Around The World: Lombok and the Gili Islands

Someone once told me that Lombok is what Bali was like twenty years ago. Upon arrival into Lombok’s airport and on the transfer to our villa, I could see what they meant. Though it has clearly been impacted by tourism, it is not nearly as developed as Bali and it has both the charm and growing pains to go with it.
Something that is good for first time Western travelers to Indonesia to be aware of is that it is a bit of a free for all when disembarking the plane and lining up for immigration. Even when holding Julia in my arms, I still had to fight my way into the aisle to disembark. 

Perhaps the best advice we can give for those wishing to travel to Lombok is to make sure you have cash on hand as you will need it! There are a number of ATMs on Lombok though the amount they dispense at any one time varies. If you are staying in a villa rental, the staff will likely ask for money daily for food and any arranged activities or transfers. Maybank was the ATM we preferred as it would dispense more than the others at one time. When we were there, Maybank would dispense 3 million Indonesian Rupiahs. A million sounds a bit crazy but with the exchange being 15,000 Indonesian Rupiahs to $1, that makes 3 million the equivalent of about 200 usd.

Vacationing in Lombok is relatively inexpensive for Westerners. We had hour-long massages at our villa most nights and it would cost about $14 usd per one hour massage. Food and beverages are also cheap with the exception of imported alcohol. If you stick with local beer, local gins or Arak (coconut liquor), you will find it affordable.
Our Villa in Lombok
Lombok is peaceful but also noisy. As a Muslim country, the sound of mosques can be heard in many areas though not as loudly as more populated places such as Jakarta. The Gecko makes a loud noise in the evening and you can often hear chickens in the morning.
If traveling as a larger group, it is hard to beat a villa rental. If divided amongst enough people, it can be reasonable and very fun! We had a five-bedroom villa with a staff of 11 for our family and our friends who are a family of five. Our main point of contact, Aziz, would talk with us each morning and evening to discuss meals and activities. He would arrange it all and even accompany us at times. It is a very comfortable way to travel and the food was the best we had on the island.

We spent time on two different beaches during our stay. As it is low season, they were quiet in terms of tourism. However, one of the beaches in Sengiggi that we spent time on was very busy as it was the day before Ramadan so many families and friends were out celebrating.
Toddler tears occur even on beaches when having fun!
The beaches in Lombok are nice but not the most beautiful that we have experienced, especially when comparing to the white sand and turquoise waters of the Maldives or parts of the Caribbean. There was some trash on and around a number of the public beaches. If staying at a nice hotel the situation is different as they clean their beaches. We were rather saddened to see the amount of trash that we did and how they often burn it in piles which include plastic bottles. This obviously causes harm to the environment and is something that is being addressed both here and on Bali. We were happy to see that there are some charitable organizations such as Gili Eco Trust that is working to change some of these things for the better.

Our boat to Gili from Lombok
We had been told great things about the Gili Islands and so one day we hired a boat to take us from Lombok to the Gili Islands. It cost about $100 usd for our private boat for the day with two drivers. The boat was very simple and ironically was sold to us as a glass bottom boat though there were only two small rectangle piece of glass at the bottom that allowed us to hardly see anything. It was the perfect boat for us however as we loved the bright colors, the smiles of our crew and the local feeling that it created.

We were taken to snorkel around the islands and found the variety and numbers of fish to be impressive. There were many gorgeous colors to gaze upon and we had a great time. We even swam with turtles and some kind of sea snake.
We were taken to see the underwater sculpture called Nest. It was beautiful to see and definitely recommend it. There are many tourists who come to snorkel around it and so we found it best to wait for a clearing in the numbers of people in the water before we jumped in. 

The Gili Islands are worth a visit for those who appreciate snorkeling or diving and for the laid back types. Of the three and to help simplify, Gili Trawangan is the largest and is known for partying, Gili Meno is the smallest and thought of for romance and Gili Air known provides something in between.
A view of Gili Air from the Boat
We rode a horse cart on Gili Air, which our kids enjoyed though I wondered if it was good for the horse. We ate lunch at a place called Pachama Organic cafe. I absolutely loved the restaurant and the nourish bowl that I ordered. It brought me back to my California days! Yum.
Our Transportation on Gili Air
Overall, we had a good trip to Lombok and the Gili Islands. If you like laid back and inexpensive island travel, it is for you. It is a nice contrast to the hustle and development of Bali. 

The airport in Lombok was a bit hectic but once near the gates, you can get a frappuccino in an air conditioned Starbucks if that brings you a bit of comfort and cool.


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