Lombok and Gili Islands travel guide
A 7 km side tour off the coastal road, on a bumpy dirt road, will bring you to the triple waterfall of Gangga. The size of the waterfalls are not as exciting as getting to them. The first fall is straight forward. The second one is reached by crossing in front of the plunging water of the first and then balancing on some slippery bamboo poles. The last one is the cave waterfall, below the two others. You have to walk upstream in the riverbed, before you can see the water be pressed out of the cliff face. If the water pressure is low, you can even climb up and explore the crack where the water emerges from.
The Gilis, as they are called, are three small palm fringed islands with long sandy beaches. They are surrounded by warm turquoise water with descent corals and excellent marine life, making it a world class dive spot, with equally good snorkeling with chances to see turtles right from the shore. The three islands all have a different vibe; Gili Air is the local island with more traditional life than the others, Gili Meno is the smallest and for those who want to chill, while Gili Trawangan is the party island with something for everybody. There are no cops nor traffic on any of the islands, beside horse carts and bicycles, and very little Bob Marley. Sounds like paradise on earth? Well, it is pretty darn close.
The diving around Indonesia’s Gili Islands is nothing short of spectacular, with enough variety to keep even the fussiest divers busy for more than just a few days. Accessible also from north-western Lombok, dive sites abound around the three Gili islands. It is a great place to see Green Sea and Loggerhead Turtles, some of which grow to one and a half metres in diameter. Reef sharks are common along the reefs, which abound with tropical fish species of all kinds, ranging from moray eels and Napoleon fish to lionfish and clownfish. The corals are diverse and splendid in colour, and for those looking for something extra, there are several excellent wreck dives. If that’s not enough, the Gili after-dive scene might just win you over.
Lombok has also a Kuta Beach, which not surprisingly is called Kuta Lombok. The place reminds Bali fans of Kuta Beach Bali thirty years ago. Investors have now started to buy up seafront estate, so maybe in a couple of years it will turn into another tourist ghetto. But until then, Kuta Lombok is a getaway for surfers and travellers with a crave for easy living and nightly acoustic performances. During the day, fishing boats outnumber sunbathers on the long stretch of white sand. Kuta bay is protected by rough hills to both sides and the outer reef makes sure that the waves break a long way from the shore, leaving calm waters for those who fancy a swim. It is a tranquil place with a friendly vibe, but only God knows for how long.
As always, the best way to explore any place is with your own set of wheels, and Lombok is no exception. Rent a scooter in Sengigi and take off on the Lombok Loop, that circles the majestic volcano cone of Gunung Rinjani (3726 m). Stop at deserted beaches, hidden waterfalls, small villages and ancient tombs, while driving through an ever changing landscape that passes rice paddy fields, palm groves, jungle and even a mountain pass. You can cut across the island and only do the northern half, or continue south to include the whole of Lombok. The full circuit can be rushed in four days, but deserves more, and can be done like this: Sengigi – Senaru – Pusuk pass (1600 m) – Sapit – Labuhan Haji – Kuta Lombok – Sengigi.
The summit of volcano Rinjani, Gunung Rinjani, (3,726 m) is not only the highest point on Lombok, but the second highest volcano in Indonesia (Gunung Kerinci on Sumatra is the highest). Rinjani is active, and so is the smaller and newer volcano, Baru Jari, inside its crater. Beside the new smoking mini cone, the crater also contains a holy lake called Segara Anak. Both the summit of Rinjani and the crater lake are considered sacred by the local Sasak people who climb the mountain as pilgrims, but anyone is welcome to do the trek when it is considered safe. There are several routes and the treks can be done from 3 days. You can arrange guide, equipment and porters in either Senaru, Sembalun Lawang or Sapit, though Senaru seems as the most popular starting place.
A small Hindu temple in Balinese style built on a rocky outcrop between two bays. The black temple faces Bali and legend tells that virgins were once sacrificed to the sea from the outermost slab of rock. Beside the full and dark moon ceremonies, the only drama today is the crashing waves that can easily cover the whole temple in a mist of sticky sea water. Pura Batu Bolong can easily be reached from Sengigi.
Sengigi is Lombok's sad attempt of a resort area. Though the stretch of beaches has a few fine hotels and eateries, the whole place has an abandon feel to it. Never finished hotel projects lie side by side with overgrowing land slots and pretentious concrete malls with vacant shops. The fairly nice palm fringed beach is patrolled by bored looking beach boys and friendly vendors. So use Sengigi for what it is good at, namely as a base. Eat some nice food, rent a scooter, and then explore the rest of Lombok - or go straight to Gili Islands.
Tired of the crowds on Bali and the Gilis? This quiet corner of Lombok might just be for you then. The sand may not be white, but the beaches are generally free of other travellers, and the water is just as warm as elsewhere. With a backdrop of volcanic mountains, its palm-fringed shores facing the Gili islands, Tanjung is surrounded by rice fields rather than souvenir shops and nightclubs. Still, there is plenty here to keep visitors busy. For those in search of active pursuits, there are several nearby peaks to scale, including Mt Rinjani (3,726 m), the waterfalls at Gangga and the neighbouring Segara Anak Lake. If that is too strenuous, bike rides through the rice paddies and local villages provide a more relaxing way of soaking up the atmosphere. For those wishing to dive, the Gili islands are but a short boat ride away.