Lombok Island, Indonesia
Lombok is an Indonesian island and burgeoning tourist destination. To the thousands of travellers that visit every year, Lombok is a tropical paradise boasting pristine beaches, magical waterfalls, world-class surf breaks, amazing diving and beautiful mountains.
Where is Lombok?
Lombok is in Southeast Asia. Located in Indonesia’s West Nusa Tenggara province, Lombok forms part of the Lesser Sunda Islands archipelago. Lombok neighbours Bali to the West and Sumbawa to the East.
What is the population of Lombok?
The population of Lombok is estimated at to be around 3,352,988. This figure is taken from a 2014 census, which recorded 4.77 million people living in Nusa Tenggara Barat province, 70% of which live on the island of Lombok
What language do they speak in Lombok?
Most of Lombok’s native population speak Sasak language, of which there are four main dialects (broadly separated into North, South, East & West). The majority of people will also understand and speak Bahasar Indonesia, which is Indonesia’s official language. In tourist areas such as the Gili Islands, Senaru, Sengiggi and Kuta Lombok, residents speak varying levels of English (enough to relate to westerners and have basic conversations).
What is Lombok famous for?
Lombok is famous for many things: beautiful beaches, epic surf breaks, volcanic mountains, stunning waterfalls and wonderous coral reefs that house an abundance of tropical fish and marine life.
Geographically Lombok is probably most famous for the “Wallace Line”, a biogeographical boundary that seemingly separates the fauna of the Indomalayan and Australasian ecozones. Alfred Russel Wallace (British naturalist, explorer, and pioneer of evolutionary theory through natural selection) was the first to notice the marked difference between the wildlife either side of the Lombok Strait (the body of water that separates the island of Bali from Lombok).
Lombok is also famous for the 1257 Samalas eruption, considered to be one of the largest volcanic eruptions in the last 10,000 years (or our current Holocene epoch, if you like geological timeframes!). The eruption of Samalas in 1257 is responsible for the massive caldera and crater lake (Lake Segara Anak) that sits beneath the summit of Mt Rinjani, Lombok’s highest point. The eruption of Samalas was a global event that triggered climate cooling and famines in Europe. It is possible that the eruption also helped initiate the “Little Ice Age”, a cold period that lasted hundreds of years.
More recently Lombok has become famous for being the home of Indonesian sprinter Lalu Muhammad Zohri, who won the 100m gold at the under-20 IAAF championships. This was the first time an Indonesian had won any medal at the championships and was made even more special by Zohri’s humble origins. In appreciation of his achievement, President Joko Widodo arranged for his small bamboo family home to be renovated!
Like most of Indonesia, Lombok has a fascinating history and rich culture. Apart from the Babad Lombok, an ancient document written in 1257 that describes the eruption of Samalas, there is little recorded history until the 17th century.
The Dutch East India Company reached Lombok in 1674, where it established a treaty with the Sasak royal family. The Balinese invaded and took power in Western Lombok in the early 17th century and by 1750 had control over the whole island. Disunity amongst the Balinese resulted in the island being split into four competing Balinese kingdoms, until 1838 when the Mataram kingdom gained primacy over the others (Mataram is still the capital of Lombok). Due to frequent discord between native Sasak’s and the ruling Balinese, there were repeated rebellions. The Sasak chiefs eventually decided to side with the Dutch, sending envoys inviting them to rule Lombok instead of the Balinese. This resulted in the treaty of 1894 and the Dutch sending an expeditionary force to oust the Balinese king. By 1895 Lombok was a Dutch colony (part of the Netherlands East Indies). Although Dutch colonisation in Indonesia is generally thought of as a dark time in the region’s history, the liberation of Lombok from the Balinese is looked on by the natives of Lombok in a more favourable light.
Lombok was occupied by the Japanese during the Second World War. The Japanese had quickly defeated the Dutch forces in the region, and occupied the Lesser Sunda Islands for strategic reasons. Gili Trawangan, one of Lombok’s most popular tourist destinations is named after the tunnels the Japanese dug on the hill there.
After the Second World War the Dutch temporarily resumed control of Lombok. Indonesian independence was declared in 1945, but not formally recognised by the Dutch until the end of 1949. Since this time Lombok has gone through many stages of development. Initially the traditional Balinese and Sasak aristocracy regained influence, but later national policies under President Suharto’s New Order administration held greater sway.
