Traveling around the Indonesian island of Sumba (not to be confused with Sumbawa!) wasn’t actually on my schedule at all. I had never even heard of it during my itinerary of 2 months in Indonesia! That changed when I traveled back to Indonesia, to Bali to be precise in December after my trip in Nepal. Actually I wanted to explore this island a bit further, because I had only been in Ubud a few months before.
From the airport I therefore immediately took a taxi to Canggu, which many say is a nice place as a solo traveler. After a few days, however, I was completely convinced that this wasn’t a destination for me. I had to get out of here ASAP! But where would I go?
I was thinking of traveling to the north of Bali, but for some reason I quickly put this idea out of my mind. And what better way to choose a new destination than simply opening Google Maps? And that’s exactly what I did!
I wanted to stay in Indonesia, so I checked all the islands on the map until Sumba caught my attention. This island is located about 60 kilometers south of the Komodo National Park and Flores. Not much is known about tourism and non-tourist places always attract my interest. I want to go here!
In this article:
- Sumba itinerary
- Best time to visit
- How to get to Sumba
But as a solo traveler, this can be quite tricky (and pricey). There are zero hostels on the island. Just like my Flores itinerary, I wanted to do a road trip on the scooter. But I didn’t quite like the idea of traveling alone on the motorbike in Sumba. So I placed a message in one of the Asia Facebook groups, but it turned out to be quite difficult to find a travel companion.
So Sumba stayed on my list for a while and I traveled to Lombok. Here I ended up spending 3 full months and had a great time. I also met my Austrian travel companion with whom I traveled for 3 months. Sumba also caught her interest, so we decided to take the plane together and explore this island. And that turned out to be an excellent choice!
Our Indonesian friends had an acquaintance in Sumba who was eager to help us get around. This is how we came into contact with his nephews who drove us on motorbikes and car for 7 days. Before we started this travel together, we came up with an itinerary that I would like to share with you below.
Sumba isn’t a small island. It has an area of a whopping 11,052 km². The island can be divided into West and East Sumba, each with a very different landscape. I definitely recommend visiting both parts of the island! Sumba is also known for its fantastic surf spots and there are even a handful of surf schools.
Every day I made trips during this Sumba itinerary with Tambolaka in West Sumba and Waingapu in East Sumba as my base. In stayed in Tambolaka 4 days and in Waingapu 3 days.
Day 1: Tambolaka
From Bali I flew to Tambolaka in about an hour. Not a big city, if you can already call it a city, but it’s the place where the airport of West Sumba is located. The number of accommodations in Tambolaka can be counted on one hand. However, you can also choose to go directly to the coast in the north where you can choose from the slightly more luxurious Oro Beach houses (€ 38) and Mario Hotel & Café (€ 48). Both are located on the beach, about half an hour’s drive from the airport.
On the day of arrival we met the acquaintances of our Indonesian friends and together we made an itinerary for the coming days. That same afternoon we first set out with a local driver and visited Bukit Lendongara, also known as the Teletubbies hills. We had a fantastic view over the undulating green hills. Those are only green when you travel in or just after the rainy season.
After visiting the hills, we drove on to Pantai Kita in the north. Mario Hotel & Café I mentioned above is located on this beach. It’s very beautiful to watch the sunset from this beach.
The road to it isn’t of very good quality, so if you drive there yourself, drive carefully.
Day 2: Tambolaka
On the second day we went out with the boys on the back of the motorbike. The day before we had agreed to leave around 9:00, but as is often the case in Indonesia, we actually left around 10:30. After a few months in Indonesia I was kinda used to this.
It was about an hour’s drive to the Weekuri Lagoon which is located south-west of Tambolaka. When you google for images of Sumba, this beautiful lagoon is often there. The road to it is mostly of excellent quality. Be sure to stop by the cliffs along the way to see the locals fishing. Entrance to the Weekuri Lagoon is free, you only pay parking costs.
Pantai Mandorak is also nearby. This beach is known for the large rocks in the water.
In the afternoon we visited our first traditional village in Sumba, Ratenggaro. These villages are characterized by wooden houses with thatched roofs. We were able to see how people live and how their houses are divided. For example, the animals live under the house, there are often several families sleeping on the first ‘floor’ and all food is stored up to the roofs.
Entrance is 40,000 IDR. It’s also nice to walk to the beach, Pantai Ratenggaro afterwards.
From Ratenggaro it was about an hour drive back to Tambolaka. When we arrived back at our guesthouse we were invited to a birthday party at their family home, of course with karaoke included ;).
