So, you’ve decided Indonesia will be your next big adventure? Great choice! Between the sinewy volcanos of Java and the orangutan-filled forests of Sulawesi, you’re basically guaranteed the trip of a lifetime. But what if you’re tempted by one of the islands? Well…there are nearly 17,000 of them in total, though everyone knows there are just two that most travelers consider: Bali vs Lombok.
The truth is that they aren’t all that different. They sit right next to each other in the heart of the Lesser Sunda Islands, facing the surf-rich waters of the Bali Sea. They share similar climates, seasonal weather patterns, marine life, and geography. So, how to decide between them?
Cue this guide. We have compiled a helpful comparison for you, considering essential factors such as ease of access for travelers, beach quality, and available activities to name just a few. We’ll pick out some of the most obvious differences between Bali and Lombok to help you decide which you should explore this year…
Bali vs Lombok: Accessibility
Indonesia’s archipelago boasts with a well-connected ferry and flight network, which means getting to Bali or Lombok should be relatively straightforward.
To access Bali by flight, travelers should aim for the Denpasar International Airport on the island’s south side. Also known as Ngurah Rai International Airport, it is one of the most popular airports in the whole of Indonesia. It receives direct flights from major airlines such as Emirates, Qatar Airways, and Cathay Pacific, along with loads of low-cost, short-haul links from across Southeast Asia.
While Lombok also has an airport, known locally as Bandar Udara International Lombok, it is harder to fly to the island directly. Often, travelers will have to transfer through Bali before boarding a second leg over in a propeller plane (lasting 15-20 minutes, no more). On top of that, Bali benefits from more regular flights and cheaper airline tickets. To put it another way, the lack of major carriers going to Lombok forces up the price of direct flights.
You can also get to both Bali and Lombok by water. Ferries come across to the Isle of the Gods (that’s Bali) from the large island of Java, which is also where you find the big city of Jakarta. They leave from the gritty port in Dermaga Ketapang, leave every 15 minutes throughout the day, and take about 30 minutes to get to Gilimanuk. Ferries to Lombok go from the must more rural island of Sumbawa, so they aren’t very commonly used by travelers.
Bali vs Lombok: Food
The Indonesian cuisine is an entire experience in itself. Whether you delve in a nasi goreng fried rice at a street-side stall or a rich beef rendang in a restaurant, your taste buds are in for a real treat!
Both Bali and Lombok are home to plenty of restaurants, cafes, and street-food kitchens, and offer travelers ample opportunities to sample the local cuisine. Lombok is particularly known for its ayam ailwang, a grilled chicken dish in a tomato, turmeric, and galangal sauce. Look for a sate lilit in Bali – a meat dish mixed with coconut and lemon juice typically served on skewers.
On the whole, we’d say Bali comes with a better food scene overall. It’s home to all sorts, from rustic warung kitchens to uber-sleek hipster cafes (head down to Canggu and you’ll see what we mean). On the Isle of the Gods, you’re just as likely to breakfast on avocado on sourdough as you are to devour tempeh in peanut sauce on the beachfront. What we like about Lombok is that the cuisine retains good connections with its traditional roots, much of it is homecooked, and there’s not so much international influence.
Winner: Bali. While both offer plenty of amazing culinary experiences, Bali wins this one simply by having so much variety.
Bali vs Lombok: Tourism
Bali, understandably, draws in flocks of tourists every year. The island’s economy basically relies on international visitors, and great effort is made to accommodate those who come. That extensive infrastructure has its benefits, but it also means that some areas of Bali can seem rather built-up and busy. Kuta is a prime example. It’s forever teeming with life, bars spill out onto the streets, and the clubs roar on until very late. There’s none of that chilled Indo vibe left, to be frank.
On the other hand, Lombok offers an overall more tranquil atmosphere. While there are still pockets of touristy areas, especially around the resort strip of Senggigi, it’s generally likened to what Bali was about 20 years ago. Visitors can also expect fewer party-goers and a less raucous nightlife than in Bali. So, if you’re looking for a peaceful, relaxing island experience, Lombok’s less-developed character makes it the ideal candidate.
For some, touristy areas are exciting and sociable, in which case Bali is an ideal location for your trip. But, for those wanting to escape the crowds and noise, Lombok offers a tranquil alternative to its neighboring island.
Bali vs Lombok: Nightlife
As we’ve already seen, Lombok is the quieter island of the duo. Visitors will find a selection of nightlife venues in the mainstay resorts, like Senggigi and Kuta Lombok, along with a few unique bars (Juice & Booze Bar, we’re looking at you – the spot is known for its unique treehouse location!). Generally, though, everything here is toned down a notch compared to Bali.
In Bali, areas such as Kuta and Seminyak are renowned for their exciting, wild nightlife. The diversity of venues is incredible. Kuta’s famous club, LXXY Bali, offers a rooftop pool and well-known DJs. In Seminyak, La Favela is a must-visit for hip-hop-style music. Then you get the likes of Old Man’s and the Potato Head Beach Club, which host sunset parties on the sands up around Canggu.
