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Lombok, Indonesia

It's All about Lombok, Indonesia

Lombok General Information

Lombok is the most popular destination in Nusa Tenggara, with the fabled Gili Islands drawing visitors for action both in and out of the water, mighty Gunung Rinjani luring trekkers, and the big breaks on the south coast a magnet for surfers. Mataram, Lombok’s capital, is a good spot for day trips to the surrounding areas, and nearby Senggigi is superbly positioned along a stretch or sweeping bays. In east Lombok, the very scenic Sumbawa offers low key tourism and some good surf breaks.

The island of Lombok shapes up at about 80km from east to west and about the same from north to south, with lush evergreen landscapes and parts which are chronically dry. Droughts, particularly in the south and east, can last for months, causing crop failure and famine – though recent improvements in water management have made life in Lombok less precarious.

Weather ( When To Go)

Lombok’s weather is tropical – 12 hour days, 28°C – 34°C (83°F – 93°F) average temperatures throughout the year and two main seasons, the wet (October to March) and the dry (May to September).

Population and People

Lombok (population 2,950,105 in 2005) is an island in West Nusa Tenggara province, Indonesia. It is part of the chain of the Lesser Sunda Islands, with the Lombok Strait separating it from Bali to the west and the Alas Strait between it and Sumbawa to the east. It is roughly circular, with a “tail” to the southwest, about 70 km across and a total area of about 4,725 km² (1,825 sq mi). The administrative capital and largest city on the island is Mataram.


The Dutch first visited Lombok in 1674 and settled the eastern most part of the island, leaving the western half to be ruled by a Hindu dynasty from Bali. The Sasaks chafed under Balinese rule, and a revolt in 1891 ended in 1894 with the annexation of the entire island to the Netherlands East Indies.

Geography and demographics

Mt. Rinjani

The Lombok Strait marks the passage of the biogeographically division between the fauna of the Indomalayan ecozone and the distinctly different fauna of Australasia that is known as the Wallace Line, for Alfred Russel Wallace, who first remarked upon the distinction between these two major biomes.

The island’s topography is dominated by the centrally-located stratovolcano Mount Rinjani, which rises to 3,726 m (12,224 ft), making it the third-highest in Indonesia. The most recent eruption of Rinjani was in June-July, 1994. The volcano, and its sacred crater lake, ‘Segara Anak’ (child of the sea), are protected by a National Park established in 1997. The southern part of the island is a fertile plain where corn, rice, coffee, tobacco, and cotton are grown.

The island’s inhabitants are 85% Sasak (a people, related to the Balinese, but mostly practising Islam), 10-15% Balinese, with the small remainder being Chinese, Arab, Javanese, and Sumbawanese.

Getting Around

Lombok has an extensive network of roads, but public buses and bemos (minibuses) are generally restricted to main routes. Bemos run on routes all over the island, or you can charter your own. Away from these you have to hire a cidomo (pony cart), get a lift on a motorcycle or walk. In the northeast and south there is usually some public transport between the bigger towns, but it might be far between, and extremely sparse after dark. You can get around the whole island and to most of the remote locations if you have your own transport. A motorcycle is the cheapest and most versatile option, though a rental car with good ground clearance will get you a long way. Outrigger boats called perahu are used for short trips to snorkelling spots or surf breaks.

Economy and politics

Lombok has much in common with nearby Bali, but less well-known and less-visited by foreigners. It has been working to increase its visibility to tourists in recent years, promoting itself as an “unspoiled Bali”. The most-developed center of tourism is Senggigi, spread in a 10-kilometer strip along the coastal road north of Mataram, while backpackers congregate in the Gili Islands off the west coast. Other popular tourist destinations include Kuta (distinctly different from Kuta, Bali) where surfing is considered some of the best in the world by leading surfing magazines. The Kuta area is also famous for its beautiful, untouched beaches.

