10 Of The Best Things To Do Sumba

By Hugo Mathers
14th Dec 2023

two people on a set of stairs diving into the ocean

Recognisable for its pointed thatched-roof homes, turquoise waters, and beach-bound wild horse population, here at Urban List, we think that Indonesia's island of Sumba is both an outdoors adventureland, with enviable surf breaks, rock pools and jungle treks.

A deeply cultural destination, with the indigenous religion of Marapu running through the local customs and festivities, Sumba is the lesser-known island that floats on the western edge of the Savu Sea—Indonesia’s so-called “forgotten island” and one of the country’s best-kept secrets. These are the best things to do in Sumba.

Wonder At The Waimarang Waterfalls

a person standing in front of a waterfall
Image credit: @jefri_winter | Instagram

A two hour drive from East Sumba’s airport, the Waimarang Waterfalls are one of the island’s most popular attractions. After cutting through the jungle for around half an hour, you’ll have earned a plunge in the crystal blue lagoon, which sits beneath the refreshing stream of the waterfall.

Wax Up Your Saltwater Steed And Soak Up Uncrowded Lineups

If you've got the stoke within you, the breaks at Sumba should be high on your surfing trail. From powerful reef breaks to more forgiving beach breaks, whatever ride you're craving, you can bet there's a wave perfect for you. Millers Right is a world-class right-hand reef break with a bold and hollow wave for anyone keen to pump up their adrenaline. Elsewhere, Tarah Mogadishu offers up long and peeling waves for those packing a funboard.

 Hunt For Handmade Treasures At A Local Market

There’s no better way to soak in the local Sumbanese culture than via a trip to the market. Here you’ll find dresses and head wraps made from the island’s traditional hand-woven fabric Tenun Ikat, with beautiful colours and patterns. 

Marvel At Mandorak Beach

a cove on an island
Image credit: @setapakkecil | Instagram

Located on Sumba’s most western peak, Mandorak beach is one of the island’s most picturesque spots. Cradled on both sides by dramatic rocky formations, the beach is not only a uniquely photogenic destination, it’s also a short stroll from one of Sumba’s other gems, the turquoise waters of the Weekuri Lagoon. 

Bask In The Best Beach Views Atop Tanjung Mareha

Speaking of beach recommendations, there’s no better place for witnessing a sunset than atop Tanjung Mareha, a small hill on the south side of Sumba. Looking out over the Indian Ocean, hikers up Tanjung Mareha are treated to views over two of the island’s best beach spots, with Watu Maladong Beach on one side, and Bwanna Beach on the other.

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Climb On The Shoulders Of A Sleeping Giant 

rolling hills at sunset
Image credit: Anitamuina | Website

Raksasa Tidur Wairinding Hill—known by its loose translation as “Sleeping Giant Hill”—is located near Waingapu city. The dramatic panorama over the surrounding mountains is not only one of the best views in Sumba, it totally transforms from season to season, with lush green hilltops making way for a dusty brown savannah during the dry season.

Savour Some Of Sumba’s Surprising Seafood

Surrounded by pristine waters on all sides, Sumba is unsurprisingly famous for its seafood. In particular, any visitor can’t leave without trying the island’s iconic side dish Bokosawu Nyale, that’s if you can stomach the idea of eating raw sea worms. 

Take A Trip To Traditional Towns

beach huts on the coast
Image credit: @travelmina_ | Instagram

For a true feel of the island’s culture, head to the traditional villages of Prailiu or Ratenggaro. Both are well-known for their huge megalithic burial stones, as well as a number of traditional houses with towering alang-alang thatched roofs – and you’ll likely meet women weaving Ikat at their doorsteps.

Time Your Trip To Catch A Sumbanese Festival

One of the most spectacular events in the Sumbanese calendar is the Sandalwood Horses Festival of Sumba. Taking place each July, the festival sees horses and their riders dress up in traditional costumes and compete for a bunch of different awards. The event also features remarkable Ikat weavings from five sub-districts in East Sumba. 

Stay At “The World’s Best Hotel”

two people sitting on the edge of a pool overlooking horses running on a beach
Image credit: @alifeiimagined @bewanderworld | Instagram

The five-star resort Nihi Sumba Island is made up of 27 uniquely designed villas, each with panoramic views over the Indian Ocean. The largest employer on the island, which gives profits back to local community causes, the hotel features tree houses, a one-of-a-kind (and trademarked) “Spa Safari”, and sea swimming experiences with horses.

Witness The Ancient Ritual Of Pasola

If you’re in Sumba in February or March, you might catch the ancient and sacred tradition of Pasola. The Western Sumbanese ritual begins on the night of the Worm Moon – typically the first full moon in March – ushering in the start of the fertile season. Locals collect sea worms for cooking, and horseback riders form teams and attempt to unseat each other with blunted spears. 

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Image credit: Couple's Quest | Instagram

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