Go beyond Bali with a visit to Lombok Island

Lombok is just 60 miles from Bali. Get there by ferry or a quick 20-minute flight. Lombok features central peaks ringed with woodland and white sandy beaches. Visitors can roam the museums and history exhibits in the low-key commercial center.



Photographs by Manos Angelakis/luxuryweb.com (left); Sharon King Hoge (right)

 

Bali is beleaguered. Its once-pristine Kuta beach and stone-carved Ubud village are congested with tourists, and luxury hotels replicating the paradise villages of yesteryear charge hundreds of dollars a day. For those seeking the Shangri-La experience, a better alternative is Lombok, the neighboring island just 60 miles away; Lombok is a four-hour ferry ride or 20-minute flight from Bali and delivers a destination resembling the Bali of old.

Like most of Indonesia’s 17,000 islands, once a chain of volcanoes, Lombok features central peaks ringed with woodland and circled with white sandy beaches. In the low-key commercial center, visitors can view the provincial museum’s history exhibits and then tour the remains of Mayura Water Palace and the island’s largest Balinese temple. The thatched village of Sade invites tourists to see the clay dwellings where members of the same families have lived for 15 generations. Adventurers can trek up Mount Rinjani, the country’s second highest volcano. But miles of unspoiled white-sand beaches are the real draw here.

Lombok’s own Kuta beach, less than an hour’s drive from the airport, is a wide strip of sand with primitive shops and stands lining the road, and placid goats lounging among the sunbathers. A few miles farther along, we shared a crescent beach of pristine sand and its small thatched pavilion with one lone vendor selling soda.

Later that day, we drove north and a speedboat bounced us over the Lombok Strait to Gili Trawangan, the largest of three remote islands lying half an hour offshore. Steps away from the boat, we checked into Vila Ombak, a full-service resort with handsome rooms furnished with dark wood and white linen. Ours had a porch with comfortable couches and a spacious bedroom. Housekeeping had scattered fresh blossoms on every surface, from the bed to the bathroom tissue holder. Each room’s pièce de résistance is an outdoor saltwater shower (with a fresh-water splash) with lush plants growing in the corners. Tables with oversized chess and backgammon games are sprinkled around the grounds. Waterfalls spill into two spacious swimming pools with swim-in bars. There’s a spa, an artisan gift shop, a grill and first-class restaurant; free bicycle rentals are included in the resort’s room rate.

Trawangan’s “main street” is a sandy path lined with palm thatch shacks offering diving and snorkeling trips, batik sarongs, seafood dishes, cocktails and manicures. Automobiles are banned in favor of bicycles, and bright yellow “taxi” carts pulled by dainty horses take you anywhere on the island.  

From here, we took day trips to its sister islands, snorkeling in the clear water off Gili Meno, which has limited but luxury accommodations. And on Gili Air, we enjoyed an outdoor beachside lunch of fresh seafood.

We opted to spend our last night on Lombok’s northwest coast at the Sheraton Senggigi Beach Resort, which has comfortable rooms in a lush tropical setting. Dinner featured a buffet of grilled fish, squid and rice, while dancers in red and gold costumes performed to traditional gamelan music played by a band of charming local schoolchildren.

Driving along a coastal road, we paused at Malimbu Point and gazed back across the water at the outline of Bali in the distance, a Bali Hai experience, minus the hassle.