As you drive to the south, the landscape becomes much drier away from the mountains and wide fields of crops become the norm. On reaching the south coast the landscape opens up to reveal a long coastline with some of the most sublime beaches and views in Indonesia.
On the east side of the road, just before Kuta, is Rambitan, a village with clusters of the low, thatch-roofed homes with cow dung floors of the traditional Sasak style, as well as thatched lumbung, traditional rice barns. On the west side of the road is Sade, a hilltop village with one of the oldest mosques in Lombok, Mesjid Kuno. Both villages are interesting examples of traditional Sasak architecture and communal living in compounds, where life continues as it has for centuries. Residents act as guides for a small fee, encourage walks through either of these villages, and are happy to share a glimpse of their lifestyles with visitors.
Around 4km (2 1/2 miles) east of Kuta is Tanjung A'an, with white sand and good waves for surfers. Further east is Gerupuk, well known as a top surf location.
To the west of Kuta are a series of beautiful beaches and bays hidden behind headlands and rolling hills, providing peaceful and secluded spots for picnics and swimming. Mawun Beach is around 30 minutes drive to the west and is a picturesque bay with a nice white sand beach and calm waves, perfect for swimming. Mawi, just west, has good right- and left-hand barrels for surfing when the swell is large enough. Further west are picturesque Selong Blanak and many more scenic bays and beaches, largely deserted, although the road deteriorates rapidly and the going can be rough. Use an experienced local guide with a good vehicle.
Just to the east of the main Kuta area, the beach in front of the Novotel is sometimes referred to as Mandalika, named after legendary Princess Mandalika.
Bau Nyale Festival -- This festival (Feb or Mar) commemorates the legend of the Putri (Princess) Mandalika, who was so beautiful and adored that, when she was of marriageable age, every prince in Lombok sought her as his bride. Legend says that when she couldn't choose between the suitors and fighting broke out between the rivals, rather than throw the kingdom into chaos, she ended her life by leaping into the sea, saying, "Kuta," or "Wait for me here," in the local Sasak language.
When she disappeared into the waves, hundreds of nyale (sea worms) floated to the surface. Local dukun (priests) announced that the worms were the Princess's hair, or that her body had been transformed into the worms. Thus, every year in February or March, when the conditions are right for spawning and the nyale worms return to the site, locals remember the Mandalika legend.
Tens of thousands (some say up to 100,000) of revelers attend the all-night celebrations of the Bau Nyale festival. A full program of cultural performances takes place on the beachfront, the highlight being an enchanting reenactment of the Princess Mandalika legend. Young people from the villages who are normally kept separated are permitted to flirt and strut. It's also the time to compete with improvised pantun poetry, a ritualized form of competing in rhyming couplets.
Early in the morning, around 3am, the first worms spawn and the crowd rushes into the water to catch them, amid much laughter and excitement. Associated with fertility, the sea worms are cooked and eaten for good luck and prosperity. As part of the fertility rituals, they are ground up and placed in irrigation channels to help ensure bountiful crops.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.