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Sumba - Lesser Sunda

Indonesia has many islands but Sumba is not one on the regular list of to be visited. It does get its share of tourism but for most of the average travelers it's too far out.

Traditional Sumbanese village

Traditional Sumbanese village

Sumba is one of the Lesser Sunda Islands. There is a dry season from May to November and a rainy season from December to April.

The island was and is known as "Sandalwood Island" as it has been exporting sandalwood over the centuries.

The population is about half a million with Waingapu as capital. Many of the people at the island still live like their ancestors in traditional villages although for their houses many now also use plastic roofs.

People at the island are a mix of Malay and Melanesian. The religion is an interesting mix of Marapu religion mixed with Christianity.

Some will claim their Roman Catholic or Dutch Calvinist but their beliefs are all mixed with remains of Marapu superstitious beliefs.

Traditional Sumbanese village
One of the many Sumbanese villages at the beach

In some villages, for example the one on the photo below), people will not come to the beach unless they really have to as their beliefs tell them the angry evil gods live here. The mix of Marapu and Christianity is unique for Sumba.

When you walk through the villages, you will find tombstones that show the mix of Marapu and Christianity. It's a remainder of a practice dating back to the Bronze and Neolithic Age when this was practice in many other places in the world but only survived at Sumba. 

Traditional Sumbanese village

Tourists flock to Sumba in February and March for the Pasola festival (come in this time of the year and you will have to book in advance a hotel room). The festival is a kind of war ritual. There are two groups of men riding decorated horses and throwing spears at each other. Unfortunately I have not witnessed it myself (I was in Sumba in September).

building Traditional Sumbanese villageMegaliths in Sumba

The island is famous for its arts and handicrafts, particularly the textile "ikat" weaving. This kind of ikat weaving is also unique for Sumba and is completely different from for example Flores.

Megaliths in Sumba


Sumba's main town, Waingapu, has some basic guesthouses. If you travel on your own, you will be probably awaited by some of the owners or representatives when you arrive at the airport or by ferry from Ende. But in case you want to book a hotel in advance or have a look what you can expect, Tripadvisor and Hotelscombined have a good selection.

Ikat weaving in one of the villages
Ikat weaving in one of the villages

At the southwest side of the island, you will find some upmarket resorts but you don't have to stay here if you are on low budget. Waingapu has several guesthouses, not always the cleanest options though but you can't expect much if you only want to spend US $3-4 a night. Tripadvisor has a few guesthouses you can book.

Beaches at Sumba are of unimaginable beauty
Beaches at Sumba are of unimaginable beauty

Getting There

There are flights to Sumba from Bali (Merapi and Trans Nusa).

I did take a flight with Merapi to Maumere and cycled back to Labuanbajo, took a bus to Lombok and cycled through Lombok to the ferry with Bali. That journey took 4 weeks.

Inside the traditional Sumbanese houses
Inside the traditional Sumbanese houses

If you are cycling in Nusa Tenggara, you are just as well off taking the ferry in Ende to Waingapu. Best way to find out when boats leave is to call on arrival the local office. The pelnis travel in a loop which make the schedules officially available (if available at all!) not reliable due to weather and technical issues. Roughly every 3 days there should at least be a ferry. On Fridays there's an additional ferry Ende-Waingapu.

Another option instead of going back to Ende is to take the Tuesday ferry to Aimere. Alternative you can take a ferry from Waekelo to Sape at Sumbawa to visit the Komodo islands.

Sumba map

There are boats to Flores (Ende) and Timor (Kupang), There is also a ferry from Sape to Waekolo (near Waitabula). Ships can take bicycles and motorbikes. Personally I don't think you need to fly to Sumba when you are in Ende.

Getting around

If you stay in Waingapu, you will probably be able to join a day tour from your hotel. This goes by taxi. However, you can easy get a taxi or motorbike on your own. For those who can stand the heat, Sumba is hilly but a good challenge for cyclists.

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Cycling in Bali, Lombok, Flores and Sumba

Cycling in Indonesia

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