There’s basically no debate here: If you’re coming to Indonesia for the express reason of partying until sunup, Bali has got to be the pick!
Bali vs Lombok: Beaches
Bali’s beaches have made recent headlines, all for the wrong reasons. The island suffers from severe plastic pollution, the effects of which, during the monsoon season at least, can be seen washed up all along the coastline. On New Years Day, January 2021, 30 tonnes of plastic rubbish were removed from Kuta, Legian, and Seminyak. Persistent locals are battling to combat the pollution, with regular beach clean-ups and a ban on single-use plastics. It’s pretty bad, though.
That said, no amount of pollution can mar the shorelines of the Isle of the Gods. The beaches here are still pretty spectacular, although they might not be what you expect – Kuta et al are actually black-sand beaches that are colored a sort of coffee hue. The east coast has what we’d say is probably the finest offering, with the proper graphite-black beaches and white-sand coves of Padangbai.
Then you have Lombok. Fewer tourists here mean less exposure to plastic pollution and subsequently cleaner beaches. Locals still pioneer beach clean-ups, especially in the monsoon season, but the extent to which they are required is substantially less than in Bali. The beaches of Lombok are also quieter. Oh, and did we mention that they are downright stunning? Check out the glowing, sugar-soft stretches by Senggigi, remote Mangsit, and idyllic Tanjung Aan Beach on the south coast. They’re all wonderful.
Winner: Lombok. Bali’s beaches are suffering from hefty over-tourism but Lombok has sands that look like Bali’s did 20 years back!
Bali vs Lombok: Traffic
If you are looking at renting a motorbike or car or prefer quieter roads when exploring on foot, traffic is a definite differentiating point between Bali and Lombok. Picture a constant background melody of beeping horns, narrow tarmac roads packed with cars at a complete standstill, and an optimistic scooter escaping the chaos via the adjacent pedestrian sidewalk. That’s Bali, a veritable baptism of fire for visitors renting vehicles.
Out of significant towns, drivers can expect less traffic and quieter jungle roads. However, in more populous areas of Bali, the floods of traffic and sometimes erratic road behaviors can make driving extremely stressful. In fact, it can make walking around stressful, because sidewalks are often packed with street-food stalls or simply non existent.
Luckily, in Lombok, the traffic problem isn’t so bad. The towns are smaller and there are far more country roads and lanes. We’d say driving is less stressful overall here, and there aren’t so many unqualified, first-time scooter pilots to navigate (AKA, dodge). The one downside is that Lombok is much more rural. A lot of roads aren’t fully tarmacked and potholes can be a problem. Hey, that’s still better than standstill traffic jams, ay?
Bali vs Lombok: Activities
Bali is a wonderworld of activities. It’s grown to be a true all-round destination. There are things for families, couples, adventure seekers, nature lovers – you name it. You should try to plan your stay depending on what you’re after from your trip. The south coast resorts are generally better for R&R, beach hopping, and dining. The Bukit Peninsula is the surf mecca. Ubud is for temples and shrines and art galleries. Here are some of the top activities you can look forward to in Bali:
- Surfing – There’s no question that Bali is one of the planet’s surf meccas. Head to Kuta if you’re learning or go to Bukit if you’re advanced.
- Temple visits – There are stunning vistas at island-top Tanah Lot and mystical elephant caves at the Goa Gajah, and that’s just scratching the surface.
- See the rice paddies – Head to Ubud, where the Tegallalang Rice Terrace offers a vision of Bali you’ll never forget.
- Monkey Forest – A macaque-filled park in Ubud that’s brimming with haunting Buddhist and Hindu temples that date back thousands of years. Truly incredible but beware of the monkeys.
Lombok is probably a touch more adventure orientated. It’s for those who want to escape the crowds and do things a little off the beaten track. That means hiking and boat trips to long-lost surf breaks take center stage. Our favorite things to do here include:
- Mount Rinjani – There’s a very challenging multi-day hike up this colossal volcano, where there’s a glowing turquoise crater lake and stunning views.
- Surfing – Kuta Lombok is the surf haven of this island. It’s mainly for advanced surfers and offers reef breaks that you can only get to by boat.
- Pink Beach – A sight to behold, this incredible beach has red-tinged sand thanks to broken down corals. It’s not easy to get to though, so expect an adventure.
Winner: Bali. From volcano hikes to party nights, the Isle of the Gods is brimming with things to do.
Bali or Lombok: The conclusion
In general, Lombok is the perfect spot for travelers looking for quieter, beach-focused holidays. The island’s natural beauty also makes it a fantastic destination for those who like keeping active. Hiking and coastal walks have never been more tempting, with multi-day scenic hikes available to the Senaru Crater on Mount Rinjani.
Bali offers a chaotic immersion into Indonesian tourism. Bali is best for first-time visitors to Indonesia, with pockets of nightlife, rice paddies, beaches, and volcanoes to explore. The island offers plenty of activities and nightlife, making it ideal for those seeking varied entertainment and a fast-paced holiday.
In short, Lombok is best if you want a relaxing stay with plenty of pristine nature, but Bali is best if you want top-quality hotels, easy travel, and vibrant bars and clubs.