Sumba, Indonesia

Sumba, only an hour away from Bali, is a land of contrasts. The east of the island is made up of arid grasslands and limestone plateaux, while the west is fertile and green, with rolling hills and a long rainy season. It's one of the best hidden secrets of Indonesia and well worth a visit if you are interested in culture, unspoiled beaches and some of the best surfing in Indonesia.

Tips for visiting Sumba

Sumba, not to be confused with Sumbawa, is part of the East Nusa Tenggara province and is the third-largest island in the region. Sumba is home to a diverse range of landscapes, from pristine beaches and rolling hills to rocky cliffs and dense forests.

The island is known for its unique culture and traditions hat is deeply rooted in the beliefs and practices of its indigenous communities. You can witness traditional ceremonies, explore ancient megalithic sites, and learn about the island's history and customs.

It also boasts some of the most stunning landscapes in Indonesia, from pristine beaches and turquoise waters to rolling hills and rugged cliffs. The island is also home to several national parks and protected areas that offer opportunities for hiking and wildlife spotting.

And if that doesn't convince you, a range of outdoor activities for adventure enthusiasts, including surfing, snorkelling, scuba diving, and trekking awaits.

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Bawana Beach, Sumba, Indonesia © Shutterstock

Bawana Beach, Sumba, Indonesia © Shutterstock

Best things to do on Sumba

Sumba offers a wide range of activities and experiences for visitors. Whether you're interested in exploring the island's culture and history, or prefer to spend your time outdoors, there is something for everyone in Sumba.

Here are some of the best things to do on Sumba.

#1 Visit the Weekuri Lagoon

The Weekuri Lagoon is the most visited sight on Sumba. This natural wonder is a crystal-clear lagoon located in the south of the island, surrounded by towering cliffs and lush greenery. The water is incredibly clear and inviting, making it a perfect spot for swimming and snorkeling.

You can relax on the sandy shores of the lagoon or take a dip in the refreshing water. The lagoon is also a great spot for photography, with stunning views of the surrounding landscape. Additionally, there are several vendors selling snacks and drinks nearby, making it a great spot for a picnic.

There are some facilities, but very basic, so bring some water and snacks.

#2 Take in the view from Nihi Sumba

Nihi Sumba is a world-renowned luxury resort located on the western coast of Sumba. The resort is situated on a pristine stretch of beach, with breathtaking views of the Indian Ocean. Unless you have a big budget (£1,700+ per night) youcan take in the stunning view from the comfort of your own private villa, or from one of the resort's many viewing decks and lookout points.

If you are not a visitor or a friend of the owner, you are not allowed to enter, but luckily, you can drive up to the resort and take in the views from the cliff. The view from Nihi Sumba is simply breathtaking, with turquoise waters stretching out as far as the eye can see, framed by dramatic cliffs and lush greenery.

The sunset view is particularly spectacular, with the golden light reflecting off the water and casting a warm glow over the entire landscape.

#3 Learn to surf

Sumba is an excellent destination for surfers of all levels, whether you're a beginner looking to learn how to surf or an experienced surfer looking for a new challenge. There are several surf schools and surf camps on the island that offer lessons and equipment rental.

One of the best surf spots on the island is Nihiwatu Beach, which offers consistent waves and a range of breaks for surfers of different levels.

Other popular surf spots on the island include Watu Maladong Beach, Marosi Beach, and Tarimbang Beach.

#4 Visit traditional villages

Visiting traditional villages is one of the most popular and rewarding things to do on Sumba. The island is home to several indigenous communities, each with their own distinct culture and traditions. You can experience the warmth and hospitality of the locals and learn about their way of life.

One of the most famous villages on the island is the village of Waikabubak, located in the west of the island. Surrounded by lush green meadows and forested hills, tiny Waikabubak encloses several kampung with slanting thatched roofs and megalithic stone graves, where life proceeds according to the laws of the spirits. Kampung Tarung, on a hilltop just west of the main street, has some excellent megalithic graves and is regarded as one of the most significant spiritual centres on the island.

