lombok (making up 85% of the population) are well-known in Indonesia for their skill at weaving, a practice that can be observed up close in traditional villages such as Tetebatu and Sade. At Sade, just 10 kilometers from the main surfing beach of Kuta, volunteer guides escort visitors through the maze of narrow alleys that wind between the distinctive palm and adobe buildings while local women spin yarn as they must have done for centuries.
Lombok’s Kuta is a smaller and more restful version of Bali’s beach of the same name. Though parasailing and banana boat rides are available, the main draw are the sunsets, which ignite the sea and sky with reds, oranges and golds. The center of Lombok’s backpacking scene, Kuta manages to maintain its village feel despite the range of eating and drinking establishments, giving the area an egalitarian atmosphere where everyone feels welcome.
Surrounded by the emerald green jungle of Lombok’s north, Tiu Kelep is one of the island’s most beautiful waterfalls. An hour’s gentle trek through the jungle from the village of Senaru, the cooling crystal clear waters plunge 45 meters into a pool perfect for cooling off in. Though only tumbling half the height of Tiu Kelep, the waterfalls at Benang Kelambu are equally mesmerizing, with spectacular photo opportunities existing from behind the curtain of roaring water.
For a sense of modern Indonesia you must head to Mataram, Lombok’s ‘capital’, where the constant splutter of motorbike engines along grand tree-lined streets adds to the cacophony of market-stall traders selling their wares and the sounds of worship from mosques and temples. Don’t miss the stunning pagodas of the Pura Meru Hindu temple, dating from the early eighteenth-century, or the colonial buildings of the Dutch period of rule in the once separate district of Ampenan.
Also known as Narmada Water Palace, a more fitting name for the site, the park was constructed in the 1720s by Balinese King Anak not far from Mataram. Designed to pay homage to Mount Rinjani and perhaps act as a royal retreat, the park echoes the volcanoes shape with stepped terracing that leads down to large rectangular pools. Natural springs ensure the gardens remain a lush oasis throughout the year, and the perfect place for a relaxed morning or afternoon stroll.
Semeti Beach, on the western side of the island, is famed not for fine sands but for the formations of volcanic rock that stretch down into the shallows. Over time the action of waves has created a series of blow holes, pools and inlets that are well worth exploring if you enjoy the gentle scramble over rocks. The best way to take in the whole landscape, however, probably comes through heading out into the warm sea and looking back to land.
Hikers will love the paths around Tanjung Ringgit, one of the best trekking sites on Lombok. On the island’s southern approaches, the path passes through verdant fields and onto low cliffs. Offering endless views out to sea and to Mount Rinjani, its occasionally possible to look down onto turtles bobbing in the waves, while on the cliffs you’ll definitely come across defensive gun emplacements and bunkers built by the Japanese during their occupation of the island in World War Two.
The dramatic and rarely visited caves at Bangkang, pierced by shafts of daylight, should be on the list of any adventurous traveler visiting Lombok. The vast caverns below ground, reached by precarious ladders, stretch up and all around you like something from another world. Be warned though, the caves are also home to several thousand (rather smelly) bats belonging to seven different species. Head to the cave just before sunset to witness them depart their roost for a night’s feasting.
It is one thing to sample the fine local cuisine from a stall or restaurant and quite another to learn how to cook Lombok’s flavorsome concoctions for yourself. There are several cookery schools around the hotels of Senggigi offering day and half-day courses aimed at teaching you all you need to know about the most-used local ingredients, and show you there’s more to Lombok’s cuisine than just fiery chili!
Often overshadowed by the more famous neighboring island of Bali, Lombok more than holds its own when it comes to things to do. From the underwater marvels of its corals to the heights of Indonesia’s second highest mountain, by way of its beaches, waterfalls, Sasak cultural heritage, and colonial legacy, Lombok rivals any island with its vast range of top-class attractions.