When we arrived we were already handed plates to taste all the delicious dishes. I think there were about 20 to 30 friends and family present, most of whom were photographed with us of course. Not much later, of course, we also had to taste the local Arrack. Everyone was blaring through the microphone with great enthusiasm and the feet went off the floor. That was another nice introduction to Sumba.
Day 3: Tambolaka
On day 3 we also planned to go out at 9:00, but because of some hangovers here and there we left again around 10:30. Today another family member from Jakarta drove with us on a family visit to Sumba.
The first destination of the day was Pantai Watu Malandong, a good 1.5 – 2 hours drive from Tambolaka. The last part of the route was dramatically bad and sometimes quite scary. Once we arrived at the beach we were able to relax. Swimming wasn’t possible at the beach because of the rough sea. However, a river also flows into the sea, where we could swim. But also here we had to be careful, because the current was a bit strong.
After a nice typical Indonesian lunch on the beach, we drove to Tanjung Mareha. It took some searching, but after a while we arrived at the viewpoint on the cliff. It was amazing how far we could see from this cliff. With a fresh coconut in our hand, we had a view of kilometers of beach with a blue sea. For a moment we all enjoyed the sound of the many waves crashing on the beach. Far below us we saw a group of local children playing happily on the beach.
As we got a little lost on the way up, we asked the locals at the cliff to drive with us to Pantai Mbawana. We had already had a nice view on this beach from the cliff. It was about 20 minutes scrambling down on a concrete staircase that was still under construction. A group of children came running towards us curiously while we sat down on the beach in the shade. The waves were a bit calmer here, so we could enter the water on this beach.
After we climbed up again and gasped for shade, the friendly gentleman opened some fresh coconuts for us. That worked out perfectly, because our water was almost finished again.
In the evening we had a nice dinner at the family home while enjoying a Bintang beer.
Day 4: Tambolaka
Since we had already seen most of the sights around Tambolaka, we took it a bit easy today. No more long rides on the motorbike for us.
In the afternoon we drove in the back of the pick-up truck to the local market. Here we were unabashedly stared at by most locals and some dared to take a picture with us. I’m always up for taking pictures! At the market we bought a lot of products for the local orphanage in Tambolaka where we would drive that same afternoon.
That evening we had a barbecue with fresh chicken at Pantai Kawona, so fresh that it was slaughtered on the spot. Yes, that’s the way it goes here. We didn’t stayed up very late that evening, because the next morning we got in the car early in the morning of to Waingapu in East Sumba.
East Sumba has a completely different landscape than the west of the island. The landscape here is particularly characterized by savannah and rolling hills. The largest city in East Sumba is Waingapu.
Day 5: Waingapu
Our alarm went off around 4:00 am. Not much later we got into the car on the way to Waingapu. The road between Tambolaka and Waingapu is mostly of excellent quality. On the way we drove through small villages in a beautiful landscape with rolling green hills and vistas.
Before arriving in Waingapu, we made a stop at the Bukit Wairinding, also known as the Teletubbies Hills. These hills are similar to Bukit Lendongara, however we could see much further here. It was a beautiful sight to see the clouds moving over the landscape.
We drove on to Waingapu and dropped our stuff in the guesthouse. We first stayed overnight at Hotel Merlyn. Basic but cheap (less than 200,000 IDR per night).
After an afternoon nap, we left for the Air Terjun Tanggedu. The route to the waterfall led us through a beautiful hilly landscape with rivers and tiny villages. After parking the car we had to walk a bit and walk down to the waterfall. When it has rained this route can be quite slippery, so beware.
Unfortunately, the waterfall and river were colored brown. We knew this in advance because we traveled in the rainy season. Swimming wasn’t so attractive, but it could have been done in principle, with some caution. On the other hand, it was a great place for our own Indonesian lunch.
Be sure to climb the hill before climbing down to the waterfall. It’s not an official viewpoint, but you have a breathtaking view. We enthusiastically climbed this hill barefoot, but I wouldn’t recommend that though.. Shoes or sandals are a better idea!
In the evening we had a great time at the night market with a number of locals who were eager to practice their English with us. Of course we also tried to speak a word of Bahasa Indonesian.
Day 6: Waingapu
The previous evening, one of the locals suggested watching the sunrise at the Bukit Hiliwuku. Getting up early was already part of our rhythm, so we agreed. The view was very beautiful, but the bottom line was that he had no idea where the sun was coming from and it was also cloudy. Not a successful sunrise, but nevertheless a very nice view! And we had a lot of fun.
On the way back we stopped at Bukit Persaudaraan where we had a great view of miles of rice fields and palm trees.
After this it was time for an afternoon nap in the hotel. But this night we decided to sleep a little more luxurious in the Pedadita Beach Hotel. Well, that felt quite luxurious after our basic accommodations.
