Born and raised in Lombok, Indonesia, travel writer Leyla Rose shares the best of her home island, a paradise in its own right, just 30 minutes from Bali.
Although neighbouring the ever-popular Bali, Lombok is one of Indonesia’s lesser known islands. Despite being only a 30-minute flight from Bali’s busy streets and Instagram-worthy beach clubs, it feels like a world away. I was born and raised here, playing under swaying green palms, building sandcastles with the sparkling, black volcanic sands of deserted beaches. While Bali skyrocketed to fame over the past 30 years, not much has changed here. It remains an idyllic, relatively untouched paradise full of hidden gems. Below, check out my itinerary to a perfect week in Lombok, with locals-only spots you won’t find in any guidebooks.
Monday — Kuta
Start your trip in Kuta on Lombok’s south coast. This small town has a great selection of boutiques and cafés, and is known for its stunning beaches and surf spots. It’s also home to the new Mandalika International Street Circuit which hosts the MotoGP, so you may catch a race if you visit at the right time of year.
Overnight, around the end of February, the Bau Nyale Festival—rooted in ancient folklore—takes place on the beaches around Kuta. Thousands of people rise at 3 a.m. to collect sea worms. You’ll also catch traditional dances and performances, as well as peresean, an ancient martial art in Lombok.
Take a half hour drive to Selong Belanak, a white sand beach lined with loungers and beach shacks selling grilled fish and fresh coconuts. The water here is ideal for swimming, as well as learning to surf. Explore Bukit Merese (Merese Hills), which is the best sunset spot with 360-degree views of the surrounding coast.
End the day with tapas at La Cabana. I would recommend every single dish on the menu, but the croquettes and garlic prawns particularly stand out. A good night’s sleep is right next door—Kabila Villas is easily the best place to stay in Kuta. Who says no to a private villa with a personal pool and bathtub looking over the palm trees?
Tuesday — Senggigi
Experiencing its heyday back in the early 2000s, Senggigi is a sleepier town on the West Coast. However, it’s still a great place to visit, especially for families and older travellers.
If you’re looking to pick up some souvenirs, there are a good selection of shops along the main street and in the Art Market. You’ll find everything from clothes and jewelry to handicrafts like pottery and baskets.
There are also plenty of water activities here, including riding jet skis, wakeboarding or banana boating at Aruna Senggigi.
Senggigi has some beautiful sunsets with epic views of Bali’s Mt. Agung volcano. A sunset spot popular with locals is along the main road, above the Sheraton Hotel. Each afternoon, rows of vendors set up their stalls here, with barbecued sweetcorn slathered in a sweet or spicy buttery sauce, fresh coconuts, and sate bulayak—a Lombok speciality of grilled meat skewers with a rich spicy sauce.
Ibludan Hotel is just a five minute drive from Senggigi and offers sustainable accommodation in a lush, tranquil garden setting.
Wednesday — Gili Trawangan
You may have heard of the famous Gilis, three tiny islands off the coast of Lombok. Surrounded by turquoise waters and white sand beaches, these islands are what come to mind when you picture ‘tropical paradise’. Motor vehicles are prohibited, so everyone gets around on foot, by bike or quirky horse-drawn carts that jingle with bells as they approach.
Gili Trawangan is the largest of the three, with a reputation as the party island. Its lively atmosphere means bars, pubs and night markets are buzzing throughout the week. If you need a break from all that, Belukar is one of the best places to stay—the pool area is a quiet oasis surrounded by palm trees.
If you can peel yourself off the sun lounger, horse riding, yoga, and water sports are the main activities here. All around the islands you’ll find places hiring gear and offering lessons in scuba diving, snorkelling, SUPing and surfing.
Thursday — Gili Meno & Gili Air
Head to Gili Meno and Gili Air the next day. Being much smaller, these can be explored in one day. The best way to go about this is on a snorkeling trip.
Gili Meno is the best for snorkeling and is famous for its underwater statues, turtles, and shoals of colorful fish. It’s the quietest of the three, suited for those who want to completely disconnect. Mahamaya has a restaurant right on the sand if you fancy stopping here for lunch. The best meals are the ones with sand between your toes, after all.
Sail onwards to Gili Air, which is a perfect mix of bustle and bliss. It guarantees relaxation with just the right amount of nightlife, and the beaches here are ideal for swimming and sunbathing.
Stay at The Bambu Huts if you want to roll straight out of bed and into your own swimming pool. Meanwhile, Mama Pizza is home to the most authentic, delicious Italian cuisine that’s quite easily the best in Lombok.
Friday — Sembalun & Mt. Rinjani
Sembalun is a town nestled in the mountains around Mt. Rinjani, Indonesia’s second tallest volcano. It’s one of Lombok’s best adventure destinations yet surprisingly doesn’t see that many tourists. The town is the launching pad for the hike up the volcano, which calls for at least one night camping on the crater rim. Climbing Rinjani is tough, and there are other shorter, easier hikes up Pergasingan Hill or Bukit Selong—viewpoints boasting some of the best scenery in Lombok.
Sembalun is big on agritourism and coffee culture, with visitors coming to visit the farms and sample fresh produce. Picking your own strawberries is a must; you’ll see farms advertising this all along the main street.
It can get pretty cold up here overnight and there’s nothing cosier than a stay at Kita Cottages. These charming cabins offer breathtaking views over the towering mountains.
Saturday — Tetebatu
On the other side of Mt. Rinjani is Tetebatu, a beautiful village surrounded by rice terraces. For a truly magical experience, take a sunrise trek through the rice fields, the rays of light illuminating the volcano in the backdrop. Pass through lush, green layers of farmland before reaching the monkey forest, where you should keep an eye out for grey macaques and the elusive black langurs.
End your trek with a fresh dip in the cold waters of Sarang Walet waterfall, flowing directly from Mt. Rinjani. The equally scenic Benang Stokel and Benang Kelambu waterfalls are also about an hour away from Tetebatu.
I highly recommend staying at Wina Wani Bungalows where you can wake up in a bamboo hut looking out over the jungle. Their restaurant, Warung Monkey Forest, has some of the best food I’ve ever had in Lombok—the urap-urap and the curries are outstanding.
Sunday — Mataram
Although it may seem like Lombok is all beaches and greenery, the main city of Mataram is definitely worth exploring.
It’s a great place for history nerds with plenty of old relics throughout the city. Mayura Water Palace dates back to 1744 and includes the former king’s family temple. In the old port town of Ampenan you’ll find Dutch colonial buildings—particularly pretty around dusk with the golden light. While here, be sure to visit Pasar Kebon Roek. This is the main market, giving you a real glimpse into local life. Be prepared for sensory overload amongst the chaos!
Indeed, Mataram is a haven for street food enthusiasts. It’s late afternoon when the streets really come to life with the smell of grilled meats, noodle stands, sweet treats, and plenty more. For an authentic Lombok meal, stop by Ayam Taliwang Pak Udin. Grilled chicken is slathered in a sauce of your choice, whether it’s (very) spicy chili or smoky honey.
Know Before You Go
Be prepared to haggle—if you’re shopping at a market, it’s expected that you and the seller negotiate on the price, unless there are price labels, of course. A good measure of thumb is to start at half the asking price and gradually meet in the middle.
Read Before You Go
Sift through My Lombok magazine, an English-language monthly publication covering all aspects of life in Lombok, whether that’s events, destinations or interviews with local figures. You can find their digital copies at https://issuu.com/mylombok.