Since the 1980s Lombok has been “on the map” as a nascent tourist destination. Although it hit a few set-backs along the way (such as the Indonesian economic and political crisis of the 1990s), Lombok is set to become a world-renowned tourist destination in coming years. The recent approval and funding of the multibillion-dollar Mandalika Project & Vinci Moto GP track in South Lombok is set to re-shape the island and provide much-needed jobs to residents.
Lombok Culture & Religion
The main religion practised on Lombok is Islam. Lombok is sometimes referred to as the “Island of a thousand Mosques”, as these beautiful domed buildings are seen everywhere on Lombok. Due to the island’s interesting history and periods of Balinese occupancy / migration, there is also a Hindu and Buddhist influence present. One of the most interesting religious practises / groups on the island is that of Wektu Telu (meaning 3-times). Practised predominantly in the Bayan district (North Lombok), this curious form of Islam also incorporates aspects of animism, Hindu and pantheistic belief. Boda is another interesting religion, a Paganist Sasak belief system that could predate all others on the island.
Lombok has a friendly and open culture, with visitors made to feel welcome whatever their colour or religious creed. That said, modesty is valued, so tourists are advised to cover-up when walking through villages etc. (there have been repeated instances of holiday makers walking into shops and restaurants wearing nothing more than bikinis, which is not deemed appropriate by the natives).
As we have a page dedicated to the majestic Mt Rinjani here, we won’t spend too much time discussing it on our Lombok section. All we’ll say is, Mount Rinjani is a spectacular mountain and one of the highest peaks in South East Asia. Rinjani Dawn Adventures specialises in multi-day trekking expeditions in Gunung Rinjani National Park and the surrounding area.
The Gili Islands
What are the Gili Islands?
Gili means “small island” in Sasak language (Lombok’s native tongue). There are many Gili’s off the coast of Lombok, but the three most famous are Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno, and Gili Air. So, when people talk about The Gili Islands, the Gili Isles, or “the Gilis”, they are generally referring to these three. In recent years some of the other less developed Gilis, (such as Gili Nanggu, Gili Gede, Gili Kedis & Gili Asahan) are starting to emerge as destinations for more adventurous travellers.
Where are the Gili Islands?
The Gili Islands (Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno & Gili Air) are located off the North West Coast of Lombok, Indonesia. From the nearest port, Bangsal Harbour, they are approximately 2.3 miles (Gili Air) 3.8 miles (Gili Meno) and 5 miles (Gili T) offshore. They lie in an East-West orientation, with narrow bodies of water separating them.
Getting to the Gili Islands
Bali to Lombok/Gilis Fastboats:
Travelling to the Gilis direct from Bali using a fastboat is one of the most popular options for travellers and backpackers. The price of the ticket usually includes collection from your hotel in Bali, and transport to one of the few ports where the fast-boats leave.
Mainland Lombok to the Gilis
The main jumping-off point to get to the Gilis from mainland Lombok is the small port of Bangsal. From Bangsal harbour you can catch either a public boat, a shared “fastboat” or a chartered speed boat. The public boats leave fairly regularly and are the cheapest option.
Lombok to Gilis Fastboat
The fastboat from Bangsal to the Gili Isles leaves at the following times: 10am, 12am, 2pm, & 4pm. It is a shared water-taxi and costs 85,000 IDR per person. Please see the timetable below for Bangsal / Gilis fastboat times. This was current in March 2019, but may be subject to change and weather conditions.
Bangsal Gilis Fastboat Timetable:
Lombok to Gilis Public Boat
The public boats leave at different times throughout the day, depending on what island you are visiting. Outside of peak tourist season, boats will not leave until there are enough passengers to make a trip viable. These boats are typically long narrow boats, with a relatively shallow draught. As well as transporting local residents and tourists, these boats are also frequently used to transport goods and materials (and occasionally some livestock!). For public boat times we recommend this useful app.
