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West Lombok

West Lombok is the most developed area of the island for tourism. Just as in Bali, tourists in Lombok generally do not stay in the cities and instead head straight for the beaches. Senggigi is the main beach resort approximately 20 minutes drive from the airport. The west interior is lush with agricultural lands and mountains sheltering small picturesque towns and villages. On the coast, the wide Lombok Strait separates Lombok from Bali and forms a series of picturesque bays and beaches. This region, being closest to Bali, has a long history of Hindu settlement and traces of the old empires are still visible in the large Hindu population, temples, and traditional ceremonies.

Getting There & Getting Around -- Dark blue airport taxis are available at the arrivals terminal at the airport. From the airport to the city center will cost around Rp25,000 to Rp30,000 and takes around 15 minutes. Blue Bird taxis ply the route between Senggigi and the cities, and around Senggigi, and can be hired for most destinations around the island. Yellow public bemos connect the cities of Ampenan, Mataram, and Cakra. Fares are around Rp5,000. To explore the cities hire a car and driver, rather than using taxi.

The Cities -- The three main cities of Lombok -- Ampenan, Mataram, and Cakranegara -- were clearly defined in the past, but as populations have grown the three have melded together to create what is, for Lombok, an urban sprawl.

Ampenan was originally Lombok's main seaport. With its numerous cheap hotels, old buildings, plentiful cidomo (horse carts), gold and pearl shops, and its Arab quarter, Ampenan is a colorful town to explore in its own right. The remains of the port are at the end of the road to the west, at the intersection of the five roads of central Ampenan. This area becomes a market at night, filled with warungs and kaki lima (food carts) for cheap, tasty food and local flavor. Cultural shows, such as gandrung dance or the shadow puppet play wayang sasak, take place here on special holidays. Some Dutch colonial architecture is still visible toward the beach. Ampenan has a reasonably large Arab and Chinese population and you'll see an interesting Buddhist temple on the road to the old port. Kebun Roek, near the traffic lights in Ampenan on the road from the airport, is the site of the local market. Every day traders set up stalls selling fresh produce from around the island, local snacks, live chickens, and fresh fish in the afternoon when the fishing boats come in.

Mataram starts about 3km (2 miles) to the east of Ampenan, and is the administrative center for Lombok and Sumbawa. Numerous government offices, banks, mosques, and churches line the main street. The public hospital (Rumah Sakit Umum), the main post office, and Mataram University are all here. The cultural center Taman Budaya (tel. 0370/622428), on Jalan Majapahit, regularly presents traditional music and dance. You can often visit during rehearsal.

Cakranegara (often abbreviated to Cakra) to the east of Mataram, is Lombok's main shopping area. The main road is lined with electronics and textile shops, bookstores, sporting goods stores, and other small businesses. The only shopping mall in Lombok is just past the monument on the main road from Mataram to Cakra. The upstairs food court has cheap local meals.

The main road continues further east to Sweta (almost a city in its own right) and the Bertais Bus Terminal, serving destinations in east Lombok and where it is possible to arrange transport to neighboring Sumbawa and to the islands of Flores and Komodo. The main road is wide and in good condition, and is the main route across Lombok to the east coast.

Exploring the Cities & Nearby Temples -- While in Mataram, visit the Provincial Museum and Cultural Centre (Nusa Tenggara Barat Museum; Jl. Panji Tilar; tel. 0370/632159; admission Rp2,000; Tues-Sun 8am-noon), which houses artifacts from Lombok and Sumbawa, including exhibits on the geology, history, and culture of the islands, as well as some priceless weapons and costumes. The museum is interesting enough, if you can manage to get there when it's open.

Local temples are open daily, 10am to 5pm; admission (and occasional eel feeding) is by donation. Pura Meru, on Jalan Selaparang in Cakranegara, was built in 1720 by Balinese Prince Anak Agung Made Karang and is the largest temple on Lombok. The interior enclosure has 33 shrines as well as the three multitiered meru (mountain altar) representing the Hindu trinity. This important temple for the Balinese hosts an annual Pujawali festival, held over 5 days during the full moon in September or October, the biggest Hindu event on Lombok.