The ratu (king) of Tarung is responsible for the annual wula padu ceremony, which lasts for a month at the beginning of the Merapu New Year in November. The ceremony commemorates the visiting spirits of important ancestors, who are honoured with animal sacrifices and entertained by singing and dancing. Kampung Praijiang is a fine five-tiered village on a hilltop surrounded by rice paddies, several kilometres east of town.

Prailu is the most visited of the local ikat-weaving villages, and is an easy walk from the hotels near the market. After signing in at the large, traditional house, you can inspect weavings that weren’t good enough to be bought by the traders.

View of beautiful Prai Ijing traditional village on a rainy overcast day, Waikabubak, Sumba island, East Nusa Tenggara, Indonesia © Shutterstock

View of beautiful Prai Ijing traditional village on a rainy overcast day, Waikabubak, Sumba island, East Nusa Tenggara, Indonesia © Shutterstock

#5 Explore the best beaches

Sumba's beaches are some of the best in Indonesia and offer visitors a chance to unwind and enjoy the natural beauty of the island. Here are some of the best beaches to visit on Sumba:

Nihiwatu Beach

Located on the western coast of the island, Nihiwatu Beach is known for its pristine white sand and turquoise waters. The beach is a popular spot for surfing, and visitors can also take part in other water sports such as snorkeling, stand-up paddleboarding, and kayaking.

Watu Maladong Beach

This secluded beach is located in the east of the island and is known for its dramatic rock formations and crystal-clear waters. The beach is a great spot for swimming and snorkeling, and visitors can also explore the nearby caves and rock pools

Weekuri Lagoon

While not technically a beach, Weekuri Lagoon is a must-visit destination on Sumba. The lagoon is a natural pool of crystal-clear water surrounded by limestone cliffs and lush greenery. Visitors can swim, snorkel, and relax on the sandy shores of the lagoon.

Marosi Beach

This stunning beach is located in the west of the island and offers visitors a chance to enjoy a peaceful and unspoiled setting. The beach is popular for surfing, and visitors can also take long walks on the sandy shores and enjoy the breathtaking sunsets.

Mandorak Beach

Located on the southern coast of the island, Mandorak Beach is known for its impressive rock formations and clear waters. Visitors can snorkel and explore the nearby coral reefs, or relax on the beach and soak up the sun.

#6 Vistit the largest town: Waingapu

It may be the largest port and town on Sumba, but Waingapu is far from a modern metropolis. Goats wander along the main road, horses are stabled in front porches, and locals still walk around barefoot, with ikat tied around their heads and waists.

The older half of the hourglass-shaped town is centred around the port, the newer part around the market. It’s only a fifteen-minute walk between the two, but every passing ojek will assume you need a lift. The bay to the west of town has a harbour at the extreme point of either shore; all ferries dock at the western harbour, requiring an eight-kilometre journey around the bay to town.

The eastern harbour in the old town is now just used for fishing boats, and can be picturesque, especially at sunset.

#7 Visit tradtional houses in Kodi and Pero

In the extreme west of Sumba lies the increasingly popular Kodi district. Its centre is the village of Bandokodi, well known for the towering roofs that top its traditional houses. It is also one of the main Pasola venues in west Sumba. With your own transport, you can explore the area from Waikabubak, or you can stay in Pero. There are direct buses from Waikabubak to Bandokodi, but they can be hard to find; it’s easy enough to take a bus to Waitabula in the north and then connect to a Kodi service, which should take you all the way to Pero – check the price with a local, as drivers will optimistically ask for many times the real price. Direct buses back to Waikabubak leave Pero around 6am – you should be able to connect back to Waingapu the same day if necessary.

