Thirty-five kilometres east of Bali at its closest point, Islamic Lombok (80km by 70km) is populated by Sasak people. It differs considerably from its Hindu neighbour, with lots of wide-open spaces and unspoilt beaches, and much less traffic and pollution. Tourist facilities are less widespread and public transport sparser. The island’s northern area is dominated by the awesome bulk of Gunung Rinjani, and trekking at least part of the way up is the reason many tourists come to Lombok. Most base themselves in the nearby villages of Senaru or Sembalun Lawang. Other visitors enjoy the cool foothills at tiny Tetebatu and Sapit. The other big draw is the beaches. The trio of Gili Islands, just off the northwest coast, attracts increasing numbers of visitors, while the resort of Senggigi on the west coast and south-coast Kuta, a popular surfing centre, also offer a range of tourist facilities. Lombok’s capital and main city area Ampenan-Mataram-Cakranegara-Sweta has excellent transport connections and is pleasantly user-friendly.
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The Ampenan-Mataram-Cakranegara-Sweta conurbation comprises four towns and stretches over 8km from west to east, but is easy to get around and offers a good opportunity to experience Indonesian city life. At the western end of the city is the bustling old port town of Ampenan, the jumping-off point for Senggigi a few kilometres up the coast. Merging into Ampenan to the east, Mataram is the capital of West Nusa Tenggara province as well as the district of West Lombok and full of offices and government buildings. East again, Cakranegara, usually known as Cakra (pronounced “Chakra”), is the commercial heart of the island, with shopping centres, markets and workshops. Sweta, on the eastern edge of the city area, is the location of the island’s main bus station. Most tourists come to the city for the day but an overnight stay is a good chance to try the city’s restaurants in the evening and visit early morning markets.
The vibrant markets offer a great chance to see local life. The Kebon Roek market in Ampenan and the market near the Bertais/Mandalika/Sweta bus terminal at Sweta are both worth wandering around but the friendliest is Cakranegara market behind the Jalan Gede Ngurah/Jalan Pejanggik crossroads.
The best one-stop craft centre is the Sayang Sayang Art Market, on Jalan Jend Sudirman, with handicraft stalls ranged around a car park. It’s a more lively offshoot of the Lombok Handicraft Centre, also known as Sayang Sayang, which is around the corner on Jalan Hasanudin at Rungkang Jangkok.
Lombok pottery has an international reputation, and the Lombok Pottery Centre, Jl Sriwijaya 111A (wwww.lombokpotterycentre.com), is the showroom of the Lombok Craft Project, which has fuelled a renaissance of pottery on the island. The showroom stocks a small range of products.
Covering a lengthy stretch of coastline, Senggigi, with sweeping bays separated by towering headlands, is a sleepy beach resort built along the main road. Its plethora of upmarket resorts attract older visitors and families, but there are several cheap budget hotels, homestays and traveller restaurants catering for younger backpackers, and a low-key nightlife. The beach in central Senggigi is separated into two parts by a peninsula. The southern beach, to the east of the peninsula, is much calmer than the beach to its west, which is full of locals on dates, food stalls and splashing children. Proximity to the airport makes it an ideal first- or last-night destination but it is also a good base from which to explore the island. There are, however, plenty of hawkers in the central areas – keeping your cool and getting to know them is the best approach.
Plenty of operators cater for people who want to dive in the Gili Islands, and operators also take snorkellers on trips, though if you plan to travel to the Gilis you’d be better off saving your diving for then when you won’t have to pay for transport. Tour operators along the main strip also offer cycling tours, which take you to the picturesque Sekotong Beach and Pengsong Hill.
Gunung Rinjani and around
From a distance, Gunung Rinjani (3726m) appears to rise in solitary glory from the plains, but in fact the entire area is a throng of bare summits, wreathed in dense forest. The climb up Rinjani, taking in Danau Segara Anak, the magnificent crater-lake, with the perfect cone of Gunung Baru rising from it, is the most energetic and rewarding trek on either Bali or Lombok. Climbs start from either Senaru to the north of the mountain or Sembalun Lawang to the northeast.
Trekking on Rinjani is not for the unfit. A guide is essential and you must register at the Rinjani Trek Centres at Senaru or Sembalun Lawang and pay the National Park admission fee (wwww.rinjaninationalpark.com). You’ll need basic equipment; bring your own walking boots, a torch and food and drink (take loads of snacks and sweets even if food is provided). If you haven’t got a seriously warm, windproof jacket with you, rent one. The Rinjani Trek Centres rent out radios but increasingly mobile telephones are being relied on as emergency back up; make sure your party has one or the other.
There are several possible climbs around Rinjani, and few trekkers reach the summit – most are satisfied with shorter, less arduous trips. All treks are dependent on how active the volcano is, so check the website before planning a trip.
The shortest trek is from Senaru to the crater rim, from where there are spectacular views across Segara Anak to Gunung Baru, and back to Senaru (two days, one night). For a longer trek (three days, two nights), a path continues from the crater rim (2hr) and descends into the crater to the lake, at 2050m. It is steep and scary at the top with metal handrails and some ropes but it gets better further down. You can bathe in the lakeside hot springs, and from the lake, you return the same way to Senaru.
The shortest route to the summit of Rinjani is to climb from Sembalun Lawang on the northeast side of the mountain, starting on the track next to the Rinjani Trek Centre. It takes seven to eight hours to the overnight campsite, Plawangan II, and you then attack the summit the next morning. It’s an extraordinarily steep haul up to the summit (3–4hr up; 3hr back down to Plawangan II). You then descend to the lake to ease tired muscles in the hot springs and return to Sembalun Lawang (three days, two nights).
The most complete exploration of the mountain involves a one-way trip; ascending from Sembalun Lawang, taking in the summit, then the lake and descending to Senaru – this has the advantage of getting the most exhausting ascent over while you are fresh (four days/three nights).
Sembalun Lawang and Sembalun Bumbung
Set in countryside that is unique in Lombok, the Sembalun area is a high, flat-bottomed mountain valley surrounded by hills. Sembalun Lawang is accessed via a steep 16km road from Kokok Putih (by minibuses or ojek) or an equally steep, 16km road north from Sapit on the other side of the mountains. Kokok Putih is accessible by bemo or minibus from Bayan or Labuhan Lombok.
The village of Sembalun bumbung is 4km south of Sembalun Lawang with houses clustered around the mosque. Buses run through here between Sembalun Lawang and Aik Mel; all buses between Labuhan Lombok and the Bertais/Mandalika/Sweta bus terminal pass through Aik Mel.
Set amid picturesque scenery on the southern slopes of Gunung Rinjani, 50km east of Sweta, the small village of Tetebatu is a cool, but not cold, quiet spot for a few days of relaxation. From here you can rent motorcycles and hire guides for local treks. Guides can also be arranged at all the accommodation; the most usual trek is through rice paddies and the local monkey forest to Jukut Waterfall.
If you’re travelling here by public transport, get off the bemo or bus at Pomotong on the main road and either take a bemo (though they are becoming less regular as motorbikes take over) or an ojek to Tetebatu. Alternatively, from Mataram you can arrange a Perama charter.
It isn’t easy to change money locally and there’s no public telephone or internet access.
Top image © Dudarev Mikhail/Shutterstock