Bali might be the obvious long-weekend choice for those in the region from Singapore to Western Australia. But if you’re looking for some of that beachside and mountaintop serenity without the spring breakers and Eat, Pray, Love pilgrims, there are other options in the Indonesian archipelago (actually, thousands of them).
For starters, we recommend a three-day hop to Lombok, the island just east of Bali, with a brief detour to the Gili Islands, three teardrops of land just off its northwest coast. With direct flights to the Lombok capital of Mataram operated by Singapore Airlines or its subsidiary SilkAir, you can be out of the city and onto the finest beach you’ve ever seen in under three hours. Here, how to make the most of your escape.
Spend at least a night on Lombok proper before taking the 30-minute boat ride to one of the Gilis for a night of even more seclusion. In Lombok, make Kuta, the surfing town in southern Lombok that is most definitely not to be confused with the tourist-clogged, nightclub-lined Bali town of the same name, your base. You’ll notice some construction along the main stretch of Kuta Beach—take it as a sign that the island is changing quickly as people seek out alternatives to an ever-more-congested Bali. Get away from the main drag by settling down at the Novotel Lombok Resort just outside of town on its own dreamy section of beach.
Day 1: Get a little lost
You’re here for some beach time, so get to it as soon as you arrive. While Kuta Beach itself isn’t the most pristine around, it’s worth a stroll to get a feel for island life. It’s also where you can rent a motorbike, which should be your vehicle of choice for a day of exploring Lombok’s southern coast. Go with an established rental shop like Kimen Surf—a basic automatic scooter will run you around 50,000 rupiah (about $3.50) for the day. Get a feel for the scooter’s controls and then head east for some beach-hopping. If you’re looking to get straight into the water before exploring the island’s winding roads that extend from the coast into the verdant interior, start at Seger Beach, where you’re staying. It’s a strip of sand sheltered by a headland that offers epic views of the Indian Ocean. Quench your thirst with a cold Bintang or some coconut water from one of the makeshift warungs set up on the sand. Make Pink Beach (or Tangsi Beach as its known locally) on the southeastern tip of the island—so named for the peachy hue of its sand—your end goal, and get a little lost along the way. It’s half the fun, and you’ll find yourself stumbling upon totally empty strips of sand, bustling kampungs, and street-side nasi goreng peddlers along the way. Need some help? English isn’t widely spoken, but sign language and proper nouns go a long way, and locals will happily point you in the right direction. Loop back to Kuta after a dip at Pink Beach, getting back before dark. Freshen up and head to El Bazar Cafe and Restaurant for Mediterranean food bolstered by locally caught seafood.
Day 2: Hit the interior
It’s impossible to miss, the way it juts from the center of the island, and you’d be missing out if you didn’t get close to it: Mount Rinjani is the second-tallest active volcano in Indonesia, topping out at 12,224 feet. A giant crater lake sits at 6,600 feet above sea level, its water a deep blue reminiscent of the ocean, hence its name Segara Anak, or “child of the sea.” Climbing Rinjani is a serious endeavor—you’d need multiple days and some pro hiking skills—but the national park that surrounds it can be visited in a day, and you’ll get stunning views of Rinjani from the surrounding hillsides. If you’re feeling adventurous, rent a jeep and head towards Rinjani National Park on your own, mapping out stops at the Sendang Gile and Tiu Kelep waterfalls on the way. Tour operators like Adventure Lombok also offer guided day trips to the area, where you’ll not only get incredible views of the volcano and its surrounds, but also expert-led treks in the area and stops at places of historical and cultural significance, including the Bayan Beleq Mosque, the island’s oldest (unlike neighboring Hindu Bali, Lombok is predominantly Muslim).
Day 3: Get off the island…to another island
Just off the northwest coast of Lombok are three white-sand-rimmed dots of land, reachable in just over 30 minutes by speedboat from the jetty at Teluk Nare. The three Gilis each have their own personality, but all feel like the ultimate escape from the daily grind. (You won’t find any motorized transport on any of the islands—you’ll have to get around by foot, bicycle, or horse-drawn buggy.) Gili Trawangan, with its beachside bars, is for the full moon party crowd and Gili Air has a number of dive shops that’ll organize trips to the best of the area’s unspoiled reefs. But if you’re really looking to relax—and if you’re coming from the hubbub of Singapore, we bet you are—try Gili Meno (pictured at top), the least developed of the islands. There’s not much to do besides sip cocktails on mostly empty, white-sand beaches and maybe go for a quick snorkeling jaunt if you’re really feeling wild. But that’s the kind of the point. Popular with honeymooners and families, Meno is quiet, untamed by major resorts (yet), and perfect for a day off the grid after hiking through Rinjani National Park. Spend the night at Mahamaya, a simple but well-appointed hotel right on the beach, and head back to Lombok the next morning for your flight home.