As part of the Malay Archipelago and comprising of over 17,000 islands, Indonesia is the world’s largest archipelagic state. And while it is a country diverse in history, culture, landscape and nature, often times the single island of Bali gets all the glory. Many people think Bali is a country in and of itself (read: it’s not). So when I first arrived in Bali after first spending a few weeks on neighboring island Lombok, I was curious to see what all the fuss was about. And while Bali is beautiful and certainly worth a visit, do yourself a favor and visit Lombok first. In many ways, Lombok is the overlooked Cinderella to a Bali that is always busy with suitors.
Culture. While Bali has its own special Hindu-Buddhist culture, the population of Lombok is majority Muslim. So if you haven’t had the opportunity to experience the Muslim call to prayer, it is a wonderful place to observe this awe-inspiring tradition. Additionally, the indigenous Sasak culture is not to be missed, so make sure to book a guided visit to a traditional village in Lombok.
Mount Rinjani. Particularly with the recent volcanic activity with Mount Agung making it a no-go spot for tourists, Mount Rinjani is the obvious choice for those wishing for some elevation. Locals will tell you that you haven’t visited Lombok if you haven’t climbed Rinjani, and I wholeheartedly agree. In a three-day/two-night trek, you will experience the beauty of Indonesia at its finest. And while Mount Batur in Bali offers a great sunrise view, the day-round views from Rinjani are well worth the chilly nights and strenuous inclines.
Solo tip: While you can definitely book a hike up Mount Rinjani for just one person, try to convince a newfound friend to tackle this beast with you. At the very least you will have a tent mate and much-needed affirmation if and when you feel like giving up.
The surf. While Bali’s popular south-western coast is often crowded with hoards of surfers trying to catch the same waves, Lombok has less tourists, and therefore less competition. Gerupuk is a small village near Kuta that is truly a surfer’s paradise. Su/tra gives a list of the top five places to surf in Gerupuk. Humble and off the beaten track, I spent about a week there and fell in love with its quaint feel, chill locals and beautiful reef break. I suggest getting to Gerupuk soon as a massive development project is underway which will definitely lead to an explosion of tourism in the coming years!
Solo tip: Because you’ll need to hire a helmsman, try to combine forces with other surfers to bargain for a better shared boat price.
Kuta. Though still one of the main tourist hubs on the island, Kuta in Lombok is far superior to the madness of Kuta in Bali. There is live music or an event almost every night, but fewer people and a more laid-back vibe. Though I couldn’t bring myself to actually stay in Kuta, Bali, the horror stories were enough to make Canggu seem close enough. Go to Kuta, Lombok for cheap massages and the beautiful nearby beaches Tanjung Aan and Mawun.
Monkeys. Often a highlight of a trip to the tropics, these sly primates have quite the reputation in Ubud’s Monkey Forest in Bali. But there are plenty of monkeys to see in Lombok as well, particularly at the Pusuk Monkey Forest. It’s a great half-day trip from pretty much anywhere in Lombok, and a stop along your way back from your Mount Rinjani trek.
Solo tip: Keep a watchful eye and hold on tight to your bag, as you won’t have the buddy system to protect you. Thanks to the kindness of a stranger, I was warned when a monkey was unzipping my backpack like a particularly cute and cunning thief.
Gili Islands: While you can visit the Gilis from Bali, they are just a short boat ride away from Lombok. The three main Gilis have something to offer everyone. While Lombok doesn’t have the party scene that Bali offers, if you need to try your party pants on, Gili Trawangan is your place. But if you want to escape from it all, Gili Meno is your spot. Gili Air is said to be the perfect combination of the two. So take your pick, or visit all three. I spent almost a week in Meno alone, but could have stayed for much longer.
Sea creatures: While there are many snorkeling spots around Lombok and Bali, I’ve heard from many that Gili Nanggu (one of the lesser-known, southwestern Gilis) is pretty remarkable. It’s very close to Lombok but far less trafficked and has the feel of true paradise for those wishing to get a glimpse of sea life away from it all.
Cidomos: If you want to truly feel like Cinderella or her prince, take advantage of these horse-drawn carriages used for transporting humans in Lombok and the Gilis.
So get to Lombok before the clock strikes midnight, or before mass tourism takes over this incredible island. And as they say, if the flipper fits, wear it!