Local Sasak children

While the area may be considered economically depressed by First World Lombok Children – Lombok Kids standards, the island is fertile, has sufficient rainfall in most areas for agriculture, and possesses a variety of climate zones. Consequently, food in abundant quantity and variety is available inexpensively at local farmer’s markets. A family of 4 can eat rice, vegetables, and fruit for as little as US$0.50. Even though a family income may be as small as US$1.00 per day from fishing or farming, many families are able to live a happy and productive live on astonishingly small incomes.

Lombok History

Pre-20th-Century History

The earliest recorded society on Lombok was the relatively small kingdom of the Sasak. The Sasak people were agriculturalists and animists who practised ancestor and spirit worship. The original Sasak are believed to have come overland from northwestern India or Myanmar (Burma) in waves of migration that predated most Indonesian ethnic groups. Only a few archaeological relics remain from the old animist kingdoms, but animism has left its mark on the culture, although the majority of Sasak people today are Muslim. Not much is known about Lombok before the 17th century, at which time it was split into numerous, frequently squabbling states, each presided over by a Sasak ‘prince’ – a disunity exploited by the neighbouring Balinese. Balinese princes ruled Lombok from the mid-18th century until the 1890s, when the Dutch sided with the Sasaks and defeated the Balinese in bloody battles. Under Dutch rule, the eastern islands of Indonesia were grouped together as the Lesser Sunda Islands, administered from Singaraja, Bali. Taxes resulted in the impoverishment of the majority of peasants and the creation of a new stratum of Chinese middlemen.

Modern History

When Soekarno proclaimed Indonesian independence on 17 August 1945, the Lesser Sunda Islands were formed into the single province of Nusa Tenggara, which means ‘Islands of the Southeast’. This proved far too unwieldy to govern and in 1958 the province was divided into three separate regions – Bali, Nusa Tenggara Barat (West Nusa Tenggara) and Nusa Tenggara Timur (East Nusa Tenggara). In the wake of the attempted coup and Soekarno’s downfall in 1965, Lombok experienced mass killings of communists, sympathisers and ethnic Chinese, as did Bali and other parts of Indonesia. Under President Soeharto’s ‘New Order’, Lombok enjoyed stability and some growth, until crop failures led to famine in 1966 and to severe food shortages in 1973. Many moved away from Lombok under the transmigrasi (transmigration) programme. Tourist development started around 1980, when Lombok attracted attention as an ‘unspoilt’ alternative to Bali. While low budget bungalows proliferated at places like the Gili islands and Lombok’s south coast, big businesses from outside Lombok became interested and speculation on beachfront land became epidemic. Lombok’s tourism planning was dominated by the national government in Jakarta, and many traditional landholders were displaced as outside business interests moved in.

The political turmoil, economic crisis and civil unrest that beset Indonesia in the late 1990’s did not spare Lombok. Students in Mataram and Praya staged protests over the general economic situation as early as 1997, and the local economy was hit hard by the general downturn in Indonesian tourism.

Recent History

The riots of 17 January 2000 were a surprise and a shock to most local people. A public community meeting in Mataram was roused to burn churches and ransack Christians’ houses and businesses. Evidence suggests that this apparently spontaneous incident was actually well planned by groups from outside Lombok. Anti-Christian propaganda had been circulated before the meeting, there were planted provocateurs in the crowd and the rioters were directed to a well-identified series of targets. A high proportion of Lombok’s Christians are ethnic Chinese, and though the violence was consistently described as anti-Christian, many observers consider that an anti-Chinese element was at least a contributory factor. The effect on the tourist industry was immediate. The incident caused grave damage to Lombok’s reputation and economy, and despite efforts to promote the island as a safe destination, the bombings of 2002 and 2005 in neighbouring Bali only compounded the negative perceptions. Senggigi, the island’s main resort, has suffered particularly badly, as tour operators have cancelled bookings; however, the Gili islands have remained popular with independent travellers.