Lombok is the most popular destination in Nusa Tenggara, with the fabled Gili Islands rawing visitors for action both in and out of the water, mighty Gunung Rinjani luring trekkers, and the big breaks on the south coast a magnet for surfers. Matram, Lombok’s capital, is a good spot for day trips to the surrounding areas, and nearby sengigi is superbly positioned along a stretch or sweeping bays. In east Lombok, the very scenic Sumbawa offers low key tourism and some good surf breaks
The island of Lombok shapes up at about 80km from east to west and about the same from north to south, with lush evergreen landscapes and parts which are chronically dry. Droughts, particularly in the south and east, can last for months, causing crop failure and famine – though recent improvements in water management have made life in Lombok less precarious.
Rice is an important crop, though yields are lower here than on neighbouring islands. Tobacco, coconuts, coffee, kapok and cotton are also important crops, while cloves, vanilla, pineapple and pepper have also been introduced.
The indigenous Sasak (around 90% of the population) are Muslims but have a culture and language unique to Lombok. There’s also a significant Hindu Balinese minority – a legacy of the time when Bali controlled Lombok.
Just off the northwestern coast of Lombok is a vision of tropical paradise – a trio of tiny coral-fringed islands, each with white sandy beaches and pellucid water teeming with a kaleidoscopic array of reef fish. For years the islands of Gili Air, Gili Meno and Gili Trawangan were a budget-priced stopover for travellers on the Asian trail, but in recent years accommodation options have diversified and now there are luxury villas and rustic-chic bungalows dotted between the simple bamboo-and-thatch huts for rent.
Delightfully free of cars and motorcycles, the Gilis are home to just the tinkling cidomo and the odd bicycle. Each island has professional scuba-diving centres, and the snorkelling is excellent too.
Each Gili has its own character and charm – Trawangan has a big party scene, Meno is very mellow and Air’s atmosphere falls somewhere between the two. Note that, in most places in the Gili Islands, the water comes from wells and is a bit saline.
The capital, and main city on Lombok is Mataram, although it’s actually a conglomeration of several towns – Ampenan (port); Mataram (administrative centre); Cakranegara (business centre), which is often shortened to ‘Cakra’; and Bertais-Sweta to the east, home to the bus terminal. It’s not an unattractive city and it has some broad tree-lined avenues, but, as sights are thin on the ground and there are beaches close by at Sengigi, very few travellers choose to stay here.
Superbly positioned along a stretch of sweeping bays, Senggigi is Lombok’s principal beach resort. Accommodation here is generally excellent value for money, as luxury hotels have slashed rates in an attempt to draw in tourists following several tough years. Unless you visit in peak season, expect quiet restaurants and empty shopping malls but plenty of attention from the street hawkers.
Senggigi has fine sandy beaches, and as the sun sinks all eyes turn west to take in the blood-red sunsets over Bali that can be enjoyed from one of the seafront restaurants. As it gets dark, the fishing fleet lines up offshore, its bright lanterns glinting like a floating village against the night sky.
North of Senggigi there is a succession of wonderful, near-deserted coves, where you can pretty much guarantee to have a beach to yourself, bar the odd fisherman and his net.