Photo: Flying in to Bima.

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Introduction

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The capital of Sumbawa, Bima is a squat, largely east-west running city. It morphs into neighbouring Raba to the east and south, and abuts Bima Bay to the west. This narrow body of water delivers to Bima a particularly protected harbour, which saw the city thrive as an active seaport back in the day. Today, while the port remains active, serving both the occasional Pelni passenger ship and freighter, we’d hazard a guess that the airport, some 10 kilometres to the south, sees far more traffic day to day.


Set towards the eastern region of Sumbawa, Bima is home to one of the three ethnic groups you’re most likely to encounter in Sumbawa: Orang Bima (Bima people) and they speak, you guessed it, Bahasa Bima. In the past the city boomed as a trading port and sultanate, having strong trading relations with Sulawesi. These days it’s the administrative centre for the island and is the first port of call for the trickle of tourists flying in. The travellers come mainly to hit the waves at Lakey Peak, which lies a few hours to the southwest, or to head east to Komodo and Flores. Bima is not a tourist centre in its own right.

Bima’s top shelf attraction. Photo taken in or around Bima, Indonesia by Arief.

Bima’s top shelf attraction. Photo: Arief

Like many moderately sized Indonesian cities, Bima doesn’t reveal many of its (few) charms at first glance. As far as tourist attractions go, there is the Sultan’s old palace (now a dusty museum), the Sultan’s grave (conveniently situated on a small hill overlooking town), and a few markets. None of these are going to knock your socks off. The town centres around a public park, which come Sunday sees football games, kids with balloons and senior citizens cooling their heels. It is a pleasant enough town to walk around and, as with all of Sumbawa, expect a lot of interest as a foreigner, from shy smiles to boisterous “Hello misters!” from groups of school kids.

Bima does however make for a good base for exploring some of its surrounds. The more adventurous (or just those with sufficient time on their hands) can do a series of daytrips out of Bima, with a day-long loop to the north being particularly noteworthy. On this loop you can visit traditional pinisi shipyards and eye off stunning Gunung Api — an island volcano sitting off the northeast coast of Sumbawa.

Brightly coloured melinjo at Bima’s new market. Photo taken in or around Bima, Indonesia by Stuart McDonald.

Brightly coloured melinjo at Bima’s new market. Photo: Stuart McDonald

Further to the east are the beaches and islands around Sape, the port town where you can catch a ferry to Flores. While there is accommodation in Sape, you can use Bima as a base instead. To the far south, appealing to true beach bums, sits spectacular (and utterly deserted) Rontu Beach.

Bima has an adequate selection of hotels — though take our word for it, don’t get excited — but a far better eating scene. Think simple one-dish places, plus a fun little night market to keep you sated in sate.

Afternoon light among pinisis at Bima port. Photo taken in or around Bima, Indonesia by Stuart McDonald.

Afternoon light among pinisis at Bima port. Photo: Stuart McDonald

Unless you’re in a great rush, give Bima a night. Take a walk around town, do give the palace an hour, and maybe swing through the markets. In the late afternoon, grab an ojek and run up to the hilltop graves for a view over town and then continue on out to Bima port to watch the sun set over the pinisis and the mountains of the western bank of the Bima Sea.

Bima city has its own regency in Sumbawa and it contains the capital and the adjoining city of Raba to the south and west. Bima Regency proper surrounds the city regency, everything west and, going east, roughly everything half way to Dompu. It also has the northern coastal chunk that faces on to the Flores Sea north of Saleh Bay.




Orientation
Bima is an east-west running town. While there is significant sprawl, the area of interest to foreign visitors is quite small. North-south running Jalan Sumbawa-Bima brings you in from the airport and past the main bus station, before crossing a small bridge, becoming Jalan Sultan Salahuddin and bringing you right into the centre of town.

Exploring the north. Photo taken in or around Bima, Indonesia by Stuart McDonald.

Exploring the north. Photo: Stuart McDonald

Running off to your east is Jalan Soekarno-Hatta, then two blocks further up Jalan Sumbawa, and after another two blocks, it forms a T-intersection with Jalan Sultan Hassanuddin, which runs out to Bima port to the west. This area hemmed in by Soekarno Hatta to the south and Hassanuddin to the north holds most points of interest. The public park (Lapangan Merdeka) is a block east of Jalan Sultan Salahuddin and the Istana Asi Mbojo just to the east of that.

International-access ATMs are scattered across town and most hotels offers WiFi at least in their lobby. There is good 3G coverage in Bima.

If you are looking for a good local guide to show you around Bima (and its surrounds) we highly recommend Arief. Contact him by email on explore_bima@yahoo.com or by phone at (0813) 2806 0741. He also runs the popular Bima Instagram account, Explorebima.

What next?

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





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