One week in Sumbawa

One week in Sumbawa

If you're only in Indonesia for a relatively short time, but still want to see a less touristed part of the country with a judicious use of domestic flights, you can spend a week exploring one part of Sumbawa to whet your appetite for a longer two- or four-week trip in the future.

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Sumbawa's main points of interest are clustered to the east and west of the peculiar, almost bunny rabbit shaped island, and both are reasonably heavy on beachtime. In our opinion, the western area has the better (and a greater variety of) beaches, so if you're limited to a week, this is where to head – if you're set on the east of the island, please see the eastern portion of our two-week Sumbawa itinerary. Got longer? The four week trip is for you.

The Jurassic scenery of Maluk Bay. Photo by: Stuart McDonald.
The Jurassic scenery of Maluk Bay. Photo: Stuart McDonald

This one-week trip starts in the western capital of Sumbawa Besar (which has an airport) and finishes at Maluk, from where you can get a ferry direct to Lombok, although it can be done in either direction.

When to go

Sumbawa shares the same climate system as Lombok and Bali: The wet season is roughly mid-October to mid-April, with the rest of the year dry. The best surfing in Sumbawa is between April and September. Climbing Tambora is not recommended in the height of wet season and the peak may well be closed. Tourism wise, Sumbawa is pretty much never busy.

Tambora caldera is rather large. Photo by: Stuart McDonald.
Tambora caldera is rather large. Photo: Stuart McDonald

Climbing Tambora

While not included in this itinerary, if you're planning on climbing Tambora, we'd suggest setting aside a minimum of four days to do so, as you'll need an absolute minimum of two days to climb the peak and return to Pancasila, and we'd certainly recommend a day to recover. Pancasila is also quite out of the way, and it will take the best part of a day to get there.

Day by day

Day 1 – Sumbawa Besar
The largest city in Western Sumbawa, Sumbawa Besar is low on high-profile attractions, but forms a comfortable spot to kick off from, with a gaggle of decent hotels and no shortage of places to eat. Those content to just schlep it in town should swing by Dalam Loka, while if you're keen on exploring further afield, consider visiting the megalithic site at Aik Renung and the nearby cave of Liang Petang – though you will need to get a guide (and have a full day) to visit this.

Buffalo racing outside Sumbawa Besar. Photo by: Stuart McDonald.
Buffalo racing outside Sumbawa Besar. Photo: Stuart McDonald

If you're not fussed about staying in town, Kencana Beach, some 11 kilometres west of town, is a comfortable beachside option. Eat and retire early (easy to do in Sumbawa Besar, as nightlife is limited) as you have a big day tomorrow.

Day 2 – Gili Bedil & Merente
First thing in the morning, get to Sumbawa Besar's bus station on the road out of town to the west and jump on any west-bound bus. Explain that you want to be let off at the turn-off to Labuan Pade, which is around 2 kilometres west of the town of Utan (itself 30 kilometres from Sumbawa Besar). There is a tree-sheltered ojek stand by the turn-off and there **should** be a clutch of ojeks (motorbike taxis) here who will whisk you the 5 kilometres down to Labuan Pade, from where you can organise a boat out to Gili Bedil and back. The snorkelling midway to the island is good (though with some current) and it's also great around the island. Allow a couple of hours for the whole excursion – boatmen will offer to also take you to Gili Keramat, but as time is short, we'd stick with just Gili Bedil on this trip.

Agal waterfall is … big. Photo by: Stuart McDonald.
Agal waterfall is … big. Photo: Stuart McDonald

Merente is a small village in the hinterland behind Alas, and is home to a single community-based tourism project where you can stay in a local house and trek into the jungle to visit a couple of waterfalls. It is essential that you contact them before hand. See the waterfall in the morning, then push on to Jelenga the same day. You'll need to first get to Alas then Poto Tano, then to Jelenga, or worst case, Jereweh – from where you'll need to organise another bemo to Jelenga. This is a long day, so if there are a group of you, ask about organising transport direct from Merente (or Alas) to Jelenga to save time.

Day 3-4 – Jelenga
Jelenga is a laidback beach hamlet, with just a couple of places to stay open year-round. The pace of your trip will slow right down here. The area is known for its surfing – thanks to ominously named Scar Reef – but even for non-surfers, this is a rewarding spot for a few lazy days. You can organise boat trips to the reef and some very photogenic surrounding bays for a bit of snorkelling, plus there is also a great waterfall with a swing and swimming hole within easy scooter distance of the guesthouses. Do a boat trip one day, and the waterfall the other. Or just sit on the beach, sprint after crabs and enjoy the fiery sunsets.

Exploring some of the bays around Jelenga. Photo by: Stuart McDonald.
Exploring some of the bays around Jelenga. Photo: Stuart McDonald

Day 5-6 – Maluk
From Jelenga it is a short hop and jump further south to Maluk, which is home to one of the most attractive white sand beaches in the area. Sadly the accommodation in town is considerably less beautiful than the beach, but on the southern headland there are a cluster of terrific surfer-orientated places to stay (we loved Merdeka House). Set up house here and spend your time surfing or just lazing around on the beach.

Tropicals Beach. Photo by: Stuart McDonald.
Tropicals Beach. Photo: Stuart McDonald

The beaches further south of here—Yo-yo's and, further south again, drop-dead gorgeous Tropicals — are well worth taking a look at, but Maluk itself isn't at all shabby. Once you've filled out two days here, head one bay north to Benete, where the Newmont ferry heads to Kayangan on Lombok. And that's it—your one-week taster of West Sumbawa.

Reviewed by

Stuart McDonald co-founded with Samantha Brown in 2004. He has lived in Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia, where he worked as an under-paid, under-skilled language teacher, an embassy staffer, a newspaper web-site developer, freelancing and various other stuff. His favourite read is The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton.

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The region

This is where itinerary planning really becomes fun. Be sure to check up on our visa, border crossing and visa sections to make sure you're not trying to do the impossible. Also, remember you're planning a holiday -- not a military expedition.