Lombok might not be the island of the Gods, but there’s no denying its paradisal allure. Although this Indonesian Island is increasingly becoming known as “The New Bali”, I think it offers a divine energy that’s all its own. With the majestic Mt. Rinjani towering over the lush, mountainous landscape, Lombok is a trove of natural beauty waiting to be discovered.
Bali vs. Lombok
The most obvious difference between Bali and Lombok is the ambiance. Upon landing in Lombok, I immediately noticed the lack of ornate Hindu temples, three-tier umbrellas, and offerings smoking with incense – the signature backdrop of ultra-spiritual Bali. Like most of Indonesia, Lombok is predominantly Muslim and has been nicknamed ‘an island of a thousand million mosques’. Although I did not notice any hardline Muslim attitudes during my trip, I read later that Lombok is actually one of Indonesia’s most strict Muslim regions, bound in many areas by sharia law. This surprised me because the surf-bum town of Kuta Lombok had an undeniable party culture, with drugs freely available to all the backpacking hippies, but we were told the town would settle down come Ramadan in a few weeks.
In contrast to Bali’s carefree “anything goes” vibe, Lombok is apparently having difficulty navigating how its growing tourism industry and Sesak culture intersect, which is deterring foreign investors from staking claim on the island. However, the government hopes to attract tourists from the Middle East by means of “sharia tourism”, a subcategory of tourism geared toward travelers who abide by rules of Islam. Comparing Bali and Lombok reveals how religious influences are embedded in every aspect of culture to some capacity. In the melting pot of the US, religious influences are a lot less explicit, but it makes me wonder how theology has shaped our nation’s laws, values, and zeitgeist.
While religion differentiates Lombok and Bali on the cultural level, a biogeographic border called Wallace’s Line makes the sister islands look as though they sit on different continents altogether, despite their close proximity. Running directly through the Lombok Straight. which divides the two islands by just 22 miles, Wallace’s line is marked by a deep-water continental shelf and essentially separates the ecozones of Asia and Australia, meaning you will not find the same species of plants and animals on both islands – birds won’t even cross the line. While the coast of Bali is palm-fringed and tropical, Lombok looks more like a European postcard, with hilly headlands dividing white-sand inlets and the bluest water I’ve ever seen. The photos speak for themselves.
Bali gets all the hype, and therefore all the tourists, who started to flock to the island in the 1970s. Development subsequently boomed on the small island, which quickly became a double-edged sword. Although the tourism industry has driven improvements in roads, telecommunications, education, and infrastructure, the island has also suffered from mass tourism, which has taken a serious toll on the culture, religion, and natural environment. While I will not say that Lombok is the authentic Indonesian experience you’re looking for – you have to go to Sumatra, Borobudur, or the Mentawais for that – it has definitely been more shielded from the environmental and cultural impacts of mass tourism.
Our Lombok Adventure
Lombok attracts only a fraction of the Bali’s tourists, meaning you can still find clean, relatively unspoilt beaches. While we were staying in Kuta Lombok, a friend told us we must go to Mawi Beach, which is approximately an hour’s journey via motorbike. The roads in Lombok are ill-maintained, and we had to bump along rocky, uneven dirt roads the entire way. It was quite the adventure rambling along the coast and through lush rice paddies, but when we finally made it to Mawi, the breathtaking views made the ride worth it. Sitting in a white-sand bay, Mawi is truly an untouched paradise and one of the most beautiful beaches I have seen in Indonesia.
For the second half of our trip, we stayed at Palmyra Bungalows near Gili Gede, a Robinson Crusoe style experience near a traditional village. Owned by a French man who dreamed of escaping the rat race, this place was the definition of Santai – the Indonesian word for “chill”. Time passed slowly here in the best kind of way. We spent the days kayaking, lounging on hammocks, and soaking in the tropical splendor of Indonesia.
We also got to dive with sea turtles off completely deserted islands.
We were relatively close to one of the best surf spots in the world: Desert Point, a barreling left point break that peels mercilessly over shallow reef. The restaurant overlooking the break was a graveyard of surfboards that had been obliterated by the sheer energy of the Indian Ocean, which made me a little nervous as Michael paddled out. But the anxiety was well worth it to see Michael have the ride of his life.
I can’t say which is the “better” island between Bali and Lombok; they are both incredibly special with the most beautiful, welcoming people. As I explore more and more of Indonesia, I am fascinated by the breadth of culture that exists under one flag, which is what makes it the most interesting and beautiful country I have ever visited.