If you need to get away — far, far away — to a magical place completely different from anything you’re used to, visit Sumba.
Sumba is a remote island in Eastern Indonesia, part of the Lesser Sunda Islands group in the province of East Nusa Tenggara — a 55-minute charter flight east of Bali. The island is defined by its uniqueness — even within Indonesia. With its “rugged undulating savannah and low limestone hills,” its physical characteristics bear hardly any resemblance to the other islands of Indonesia.
According to Lonely Planet, Sumba is one of the poorest islands in Indonesia, but an influx of government investment has brought recent improvements in infrastructure.
Sumba is a dynamic mystery. With its rugged undulating savannah and low limestone hills knitted together with more maize and cassava than rice, physically it looks nothing like Indonesia’s volcanic islands to the north. Sprinkled throughout the countryside are hilltop villages with thatched clan houses clustered around megalithic tombs, where villagers claim to be Protestant but still pay homage to their indigenous marapuwith bloody sacrificial rites. Throw in outstanding hand-spun, naturally dyed ikat, and the annual Pasola festival – where bareback horsemen ritualize old tribal conflicts as they battle one another with hand-carved spears – and it’s easy to see that Sumba runs deep.
One of the least developed islands in Indonesia, an influx of welcome government investment has brought recent improvements in infrastructure – best seen in Tambolaka, the island’s newest city. And change has trickled down to traditional villages, as well. Thatched roofs are becoming tin, tombs are now made from concrete, traditional dress is increasingly rare, and remote villagers expect larger donations from visitors. Some traditions persist, however. Sumba’s extensive grasslands make it one of Indonesia’s leading horse-breeding islands. Horses still serve as a mode of transport in more rugged regions; they remain a symbol of wealth and status, and can still win a bride.
There is now a beautiful, exclusive resort called Nihiwatu for visitors to stay. Nihiwatu is about relaxation, appreciating nature, and experiencing culture. Surrounding it are Stone Age sites and traditional villages that have remained unchanged for centuries. You can fish, surf, or dive right on the resort’s beach, and you’ll be surrounded by tradition — “sometimes buffalo are led down to this beach to be washed, and when the tide draws back over the reef, villagers emerge to gather seaweed, urchins and crabs,” according to Condé Nast Traveler.
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