Larger than Bali and Lombok combined, Sumbawa’s contorted form is the result of violent volcanic explosions. Until fairly recently, there were only two reasons to visit this little-known island: to hire a boat from Sape in the east heading for Komodo National Park or to catch a big wave on its west or southeast coasts. Improved air service to Labuanbajo, Flores, where the sailing to Komodo is much easier and prettier, has negated the first reason, leaving surfing as the island’s biggest tourism attraction. The breaks at Hu’u attract surfers worldwide, and sunsets on clear evenings are absolutely stunning.
The best travel tips for visiting SumbawaWhen islanders say ‘Sumbawa’, they mean the western part of the island. The east is simply called ‘Bima’. The influence of Javanese culture and Hindu-Buddhism was only ever limited here, and today most Sumbawans are fairly conservative Muslims: visitors should wear respectful attire away from the beaches.
It was Gunung Tambora (Mount Tambora) that isolated the people of the west from the Bimanese for centuries. So separate are they that the native language of the Sumbawanese is more akin to those of the Balinese and the Lombok Sasaks, while the Bima language is more like those of Flores and Sumba.
There are other things to do and see in Sumbawa besides the surf. The rich and famous use part of Pulau Moyo, off the north coast, as a remote luxury getaway.
Moyo is also a nature reserve protecting forests and wildlife, and there are two waterfalls presenting rugged trekking opportunities. The mighty Gunung Tambora provides off-the-beaten-track trekking, and there are megaliths believed to be related to those in Sumba.
Best things to do in SumbawaSome of the best surf in the world can be found off the coast of Sumbawa but there are plenty of things to do on the island. Non-surfers can trek through forests, snorkel off the south coast of Pulau Moyo or view ancient stone sarcophagi.
#1 Surf at Hu'u BeachDue south of Dompu is Hu’u. Better known amongst surfers as ‘lakeys’, it offers superlative waves on the outlying reefs at Periscopes, Nangas, Lakey Peak, Lakey Pipe, and Cobblestones.
The main beach in front of the Lakey Peak surf break has beautiful white sand, and at low tide, there is good reef walking. Swimming and snorkelling are possible in small inlets.
#2 See large stone sarcophagi at Batu TeringThe hills east of Sumbawa Besar contain large stone sarcophagi, carved in low relief with human forms and crocodiles.
Batu Tering, about 29km (18 miles) south of Sumbawa Besar, has megaliths said to be the royal tombs of ancient chiefs of a Neolithic culture that thrived about 2,000 years ago.
About 2km (1.25 miles) beyond is Liang Petang (Dark Cave), with stalactites and stalagmites resembling humans and weaving looms.
#3 See the waterfalls of Palau MoyoTravelling west from Sumbawa Besar brings you to Pulau Moyo. Two-thirds of the island is a game reserve to protect the island’s deer, banteng wild ox, 21 bat species and wild boars.
The flora here ranges from savannah to dense jungle containing teak, tamarind and banyan trees. There are two waterfalls; the one near Labuan Aji village is an easier trek.
South of the island the water is crystal clear and the reefs undisturbed, ideal for snorkellers and divers, with a white-sand beach opposite the island at Tanjung Manis.
#4 Climb Gunung TamboraSerious trekkers may want to ascend Gunung Tambora. In 1815, some 100 cu km (25 cu miles) of debris were ejected into the atmosphere with a force equivalent to that of several hydrogen bombs, creating ‘the year without summer’ in 1816.
Located on the northern peninsula of Sumbawa, the gaping, 2,821-metre (9,250ft) high caldera offers spectacular views on a clear day. The ascent begins at Calabai, a small logging town on the coast. It is a very difficult three-day climb and a guide is essential.
#5 Watch a pencak silat (martial arts) performance at BimaAt Bima, if there is a festival going on, you may catch pencak silat (martial arts) and other dance performances at the sultan’s palace.
At the pasar (local market), you’ll see women wearing colourful headscarves that are unique to this region; unmarried women must cover everything except their eyes.
There are several traditional villages in the hills east of Bima, where traces of pre-Islamic belief systems endure. Donggo is the main settlement. Women here still weave indigo cloth, from which they make their traditional clothing.
#6 Spend the day at Sekongkang beachOn the west coast from Taliwang south to Sekongkang beach (familiarly called Yo-Yo’s), the scenic coastline has superb white-sand beaches.