Pura Mayura, just across the street from Pura Meru, was built in 1744 as the court temple of the last Balinese kings in Lombok. A bale kambang (floating pavilion) in a large artificial lake is used as a meeting place. Today the palace gardens are a playground for children. The temple sits behind the sedate water gardens.

The temple of Gunung Pengsong, on Jalan Gajah Mada south of Mataram, sits on a hilltop with vistas of rice fields, the sea, and Gunung Rinjani. Populated by monkeys, this is the hill the Balinese aimed for in the mythic account of their initial arrival in western Lombok. In March or April, a buffalo is sacrificed here to ensure a rich harvest. The Bersih Desa, or "village purification" festival, held every year at harvest time, finds the area spruced up to honor the rice goddess, Dewi Sri.

Pura Lingsar, Desa Lingsar, Narmada, is sacred not only to Lombok's Hindu community, but also for local Muslim and Wektu Telu followers. Built around 1714, Pura Lingsar was originally dedicated to the prevailing animist beliefs of the time, and some of the original animist statues remain today. This is the only temple on Lombok where all the religions -- Hindu, Buddhist, Christian, and Muslim -- come together to pray for prosperity, fertility, rain, health, and general success. Perang Topat is an annual festival held here and features a ritualized war with rice cakes, which also serve as an offering to the Gods. Lingsar has spring-fed pools within the temple grounds and is home to large freshwater eels. Visitors are welcome to accompany a temple priest to feed them hard-boiled eggs, purchased at nearby stands.

Pura Narmada, around 10km (16 miles) east of Cakranegara in Narmada, was created circa 1805 as a replica of Gunung Rinjani and Segara Anak, the lake within Rinjani's crater. The gardens at Narmada are beautifully maintained and surround the pools and lake. Check for performances of traditional dances on special occasions. Some of the other pools at Narmada are available for swimming (modest attire, please) and are popular with local people.

Pura Suranadi, a complex of three temples a few kilometers north of Narmada in Suranadi, is the oldest and holiest of the Balinese temples in Lombok, founded by the 16th-century Javanese priest, Danghyang Nirartha. Underground streams bubble up into restored baths, used for ritual bathing. Suranadi is regarded as the place to obtain the proper holy water for Hindu cremations. Huge sacred eels live in the pools and streams here, and can sometimes be lured out with an offering of boiled eggs (purchased at a nearby stall). To see a sacred eel is considered very lucky; conversely, it is taboo to eat the eels or to contaminate their water.

Beyond Suranadi, on the main road before the temple, is Hutan Wisata Suranadi (Rp4,000; daily 8am-5:30pm), literally the Suranadi Tourist Forest. Stroll through the botanical garden with labeled specimens and observe birds, monkeys, and butterflies.

Shopping -- Mataram Mall, Jl. Pejangik, Cakranegara (daily 9am-9pm), is Lombok's only real mall. Hero Supermarket, on the ground floor, is useful for some Western goods, food, and toiletries. The Chemist next door has imported toiletries, nutritional supplements, and medicines. McDonald's and KFC have outlets on the ground floor.

Many of Lombok's weaving and basketry industries are located near Cakranegara. Turn left at the central traffic lights and look for the market on the right near the bridge. The baskets in particular are sold in Bali at many times the Lombok price. Further east, near the Bertais bus terminal, the next large town east of Cakra, sometimes referred to as Sweta, has a huge daily market, with all kinds of goods on sale from foodstuffs, to clothing, to exotic birds, handicrafts, and more.

Where to Dine -- Try Delicio Restaurant in the Mataram Mall (daily 9am-9pm), for Chinese and international meals, coffee, and delicious Western cakes. Oceanic Café, on the second floor, is great for salads and dim sum. Elements, on the second floor in the new wing, serves fresh juices and coffee. Across the road from the Mall is Pizza Hut.

