Lombok has been on my travel list for a long time: When I first visited Bali 15 years ago, Lombok saw some tragic events with local mobs, stirred up by muslim agitators, looting Hindu and Chinese businesses and homes, sending tourism on Lombok into a long decline. I was looking for an “unspoiled Bali”, something less touristy and less developed than the popular, neighboring island. And there is some of that…
Why should I go? If you have been to Bali before and feel like it is just too busy, the resorts lack local flavor or are too expensive, or you are just bored from a number of previous trips, and you are looking for an alternative nearby, you can add Lombok to your list of beach getaways. The main beach strip is at Senggigi, on the Western coast of Lombok. Most of the island resorts are along the single beach road, from cheap guest houses to 5* resorts, as well as restaurants and shops! The quality of the beach depends very much on the resort you are staying at: The Sheraton Senggigi (review here), one of the more upscale hotels, meticulously maintains their part of the beach, keeping it clean and clear of obstructions. Unfortunately, that is not true everywhere and large parts of the beach are occupied by local fishing boats, leaving no space to lay down or even walk. So make sure, to check for your hotel, best from traveler pics and reviews. The pace on the island is certainly slow, so if Kuta or Legian are just too crazy for you, Lombok might be a good alternative. If you are bored with the beach, you can climb Mount Rinjani, one of the highest peaks in Indonesia.
Travel Tips: You can reach Lombok by plane from major hubs in Kuala Lumpur, Singapore or Jakarta, as well as other Indonesian airports. The new airport is far out of town and you’ll need a taxi (around $15, approx. 1h30) or you can take the DAMRI bus ($2 on board, 1h30 – 2h). I took the bus and the driver stopped along the way to drop people off as requested, so I got a ride to the drive way of my hotel – great service! They only go about once per hour, so check with the staff when they leave – a taxi might be more convenient if the last bus just left! Avoid the taxi touts greeting you at the exit – it’s generally a scam and you’ll overpay. Head out of the terminal and look for the taxi counter to purchase a voucher (airport fee) and go to the metered taxi. You can find more tips here. You can also get to Lombok from Bali by speed boat. It takes about 2h30 and cost around $50. Your best source to purchase tickets online is Gili bookings: you get a list of all boat operators on one list for your route, can pay with credit card and they are reliable and responsive for inquiries!
There are plenty of shops selling transport along the main road in Senggigi and you can’t walk for 5 minutes without a taxi or horse drawn carriage to offer you a ride – you have to haggle for the price or you’ll be taken for a ride in more than one way! Most of the hotels on Lombok are independent – Agoda has a pretty good selection in all categories. If you want to use reward points (like me), the Sheraton Senggigi is your only choice and it’s a good deal on points (reveiw here). There are a number of restaurants along the main road in Senggigi – I’d recommend to go for a walk and pick one you like. I had some recommendations from a local I met on the aiport bus, but unfortunately, they were depressingly empty when I checked them out, so I picked a more lively place nearby (but not good enough to earn a recommendation)!
Conclusion: Lombok is certainly quieter than Bali, but I didn’t find it to be the unspoiled paradise I was hoping for, and therefore it didn’t earn the “Dream Destination” post I had planned on! According to the local I met, it was pretty busy in the 80s/90s and declined after that, with some of the bigger businesses holding on. You can tell from the facilities and infrastructure – they are well worn and not nearly as modern as you’ll find them in Bali. There are quite a few abandoned buildings along the road, not helping the atmosphere. Fortunately, things are looking up and there seems to be an upswing in travel and new investment, so hopefully the island will get a refresher! If you have the Gili Islands (which will get its own “dream destination” post soon) on your travel plan, you could combine it easily with Lombok. Or if you are looking for a bargain points resort destination, the Sheraton Senggigi might fit the bill!