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Almost, but not quite blocking the western mouth of the Saleh Sea, forest-covered and largely undeveloped Moyo Island promises some great beaches, a terrific waterfall and some spectacular snorkelling — and can deliver it to those with the money, or time, to visit.
While the island is home to a number of villages, and much of the lowland coastal strip is cultivated (cashew nuts are popular), getting to Moyo Island remains a bit of a hassle — or at least expensive. This is also despite its relative proximity to two access points from Sumbawa’s mainland.
The island, long and thin, is best known for two features: a gorgeous, multi-terrace limestone waterfall called Mata Jitu and some tremendous snorkelling. The waterfall leapt to international fame in 1993 when Princess Diana, apparently trying to escape the attention of papparazzi, spent two nights at the uber-luxurious Amanwana tent resort. During her stay, she took a boat and jeep tour to the falls — today, we commoners just walk or take an ojek. And if there was ever a waterfall fit for a princess, Mata Jitu is it.
Off the island and under the surrounding waters, you’ll find some truly beautiful snorkelling. Perhaps we just saw it on a good day, but we had absolutely crystal-clear visibility, plenty of live coral and tonnes of reef fish, making for a pretty enjoyable hour of snorkelling.
The Amanwana remains the only proper hotel on Moyo Island, but there are more than adequate full-board homestays available in Labuan Aji for those not keen on paying a little under a $1,000 a night. If you ring ahead you may be able to drop in for a late lunch (as we did). The setting is lovely, with terrific views and very, chatty and obliging friendly staff.
The main challenge is in getting to Moyo Island. If you have plenty of loose time and no fixed schedule, then you can wait for a local boat. These go randomly, every few days as needed, and are a reasonable price. Otherwise charter a private boat. These come in slow and fast flavours, and are quite expensive — especially for a day trip. See the transport section for details.
We’d say, if you can afford a charter or have enough time to get stuck in Sumbawa Besar waiting for a boat (or in Moyo to return) then do it. But if you’re not flush with time or money, then Moyo probably belongs in the next-time basket.
One qualifier: At the time of writing in mid-2016, considerable land speculation was going on around Moyo Island. We imagine that once there are a few more places to stay, the boat situation may become a bit more affordable and timely.
While Moyo has a few villages, Labuan Aji is most likely where you will be headed as it is the launching point for Mata Jitu waterfall and also lies near an excellent snorkelling spot. The west coast of Moyo is roughly north-south running with a bite out of it about halfway down. Labuan Aji is north of the bite and the Amanwana is in the bite (and roughly south-facing).
There are no ATMs on Moyo Island. Phone signal is very patchy, as is 3G coverage. There is no signal at the waterfall nor for much of the boat trip. Basically bring all the money you need and prepare to survive without Facebook for a day (or longer!)
If taking a slow boat, figure on two hours each way from the port to Labuan Aji. The walk to Mata Jitu takes an hour each way. Allow 45 minutes to an hour each way from Sumbawa Besar to the “port” at Ai Bari. All this means it pays to leave Sumbawa Besar very early to get maximum bang for your buck on the island if doing a daytrip); we’d say you want to be on the way from Sumbawa Besar by 07:00 if you plan to see the waterfall and snorkel at a couple of spots. If you leave much later, you’ll be doing a significant bit of the boat trip back at night (which we ended up doing) and this is not recommended — especially in poor weather.
By Stuart McDonald . Last updated on 27th November, 2016.