Seafood Nikmat, Jl. Panca Usaha 1, Cakranegara (tel. 0360/634-330; main courses Rp10,000-Rp13,500; no credit cards; daily 11am-11pm), is equally popular with locals and visitors. Ignore the less than glamorous surroundings and enjoy some of the best seafood in Lombok. Chef William trained in Australia and uses a combination of traditional cooking and Asian-fusion styles. Live lobsters swimming in the tank, fresh crabs and prawns on ice, and a selection of the best fish from the daily markets keep customers coming to Nikmat. Highly recommended is the live crab in piquant Padang sauce -- a huge, delicious meal for two.

At night, Jalan Pejanggik (the main street of Mataram) comes alive with many covered stalls set up along the road. Seating is basic, at plastic chairs and tables. Ayam taliwang, Lombok's chicken specialty, is served at many of the stalls here, together with barbecued fish and seafood, satays, and a wide range of the local fast food. Prices fall in the Rp10,000 to Rp25,000 range.

The West Coast

The main road along the west coast starts at Ampenan and winds its way parallel to the beaches. Orientation and travel is easy. Heading north from Ampenan is Pura Segara, a Balinese sea-temple. The Chinese cemetery, on the main road just out of Ampenan, has interesting graves painted in bright colors with Chinese decorations.

Batu Layar, on the hill a couple of kilometers before Senggigi, has an important ancestral grave (makam) where Muslims picnic and pray for health and success. Lombok has many makam, typically the graves of important religious leaders that have become shrines. The graveyard and the nearby beach are very popular during Muslim holidays, particularly Eid-ul-Fitri (Lebaran) and at Lebaran Topat.

Nearby Pura Batu Bolong (literally meaning "rock with a hole"), is an interesting Hindu temple on a cliff facing Bali across the Lombok Strait. Built on a large rocky outcrop with a hole at the base, it is said that virgins were once sacrificed to the sea from the seatlike rock at the outermost point. Colorful Hindu ceremonies are held here every month at the dark and full moons, and at Hindu festival times. Admission and compulsory temple sash by donation. This is a great place to watch the sunset, with fantastic vistas across to Gunung Agung on Bali.

The beaches of the west coast are large sweeping bays of clean turquoise water, white sands, and coconut groves.

A Boat Trip -- All the way up the western coast of Lombok you will find beaches full of jukungs. Hitch a ride over to the Gilis for some snorkeling and lunch. The trip should take up to an hour each way but ask before as it depends on the wind and currents. These boats do have motors so don't worry too much if you find yourself in the middle of the ocean without any wind. Book a day in advance if possible. Expect to pay about Rp250,000 for a half-day for four people.

Central Lombok

Lombok is divided into four governmental regions: west, central, east, and the recently created north Lombok regency. The south of the island, except for those areas bordering the west and east coasts, is therefore classified as "central Lombok." The central area, mainly on the southern slopes of the Gunung Rinjani mountain range, is cooler and more lush than the south thanks to abundant rainfall in the wet season and protection by forests and jungle throughout the rest of the year.

Getting There & Getting Around -- The main road that runs through the cities continues east across the entire island, providing easy access to the central and eastern regions. Public buses and bemos run from Bertais bus terminal near Sweta, but for exploring the area properly and the small villages off the main road, private transport is essential. Alternatively, the interesting villages of the area can be explored on day trips from Senggigi or Kuta.

Exploring & Shopping Central Lombok -- A drive through this area will take you through numerous villages specializing in traditional crafts.

About a half an hour drive southeast of Cakranegara, the town of Praya is the hub of the south and seat of the Central Lombok governmental administration. This is the home of the Saturday market central to many of the area's handicraft villages.

Five kilometers (3 miles) to the west of Praya is the weaving village of Sukarara, where ikat and traditional cloth is made and sold. Weavers work outside many of the shops, using antiquated back strap looms. Some of the larger pieces can take several months to weave and collectors from around the world visit this village to purchase the blankets, sarongs, and cloth.

