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Lombok's beaches and coastal villages are comparatively undeveloped and the locals, while friendly, are relatively indifferent to tourists. Although the destination is inevitably compared with its better-known neighbor, Bali, the island differs physically, culturally, linguistically and historically. The indigenous Islamic Sasak people make up 90 percent of the population and, though they appear to live amicably with the Balinese minority, there is occasional animosity, which is not surprising given that a lot of the economic advantages of increased tourism have eluded the native Sasak.
The spectacular volcano of Mt Rinjani dominates the mountainous north of the island and is a popular four-day trek for locals and tourists alike. To the south are the central plains, which contain the most productive agricultural areas as well as the major conurbation on the west coast, an amalgamation of the towns of Ampenan, Mataram, Cakranegara and Sweta. Further south again, beyond a range of low inland hills, are the sweeping bays and pure white sands of the southern beaches, all of which can be explored from Kuta (not to be confused with Bali's Kuta), the main resort town of southern Lombok and surfing Mecca of the island.
Several groups of islands lie off the Lombok northwest coast, the best known being the three Gili Islands - Trawangan, Meno and Air - which have been popular for many years with backpackers seeking a simple lifestyle of sea, sun and sand. However, they are now becoming more widely discovered and as a result more expensive.
Ampenan-Mataram-Cakranegara-Sweta, or more simply referred to as Ampenan, is a vibrant district located on Indonesia's lush Lombok Island. The sprawling metropolis is comprised of four towns, the boundaries of which are indistinguishable to casual holidaymakers. A number of the destination's shrines and temples are open to visitors, the best of which are located around the Mayura Water Palace, which dates from 1744 and was used by the royal court during the Balinese rule of Lombok. Ampenan's market is the area's primary attraction and is located along the main road to Senggigi, north of the city proper.
The city of Jayapura is often the first stop for travellers to Papua, but even so its remoteness is such that many of the visiting Westerners are thought to be mine workers or missionaries. Although the wilds of Papua are a quick trail away, the city itself provides visitors with reasons to stay. Beautiful beaches and bays stretch below thick jungle hills and some of these contain remnants of WWII landing crafts, just as some of the caves in the area are said to retain Japanese skeletons from the war. The nicest swimming beach is Base G, which has aqua blue water and a palmed shoreline.
Situated a few miles off the northwest coast of Lombok, the three Gili Islands - Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno and Gili Air - were 'discovered' by backpackers in the '80s and until recently remained a laid-back haven for budget travellers in search of a peaceful and secluded holiday paradise. The islands are surrounded by glorious soft sandy beaches, colourful coral reefs and crystal clear turquoise waters, and are ideal for diving. There are almost no roads or motor vehicles on the islands, with scooters and donkey-drawn carts acting as their replacements. Small ferries transport guests between the Gili Islands, none of which are more than twenty minutes apart.
Not to be confused with its better-known namesake on Bali, Lombok's Kuta is almost totally undeveloped by comparison, having only been 'discovered' by surfers a few years ago and still devoid of any large holiday resort hotels. The whole south coast is characterised by miles of stunning curved sandy bays set beneath empty, rolling hills. Kuta's southeast peninsula and Awang Bay are dotted with tiny fishing villages untouched by tourism, while inland villages specialising in local crafts such as pottery, weaving, basket ware and carving can be visited.
Just a few miles south of Ampenan, Senggigi is the most developed holiday resort on Lombok, characterised by broad bays, towering headlands and first-rate hotels and restaurants, and boasting the only real nightlife in Lombok. Being close to the airport it makes a good first or last night stop for travellers intent on exploring the island. The drive north along the coast from Senggigi to Pemenang is a great day out for those with a car, offering spectacular views of the Gili Islands and across to Bali when the weather is clear.
Lombok attracts those searching for 'undiscovered' Indonesia and was for many years a haven for backpackers. The attractions on Lombok are its pristine beaches, paradise islands and secret surf spots, although the area is rapidly losing its off-the-beaten-track credentials as more tourists discover its considerable wonders. Resorts are now springing up to provide a more commercial and luxurious Lombok experience, but it still retains its secluded beauty and unscathed coast.
Visitors tend to begin their Lombok travels in the metropolis formed by the combination of the four villages of Ampenan, Mataram, Caimanegara and Swete, on the west coast. Ampenan is the most foreigner-friendly and is on the coast, so it tends to be the springboard for the rest of the island. From here travellers head north to the beautiful volcanic scenery and hiking trails of the Gunung Rinjani National Park, which includes Indonesia's third highest peak, the spectacular Mount Rinjani volcano. Or they set out for the stunning Gili Islands, which until recently were a backpackers dream, almost totally deserted and pristine. The islands are slowly becoming more developed but they are still charming destinations.
Just a few miles south of Ampenan is Senggigi, Lombok's most developed holiday resort and arguably the only place on Lombok with a decent nightlife. Visitors also flock to the southern beaches around Kuta Lombok, loved for their white expanses of sand and great surf breaks.
No direct flights from Heathrow to this Destination
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