The weather didn’t look very reliable, but we decided to go to the Air Terjun Wai Marang. Climbing down was quite a challenge because the route is very steep on the last stretch and slippery because of the rain.
The water in the waterfall is very blue in the dry season, but now the water was a bit muddy. Nevertheless, we climbed over the edge to the waterfall and jumped into the water.
Before sunset we drove to Pantai Walakiri. This beach is known for the mangrove trees that are visible in the water. The low hanging sun provides a beautiful reflection and is therefore a popular place for photo shoots. In the water there were also countless starfish.
Day 7: Tambolaka
The last day had arrived and we drove from Waingapu to Tambolaka in a few hours. Early the next morning our flight from Tambolaka to Bali would leave. We ended this fun week together with family. Of course the local strong Arrack drink was also present and we continued this pleasant evening with the mentality “sleeping is for the faint-hearted”. Well, of course we felt the consequences of this the next morning.
Culture in Sumba
Did you know that Sumba is one of the poorest areas in Indonesia? Culturally, however, it is one of the richest! It’s one of the last areas on earth where animism occurs and tradition plays a major role. More than half of the population is Christian.
What I found very special to see was that the population with several families lives in traditional houses. These types of houses (see photo below) often have a large piece of land and are located along a main road.
The official language in Sumba is Bahasa Indonesian, but many other languages and dialects are also spoken, as many as 9 different ones. Many locals hardly speak English, so it certainly doesn’t hurt to learn a little Indonesian. With a few basic words and phrases and non-verbal communication you can go a long way together!
Transportation on Sumba
The road between Tambolaka and Waingapu is mostly of excellent quality. However, many other roads on the island are often a lot more unreliable and sometimes even of poor quality.
So I traveled on the back of the motorbike on Sumba. For just renting a motorbike you pay 100,000 to 150,000 IDR (€ 6 – € 9) per day. This amount is slightly higher than on many other Indonesian islands. This is because there is little competition in Sumba, so the rental companies have prices high.
A driver is of course even more expensive. This costs about 500,000 IDR (€ 30) per day.
Bring enough food and drinks with you when you go on a day trip. On the way you often can’t buy anything anywhere. What we often did was buy our lunch at one of the Nasi Padang eateries. They are my favorite! And especially the Rendang. Did you know that the recipe for Indonesian Rendang is also on my website?
Accommodations in Sumba
What we originally planned was to make a road trip on the motorbike and find places to stay overnight along the way, just like my road trip on Flores. But in 2020 this was certainly not yet possible on Sumba.
There is a very limited choice of accommodations in Sumba. In the cities, such as Tambolaka and Waingapu, you can still find the most places to stay. There are also resorts scattered along the coast. However, for this you have to dig deep into the pouch. If you travel the low-budget, then your choice is a lot more limited.
That doesn’t mean it’s impossible to get around Sumba on a low budget! Prices of the cheaper nights are around 150,000 – 250,000 IDR (€ 9 – € 15) per night. For accommodations in Sumba you can check out websites such as Booking, Agoda but also Traveloka.
Best time to visit Sumba
Sumba has a relatively short rainy season and a long dry season. The west of the island receives at least twice as much rainfall annually than in the east.
Sumba has a dry and mountainous landscape and it can get very hot. I traveled there during the rainy season in February and even then it was quite hot.
The rainy season runs roughly from December to March. An advantage of traveling in the rainy season is that the landscape is beautifully green. A disadvantage is of course the chance of rainfall. When it rains, it often rains briefly but powerfully. In addition, the waterfalls and rivers are colored brown because of the rainwater. These are the most beautiful in the dry season.
The best time to visit Sumba depends a bit on what you want to see. If you want to see a beautiful green landscape, travel in or just after the rainy season (January – April). If you would like to see blue waterfalls, travel at the end of the dry season (August – October).
How to get to Sumba
Sumba is best reached by direct flight from Bali, which is located 400 kilometers from the island. Flying from Bali to Sumba takes only 1 to 1.5 hours. There are daily direct flights from Denpasar (Bali) to Tambolaka in West Sumba and to Waingapu in East Sumba.
So I booked a return flight to Tambolaka and traveled east for a few days. However, you can also fly to Tambolaka and fly back from Waingapu or vice versa. But a return ticket from the same airport is often a bit cheaper.
In addition, there is apparently also a boat connection from Ende in Flores and according to our acquaintance in Sumba also from Lombok (a sailing trip of 24 hours). From what I understand these are big boats that also fit cars. If you have enough time, are you traveling low-budget, or would you like a local experience, the boat is a good option for you.