The Thursday market is further south at Sengkol; Beleka, about 10km (16 miles) east of Praya, is the site of a Wednesday market. Both local markets sell food and vegetables, live chickens and fish, as well as some locally produced household goods.

Families of Loyok, a small dusty village on the road to Tetebatu, make traditional woven products, using rattan, grasses, and bamboo. The good-quality baskets, boxes, mats, and other weaving are often sent to Bali, where they fetch much higher prices. Prices here are cheap but, as anywhere in Indonesia, bargain anyway. Visit the shops and the family compounds out back, where several generations of the same family sit around, chatting and weaving.

On the main road east across the island, around 50km (31 miles) from the cities, a signposted road leads north to Tetebatu, on the southern slopes of Gunung Rinjani. This area is wet and misty during rainy season, cool and lush during the dry. A nice waterfall called Jeruk Manis is about an hour's walk to the north of Tetebatu, through a monkey-filled forest. The scenery is lovely and the falls are worth seeing, but it's best to take a local guide with you, as there have been problems with theft in the past. Guides can be organized at any of the homestays listed below.

Near Lendang Nangka is Jojang Spring, with great vistas and a forest inhabited by black monkeys. In August, Sasak boxing takes place in the village.

Heading further east on the main road, a turnoff at Lenek leads to the small village of Pringgasela. This area is a major center for ikat and traditional fabrics produced by hand on old-fashioned looms. Visit the small houses and shops here to purchase the distinctive traditionally woven, colorful fabrics.

Where to Stay & Dine -- Accommodations and places to eat in the area are scarce. What few exist are usually basic homestays and backpacker accommodations, and basic warungs and roadside stalls. Wisma Soedjono (tel. 0376/21309 or 08/18544265; high season Rp300,000-Rp500,000, low season Rp250,000-Rp450,000; no credit cards), in Tetebatu, is set high on the hillside with views of the countryside, and is the most popular hotel and restaurant in the area. One of the original hotels in the area and family owned, the Dutch colonial -- style hotel has a range of fan-cooled rooms and a pool. The more expensive rooms have hot water. The restaurant (Rp15,000-Rp30,000) serves Indonesian and Sasak food, with some Western-style snacks.

Also in Tetebatu, Hakiki (no phone; high season Rp250,000-Rp400,000, low season Rp200,000-Rp350,000; no credit cards) is a lovely place to get away from it all. Set in rice fields at the end of Waterfall Street, the lovely bungalows with fans have terraces overlooking rice fields and mountains. There is also a good restaurant.

Another option in Tetebatu is Green Orry (tel. 0376/22782; high season Rp300,000-Rp400,000, low season Rp250,000-Rp350,000; no credit cards) with thatched-roof fan-cooled rooms and bungalows. The better rooms are nicely decorated, very clean and comfortable. The good restaurant serves Indonesian and Western food at reasonable prices and the hotel can arrange guides and tours in the area, as well as tickets with Perama Tours to Bali and other destinations.

East Lombok

The east of the island is the least visited and developed, although large towns here support a thriving local population. Most people come here to catch a ferry to neighboring Sumbawa, en route to the islands of Komodo and Flores.

Many of the villages in eastern Lombok are strongly Islamic. Travelers have reported harassment in the past, although most of the people are merely curious and eager to welcome visitors to their homes. You'll likely be curious too. Without the tourism infrastructure, you'll get a close-up look at the lifestyles and culture of the Sasak people.

Getting There & Getting Around -- East Lombok extends from Masbagik, on the main east-west road, across the island and encompasses the eastern slopes of the Rinjani mountain range down to the peninsula on the southeast corner of Lombok.

Public buses regularly travel the route across the island to Kayangan, the main port on the east coast. For exploring outside of these parameters, you will need private transport. Hire a car or motorbike in Senggigi, the cities, or Kuta; alternatively, you could hire a car and driver to guide you around, but be prepared to pay the costs of accommodation and meals for the driver.

