A scenic land of active volcanoes, dense jungle, stunning beaches, and a rich, ancient culture, Bali is an island of tranquility in the often-tumultuous Indonesian archipelago. Bali's peaceful way of life -- one marked by colorful ritual and genuine hospitality -- has drawn tourists, artists, and escapists for generations. Sadly, recent events like the tragedy of October 2002, when more than 200 people lost their lives in a terrorist bombing in Kuta, the island's tourist hub, as well as terrorist incidents in nearby Jakarta, have shattered that image. Warnings from the U.S. government, among others, are still in place, and, though the Indonesian government has taken important steps to update security on its tourist cash cow, many balk at returning to Bali.
There has been a marked shift among Balinese, a realignment of priorities in the wake of tragedy and changing world opinion. Where in the past tourists were taken for granted, bilked for that extra rupiah at every turn and hurried along, many Balinese have reassessed what life is all about. Among tourists and expats, the impression is that the Balinese mastery of "living in the moment" and coexisting with nature has intensified. Visitors are sure to find Balinese eager to sit for a chat and share a laugh (though the transport lads are still pretty relentless). The Balinese always welcomed visitors warmly, a sense of hospitality that has even increased of late. A visit to Bali is, as always, replete with kingly comforts, beautiful resorts, fine dining, and immersion in an ancient culture amid an island dreamscape.
And people are coming back. The summer high season in 2004 saw record numbers of visitors, topping pre-2002 records. Hotels that suffered through a year of drought, many of which closed or changed hands, are operating near full capacity. The market has shifted slightly, however, reflecting a greater number of visitors from other parts of Indonesia and neighboring countries. Australians are coming back in big numbers, but Europeans and Americans are still slow to return.
Though in some places tourism has spawned over-development a la Thailand's Phuket, a brief ride out of Kuta or away from any resort area brings you to the pristine Bali of volcanic peaks, bubbling springs, tropical jungle, and stunning beaches.
Balinese people practice a unique amalgam of Indian Hindu traditions, Buddhism, ancient Javanese practices, and indigenous animistic beliefs. The beauty of this faith colors every aspect of life, from fresh flowers strewn everywhere in obeisance, to the calm of morning prayer at temple. During your visit you're sure to catch the soothing music of the gamelan, the music of the island, and Balinese dance is enchanting. Despite recent events, Bali is still the beautiful island paradise that has attracted so many for so long.
Lombok is what Bali was more than 20 years ago and a visit here is a flight into the rugged landscape of unspoiled Indonesia. Lombok is significantly dryer than Bali: Eastern regions are more characteristic of Australian geography, and in the south, many millions of years of volcanic runoff have sculpted a vast expanse of gently rolling hills that fans out from the island's lone looming volcano, Gunung Rinjani.
The people of Lombok are predominantly Muslim rather than Hindu, but, like the Balinese, many maintain animist traditions. Visitors to Lombok are drawn by the promise of unspoiled beaches, great snorkeling and diving, or the challenge of climbing Mt. Rinjani or visiting rural villages and waterfalls. The island's inhabitants are known for their artistry in decorative items, pottery, baskets, and woven textiles; a visit to the many villages specializing in these crafts will be a highlight of your trip.
Tourism is in its infancy here, and the touts are quite desperate for clients. Our advice is to spread the wealth; get that shoulder massage for Rp21,000 (US$2), tip someone to carry your bag, or make a few well-placed purchases, and you'll be much appreciated and keep the crowds at bay.