If you’re bali-ng on a budget around Indonesia (see what I did there?), I am here to tell you that you should go to the island of Lombok instead of Bali. Perhaps you’ve never heard of Lombok before and you’re staring at this post like I am a crazy person. You’re probably thinking: “Skip Bali? Never!” Bali is a beautiful place but when you’re on a graduate school budget like myself and all my friends here, sometimes you can’t exactly vacation the way you want.
Bali would be amazing if I could spend more money. I would get a private villa that backs up to rice fields, a beautiful rainforest or the bright blue ocean. I would hire a private driver (or a motorbike because that’s honestly so much fun) and eat lavish meals with fresh fruit all day. Truthfully, you can do this without spending an arm and a leg. Indonesia isn’t an expensive place and even though things are higher priced in Bali, it’s still not outrageous. Beach front hotels go for like $140/night. Clearrrrlllyy, I’m just trying to save you some money.
Getting to Lombok
Lombok is a neighboring island. It’s incredibly less crowded than Bali…like the tourists haven’t really found it yet. It is 4-6 hours by public ferry or an hour and a half by fast boat. There is also an airport on the island, but given it’s proximity to Bali, it may be cheaper to fly in there and take the boat. We took the public ferry on the way there and the fast boat on the way back.
It’s not a crazy price difference, so just bite the bullet and spend the additional rupiah to get the fast boat. Not only is it so much faster, but the public ferry is an experience I wouldn’t wish on anyone. We sat on the deck the whole time, which was fine because it was dark for most of the trip, but I would have freaked out if that was done in the hot sun. Truthfully, the worst part was the bathrooms. Three stalls (that are squat toilets) for all 500+ women on board. It got disgusting so fast.
Once you’re in Lombok, find a driver who will take you to your hotel/hostel. We stayed at La Bangkat Homestay. The pictures don’t really do it justice, but since we wanted to go to a private beach, it fit for what we wanted. Most of the rooms have AC, Wifi and outdoor bathrooms. The beds were comfortable and breakfast is included–I suggest the banana pancakes. They were so good. And it was only $15/night for us.
Given your on an island, you have a lot of beach options. You could stay in Kuta Lombok and check out the beaches there, but I suggest heading just a bit farther down the road (25 min total from La Bangkat) to Tanjung Aan Beach. There were a lot of locals at the beach and only a handful of tourists. One end of the beach has the softest sand I have ever felt in my life and the other end had an awesome amount of tide pools complete with coral, crabs and little fish. When the tide is high, they even have the most instagrammable swing in the water.
Spend the whole day here. It’ll be worth it, I promise. There a few short hikes that are right around the beach if you get antsy (like me and some of my fellow travelers). The sunset is worth it, the swimming is great and there are a number of little shacks that sell food and drink. You will be less bothered by hawkers trying to sell you a sarong and fresh pineapple than you would at other beaches. However, as I was told, a trip to Indonesia isn’t complete without a sarong. Indulge in some haggling and buy a couple. They make great gifts, plus you’ll be shocked at how much you use it on your travels. Buy the pineapple too. They smelled so amazing that we regretted turning down the one guy who offered all day.
At the far end of the beach, there’s a proper restaurant so grab some Mei Goreng (fried noodles) and a large Bintang (local beer) for dinner.
Mount Rinjani. If you are a hiker, this is a must. Bali doesn’t provide you something like Mount Rinjani. We ran out of time so we didn’t get to do the full hike, but please go do it so I can live through you. It is a 3 hour drive north of Kuta, so rent a driver and make your way into the middle of the island. Rinjani is an active volcano that you can hike up to and around if you’re willing to dedicate three days. These treks require a guide, but you can rent all the necessary camping equipment. Trust me, I am not a camper but if we had had time to do this hike, I would have been the first to sign up.
We stayed in the Rudy Trekker Guest House and I would suggest you do the same. They organize the three day hike for you, as well as put you up the night before and after you head out. There is a restaurant in house so you don’t have to leave. And you wouldn’t want to because the food is amazing (except the fish- avoid it…) There’s a great pool in the back too that you can relax in after your trek. If you don’t want to do the three day hike, they will also arrange shorter jaunts for you.
People come to Indonesia and immediately think of Mount Bromo when they think of volcanos. Don’t let Rinjani be overshadowed. You’ve got hot springs, rainforests, waterfalls, lakes, amazing views…so don’t miss it.
Once in your life you should probably go to Bali, but maybe don’t consider it the place you have to stay. Visit Ubud, see the monkeys and the rice terraces, hang out in a beautiful villa and then scoot to Lombok for another, equally amazing experience. All complete with less tourists and cheaper prices.