Written by: Jaii Fredregill
Destination: Lombok, Indonesia
Visited: April 2019
Lombok is a stunning paradise, filled with lush green rice fields, white sand beaches, vivid sunsets, volcanoes, and rich culture. Backpackers and surfers have made their way here for decades, embracing the local food, customs and hospitality that can be found throughout the island. Scuba divers soon followed, and Lombok’s exceptional year-round diving is slowly establishing it as a popular dive destination.
To write this guide, we teamed up with Two Fish Divers who have shops in all of Lombok’s top scuba diving locations. If you are traveling to Lombok to dive, you might consider dividing your time between multiple places. Two Fish Divers are excellent hosts and, if you like, they will assist you with planning your holiday, including diving, transportation and lodging.
Bargibant's Pygmy Sea Horse clinging to a sea fan at Super Fan Ridge dive site.
If you are looking for somewhere with lower tourist traffic where you can just chill out and dive, South Lombok is a location to seriously consider. The ferry between Padang Bai, Bali and Lembar, Lombok runs 24-hours a day, costs just IDR 45k / USD 3.25, and makes South Lombok easy to reach. Sekotong remains relatively unspoiled as there is not an overwhelming amount of tourism here – yet. We were here just before the high season, which allowed our boat the opportunity to have every dive site to ourselves.
We headed out from the Two Fish Divers Sekotong Shop each morning by 8:00 a.m. with our guides Ipan and Eddie, who are both local and dive these sites regularly. Their ability to spot leaf scorpionfish and the tiniest nudibranch or pigmy seahorse was mind blowing. Life around these reefs is not limited to what lives in the muck. Giant trevally and reef sharks are spotted regularly, the spiny starfish population is booming and very active, and with such an abundance of soft coral, it is not uncommon to see a turtle or two stopping off for a meal.
Heading out for another excellent day of diving in South Lombok.
Dive Manager, Jake Langford, is currently doing exploratory dives to find new sites, and we encountered white tip sharks at one of the newer ones called Jay’s Cathedral, unfortunately they were just far enough away to spoil our attempts to photograph them.
The busiest season is May-November, as this is when many divers come through on their way to nearby Belongas Bay, but there is plenty to see any time of the year. All Two Fish Divers shops are full service, so gear is loaded and unloaded by the crew, who also wash and store it for you. All guides are also fluent in English, and the locals were also very helpful with our efforts to learn Bahasa Indonesia.
One of the frogfish we spotted at a site called Deep Water Corner.
Two Fish Divers is in the western part of Sekotong about 1-hour west of the Lembar harbour where the ferry arrives, which is how we traveled. The ferry ride from Padang Bai is 3-4 hours, or you can opt for a rougher, 90-minute ride on a fast boat for around USD 21 per person. If you stand on any corner in Bali and say, “I need a fast boat,” nearly everyone within earshot will try to sell you a ticket, because they receive a commission. They may also tell you that the ferry ride is between 5-6 hours and that the ferry is not safe, but the safety records for fast boats and ferries is about the same.
A fairly large scorpion fish hanging around the Sunken Island site.
Where to Stay in Sekotong
There is a homestay next door to Two Fish Divers, that they can help you arrange lodging with. If you would like a high-end resort, there are more and more opening in Sekotong each year. Another reason to come now and beat the crowds.
We stayed about halfway between the ferry and the dive shop at Krisna Bungalows, which we found to be an excellent option for our backpackers’ budget. The accommodations are basic and air conditioning is an additional IDR 50k/USD 3.60. The pool is an added perk and right next to the beach so you can watch the fisherman as they wade out for their catch each day. The restaurant is also quite good, and breakfast is included with your room.
Halgerda batangas Nudibranch at Deep Water Corner, Sekotong
Getting Around Sekotong
The taxi drivers at the harbour can be obnoxious and aggressive. Some blogs say to take the blue metered taxis, but you may find that they claim their meter is broken. They do this to stress you out, so you’ll panic and pay them an inflated amount to drive you to your hotel. You can pay IDR 200k / USD 15 or more, but you don’t have to.
Just stay calm when negotiating, don’t take any of it personally and politely decline their ridiculous requests. It helps to hang back until everyone else has left, or to continue to slowly continue walking down the road as you talk to them. If you are the last one off the boat, you’re also their last chance at getting a passenger. It also helps if you see that they already have passengers in their van. This means that anything you offer is just extra. The price you pay depends on how patient you are at waiting them out. They started at IDR 250k for two of us and we settled at IDR 80k. Did we get a good price? Maybe not, but they received a fair amount and we paid a lot less then they asked initially.
The Shortfin lionfish grows to a maximum of 17 cm. They are generally non-aggressive, but capable of delivering a potent venom through the long spines in their backs.
For daily transportation we rented a scooter from a homestay near ours. The cost was IDR 70k / USD 5 per day. You might be asked to surrender your passport in order to rent a scooter, as we were. This is an unreasonable request. We offered to give a deposit and a credit card but were refused. With very little effort we found that nearly every homestay nearby had scooters for rent and did not require us to hand over any sensitive personal documents.
