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14 Crucial Tips For How To Get Around Sumba Island, Indonesia

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Thinking about booking a once in a lifetime trip to Sumba Island in Indonesia, but unsure where to start? This off the beaten track island will make you feel like how travelling was years ago. And with that being said, brings the difficulty of working out how to get around this island.

We nearly didn’t go to Sumba because we couldn’t find out that much information about it.

While Instagrammers are plastering the beautifully famous Nihi Sumba Hotel all over the internet, there’s way more to this island than wondering along the beach with twenty horses or so.

So, in this guide, we’re going to explain everything to prepare for you for how to visit Sumba Island, how to get around it and tips for how to prepare you before you go.


1. Why visit Sumba island?

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Waimarang Waterfall

Never heard of Sumba Island and wondering why you should visit? Having just come back from three week travels to Bali, Flores and Sumba, I have to say Sumba was by far the best island of the three that we visited.

While Sumba is just a 1 hour flight from Bali, it will blow your mind at the difference between the two. Honestly, you couldn’t get two islands more further apart. While Bali is definitely popular with tourists who are perfectly happy to spend the whole day taking photos of themselves, you won’t find a much more authentic island than Sumba.

Expect an island that will take you back in time, where cultural traditions will be more than eye-opening and natural pristine beauty that will honestly blow you away.

The best part? There’s hardly any tourists here. So what’s the catch? It’s not that easy to get around, so we’ll talk you through how we did it.


How to get around Sumba

We originally thought we would book Nihi Sumba hotel and do day trips from there. But, the more we looked into Sumba, the more we realised that it’s actually a really big island and everywhere is spread out. So after a lot of research, we realised that it would take a long time to get around using public transport.

2. We booked a package tour

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So we decided it would be best to book a driver. We got a few contacts from the Sumba Information website (which is brilliant) and contacted as many local tours as we could. I would go through this site because he specifically mentions tours from Sumba, not from Bali.

When they got back to us, we picked one and ended up booking a customised package tour which included a driver, tour guide, all meals, accommodation and entrance fees into tourist sites.

Looking back on it, I wish we just booked a driver now because it was way over priced for what we got.

And so, we booked a package tour in the end, maybe because we just couldn’t be bothered to think about how we would find food because we thought it would be so remote.

We paid 150,000,000 IDR (approximately $1500) for a four day tour which is crazy as it really didn’t add up. The driver and tour guide would have cost $150 a day, and when we looked into accommodation, it was around $20-$40 a night (hotels were dead so no problem in booking them).

Food is super cheap in Sumba island. We would have eaten at the more expensive places and we still paid like $2 a meal. So basically, we paid pretty much paid double to what it would have cost us.


3. Do you need a tour guide?

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Meeting local people at a village in Sumba

Looking back on it, we really didn’t need a tour guide or package option. Our tour guide didn’t actually know that much about Sumba (even as a local). When we asked him how old the megalithic tombs are, he said more than 100 years old. When we researched it, they are 4500 years old.

Our guide also tried to make us pay for more things on our tour whereas we shouldn’t have had to pay for anything other than alcohol (that’s what the owner of the company told us).

It felt weird, handing over money to the owner at the beginning of the trip, only to watch him give some of the money to the tour guide, who then basically used our money throughout the trip, telling us where we were eating etc.

We were given one small bottle of water a day so we had to buy our own water. He made us pay to use our drone at a village (after we asked if it was OK), and he tried to make me pay for a motorbike on the way to a waterfall. It felt very shady and by the end of the trip, we just wanted to get away from him.


4. Booking a driver will be the cheapest option

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The options you have is to book a driver for around 70,000 IDR a day (approx $70 AUD a day). A driver is the most cost effective way to travel around Sumba island to reach the touristy places.

But the problem with this is they aren’t a tour guide so while they stay in the car park, you’ll need to find your way to waterfalls or get out and see villages by yourself. There are porters at all of the main waterfalls who can show you the way as well. You’ll also need to pay the entrance fee to all of the tourist sites, and I’d be interested to see how much they try and charge a Westerner vs a guide paying it for you in a package tour.


5. Hiring a motorbike won’t be the best idea

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If you want to hire a motorbike and drive yourself, it would be incredibly hard because there are no road signs and internet is super patchy. I have heard people get very lost which doesn’t surprise me.

Plus, getting fuel on Sumba Island can be really difficult because they run out all the time. We saw hundreds of motorbikes lined up outside the petrol stations, waiting overnight to get some. It costs around 9,000 IDR a litre, but there are people selling them in plastic bottles on the side of the road apparently for 20,000 IDR a litre (approx $2 AUD).


