Sumbawa is somewhat of an enigma. It’s separated from its western neighbour Lombok by only 20km’s and is three times the size. And if you happen to be flying over it on your way to Flores or West Timor, you can’t help but notice the rugged topography and jagged coastline interspersed with long expanses of white sandy beaches. It looks intriguing, yet despite its promising appearance and easy access from Lombok and even Bali, it has stayed firmly off the tourist radar.
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Sumbawa is rather conservatively Muslim, without the well-preserved traditional villages and ageless indigenous cultures of its neighbours Sumba and Flores. That’s because its ancient culture was devastated by the eruption of Mt Tambora in 1815. Archaeologists are starting to unearth some intriguing artifacts dating back to the Neolithic period, but it remains something of a mystery. We do know that Sumbawa has traditionally been occupied by two distinct ethnic groups, each with their own languages and customs. The Sumbawanese in the west are closely related to the Sasak people on Lombok, the Bimanese in the east closely related to the people of Flores. A third, linguistically separate minority group called the Don Donggo are also found in the eastern highlands.
During the 14th century, and perhaps sometime before, Sumbawa was ruled by the Java based Majapahit kingdom. After the fall of the kingdom in the mid-15th century, West Sumbawa was intermittently controlled by the Balinese, the Islamic Makassar’s of South Sulawesi and the Dutch. In more recent times, the Indonesian Government’s Transmigration Scheme has brought an influx of Javanese migrants to the island. The hotchpotch of influences and the Mt Tambora eruption has understandably, left Sumbawa without any real cultural identity of its own. That’s no reason to pass over Sumbawa though, for the island has abundant natural attractions and a laid back atmosphere that’s contagious.
The few tourists who set foot on Sumbawa are often completing a sea/land crossing on their way to Flores. They step off the ferry at Poto Tano onto a bus and don’t step off that until they reach the outward port of Sape on the east coast. Most are totally unaware that they are passing right by some absolute hidden gems.
Surfers’s have been coming to the island for decades. The southwest coast is renowned for perfectly formed breaks with names like Supersuck, Yoyo’s, Big Brother and Scar Reef. But it’s not just the waves that draw them; it’s the whole package. Beautiful beaches, clear warm tropical water, a hinterland bedecked with jungle, rice fields and banana plantations, quiet villages and friendly locals. It’s the epitome of a tropical paradise; like Bali in the raw four or five decades ago.
And just like Bali back then, the real adventure is just getting out there and having a look around. Gorgeous beaches with lots of calm, flat water ideal for swimming and snorkelling. The interior has some excellent hiking opportunities, including climbing the mega volcano, Mt Tambora. There are waterfalls, caves and fascinating archaeological sites.
We’ve endeavoured to pull together a comprehensive list of attractions to help you plan your Sumbawa adventure.
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Know your way around
Entry & exit points and transport options
By air, land or sea