Spanning beautifully its glorious nature, a journey to Sumbawa may brought you to one impressive journey. Though it is not as popular as Bali and Lombok, but the persona of Sumbawa is as if a shy princess ready to get flirted by the revelers.
Elaborately contorted and sprawling into the sea, Sumbawa is all volcanic ridges, terraced rice fields, dry expanses and sheltered bays. Though well connected to Bali and Lombok, it’s a very different sort of place – far less developed, mostly very dry, much poorer, extremely conservative and split between two distinct peoples. Those who speak Sumbawanese probably reached the west of the island from Lombok, while Bimanese speakers dominate the Tambora Peninsula and the east. Although Sumbawa is an overwhelmingly Islamic island, in remote parts underground adat (traditional law and lore) still thrives.
Historically, Sumbawa was divided between east and west, with the western Sumbawans influenced by the Balinese and Sasaks of Lombok, while the eastern Bimans share linguistic and cultural similarities with the Makarese of Sulawesi and the peoples of Flores and Sumba. The whole island is Muslim, however, and conservative dress is recommended.
Sumbawa Besar, usually referred to simply as Sumbawa, is the largest town on the island, although it sprawls without a real centre. The main streets run on a one-way loop, forming a convenient racetrack for ojek drivers in the evenings, although the side streets are quiet and leafy. The area around the Sultan’s Palace, to the south of town, is a particularly pleasant place to wander, where luxurious modern mansions sit side by side with old wooden huts on tiny, colourful alleys. You’re welcome to walk through the palace itself, an elaborate stilted wooden mansion at Jl Dalam Loka 1; ask the guard to unlock it for you.
The main attraction around Sumbawa Besar is Moyo Island, home to deer, buffalo, wild pigs and vast numbers of bird species. The island sits in a nature reserve and is surrounded by coral, making it ideal for snorkelling. A luxury resort owns half the island, but a cheaper way to explore it is to hire a guide via one of the hotels – the Hotel Tambora is the best place to enquire. Independent excursions are also possible, either on a day-trip or overnight.
Boats arrive at Tanjung Pasir, on the south side of Moyo Island. From there you can hike on the eastern half of the island (the western half is owned by the resort), including up to some waterfalls in the north, and swim off the beach. You may have to pay a park fee, but there is rarely anyone there to request it. There are no official maps of the island, but the hiking is fairly straightforward.
Boats to the island sail from the village of Ai Bari (30min), about 20km north of Sumbawa. The public bemo from Sumbawa Besar to Ai Bari runs infrequently, and to guarantee getting it you will have to be at the market at around 6am. However, it is easy enough to hire an ojek or charter a bemo to get there. It’s advisable to pre-arrange return transport to Sumbawa, and if you want to stay on the island you’ll need to bring a tent or rent one from one of the fishermen. There is no water or food available, so make sure you have plenty of provisions.
The rather sleepy port town of Bima is quiet but friendly. Its people have a strong sense of Bimanese identity, offering an insight into the patchwork of ethnicities you’ll find throughout Nusa Tenggara. The town is centred around the market on Jalan Flores; most of the accommodation lies to the west of the Sultan’s Palace, whose museum houses a rather shabby collection of traditional costumes. The area around Bima, Wawo, boasts a distinct style of traditional thatched house; examples can be seen at Maria and Sambori, both on the Bima–Sape bus route. If you need to relax on the beach after a hard day’s travel, charter a boat from the harbour out to the island of Pulau Kambing, where you’ll find relative seclusion.
Sape, where you’ll find the port of Bugis, is a quiet, dusty town where livestock wander the streets and local fisherman ply the harbour at dusk. There isn’t much to see, but it can be a pleasant place to stay the night. Nearby Gili Banta makes a good day-trip, with nice beaches and a burgeoning turtle population; if you get a group together, you can charter a boat there from the harbour. Otherwise, there’s the dark sand Papa Beach, 10km out of town, which is a peaceful spot for a picnic; an ojek will take you there. Most of the town’s facilities, including the post office and a BNI Bank with an ATM, are on the main road down to the port.
Near Poto Tano, unoccupied small isles save some credits for Sumbawa. One of them is Kenawa Island situated about 15 minutes sailing by a fisherman’s motorboat. A half-day trip to this island is recommended particularly when the sun is being your best pal the whole day. From afar, this isle shows mounds which are known as the icon of Kenawa itself. You can hike up and down easily apart from taking advantage of its spanning savanna covering the whole land. The view of Kenawa, however, is quiet unstable depending on the weather. So just make sure when the best time to come.
For you who love to dive and snorkel, around this island tucks perfect spots complete with remarkable corals to channel the desire. Afterwards, to unwind under Sumbawa’s eye-catching sky and sunset, lying on its sparse white sand and turn on your playlist is a further step to spend the rest of the day.
Istana Dalam Loka
A majestic establishment looking alike a castle stands still in the main area of Sumbawa Besar. This place is called Istana (castle) Dalam Loka where used to be the place of Sumbawa’s sultanate since 1885. Stretching for about 904 m2 designed in typical stilt house of Tanah Samawa, this attraction was built by the Sultan Muhanmad Syah III (1883-1931), the 16th Sultan from Dewa Dalam Bawa Dynasty. It feels like a must to visit for this historical building when you step inside Sumbawa.
Surfing in Sumbawa
Sumbawa has gained a reputation for offering some of the finest surfing in Indonesia, without the crowds you’ll find in Bali. Getting to the beaches with a surfboard can be an arduous task unless you charter a car from Sumbawa Besar, but once there you’ll find plenty of accommodation and facilities. The main breaks are at Hu’u, off Lakey beach, and around Maluk beach on the west coast. The latter has direct buses from Sumbawa Besar (3–4hr), though they’re infrequent. To get to Hu’u, you’ll need to take a bus from Bima to Dompu (3hr), and from there to Hu’u (2hr). Many of the waves break over reefs, so are not suitable for novices; however, the beaches are stunning even if you don’t surf.
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