Lose yourself in Lombok

People love to say Lombok is “Bali 30 years ago” – unspoilt, quiet and less developed.

It is in many ways, however, while the beaches especially the north-west and the south are long and sparsely populated, there are certainly plenty of hotels and bars and some serious traffic congestion, while plans are afoot for a big development in the south.

© Caroline Gladstone 

Lombok is roughly four-fifths the size of Bali, has 3.35 million people, against Bali’s s 4.25 and as the population is largely Muslim, there are mosques rather than Hindu temples in each town and village. Avoid staying near a mosque if you don’t want to be woken by a pre-dawn call to prayer.

© Caroline Gladstone

Most tourists will head to Senggigi on the mid-west coast, a 1.5-hour drive from the airport, where some 30 hotels spread out along the beach or the main drag of Jalan Raya Senggigi. Some like the splendid Sheraton have wonderful beach frontage, others are more of a walk to the shore. If staying on the main road, choose a room at the back of the hotel, unless you like the sound of live bands and karaoke that thump well after midnight.

Further up the west coast are Pemenang and Tanjung, a resort enclave where the best hotels – the Oberoi and the Hotel Tugu – are located, and just off-shore are the Gili Islands, three tiny drops in the ocean where the snorkelling is excellent. The most developed, Gili Trawangan, is the acclaimed ‘party island’; to me however it seemed the main pastime was taking a seat by the ocean and sipping a Bintang beer to watch the sun sink over Bali (and the volcano of Mt Agung) to the west.

© Caroline Gladstone 

Sure there are night clubs, but the best hotels are quite a distance from the bars and are set in peaceful gardens such as Vila Ombak. Spotting turtles on a snorkel trip is almost guaranteed here, while bicycles and horse-drawn carriages called cidomo, are the only means of transport (there are internet stories that claim the horses are worked to the bone and badly treated – one charitable group is trying to redress this situation).

 

© Caroline Gladstone

A week-long itinerary might include a couple of days each in Senggigi and one of the Gili islands coupled with a few days in Kuta, yes there’s a Kuta Lombok, in the mid-south. To connect from the north to the south, book a local driver and take in some of the sights en route, such as one of the waterfalls (Benang Setokel or Benang Kelambu), a traditional Sasak village (the Sasak people are the original inhabitants of Lombok) and also the very impressive Islamic Centre in the capital, Mataram. Expect to pay around $50 to $90 for a day tour.

© Caroline Gladstone 

The south, first discovered by surfers more than 20 years ago, has some excellent beaches, including the long and lovely Selong Belanak. However, all is set to change around Kuta with the development of the Mandalika Project, a huge gated resort complex of villas and hotels currently under construction.

My advice is to see if before it becomes another Bali.

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