Exploring East Lombok -- The beauty of the people in this area is that, if you are stuck, they will always offer you a meal and a place to stay, in the true tradition of Sasak hospitality. Cross the island on the main road that links east to west. Bonjeruk, before the pottery village of Masbagik, is a village of numerous dalang (puppeteers) and many of the puppets for the shadow play wayang sasak are made here. Before you reach the coast, turn right at the road to Selong, the capital city and business hub of east Lombok. The atmosphere is reminiscent of a large town in the 1950s, with wide tree-lined streets and old Dutch colonial architecture.

From Selong, return to the main road, heading toward Pringgabaya and turn left at the signpost to Sapit, a small village on the southern slopes of (though seemingly at the top) the Rinjani mountain range, where there is one of the few hotels in the area (the Hati Suci Homestay, see below). The steep road winds through mountain villages, interspersed with pretty fields of crops and patches of jungle. Low clouds gather on the mountains and the air is cool; the view is breathtaking, with villages and fields stretched in the distance, and the rain forest extending up the peaks behind.

It is easy to continue up over the mountain and down to the main villages of Sembalun Lawang and Sembalun Bumbung on the other side. From there, the road winds down the mountain and meets up with the main coastal road in north Lombok. An alternative and challenging route is to return to the main road and travel to the east coast, from there on the main road that circumnavigates the island north.

The main east-west road intersects the coastal road at Labuhan Lombok. This is the main port in East Lombok, serving the shipping route from the eastern islands. The port proper is called Kayangan. Gorgeous panoramic views can be had from the hills before the harbor. Labuhan Lombok is a bustling town with plenty of warungs and eateries to refuel. A small hotel is close to the center of town, on the road out to Kayangan, for those wishing to stay, and the public ferry between Lombok and Sumbawa operates nonstop daily.

Following the main coastal road, heading north from Labuhan Lombok, the road winds past fields of tobacco and corn, with occasional glimpses of the Alas Strait, the sea separating Lombok from Sumbawa. The coastline of Sumbawa Island looms surprisingly close.

At the small town of Transat there is a sign for Gili Lampu Bungalows , with a rough dirt road leading down to the restaurant and beach.

Labuhan Pandan is a small town on the northeast coast with shops and small warungs. The road north from Labuhan Pandan is in good condition and provides sublime views of the ocean. Small white sand-fringed islands are visible further out in the bright blue water, while the green bulk of Sumbawa Island fills the horizon.

Further north, the road winds up into the hills and the coastline drops away as it passes through small towns baking in the hot sun; sleepy houses are surrounded by fields of dry crops and browning grass. In one, an arched entrance to the football field proudly announces its creation in 1945 -- and it looks like the place, and pace, probably hasn't changed much since then.

The hills grow steeper and then became mountains, as the road journeys up onto the eastern slopes of the awesome Rinjani mountain range. To the left is the towering volcano, with fold after fold of mountain range swathed in green jungle.

The two huge islands of Gili Sulat and Gili Lawang stretch for miles along the coast. Both are uninhabited, as fresh water is scarce, but they have great potential for ecotourism with their intact ecosystems, ample fishing, wetlands, mangroves, and superb snorkeling and diving. Currently, the only way to visit is to organize a trip with a local fishing boat. Inquire among the fishermen on the beaches and arrange a trip with transport back at the end of the day, for around Rp350,000.

The road gradually meanders back to hug the coast on the north face of the island, passing many small bays with deserted beaches. Obel Obel is a long black sand beach popular with locals for picnics and swimming. Small groups of children play in the calm waters while adults enjoy the shade of the trees that line the beachfront.

Leaving the coast, the road climbs into the mountains again and becomes tough going, with large sections broken by flooding and large potholes. In one section you'll see what was obviously a major riverbed at one time, but has since collapsed by some recent disaster and filled with rock and debris. A new roadway and recently constructed bridge ride over the top of the shambles, allowing access to the remnants of the original road further on.

