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Planning a vacation in Sumba? We’re here to help!
If you’ve never heard of Sumba, you’re not alone. This island in the Indonesian archipelago is roughly twice the size of Bali, and about an hour’s flight to the west – but is nowhere near as well known. For centuries dubbed the Sandalwood Island, thanks to its export trade, it was colonized by the Portuguese in the early 16th century, and by 1866 belonged to the Dutch East Indies, but few signs of these colonizing nations remain today.
Ancestral traditions run deep here – villagers still practice their ancient Marapu religion, building megalithic tombs right alongside their houses to honor their dead and the spirits. In contrast to the volcanic peaks and lush green vegetation of the majority of the archipelago, Sumba has a landscape of mainly dry and arid limestone hills, and the best time to visit is during the dry season between May and September. The island’s beautiful beaches are host to an enthusiastic surf scene, but aside from the odd surfer, you’ll usually have them to yourself – if you’re looking for somewhere truly off the beaten track, you’ve found it.
Trek and swim
Sumba may be dryer than most of the Indonesian archipelago, but it’s still blessed with a number of watery attractions. One of the most spectacular is the Lapopu Waterfall. Cascading almost 300 feet down a graceful staircase of rock, it’s a beauty, and the pool at the bottom is a popular spot for a swim at the end of a hot and sweaty jungle trek.
Not that your hike through the trees is a means to an end. Lapopu is situated in Manupeu Tanah Daru National Park, one of the two main protected wilderness areas on Sumba, and a guided walk is a great way to find out more about the environment and wildlife of the island. The park is rich in flora and fauna including many rare plants, almost 100 different species of birds – including the Sumba flycatcher, apricot-crested sunbird, yellow-crested cockatoo and Sumba green pigeon – around 50 species of butterfly and animals such as water monitor lizards and crab-eating macaque monkeys. The park is in the west of the island, and there’s an asphalt road to get you there, but you will need a car.
Another aquatic attraction, this time of the saltwater variety, is Weekuri lagoon in southwest Sumba. Perched at the edge of rugged cliffs, fringed by lush greenery and fed by the sea, the sandy-bottomed lake is crystal clear and a gorgeous shade of turquoise. The water isn’t deep, so it’s more of a paddling spot than somewhere to practice your strokes, and coral covers a large part of the lagoon bed, making it unsuitable for human feet. But floating in the shallows with a mask and snorkel spotting colorful sea creatures is a wonderful way to spend a few hours.
Experience local culture
If you’re keen to take in a little local culture, then the area around Waikabubak, in the west of Sumba, is a good place to start. Pretty much the closest Sumba gets to a metropolis, Waikabubak is, in fact, more a loose collection of villages, surrounded by tended fields and picturesque hills. In the center of town there are concrete structures, paved roads, cars and traffic lights, but in many of the surrounding areas, you’ll find rows of traditional thatched houses surrounding the megalithic graves – decorated with buffalo horns and statues of horses and men – that the island is famous for. Kampung Tarung, a village on a hill around half a mile to the west of Waikabubak, is an important ceremonial center where residents will often be happy to show you around. It’s also a great place to pick up a souvenir to take home – the women of the village weave beautiful ikat fabric on their handlooms, and buying some is a good way to show your appreciation for the villagers’ hospitality.
Another good stop for culture vultures is the Cultural conservation and Learning Institute in a coconut grove in Sumba Barat Daya in southwest Sumba. Known locally as rumah budaya, or culture house, the institute houses a collection of historic and present-day cultural artifacts from Sumba's diverse tribal communities and can organize excursions to megalithic villages and scenic sites around the island.
Experience our luxury vacation rentals in Sumba
The southwest coast of Sumba is known for its stunning coastal scenery, ravishing white-sand beaches, superb swimming and excellent surf breaks. Since the island is still quite a beginner in the tourism stakes, there isn’t a wide range of luxury accommodation, but Nihiwatu resort has pulled out all the stops to create a world-class retreat.
Our Sumba beach villas are located in this luxury eco-resort and with their handsome hardwood walls and thatched roofs beautifully reflect the traditional architecture of the island. Soul-soothing ocean views come as standard, as does your own private pool surrounded by umbrella-shaded loungers and lush tropical greenery. You’ll have a butler to take care of your in-villa dining, and the resort’s beach club, bars, and restaurant are only a short stroll away.
Choose from a sprawling pavilion-style property with five bedrooms and its own private waterfall and massage cave, or a whimsical treehouse with bamboo bridges between its three bedrooms decked out with traditional Sumbanese carvings, antiques made of local wood and vibrant ikat prints. Ridiculously romantic, these beachside hideaways are perfect for an intimate wedding in the tropics or a super-indulgent honeymoon, but the warm welcome of the staff and the spacious grounds offering plenty of room to run around also make them ideal for a family vacation that won’t be forgotten in a hurry.