The Indonesian island of Lombok does not receive as much fanfare as its hugely popular neighbor Bali. Nevertheless, many Indonesians prefer vacationing in Lombok over Bali for many reasons: prices for hotel rooms, food and attractions are often a good deal cheaper, and the island’s scenic spots are still unmolested by the gated villa developments, cheap cocktail bars and tawdry souvenir shops that have spread across so much of Bali. At least for now.
A large international airport will be completed on 2011 and Indonesian tourism officials will likely be marketing Lombok as Bali version 2. So don’t put off your trip — or miss any of these five Lombok essentials.
1. A Homestay
If you’re going to Lombok to avoid Balinese-style tourism, then why not pass up on the hotels, spas and plunge pools altogether and opt for a homestay? There are numerous options around the island, including farmhouses and homes in beachside and mountainside villages.
Some are quite elaborate affairs, with self-contained accommodation and differing from standard travelers’ lodges only by the presence of convivial hosts.
Many offer an introduction to fishing, farming or even hunting as practiced by the local Sasak people, plus a firsthand look at the preparation of local foods and maybe a chance to sit in on some craftwork or the celebration of a festival.
Your hosts will also be able to show you points of interest not found in the travel guides.
2. The Lombok Chili Pepper
Since the word lombok means chili in Bahasa Indonesia, you’d expect the locals to know a thing or two about spicy food.
The green and red Lombok chilies are often made into sambal — a fiery condiment — with locally grown naga jolokia peppers, garlic and shrimp paste. Sample it as an accompaniment to local dishes like ayam taliwang (grilled wild chicken) and sayur nangka (jackfruit curry).
3. Hit the Beach
Lombok’s beaches are second to none and a blessed relief after Bali’s busy strips. Head for the island’s southwest to really escape the crowds. Surfers love the big waves at Bangko-Bangko (also known as Desert Point); if its long-walled and hollow left-hand breaks sound too taxing, then try the tiny island of Gili Nanggu, 15 minutes by boat from the town of Tawun
4. Two Wheels Good
Public transport on Lombok is unreliable. Many visitors opt to hire a car and driver, which can be obtained at very reasonable rates, but if you’re feeling adventurous try renting a motorcycle — available from shops all over the island.
At just over 80 km at its widest point, Lombok is easily traversable and its roads are in great condition for Indonesia — the beneficiaries of recent infrastructural investment.
The excellent 21-km coastal stretch from Senggigi to Pemenang winds past beautiful inlets and beaches and is an easy, exhilarating ride. Other, smaller roads meander through rugged highlands, passing secluded waterfalls and verdant rice paddies.
5. Hot, Roasted Worms
Lombok’s people are an eclectic mix of religious and ethnic groups, with the majority being the indigenous Sasak Muslims. There is also a sizable Hindu Balinese population, and significant numbers of Chinese and Sasak Buddhists. All of this means a lively festival calendar.
The largest and most colorful festival is the Bau Nyale or Sea Worm Festival. Every February at Kuta beach (that’s Kuta beach, south Lombok, not to be confused with its famous Bali namesake), the Sasak people commemorate a mythical princess who drowned herself in these waters rather than enter a politically vexatious marriage.
The festival is timed with the spawning of marine worms, which are eagerly caught and eaten — often after being wrapped in banana leaf and roasted — and the celebrations last for four days.