6. Eating and drinking out in Sumba

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One of the reasons we booked a package tour is because we knew the places we wanted to visit would be quite remote. We were unsure what the towns would look like where we were staying and if there was any restaurants to eat at. But, of course there is.

We found it really annoying being told when to eat and where to eat on our package tour. Now we’ve been to Sumba, we would have easily gone to a restaurant ourselves. For example, outside the tourist hotels in Tambolaka (such as Ella Hotel), there is an actual western restaurant opposite. I couldn’t believe it.

The food in Sumba Island is cheap, around 20,000 IDR a meal ($2 AUD), but it’s not terrible. We pretty much ordered Nasi Goreng for our entire Indonesian trip because we got so ill. On day 2 of our Sumba trip, Steve ordered a coffee at a restaurant and was ill for the rest of the trip. So, even if your guide suggests ordering soup dishes or hot drinks, politely decline.

The only good thing about having a tour guide is being able to speak to the people at the restaurants as most people can’t speak English in Sumba. I’m sure we would have got by, just like we have in other countries, but it made things easier.

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Google Image Translate comes in handy to read food menus

If you’re looking to drink alcohol in Sumba, you might find it difficult. The only thing we saw served is Bintang, so I didn’t drink at all which was fine. The locals drink peachy, which is 60% alcohol with redbull. We didn’t try it or see it being served, but that’s what our guide told us.


7. Time of year to visit Sumba Island

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We quickly realised that rainy season in Indonesia basically means torrential rain all day long. Luckily for us, Sumba Island had the best weather for our entire trip. We learnt that it’s basically nice in the day and rain by the afternoon which is what happened everyday for us.

When we booked our trip, some of the tour agents told us that we wouldn’t be able to see the waterfalls because there would be too much rain and the water would be brown. I panicked because that was one of the main reasons we visited the island. But, we still saw clear blue waterfalls and didn’t have too many problems with the weather at all.

We asked our guide when the best time to visit Sumba and he said don’t come in February because you won’t be able to see any waterfalls at all as the roads will be flooded.

The best time to visit Sumba Island is in March to see the famous Pasola Festival and October – November are the hottest times of year to visit. We visited at the beginning of January and while it was hotter than Bali, it wasn’t too hot.


8. Is Sumba safe to visit?

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I suppose when you read that it’s one of the poorest islands in Indonesia, you might wonder if it’s actually safe for a tourist to visit? The answer is yes, it’s absolutely safe to visit! Sumba is a very clean island, and I loved how everyone takes pride in their homes by having loads of potted plants outside their front doors.

While the island isn’t set up for tourism like Bali is, the two islands couldn’t be further apart. The local villages are incredible, and you’ll wonder why the traditional houses have such tall roofs (it’s to store the food in), as well why the houses range from tin roofs to thatched houses (the grass roofs are more expensive).

Everyday life in Sumba is slow, so you can say goodbye to the traffic you’ll see in Bali, the constant loud noises of motorbikes and sit back and enjoy a tropical island diverse from East Sumba to West Sumba and down to Southwest Sumba. It’s a really especial island in the East Nusa Tenggara province that needs to be explored by the adventurer within.


9. Where to fly into Sumba

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Waingapu Airport

We weren’t aware of this, but most tourists fly into Tambolaka Airport and out of Waingapu Airport, just like we did. This is because if you book a return flight to one airport, you’ll have to spend a good four hours or so driving back to that side of the island which will take up a day of your trip.

The flights are pretty cheap and we flew with Wings Air which we had no problems with at all. You can fly into Waingapu and end in Tambolaka if you prefer, and both have spectacular places to end the trip. If you end it in Waingapu, you’ll probably spend your final day at the incredible Waimarang Waterfall. And, if you end the trip in Tambolaka Airport, you will most likely end it at the remarkable Weekuri Lake, a beautiful crystal clear swimming hole.


10. Accommodation options in Sumba

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Our second night accommodation

Our 1,500,000 IDR tour ($1500 AUD) meant that we stayed in three star accommodation. Don’t expect luxury hotels because the accommodation is basic with bathrooms that aren’t exactly spotless. We have been used to travelling in basic accommodation, but it will come as a shock if you’re visiting Bali first, because the accommodation in Bali is incredible.

We were offered by one Sumba tour agency to stay in four star accommodation, but it would have cost us $2000 which really felt like too much for a four day tour. Now we’ve visited Sumba, we could have easily picked our own accommodation and just picked places near to the recommended places on the tour.

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We spent the last two nights at Padadita Beach Hotel in Waingapu and that was the only decent hotel we stayed in and the only hotel we met other Western tourists.


