It’s official: Bali’s got nothing on Lombok.
The beaches in Lombok, the jewel in the crown of the 17,000 islands that make up Indonesia’s Nusa Tenggara archipelago, are cleaner and less crowded. The roads are better and have barely any traffic on them – in fact the main traffic you’ll have to contend with is the cidomo, the traditional colourful horse and cart. The landscape’s prettier and much less developed. The culture is stronger thanks to the survival of the indigenous Sasak culture (85 percent of the island’s population are Sasak), there’s hardly any of the hard sell you get in Bali… I could go on and on.
But this wasn’t meant to be a competition. This was meant to be a love letter to Lombok, that sleepy slice of Indonesia I yearn to return to. So for now, I’ll leave you with five reasons to visit Lombok, so that you can fall in love with her too.
1. A STAY AT PURI MAS RESORT
I loved Puri Mas Resort because it combined so many of my favourite things: cactus gardens, antiques, traditional architecture (think thatched elephant grass roofs and Rotan walls), local food (you can experience Rijsttafel or ‘rice table’ traditional feasts here), ocean-front dining, and a great central location in Senggigi.
We arrived on their weekly Latin Night, which meant we got treated to a ballroom and salsa dancing show from the staff while we ate. The owner Marcel was, amazingly, a Dutch ballroom dancing star and so started a project called Friendship Through Dance through the resort, which encourages respect and friendship between young locals from all different religions and social backgrounds. Very cool – although you might want to think about skipping this dinner if you’re not into the group participation thing.
Puri Mas also has a stunning two-villa Spa Resort just a five-minute drive away, set amongst manicured gardens and filled with the most incredible silk road-style antiques, where I had a traditional Javanese Lulur body scrub, yoghurt mask and massage for two delicious hours. There are also a couple of guest rooms here that I’d love to stay in next time around.
2. A VISIT TO GILI MENO
Lombok’s beaches are clear, clean and devoid of crowds, and they’re all around you if you choose to stay in Senggigi like we did. But for the ultimate beach experience, take a traditional wooden boat out to Gili Meno for the day. You’ll snorkel over some of the most vibrant coral reefs in Indonesia, laze on pure white slashes of sand and paddle in crystalline waters, explore the sleepy, romantic island by bike or by cidomo, and while away an entire afternoon at a shell-encrusted beach bar.
3. MATARAM PRODUCE MARKETS
I’m not quite sure who got more of a kick out of this experience – the locals laughing at Pete’s beard, or us swooning over all the incredible produce on offer. Either way we had a ball walking past local women selling huge mounds of those famous red Lombok chillies, stacks of leafy green vegetables and fresh tropical fruits set up on big pieces of hessian, shiny fish of all shapes and sizes gathered in old wooden boxes, vats of colourful grains, even piles of tiny jumping crickets. A must-see on the way to visit the Senaru waterfalls.
4. VISIT SENARU WATERFALLS
The two-hour drive to get here is almost as beautiful as the falls themselves, meandering past stretches of secluded palm-fringed beaches, through rugged highlands and past verdant rice paddies full of busy workers.
Once you get up into the mountains at Senaru you walk for about forty minutes through thick rainforest paths, passing a smaller waterfall (Air Terjun Sindang gila) and wading through knee-deep springs to get to the main event, Air Terjun Tiu Kelep. The water crashes down from about 40 metres into a deep freshwater pool surrounded by lush jungle.
Senaru is also a great base from which to start your hike up Mount Rinjani, an active volcano and one of Indonesia’s highest mountains, with views to Bali and beyond. It takes a minimum of two days to climb to the peak, which we unfortunately couldn’t spare this time around.
5. SASAK VILLAGE
After the waterfall we visited Senaru Sasak village, where the villagers continue to live in the same way they have for many thousands of years. We walked through the dusty alleys of the village and saw their lambing, the raised rice barn with an elephant grass roof, and rows of bale houses crafted from palm leaves. We also learnt about how the villagers grow their own cacao, coffee, rice, nuts and vegetables, raise their own chickens and beef to eat, and weave their own ikat blankets and mats. It was fascinating to witness this level of sustainability in such an ancient culture, that some say dates back to 5,000 BC, still thriving on the island.
On the way back we drove up the mountain road where, under the forest canopy, groups of about two dozen cheeky monkeys were playing by the side of the road. Yet another reminder of how nature thrives in this stunning tropical idyll.
Garuda flies daily to Lombok from Denpasar from about $90. See garuda-indonesia.com.STAYING THERE
Puri Mas Resort offers rooms from about $100 per night, inclusive of breakfast. Tours to the Senaru Waterfalls, Gili Islands, Sasak village, monkey forest and more can be organised through the resort, at an extra charge.EAT THERE
Bambu Lounge, in Senggigi Square off the main drag, is where it’s at for cheap, fragrant Indonesian meals, to be devoured by candlelight as you sit on bamboo mats and chat to the friendly staff. Don’t miss their spicy beef rendang, said to be one of the best on the island.NEED TO KNOW