Situated just inland from the west coast is Lombok's only real urban area, Mataram, the island capital and administrative centre. It sprawls eastward for some 8 km, yet is a far cry from your typical chaotic Asian city. This is a business-like city with a small-town feel - venture off any main road and you will see traditional village life where any foreign face is greeted with genuine delight. Even in the heart of the city, endless views of rice paddy fields are just minutes away.
In fact, the Mataram conurbation is actually made up of three adjacent towns which are from west to east: Ampenan, Mataram and Cakranegera. A fourth district, Sweta, is found to the extreme east and is generally important only as a transit point – Lombok principal bus terminal is found here at Bertais. Each of these districts has its own distinct character and atmosphere, ranging from Cakranegara's vibrant mini-Chinatown, the wide European-style boulevards and modern office blocks of Mataram and Ampenan's thriving fishing communities. Getting around town is generally a breeze, with abundant 'bemo' minivans throughout the day and travel by taxi is very cheap and hassle-free.
There are a few interesting cultural and historic landmarks dotted around town but you will get a real taste of city life browsing the vibrant shopping districts and particularly the flourishing local markets. Ampenan and Cakranegara have colourful, chaotic indoor markets, while Mataram is home to Lombok's only modern shopping mall.
Long before Senggigi came to prominence, Ampenan was Lombok's original backpacker's beach haven and still boasts plenty of cheap guest houses. This is arguably the most authentic area of the city; filled with tightly packed alleyways, ramshackle mosques and a few examples of 1900's Dutch colonial architecture. Shopping here is a real adventure particularly if you have well honed haggling skills. It is the best place to browse for Lombok's most famous exports - authentic "Sasak" pottery and pearls. There is also no shortage of art, jewellery and handicrafts to catch the eye. Right in the heart of the town centre is Lombok's most fascinating cultural centre, the State Museum of West Nusa Tenggara, which is brimming with thousands of interesting exhibits tracing Lombok's past, its art, religious life and handicrafts heritage.
Gleaming office buildings and wide, leafy avenues characterise Mataram’s modern city centre. Huge flagship mosques and imposing government buildings featuring dramatic Islamic architecture can be seen on every corner. Due to its business-like atmosphere, it doesn’t have as much character as Ampenan or Cakranegara for example, but a trip to nearby Mataram Mall offers a great chance to mingle with the locals.
Heading east, Cakranegara, known simply as ‘Cakra,’ is the beating heart of commercial life. Cakra’s flourishing indoor market is a must-see and impossibly hectic at times – check out the weird and wonderful exotic fruits, spices and a warren of clothing stalls that seemingly go on forever. There is a strong Chinese and Balinese influence here, evidenced by the local produce on sale and a number of impressive temples. In fact, the most important landmark in town is the Mayura Water Palace, located on Jalan Selaparang. Built as a royal palace for 18th century Balinese rulers, it features a charming artificial lake and floating pavilion. Right next door is the older and even more lavish Pura Meru Balinese temple.
Return to the Lombok regional overview page.