There is prime surfing at Scar Reef near Jereweh, at Supersucks near Maluk, and at Yo-Yo’s on the south coast.
Where to stay in Sumbawa and aroundAs a surfing magnet, travellers tend to stay around the best breaks in Sumbawa, though accommodation on the island is somewhat basic unless you're staying at Pulau Moyo.
West CoastClose to some of the best breaks, Maluk and neighbouring Benete have a number of budget hotels that cater to surfers.
Hu'uThere is a handful of cheap, chilled guesthouses near this famous surf spot.
Pulau MoyoThe rich and famous use part of Pulau Moyo, off the north coast, as a remote luxury getaway.
East CoastThe city of Bima has a number of non-award-winning hotels that cater to backpackers and businesspeople.
Best restaurants and bars in SumbawaThere are no Michelin stars to be found in Sumbawa, instead the best restaurants tend to be warungs selling Indonesian food. Some of the surfing spots sell Western food like burgers and pizzas. There is nearly no nightlife on the island, most will visit a night market.
Rumah Makan Sabar Subur, Bima Popular with the locals, the bandeng goreng (grilled fish and rice) at this clean, cheap warung is the pick of the menu.
Wreck, Lakey Beach As the name suggests, this restaurant has made the most of a beached boat that sells Indonesian and Western food. It's the Mexican-style fajitas and burritos that keep people lingering, though.
Aneka Rasa Jaya, Sumbawa Besar Some of the best seafood served on the island comes from this Chinese restaurant. Get the squid or the scallops in Szechuan sauce.
© tk / shutterstock
How to get to SumbawaMost people get to Sumbawa by boat from Lombok or Flores, though domestic flights serve the island as well. These are the best ways to get to Sumbawa:
By boatMost travellers will arrive by boat. There are ferries from both Flores and Lombok to Sumbawa.
By planeSumbawa has domestic airports in Bima and Sumbawa Besar, which receive flights from Flores, Lombok, and other nearby islands.
How many days do you need in Sumbawa?To do Sumbawa justice, look to spend between 3-5 days here. From ancient spiritual sites and bustling markets to glorious beaches and volcanic landscapes, there’s much to explore.
Firmly on your urban itinerary should be the 17th-century Sultan Salahuddin Mosque and Sumbawa Besar Night Market. When heading further afield, tick off Benete Beach, known for its beautiful white sand and clear water, and Hu'u Beach, for surfing.
In the other direction, Tangga Batu Beach is popular for snorkelling and swimming. For a well-rounded trip, juxtapose sandy beach life with excursions to traditional villages; Sumbawa Kecil is a small, rural village that offers visitors a glimpse into the traditional way of life on Sumbawa Island.
The village is known for its traditional houses, which are built from bamboo and thatched roofs, and for its friendly locals.
Also worthy of a visit is Kampung Adat Wera. Here, see local people making traditional handicrafts such as weaving and pottery.
Elongate your trip to Sumbawa with a hike to the summit of Mount Tambora. Trekking here can be challenging but rewarding - it is an active volcano with a beautiful crater lake – and typically takes around 2-3 days to complete.
Looking for inspiration for your trip? Talk to our Indonesia travel experts.
© tk / shutterstock
Tips for getting around SumbawaGetting around Sumbawa can at times be challenging, but the main highway – which runs from Taliwang (near the west coast) across to Sape (east coast) – is in pretty good nick.
By carHaving your own wheels is exceptionally helpful when navigating Sumbara. The best way to hire a car tends to be through your hotel.
By motorbikeSeveral rental agencies in the larger towns offer motorbikes for rent at reasonable rates.
By busLong-distance buses serve the major towns across the island.
By bemos (minibus)Bemos are usually cheap, but they can be crowded and uncomfortable – especially for longer journeys.
Best time to visit SumbawaThe best time to visit Sumbawa is during the dry season, which runs from May to October. During this time, the weather is generally dry and sunny, making it ideal for trekking and beach life. If you’re coming for the surf, catch the best waves from April to October.
It's important to note that Sumbawa is a tropical destination and even during the dry season, there may still be occasional rainfall, so it's always a good idea to pack a rain jacket or umbrella just in case.
The rainy season typically runs from November to April. During this time, heavy rainfall and high humidity can make outdoor activities difficult and some areas can become inaccessible due to flooding or landslides. Some businesses and tourist attractions close during this time.
Find out more about the best time to visit Indonesia.