11. Are there any ATMs in Sumba?

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We had read there’s no ATMs in Sumba but the truth is, there are. While we tried to get money out in Bali airport, be careful that as soon as you go through customs, there are no ATMs at Bali airport while you’re waiting for your flight.

We needed to pay for our tour and got the right money out but didn’t have enough to buy anything extra. But, there are ATMs in Tambolaka, next to the main hotels (just down the road from Ella Hotel) so you don’t need to worry so much. It’s best to get out the money you’ll need before arriving, but you can still get some out in Sumba if needed.


12. Understanding the cultural traditions in Sumba

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Rende Village tombstones

We heard Sumba is an island full of ancient cultural traditions which were totally eye opening as soon as we landed. They believe in the Marapu religion which is a form on ancestral religion and is practiced as ritual ceremonies and celebrations, especially at funerals.

When we landed in at Tambolaka Airport, we were taken to the oldest village on the island called Ratenggaro Village. As we turned up, a funeral had just taken place and five buffalos were being sacrificed in the middle of the village.

Animals are traded on the island and are a sign of wealth between families. So, you’ll see a buffalo outside a house which are believed to be worth 25,000,000 IDR each ($2500 AUD). When we visited Ratenggaro village, a neighbouring village gifted them the buffalos to be shared in the village for food. As we were there, they were literally carving up the deceased buffalos in front of us, something I hadn’t seen before.

Often, when someone dies, the body is stored in the house for up to three years so the family can prepare for their funeral and fund for the buffalos to be sacrificed. You’ll also see tombstones outside the family home too, and we saw families sleeping on the newer tiled tombs during the day to keep them cool. Tombs are kept outside the family home so their ancestors can protect them.


13. Wifi and using your phone in Sumba

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One thing I really loved about visiting Sumba island is that we didn’t have to think about using our phones at all. We bought a sim card from XL when we landed in Bali airport but we quickly realised we should have bought one from Telkomsel instead as they have better coverage. Read our 32 Brutally Honest Tips For Visiting Bali which includes everything you need to know about getting a SIM and so much more.

I ran out of phone data very quickly and by the time we got to Sumba, I didn’t have any credit. The phone network is very patchy in Sumba and even the wifi in hotels didn’t really work. But, I loved being disconnected from my phone and able to fully appreciate where we were.


14. Places to visit in Sumba

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Unsure where to visit in Sumba? While you’ll need to travel between East Sumba and West Sumba, as well as South West Sumba, there is so much to see on this incredible Indonesian Island. Expect to visit the incredible Tanggedu Waterfall, white sand beaches, some of the best surfing in Indonesia, as well as the top resort in the world, Nihi Sumba, which is home to the Sumba Foundation, which the owners of Nihi Sumba started to help lessen poverty on the island.

We’ll be writing a couple more guides including the best things to do in Sumba and a Sumba Island Itinerary so you can plan your trip with ease.


15. Still unsure about whether to visit Sumba?

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What struck me the most about visiting one of the best Indonesian islands, is the natural beauty of it. The landscape is mind blowing. The rolling hills, dense jungle, pristine waterfalls and swimming holes, traditional villages and local culture really do make it a remarkable island to visit.

We loved visiting a traditional village while being greeted by smiles and everyone waving at us from the local communities. It made me feel like how travel used to be years ago before everyone became obsessed with taking instagram photos.

The rice paddies are absolutely exceptional and everywhere we visited, we were just in awe of the pristine beauty of the island. The beaches are beautiful and the Sumbanese people really are very kind and curious about tourists, something pretty rare to find these days.

And while it is twice the size of Bali, we couldn’t help but think that if these places were located in Bali, they would have thousands of people lining up to take photos.

We didn’t see any tourists until the end of our trip at Waimarang Waterfall. And here there were only five other people.

This forgotten island is now becoming more popular, and I wonder if it will ever become the next Bali as it was tipped to become years ago? If you’re OK without the luxury ammenities, and prefer a holiday full of adventure, Sumba Island will be the perfect destination for you. It makes it feel even more special after visiting Bali that feels totally overrun with tourists.


More Indonesian guides to read

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Have you checked out the rest of our Indonesian guides yet?

Our Sumba guides:

The Real Story Behind Waimarang Waterfall In Sumba Indonesia

7 Tips For Visiting Tanggedu Waterfall In Sumba Indonesia

10 Tips For Visiting Lapopu Waterfall In Sumba Island, Indonesia

Flores guide:

13 Tips For Visiting Wae Rebo Village In Flores Indonesia

Bali guide:

32 Brutally Honest Tips Before Visiting Bali For First Timers 2023 Guide


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