Where to find an ATM in Sekotong
Cash machines are not easy to come by in Sekotong. There are a couple of ATMs at the harbour in Lembar but getting cash in Bali before you come is much easier. The only ATM we found after leaving Lembar was at the automotive shop next door to Krisna Bungalows, where the owner will use his credit card machine to give you cash and charge you 4% of whatever you withdraw. Most banks charge too, of course, but he is not a bank and that is something you should keep in mind.
Two Fish Divers, South Lombok shop.
Diving season in Belongas Bay opens in early May and continues through October. Unfortunately, we were a little too early for the season, but we spoke at length with Jay Catherall who manages the Two Fish Divers dive operation there. We did learn that Two Fish Divers will open off-season in Belongas Bay for large groups. Naturally, we asked about the dive site Belongas Bay is most known for called, “The Magnet.” The name comes from the large number of pelagics that seem so attracted to it, including schools of great and scalloped hammerhead sharks that migrate through each year. Other pelagic life seen here includes white tips, black tips, eagle rays, mobula rays, and the occasional bull shark.
You have probably heard some buzz about a site called, “The Cathedral.” Here the immaculate reef alone is enough to dive for. Of course, the barracudas, turtles, sea snakes and tuna enhance the diving quite a bit as well.
Diving here can be challenging. Two Fish Divers limits groups to four guest per dive guide. The current is strong around the pinnacles most divers are keen to explore, and negative entry dives are common. Divers need to be advanced with a minimum of 100 logged dives.
Getting to Belongas Bay
Belongas Bay is easily reached by car in about 40-minutes from Sekotong.
Where to Stay in Belongas Bay
There are not a lot of lodging options at Belongas Bay, guests of Two Fish Divers usually stay at Belongas Bay Lodge.
Local boys rowing over to the dive boat to say hello in Gili Air.
Our next stop was Gili Air, where the steady growth of tourism has transformed the island into a bustling tropical haven, perfect for those looking for a mix of western comforts and local flare. The Two Fish Divers shop is run by “Scuba” Sal Roldan, Dive Center Manager and “Mermaid” Meg Daws, Head Instructor. Sal and Meg are highly experienced divers and amazing hosts, who bring a warm and welcoming energy to the shop.
During our time here we dove sites at Gili Air, Gili Meno and Gili Trawangan. Our guide, Jen, is extremely knowledgeable about the sites, though he was cautious not to over-sell them beforehand. Each site was rich with life, much of which we saw due to Jen’s keen eye and familiarity with diving the area.
Turtle Heaven certainly lived up to its name, and there were a few times I wasn’t sure where to look, because there were so many turtles nearby. We did see turtles at the several of the sites we dove in Lombok, but not in the numbers that inhabit Turtle Heaven.
Another site that really struck me was Frogfish Point. Here the ocean currents have sculpted the reef so that the coral is now jutting up toward the surface. We were not successful in finding a frogfish at this site, but we were far from disappointed by what we did find, including a paddle-flap scorpionfish, cowfish, a giant leopard eel and one very sleepy turtle. High season in Gili Air is April-October, but you can dive here year round.
Have you seen a lot of posts with Paddle-flap scorpionfish (Rhinopias Eschmeyeri) lately? They seem to be everywhere right now. Check out that mustache.
Getting to Gili Air from Mainland Lombok (Teluk Nare)
Gili Air is an island, and the only way to reach is currently by boat. If you dive Two Fish Divers, you can catch a lift on their speed boat that runs from Teluk Nare, Lombok directly to their shop on Gili Air.
There is also a public ferry from Bangsal, Lombok takes about 30-minutes and costs IDR 12k/USD 0.90 each way. However, it does not depart until it is full, so you might have to wait a while until more people arrive. The last ferry to Gili Air usually leaves around 4:00 pm, and if you are in a hurry, and want to depart immediately, you can purchase any remaining seats.
Tickets can be purchased at the ferry terminal in Bangsal, located at Jl. Bangsal Baru, Senggigi, Kabupaten Lombok Utara, Nusa Tenggara Bar. 83352. You can purchase a one way or round-trip ticket. Tickets for returning from Gili Air are sold at booths near the pier. If you need to book a fast boat with transportation from the Lombok Airport or your hotel, you can book online here https://www.gili-islandtransfers.com for around IDR 900k/USD 65.
Horse drawn carts are a common site on car-free Gili Air.
Getting to Gili Air from Bali
Most people take a fast boat from Bali to Gili Air, and as I said before, tickets for these boats can be bought by nearly any shop, restaurant or hotel in Bali. You can also book them online if you like with Eka Jaya Fast Boat, BlueWater Express, or several other companies for around IDR 550k/USD 40.
Where to Stay in Gilli Air
There is no shortage of homestays and hotels on Gili Air for every price point. Two Fish Divers is partnered with the Villa Karang resort, a lovely hotel next to the shop and just minutes from the pier where the public ferry docks.
Did you know that cuttlefish have three hearts? Two are dedicated to pumping blood to their large gills, and the third pumps blood to the rest of their body.
Our time diving and traveling in Lombok has been unforgettable. Lombok is a beautiful place, much of which has yet to be completely overrun by tourism. If you are considering a journey here, there is no better time than the present.