Bali’s sister island, Lombok is often overshadowed by its show-stopping neighbour. But give Lombok a chance and you’ll discover it’s just as beguiling, with untouched beaches, volcanic calderas and smouldering peaks. Wild stretches of fine sand wrap around the coastline, and the awesome bulk of Gunung Rinjani contours the northern landscape, offering superb trekking from the villages of Senaru and Sembalun Lawang. But Lombok’s number one draw is undoubtedly its fabled Gili Islands, three tropical specks of land ringed by shimmering coral reefs. Read our travel guide to Lombok and the Gili Islands for everything you need to know before you go.
The snorkelling and diving around the Gili Islands is among the best and most accessible in Lombok. Despite years of destructive fishing practices in the 1990s the reefs remain in pretty good condition. Indeed, there’s been good regrowth thanks to a pioneering Biorock scheme which uses low-voltage electric currents to stimulate coral reproduction along steel bars placed in the ocean (at up to six times faster than normal). All the islands are fringed by reefs and visibility is generally 15–25m. The fish life includes white-tip and black-tip reef sharks, lots of sea turtles and bumphead parrotfish.
There are good snorkelling spots just off all the islands’ beaches. The offshore currents are strong and can be seriously hazardous, and there have been drownings in recent years. Dive companies can take snorkellers further afield, and are knowledgeable on currents and safe places to swim.
The best dive sites involve short boat trips, with plenty of dive operators on the islands. There’s a loose price agreement: $35 for a fun dive (for qualified divers) or $380 for a PADI Open Water course. All divers pay a one-off reef tax of Rp50,000 (snorkellers pay Rp25,000) to the Gili Eco Trust, which works to protect the reefs around the islands.
There are also some freediving schools. Breath-hold diving (without tanks or scuba gear) is an exhilarating sport, with no bubbles between you and the fish, though you should always take a course with professionals before attempting it yourself.
Beyond the Gili Islands, Kuta is a fast emerging as a surfing destination, thanks to wild coastal scenery and turbulent surf. You can rent surfboards or book surf lessons and tours at Kimen Surf or organise kitesurfing through Whats Sup. Just under 8km from Kuta, the small fishing village of Gerupuk perches on the western shores of Gumbang Bay – home to some good surf waves. Boatmen will ferry you out for around Rp80,000 per boat including waiting time.
With glorious white-sand beaches lapped by warm, brilliant-blue waters, the three Gili Islands just off the northwest coast of Lombok are a magnet for visitors. Of the three, Gili Trawangan best fits the image of “party island”, with heaps of accommodation, restaurants and nightlife. The smallest of the islands, Gili Meno, is very chilled and something of a honeymoon escape. Closest to the mainland, Gili Air offers a mix of the two, with plenty of facilities in the south and more peace elsewhere. Visit our Gili Islands guide, to find out which island you should visit and the best travel options.
Nearly 50km from Mataram, Kuta is a scruffy fishing village turned chilled backpackers’ hangout. The sheer scale of Kuta’s sweeping white-sand beach is certainly impressive, but it’s very shallow and poor for swimming. Most visitors instead use Kuta a base for forays to the utterly spectacular bays either side of the town. This region of wild coastal scenery and turbulent surf is a delight to explore – best with your own transport (renting a motorbike is ideal).
The glorious beaches of Seger and Tanjung Aan can be found to the east of Kuta, while Gumbang Bay is strung with villages that are navigable by canoe. Along the coast west of Kuta you can explore half a dozen astonishing beaches. The closest is the tiny but lovely Are Goleng and, continuing west, Mawun, a gorgeous curve of golden sand with calm waters which are good for swimming, Tampa, Mawi (recommended for surfing) and Rowok. Some 19km from Kuta you reach idyllic Selong Blanak, a giant bay with powdery pale sand, good swimming and safe surfing for novices.
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 forest-wreathed summits. The challenging climb up Rinjani is one of the most rewarding Lombok travel experiences, taking in the magnificent crater lake of Danau Segara Anak, with the perfect cone of Gunung Baru rising from it.
Trekking on Rinjani is not for the unfit, and a guide is essential. The shortest trek (two days) is from Senaru to the crater rim, from where there are spectacular views across Segara Anak to Gunung Baru, and back to Senaru. For a longer trek, a path continues from the crater rim 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 takes three days. It starts from Sembalun Lawang on the northeast side of the mountain, climbing to the extraordinarily steep haul up to the summit before descending to the lake and hot springs.
From beachfront bungalows and mountain camps to boutique eco-lodges and luxurious villas, Lombok and the Gili Islands has something for everyone. In Senggigi, at one end of the spectrum, budget hotels and homestays cater for younger backpackers while at the other, smart resorts attract older visitors and families.
Over on the Gili Islands, accommodation prices vary dramatically depending on the season, increasing by anything up to 100 percent from June to September and in December. Reservations are near-essential in the high season.
Gili Trawangan is the most developed of the three, so if you’re struggling to find a cheap place to stay, head inland to the village behind the east coast where there are numerous losmen (guesthouses). Though hostels are officially banned in Gili Trawangan, because of opposition from locals, some places remain hostels in all but name.
For the longer climbs up Rinjani, particularly those that scale the summit, overnight stays at mountain camps are included in the trekking price. If you plan to stay in the nearby towns of Batu Koq and Senaru, simple bungalows and guesthouses cater for overnight visitors.
As Kuta emerges as a busy surfers’ resort, hotels are mushrooming across the resort, spreading along the road behind the beach or in the village itself. Options are expanding quickly, with many new places under construction.
This section of our Lombok travel guide offers tips and advice for a safe, stress-free trip around Lombok and the Gili Islands.
There are plenty of ATMs lining the streets and malls of the main resorts in Lombok and across all three of the Gili Islands.
The best hospital in Lokom is the private Risa Sentra Medik Hospital, close to Mataram Mall, while the public hospital, Rumah Sakit Umum, has a daily tourist clinic. These are the nearest hospitals to the Gili Islands, though there are health clinics on all three for minor ailments.
It’s worth noting that there’s no fresh water on any of the Gili Islands – showers are salinated, except in the more upmarket resorts which transport the water by boat from the mainland.
In July 2018, Lombok was left reeling by an earthquake measuring 6.4 on the Richter scale, which struck the flank of the Mount Rinjani volcano, tragically killing 17 people. The following month, Lombok and the Gili Islands were rocked by two further quakes, measuring 7.0 and 6.2 respectively, and leaving hundreds dead or homeless. The islands are continuing to recover from the impact of the earthquakes and the FCO advises exercising caution if you’re travelling to affected areas.
Women should take care during and after the Gili Trawangan parties, as there have been cases of sexual harassment and assault. Try to avoid leaving these parties alone.
You’ll inevitably be offered drugs on the islands, but remember Indonesia has extremely tough anti-drugs laws. There are no police; it’s the role of the kepala desa, the headman who looks after Gili Air and Gili Meno, and the kepala kampung on Gili Trawangan, to deal with any problems, so report any incidents to them initially. If you need to make a police report, go to the police on the mainland (at Tanjung or Ampenan).
If you’re travelling to Lombok to climb Gunung Rinjani, bear in mind the mountain is closed to trekkers during the wettest months of the year, usually from late December to late March. It may also be out of bounds at other times if the authorities consider conditions to be too risky. Trekking at any time of year is not for the frail or unfit.
Top image © Dudarev Mikhail/Shutterstock