Photo: Bwanna Beach.

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The most easterly large town in Sumba, sleepy Waitabula is your western gateway to Sumba, being home to the island’s largest and most modern airport, Tambolaka. The town is sometimes referred to by the airport’s name, however most locals call it Waitabula, so that’s what we’re going with.

Waitabula is slowly waking up. Once just the airport stop for local businesspeople, the town is now a great place to base yourself to explore the newly divided political region of West Sumba known as Sumba Barat Daya. Locally abbreviated to SBD, it includes the remarkable district of Kodi described aptly to us as “Sumba on steroids”.

Exploring pays off. Photo taken in or around Waitabula, Indonesia by Sally Arnold.

Exploring pays off. Photo: Sally Arnold

There is so much to see and do in the areas surrounding Waitabula that you could easily make this your only destination in Sumba (but do get out and see more). Don’t miss Weekuri Lagoon and Ratenggaro village, and try to see Mandorak Beach near Weekuri too, which we unfortunately didn’t visit but heard fab things about.

If nature’s your thing, you’ll revel in the abundance of spectacular and mostly deserted beaches and pretty waterfalls. Watu Malando and Bwanna Beach offer dramatic rock formations — it’s a bit of a trek to get there, but well worth the effort. You’ll find more traditional villages nearer to Waikabubak, but what this area lacks in numbers, it makes up in calibre. If you visit during February or March, make sure you get along to a Pasola ceremony.

Chilling near Pero. Photo taken in or around Waitabula, Indonesia by Sally Arnold.

Chilling near Pero. Photo: Sally Arnold

For local textiles, head to the market, but there’s not a lot else to buy in the way of souvenirs. Hotel Sinar Tambolaka has a small souvenir shop (or that’s what it looked like), however when we enquired, we were informed items were not for sale — we think it was perhaps more a case that the shop assistant just wasn’t interested in opening the cabinets. Some of the traditional villages sell wood carvings, so take extra cash if that appeals.

Travel warning
The southwest of Sumba, centred around Kodi is widely considered to be unsafe to travel at night. You will have considerable difficulty finding transport in the evening in the area and there is a good reason for that. There is a high likelihood your vehicle will be stopped and you’ll be robbed. We didn’t feel at all troubled in the area travelling around at daytime, but were repeatedly warned about travel at dusk and especially in the evening.

Waitabula’s one main street runs through town and continues to Waikabubak, populated either side for about 10 kilometres, with the centre of town just a two kilometre radius. This street is known by numerous names — each business seems to make up its own. Heading east past the market, the road becomes a steepish downhill descent for a couple of kilometres. Along this main road is where you’ll find hotels and restaurants, banks, small shops and an interesting daily local market, but that’s about it. For sightseeing, you’ll have to head out of town.

Local hospitality, Umbu Koba. Photo taken in or around Waitabula, Indonesia by Sally Arnold.

Local hospitality, Umbu Koba. Photo: Sally Arnold

The only budget accommodation is in the business hotels. If you have more to spend, head to the beaches for tourist-style hotels and guesthouses.

Food choices in Waitabula are pretty good. If you’ve been travelling and craving Western food, you’ll find some good options. If sightseeing for the day, stock up on snacks or a packed lunch, as little is available at surrounding beaches and villages. The main market has a good selection of fresh fruit and local snacks, and plenty of cake stalls along the main road will satisfy a sweet craving.

Just glorious. Photo taken in or around Waitabula, Indonesia by Sally Arnold.

Just glorious. Photo: Sally Arnold

ATMs that accept international cards are along the main street and outside the hospital. The post office is at the western of town, diagonally opposite the large public field. The police station is at the eastern end of town. At the time of our visit, they had banners warning that weapons (swords and machetes) were not to be carried in public. This appeared to be unsuccessful.

Waitabula is the base for the Catholic Church in Sumba — they run the local hospital and have an excellent small museum with attached accommodation.

Hospital Rumah Sakit Karitas is in the middle of town (T: (0387) 24 027; (0387) 24 032; F: (0387) 24 008). For emergencies SMS the medical director Dr Oktavian Deky on (0852) 1761 2171; For serious cases, Bali is just over an hour’s flight away.

The port at nearby Waikelo caters to both local ferries and international cruise ships. Buses across the island and local bemos leave from the main market.

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What next?

 Browse our independent reviews of places to stay in and around Waitabula.
 Read up on where to eat on Waitabula.
 Check out our listings of things to do in and around Waitabula.
 Read up on how to get to Waitabula.
 Do you have travel insurance yet? If not, find out why you need it.
 Planning on riding a scooter in Waitabula? Please read this.
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