Gili Trawangan is well known as a party island. It was once touted as “The next Ibiza”, but this was more to do with the hedonistic vibe rather than the island itself. Gili Trawangan (or Gili T as it is known for short) is the busiest of the three islands. It is packed with restaurants, bars and numerous activities to keep you occupied. If you’re looking for a wild night out and some recuperating in the day, Gili T could be the island for you. But it’s not all about bars and nightclubs, Gili T offers a wide range of activities, from diving and parasailing, to cooking classes and yoga.
Gili Meno is often referred to as a “Honeymoon Island”. The least developed/crowded of the three Gilis, Meno has a lot to offer. There is a sense of peace on Meno that you will struggle to find on the other two islands… a calm, laid back atmosphere that will leave you feeling relaxed and stress free. Meno is also the best island for snorkelling, especially on the north of the island from Meno Wall to Ana Warung on the North East. There are some great dive schools on Meno, our personal recommendation is Divine Divers on the North West of the island. If you like Yoga, we recommend maoMeno and Seri Resort, both of which have walk-in classes (when they’re not running teacher-training courses and retreats). There are a number of restaurants on Meno, but they are predominantly warung style with a relaxed atmosphere (as opposed to the more stylish / hip eateries on Gili T and Gili Air. Ana Warung has a great restaurant (especially for fish dishes) at very reasonably prices and if you’re looking for something more up-market Seri Resort is a short walk away. If you’re looking for a taste of home / something Western, Adeng-Adeng on the north does amazing traditional-style pizzas.
Gili Air is the closest of the three Gilis to the mainland, just a short hop from Bangsal harbour. It gets its name (Air) from a freshwater spring, the only one on the three islands. Gili Air has a lot to offer, from dive schools to boutique resorts and Yoga Shala’s. It’s often described as a nice balance between the full-on party-orientated Gili T and the laid-back romance of Gili Meno. On Gili Air you’ll find a scattering of hip shops, funky bars and a nice range of restaurants (including vegetarian and vegan). The interior of the island is a mixture of village (there is a strong local community on Gili Air) plus coconut groves and countryside. As with all the Gilis, we recommend you hire a bicycle to get around.
Gili Asahan, one of “the secret gilis”, is located in South West Lombok off the Sekotong Peninsula. The boat to Gili Asahan leaves from Kores, a two hour car journey from Lombok Praya airport. Gili Asahan is small, with a circumference of approximately 4.5km. There is some fantastic snorkelling in the waters that surround Gili Asahan, with the most beautiful reefs being conveniently marked with white buoys. Other activities include kayaking, walking and yoga.
Surfing on Lombok
Lombok has some world class surf breaks, the most famous being the gnarly Desert Point on the South West of the island. Most surfers head to Kuta as a starting point, so here is some info about the breaks around there…
Suitable for intermediate and advanced surfers, Segar is a 10 minute drive from Kuta. A reef break that has a right and a left. The reef is pretty shallow at low tide.
A charming fishing village 20 minutes ride from central Kuta. Gerupuk boasts three surf breaks – Insides (beginner / intermediate), DonDons (beginner / intermediate) and Outside Lefts (intermediate / advanced). It is possible to paddle to DonDons and Insides, but most people take boats out to the breaks. There are numerous surf stores in Gerupuk that will rent you a board and organise an instructor, guide, or boatman for very reasonable prices. We recommend Banyu surf shop as a great starting point.
Selong Belanak is a stunning white sand beach approximately 30 minutes west of Kuta. As a beach break it’s less intimidating for beginners wanting to learn the basics. You’ll also find lots of nice restaurants and bars along the beach, if you want a break from the waves.
Mawi is a shallow reef break that offers a famous left barrel. It takes around 30 minutes to reach this secluded bay, west of Kuta. Suitable for intermediate / advanced surfers, the powerful barrelling waves over shallow reef should be treated with respect.
Ekas Bay is the next bay around from Gerupuk. It takes approximately 60 minutes to get there from Gerupuk, or 30 minutes from Awang. Ekas has two breaks – Inside Ekas and Outsides. Inside Ekas is suitable for beginner through to advanced (depending on the conditions) and outsides is suitable for intermediate / advanced surfers.
Are Guling roughly translates as “washing machine” (at least that’s what my local guide told us). A wide bay over the hill (west) of Kuta, Are Guling offers a left and a right. Suitable for intermediate and advanced surfers. Are Guling is a reef that takes around 10 minutes to paddle out to.