While some guidebooks suggest Sumbawa isn't worth slowing down for, we'd say two weeks is really the minimum amount of time you need to cover the peculiarly shaped island of Sumbawa from east to west, or west to east. This is especially the case if you're planning on allowing some time for laying on the beach and exploring the countryside.
Because Sumbawa has one primary road from west to east, this itinerary fits in well between a stretch in Lombok and a few weeks in Flores. We're taking the west to east approach, assuming you're overlanding from Lombok and continuing to Flores afterwards. If you're travelling in the opposite direction, please read the itinerary backwards. Smashed for time? Check out our one week itinerary for West Sumbawa. Got longer? How does four weeks sound to you?
Sumbawa shares the same climate system as Lombok and Bali, namely 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.
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 1-3 – Maluk
From Lombok, take the express ferry to Benete from Kayangan (not the slow boat to Poto Tano), as this will deliver you straight into the heart of southwest Sumbawa, just a single bay north of the gorgeous Maluk Beach. Once you're all settled in, spend the next three nights enjoying the beach and surf here. Do also make the effort to explore the beaches further south at Sekongkang (Yo-yo's and Tropicals). If you want a broader range of accommodation, consider staying at Yo-yo's rather than at Maluk, or at Tropicals itself if you want something a little more upmarket.
Day 4-5 – Jelenga or Kertasari
Jelenga and Kertasari are two great stretches of beach sitting along the western coast of Sumbawa. Jelenga is reached via a winding dead-end road from Jereweh, and Kertasari via Taliwang. Both are essentially surfer hang-outs, but the beaches, even for non-surfers, are excellent. The main difference is the standard of accommodation. Jelenga has more backpacker-orientated digs while Kertasari is home to a single midrange spot. We'd suggest picking one or the other and spending your days on the beach, snorkelling and/or visiting Jereweh Waterfall.
Day 6 – Gili Kenewa, Gili Paserang and Merente
Make an early start from Jelenga or Kertasari and head to West Sumbawa's primary port at Poto Tano. From here, hire a boat for a half-day of island-hopping, visiting the beautiful islands of Gili Paserang and Gili Kenewa (not to be confused with Kanawa in Flores). If you have your own gear, you're able to camp on either island, but even if you don't they are well worth visiting for a day of snorkelling (BYO snorkel).
Allow half a day for this, returning to Poto Tano by late afternoon to get a Sumbawa Besar-bound bus, but jump off at Alas, the closest town to Merente, a small village in the hinterland behind Alas that's home to a single community-based tourism project, where you can stay in a local house and trek into the jungle to visit some waterfalls. It is essential that you contact them ahead of arrival. If you can speak Indonesian, call Eric on (0878) 6377 1700 or else contact Takwa in Sumbawa Besar on (0812) 3843 9828 and he can help organise things, including an ojek from Alas to Merente. Overnight in Merente, trek to the waterfall in the morning and return to Alas after lunch. Get a bus on to Sumbawa Besar for a late-afternoon arrival.
Day 7-8 – Sumbawa Besar
The largest city in Western Sumbawa, Sumbawa Besar is low on high-profile attractions. Arriving in the late afternoon, you'll probably have just enough time to choose some digs before grabbing a bite to eat. Contact Takwa (see above) to organise a guide for the following day to visit the megalithic site at Aik Renung and the nearby cave of Liang Petang. This is a full-day excursion, delivering you back into town that afternoon. Eat and retire early.
The following morning, visit Sumbawa Besar's morning market, swing by Dalam Loka and then grab your bags and head to the bus station to grab a bus to Dompu – any Bima-bound bus will take you there – and you should arrive mid-afternoon.
One note regarding where to stay in Sumbawa Besar: If you're not fussed about staying in town, Kencana Beach, some 11 kilometres west of town, is a comfortable beachside option.
Day 9 – Dompu
Dompu marks the junction for the southern spur down to Sumbawa's second world-famous surf break, Lakey Beach. While the town doesn't reveal its charms easily, it deserves a night in any itinerary. Assuming you get in before about 16:00, ask your accommodation to organise you an ojek to visit Krama Bura, a terraced rice-field area which is particularly photogenic around sunset. In the morning, swing by the market for some breakfast then grab a bus south to Lakey Beach.
Day 10-11 – Pantai Lakey
Lakey is a world-famous surf break and in season hosts international competitions (as does Yo-yo's in West Sumbawa). It offers a wide rage of accommodation options, from grotty surfer shacks to quite smart wooden houses. If you are a non-surfer, you'll probably find the beaches of West Sumbawa more enchanting, but Lakey is no slouch.
Aside from the beach and the surf, there is also a waterfall and some pretty beaches further to the south worth exploring. As with West Sumbawa, if you're travelling by rented motorbike, it is prudent to not be on the road solo in late afternoon or evening, and never leave anything of value with your bike when you go swimming. When you're done with the beach, get the bus back to Dompu for an east-bound connection to Bima.
Day 12-13 – Bima
The largest city on Sumbawa and home to the island's second airport, Bima isn't the most memorable of places, but it does make for a convenient base to explore the surrounds. Save a museum, a hilltop grave and a small seaport, the town itself doesn't have much to offer, but intrepid travellers can do a daytrip south to Rontu for some lazy beachtime, or north to Sangaeng to see traditional ship-building and a spectacular volcanic island just offshore. Either option is a full-day excursion, returning you to Bima in time for dinner at the small night-market. Contact Arief on (0813) 2806 0741 if you'd like a knowledgable English-speaking guide.
Leave Bima the morning after for a morning bus to Sape, Sumbawa's eastern port to Flores. If you get here early enough, consider chartering a boat to visit a few islands for a bit of snorkelling before catching the boat to Labuan Bajo on Flores. Be sure to check with your hotel in Bima before banking on the afternoon boat, as it does not always run.
Stuart McDonald co-founded Travelfish.org 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.
Where to go, how long to stay there, where to go next, east or west, north or south? How long have you got? How long do you need? Itinerary planning can be almost as maddening as it is fun and here are some outlines to help you get started. Remember, don't over plan!
Burma lends itself to a short fast trip with frequent flights thrown in or a longer, slower trip where you don't leave the ground. There isn't much of a middle ground. Ground transport remains relatively slow, so be wary about trying to fit too much in.
Roughly apple-shaped, you'd think Cambodia would be ideal for circular routes, but the road network isn't really laid out that way. This means you'll most likely find yourself through some towns more than once, so work them into your plans.
How long have you got? That's not long enough. Really. You'd need a few lifetimes to do this sprawling archipelago justice. Be wary of trying to cover too much ground - the going in Indonesia can be slow.
North or south or both? Laos is relatively small and transport is getting better and better. Those visiting multiple countries can pass through here a few times making for some interesting trips.
The peninsula is easy, with affordable buses, trains and planes and relatively short distances. Sabah and Sarawak are also relatively easy to get around.The vast majority of visitors stick to the peninsula but Borneo is well worth the time and money to reach.
So much to see, so much to do. Thailand boasts some of the better public transport in the region so getting around can be fast and affordable. If time is limited, stick to one part of the country.
Long and thin, Vietnam looks straightforward, but the going is slow and the distances getting from A to B can really bite into a tight trip plan. If you're not on an open-ended trip, plan carefully.
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.