#8 Attend the Pasola

By far the best-known and most dazzling festival in Nusa Tenggara, the Pasola is one of those rare spectacles that actually surpasses all expectations. It takes place in Kodi and Lamboya in February and in Wanokaka and Gaura in March; most hotels can give you a rough idea of the date. This brilliant pageant of several hundred colourfully attired, spear-wielding horsemen in a frenetic and lethal pitched battle is truly unforgettable.

It occurs within the first two moons of the year, and is set off by the mass appearance of a type of sea worm which, for two days a year, turns the shores into a maelstrom of luminous red, yellow and blue. The event is a rite to balance the upper sphere of the heavens and the lower sphere of the seas. T

he Pasola places the men of each village into two teams in direct opposition; the spilling of their blood placates the spirits and restores balance between the two spheres. The proceedings begin several weeks before the main event, with villagers hurling abuse and insults at their neighbours in order to get their blood up.

Wanokaka Hill in Sumba, Indonesia. A man with his horse before doing a Pasola event © Akmal Luthfi M/Shutterstock

A man with his horse before doing a Pasola event © Akmal Luthfi M/Shutterstock

Where to stay

Sumba offers a wide range of accommodations to suit different budgets and preferences, from luxury resorts to more affordable guesthouses. These are some of the best areas to stay in Sumba.

Southwest Sumba

This region is home to some of Sumba's best beaches and surf spots, making it a popular destination for surfers and beachgoers. The area is also home to luxury resorts like Nihi Sumba and Lelewatu Resort Sumba.

East Sumba

This region is known for its traditional villages and cultural attractions, making it a great destination for visitors interested in experiencing Sumba's unique culture. The area also offers a range of accommodation options, from budget-friendly guesthouses to luxury resorts.


This town is located in western Sumba and is a hub for transportation and services on the island. Tambolaka offers a range of accommodation options, including budget-friendly hotels and mid-range guesthouses.

Some of the best hotels are:

  • Nihi Sumba: This award-winning luxury resort is located on the western coast of Sumba, offering stunning views of the Indian Ocean.
  • Lelewatu Resort Sumba: This luxurious resort is situated on a hilltop, offering panoramic views of the surrounding landscape.
  • Nusa Island Retreat: This eco-resort is located on a private island off the coast of Sumba, offering a secluded and tranquil retreat.
  • Mario Hotel & Cafe: This budget-friendly hotel is located in the heart of Waingapu, the main town in Sumba.

How to get here

Access to Sumba is either by ferry from Ende in Flores to Waingapu or from Sape in Sumbawa to Waikelo, or by air to either Waingapu or Waikabubak. Most people choose to fly out of Waingapu rather than Waikabubak, which has a very chequered record for reliability and cancellations.

You can fly directly from Bali.

Ho many days do you need in Sumba

To truly experience the best of what Sumba has to offer, it is recommended to spend at least five to seven days on the island. This will allow enough time to explore the various regions of the island, including its traditional villages, beautiful beaches, and natural attractions.

You can spend a few days in the Southwest Sumba region, relaxing on the beaches and trying out some water sports like surfing or stand-up paddleboarding. After that, you can explore the East Sumba region, which offers cultural experiences like visiting traditional villages and learning about the island's unique customs and traditions.

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Tips for getting around

Your best option to get around on Sumba is either a rental scooter or a car with a driver. It is not advisable to drive the car yourself. The main roads are good, but as soon as you deviate from them, it becomes a lot less with many dirt roads and holes in the road. The roads around Nihi Sumba have been completely renewed and asphalted.

Public transport is not an option.

Best time to visit

The best time to visit Sumba is during the dry season, which runs from May to September. During this time, the weather is generally sunny and dry, with lower humidity and cooler temperatures. This makes it an ideal time to explore the island's outdoor attractions, such as its beaches and natural sites.

The wet season in Sumba runs from October to April, with the heaviest rains occurring between December and February

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Rough Guides Editors

written by
Rough Guides Editors

updated 07.09.2021

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