Widely considered to be Indonesia’s next great tourism hotspot, tiny Lombok is often overshadowed by its more popular neighbor to the west, Bali. What I’d read about the island promised it was Bali 30 years ago, unspoiled by traffic and rows of mega resorts. It sounded like my kind of place and I was anxious to see it for myself.
However, my decision to make a stop in Bali on the way to Lombok had cut my originally intended length of time on the island in half so I needed to make the most of the 2 days I had. My short flight from Bali was scheduled to land at noon but as I was quickly discovering, Lion Air has a very “relaxed” opinion regarding on-time departures and I yet again found myself staring at my watch as my scheduled departure time flew by without comment from the gate agents (for those of you keeping score at home, I’m now 0-3 in on-time arrivals within Indonesia).
I finally landed around 1pm and grabbed a cab for the 45-minute drive across the island to Senggigi Beach, known as Lombok’s original tourist town. Located on the western side of the island, I’d be spending the next two nights at the Sheraton Senggigi Beach Resort which my driver assured me was the best hotel on Lombok.
The drive was beautiful along well-paved roads and I briefly wondered if I should have just rented my own car to try to see a little more of the island. We finally arrived at the hotel just before 2pm and amazingly, I scored yet another tremendous upgrade, again to an oceanfront suite. My room had a wide balcony overlooking the pool and the ocean, what a shame I’d have no time to appreciate it!
With just one full day in Lombok, I knew exactly what I wanted to do. So after settling in, I went down to the hotel’s dive center to try to book a trip out to the Gili Islands for the next day. It couldn’t have been easier and 10 minutes later I was booked for the next day on the full-day combo dive/snorkel trip for the bargain price of just under $25 US. (I really can’t believe how inexpensive these snorkel trips are here – the full day trip I did in Sulawesi? $11 US.)
With my plans for the next day firmed up, I spent the rest of the day exploring Senggigi Beach and relaxing by the Sheraton’s gorgeous pool.
The Gili Islands
The next morning I met the rest of my small group bound for the Gilis in the hotel lobby at 9am. Getting to the islands is pretty easy from Senggigi and after a 20-minute drive north along the coast, we arrived at a small harbor and boarded our boat for the day.
Situated just off the western coast of Lombok, the Gili Islands are three coconut-palm-shaded dots of sand set against a turquoise sea. They can be reached from Bali by speedboat but are just a short hop away from the western coast of Lombok.
Long popular with the backpacker set, Gili Trawangan is the largest of the three and home to the most lodging options and an energetic nightlife scene. Gili Meno is the smallest and the least developed. And Gili Air is perhaps the perfect blend of both with several lodging options and a more relaxed vibe. It’s also the closest to Lombok and is known for the best beaches and terrific snorkeling.
We began our day with a stop at the Gili Air Resort to drop off the 4 people doing a Discover Scuba dive at the dive shop for their morning instruction. Then our guides took the remaining 3 of us to a spot between Gili Trawangan and Gili Meno with clear, jade green waters and a perfect reef for snorkeling.
We spent the rest of the morning there, exploring the expanse of reef and following after schools of colorful fish. It was an entirely enjoyable way to spend the morning but I’d been told by the German girls I met in Sulawesi that there were tons of sea turtles around the Gilis and I hadn’t seen a single one yet. Not to worry, promised my guide, our afternoon snorkeling and dive spot was known for an abundance of turtles.
Satisfied that I still had a lot more to see in the Gilis, we climbed back aboard the boat and headed back to Gili Air to meet up with the dive group for lunch and a little beach time at the resort. Lunch was fantastic and I spent some time afterward relaxing by the pool before it was again time to board the boat and head out to our afternoon dive spot.
This time we stopped at a reef between Gili Meno and Gili Air and the divers-in-training back-flipped into the water with their instructors while my fellow snorkelers and I jumped in to search for turtles. And it didn’t take more than five minutes before our snorkeling guide was victoriously pointing out the first one. I followed the turtle closely with my camera as he glided through the water before floating to the surface for a quick breath.
I am just fascinated by sea turtles; they’re so much fun to watch in the water. So beautiful as they drift gracefully through the ocean minding their own business until some group of paparazzi snorkelers and their cheeky guide come along to interrupt an otherwise perfectly pleasant day.
I’m not sure why but our guide persisted in annoying the turtle, not in a harmful way but by blocking its path, touching its shell and (I think) trying to create a good photo op for me. It was totally unnecessary, of course, because I was perfectly content to follow the turtle from a respectful distance and take a few photos and video.
When I got the sense that the first turtle had tolerated our presence long enough, we moved on in search of another one and found it almost immediately. In fact we saw half a dozen sea turtles during our afternoon snorkeling trip and I was thrilled. It was exactly the kind of day I was hoping for in the Gili Islands!
By 4pm it was time to re-board the boat and begin the scenic ride back to Lombok. Though the weather had started out a bit overcast that morning, it had turned into a brilliantly sunny day and the Gili Islands looked like little dots of tropical paradise as we passed them.
I’d hoped to get a look at Lombok’s star attraction, mighty Mount Rinjani – Indonesia’s 2nd highest volcano – but unfortunately it was obscured by clouds the whole time I was on the island. Regardless, I think I was incredibly lucky to see as much as I did during my short stay on Lombok. It’s definitely a place I would love to return to again someday.
But for now, it’s time for bed as I’ve got a 3:30am wake-up call set for my 6am flight tomorrow.