In Sambelia district, not far from the main town of Bayan, the road gives way completely to a landscape strewn with huge rocks and boulders, tossed into piles and swept into drifts as if some insane giant had thrown marbles across the valley floor. This is the result of the floods and landslide that struck this area in January 2006. Heavy rains almost every monsoon season do some damage to these roads and whenever a new section is built, within a few years it is potholed and parts are washed out by flooding. A makeshift side track leads around the wreckage and the road continues along to the north coast. Branching off the main coastal road at Kali Putih, a smaller road runs inland through the mountains with wonderful scenery of dense forests and huge old trees, opening up to valley vistas and towering mountain ranges.

Sembalun Bumbung and neighbor Sembalun Lawang are in a high, cool valley on the slopes of Gunung Rinjani, surrounded by lush fields and valleys. Both villages are alternative points to Senaru for climbing Mount Rinjani and there are a number of tour agencies that organize treks in the region, as well as several small homestays. Rinjani Trek Management Board (RTMB; tel. 0370/641124 or 08/11390047; www.lombokrinjanitrek.org) operates the Rinjani Information Centre (RIC) in Sembalun Lawang. Lembah Rinjani is a small homestay at the base of Rinjani volcano. Further on, the steep, rough road through the mountains eventually leads to Sapit.

The East Coast Islands -- These gilis, unlike the famous Gili Islands of northwest Lombok, are uninhabited and relatively unexplored. It's impossible to count all the islands, as many small coral atolls rise just above sea level, but there are at least eight.

The staff at Gili Lampu Bungalows can organize day trips and snorkeling out to Gili Lampu, reached by small outrigger boat in about 20 minutes. Boat charters can also go to any of the other islands off this section of coast.

Cultural Riches & Ancient Traditions in East Lombok -- This whole area has many small villages whose people still practice the old traditions and Sasak adat (traditional customs). Sembalun Bumbung has retained many older cultural traditions, such as tandang mendat, a men's martial dance, and a unique version of wayang wong theater. Sembalun Bumbung has a tomb that holds the remains of a Majapahit ancestor.

Near Sembalun Lawang is one of the few remaining ancient villages on Lombok: Desa Belek (or ask for directions to the "Rumah Adat"). A few thatch-roofed houses stand in a crumbling compound, with other nearby homes falling into ruin. Here the culture is firmly rooted in animist beliefs, with a circle of sacred stones in the center of the compound and the spirits of the ancestors close by. The caretaker, whose family has lived here for countless generations, will guide you around and show you ancient and sacred artifacts. Staff at Lembah Rinjani homestay can guide you to the village. Please leave a donation.

Where to Stay & Dine -- Accommodation is very scarce in this part of the island. Be prepared to rough it a little, although the following places are clean and comfortable.

The Gili Lampu Bungalows (there's no direct contact to the Gili Lampu Bungalows itself, contact their agent Lombok Eco Logdes, Jl. Sungai Meninting 18, Ireng, Ampenan, Lombok; tel. 0370/692179; www.lombok-ecolodge.com; no credit cards) are on the main coastal road heading north from Labuhan, look for the small town of Transat and turn right at the sign for Gili Lampu Bungalows. The six bungalows, made from coconut and woven bamboo, are basic, clean, and comfortable. The largest has two bedrooms, a fan, and a Western toilet with cold water shower. At between Rp50,000 and Rp90,000, including breakfast, they're a bargain. The beach is only about 30m (98 ft.) away from the restaurant.

Perched in the forest, almost at the top of the mountain, the Hati Suci Homestay, Sapit (tel. 08/1803757355; tel. 0370/636545 Mataram; fax 370/624695; www.hatisuci.tk or www.desa-sapit.com; year-round Rp170,000; no credit cards) has rooms and bungalows on terraced slopes with wonderful views down the mountain. The rooms are very basic and the electricity supply is erratic, but there's a small restaurant and the friendly owner organizes trips to the nearby hot springs, and guides trekkers up Mount Rinjani.

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.