It’s been almost three years since the last time I visited Lombok. At the time the island was going through teething problems as it struggled to develop its shoddy infrastructure. The state of the art international airport that had recently been built with Saudi money stood abandoned; the broken runway sinking into a swamp. The main road connecting the capital to the South and North of Lombok had been mostly completed, but parts had yet to be finished (if you wanted to go to any of the Gili islands, or the small town of Pengatap on the Southern coast, you were in for a bumpy ride).
Regardless of all of these issues, I got the feeling that the people of Lombok knew that the good times were coming; a British investor had been buying up land all around Pengatap leading to crazy increase in prices and all kinds of speculation. New hotels and restaurants were opening up in the South, while houses were being turned into hotels in the overcrowded Gigi islands as locals jumped on the chance to make money from tourists looking for a cheap place to stay.
It was easy to understand why people were so optimistic about the potential of tourism on the island. The beaches around Pengatap are easily equal to anything that you’ll find in Bali or Nusa Penida. In fact in my opinion the beaches of Pengatap were on a different level to what you could find on Bali; I remember spending a long happy day on a long golden sandy beach that stretched for kilometres. It was perfect for swimming, without the annoying coral that makes swimming at some tropical beaches such a pain (even if it does create a great opportunity for snorkelling, that is if you can get past the razor sharp colourful spikes). Given that it was so close to Bali, it should be easy to tempt tourists across the relatively narrow strait separating the two islands. Or alternatively if they could find a better engineer and a new sheikh willing to build an international airport…
After my two-week holiday, I left the island and its people and returned to the Jakarta nightlife. With no plans to return to Lombok at any point in the near future, I forgot about the multimillion-dollar airport with its broken runway and the potholed roads. From time to time friends would visit one of the Gili islands or even Pengatap in Lombok. I’ve been told that the road surrounding the island has now been finished, the runway repaired and the people of Lombok are starting to see the benefits of tourism.
It will be a long time before the island of Lombok receives anywhere near the number of tourists as Bali, but regardless, the island is rapidly emerging as an alternative tourist destination. So if you’re tired of Bali and its busy beaches, but don’t want to deal with the overcrowded Gili islands, consider a holiday to Pengatap in Lombok.