An Insider’s Guide to Sumba: Bali’s Unspoilt Alternative
On the western edge of the sea of Savu, a few islands east of Bali, there is a place of its own – where wild horses still roam the palm-lined beaches and stretches of road see more buffalo. how many cars. An island of shade-draped natural pools and mythical surf spots, but also dry stretches of limestone hills that almost resemble the African savannah. The most defining aspect of Sumba – about twice the size of Bali, but with barely a sixth of its population – is its indigenous Marapu belief system, in which locals worship the spirits of their ancestors, whom they believe live all around them, although some are buried in imposing megalithic tombs. In kampung villages of pointed-roof, thatched-roof houses, betel nut-chewing women spin some of Indonesia’s most elaborate ikat fabrics – geometric patterns of shells and animals – onto hand-dyed fabrics with indigo leaves, root bark and pounded turmeric.
It is an island almost devoid of shamanic priests but no commercial centers; where the children are still shouting “Hey, sir!” ; where encounters with poverty, tribalism and sacrificial rituals can be confrontational. So far, it has not experienced anything comparable to the overdevelopment seen in Bali. New hoteliers tend to merge hospitality with philanthropy – figures such as Claude Graves, who started the Sumba Foundation to support community projects at the same time he was building a beach resort next to the hottest surf spot. famous on the island in 1989. The hotel is now Nihi Sumba. , and owned by American financier Chris Burch and South African hotelier James McBride (formerly The Carlyle in New York). The big arrival later this year will be Cape Karoso, tropical and modern, at the wild west end of the island. New hoteliers Fabrice and Eve Ivara will emphasize food from a rotating call of chefs, with ingredients grown on the resort’s organic farm. Here, the Ivaras and others who have fallen in love with the island explain why this delicately laid place deserves only the sweetest and most enduring steps.
Most visitors stay in the west of the island, where it’s a 90-minute drive on quiet, dusty roads from the small airport at Tambolaka to resorts such as Nihi Sumba in the south and Cape Karoso in the east. ‘west. There are magical beaches around here, from the limestone stacks of Bwanna in the southwest to the semi-lagoon of Mandorak in the far west and the Pero estuary, where the wooden canoes of fishermen congregate in clear waters. At Weekuri Lagoon near Mandorak, locals rent rubber buoys and float serenely as the Indian Ocean bursts through vents at one end. It’s also worth exploring the drier east of the island, with its sandalwood trees and cashew plantations. Natural highlights along the way include the tiered Lapopu Waterfall, the Waikelo Sawah Falls and Caves, and the Waimarang Swimming Hole, reminiscent of Mexican cenotes. Traditional kampung villages are dotted across the island, such as Ratenggaro to the west, where thatched-roof houses and megalithic tombs overlook a beautiful estuary of white sand and calm turquoise water.
Accommodation in Sumba, Indonesia
Nihi Sumba (doubles from around £1,215) is still the island’s most famous stay – 28 thatched-roof villas among frangipani trees, with infinity pools and private butlers to organize horseback rides at sunset on the beach.
Also on the southwest coast, Alamayah (doubles from around £155) is a surf-facing boutique hotel with six suites, rooftop yoga and a plant-based restaurant.
Later in the year, Cap Karoso (doubles from around £185) launches with 47 clean-lined rooms and 20 villas, including beachfront homes with lagoon pools.
Closer to the airport and beautiful Mananga Aba Beach to the north, Maringi Sumba (doubles from around £105) is the Sumba Hospitality Foundation’s lush bamboo eco-resort, with newly trained local staff , nine rooms and villas and excellent Sumbanese cuisine from the foundation’s permaculture farm.