Stunning Sumba is so easy to get to we don’t know why it’s not overrun with tourists, though we’re glad it’s not. Daily flights from Bali connect to either Waingapu in the east or Tambolaka in the west in just over an hour, so it’s convenient to fly into one and out of the other.
We recommend easing yourself in gently by starting in the east. For a longer trip covering all the best bits, two weeks will see you visiting some traditional villages, gorgeous beaches and waterfalls, with perhaps time for some hiking. If you can, time your trip to coincide with Pasola, Sumba’s wild and wonderful traditional jousting ceremony. But if that’s not possible—dates can sometimes be announced very close to the actual event—don’t worry, as you’re likely to come across any of a number of local ceremonies.
Getting around Sumba by public transport can be challenging but not impossible. “Three-hour” bus journeys can end up taking all day and you may only be able to fit in seeing one sight rather than three. For day trips (and possible longer journeys too) we’d recommend hiring an ojek or car and driver. It’s not recommended to drive at night in West Sumba, as banditry is sometimes cause for concern.
To get the most out of visiting traditional villages (and to make sure you don’t make any cultural faux pas), hire a local guide at least for the first one or two. When exploring more remote areas (so, most of Sumba), take a packed lunch or snacks, as there’s very few local warungs or restaurants out of the main towns.
Sumba’s wet season runs November to April. During this time, road travel is fine on the major roads, but may be impossible to more remote areas. The best time to visit is just after this, when the rolling hills are lush and green as for most of the year it’s dry and parched. Costal areas can feel very hot during the day, but evening temperatures, particularly in the higher inland, can drop at night, sometimes to as low as 15 degrees Celsius — pack a cardi.
Day 1 — Arrival > Waingapu
Arriving in Waingapu, the capital of East Sumba, you may be keen to get out into the traditional villages. Prailiu is walking distance from town and sees a good number of tourists, so is easily visited without a guide, however there are many more interesting villages around Sumba, and this can easily be skipped. Grab a driver and visit picturesque Bendungan Kambaniru (Kambaniru Dam), stopping in at Ama Nai Tukang to see some of Sumba’s best ikat. Make sure you’re back in time to explore Bukit Persaudaraan before sunset (grab a cold drink to take with you) and sit and enjoy one of Sumba’s best views. Zip over to the night markets at the harbour to Warung Enjoy Aja for lip smackingly fresh seafood.
Day 2 — Waingapu
On day two, take a trip north to Sumba’s oldest village, Wunga, taking in the rolling savannah and pretty beaches along the way. Stop at charming Prailiang traditional village where you may get a chance to wear traditional garb. On the way back make time for a dip at Pantai Kembera. Or instead of returning to Waingapu, check into Pondok Wisata Pantai Cemara for a night by the sea.
Day 3 — Waingapu
Today head south, making a round trip to Melolo where nearby traditional villages offer a chance to see magnificent megalithic graves and skilled craftspeople producing fine ikat. Continue to Pantai Kalala for the night if you are super keen on (pretty stunning) beaches, but the one accommodation option is pricey and basic. You’ll want to add an extra day to your trip to enjoy the beach here. From here it’s best to return to Waingapu to continue your journey west, as at the time of our research, the smaller southern roads were mealy tracks.
Day 4 — Tarimbang
From Waingapu, you’ll be at the tun-off from the main highway to Tarimbang in no time (if you don’t stop for thousands of pictures on the way, as we did), but the last 45 kilometres may well take you half a day. It’s a very steep, unsealed road and not recommended for novice motorbike riders. If you take an ojek be prepared for not only a sore behind, but you’ll have to get off and walk some sections. All the hardship will be forgotten though as you step onto the fine silky white sand of deserted Tarimbang, with its perfect waves and views — it’s simply the best beach ever.
Day 5 — Tarimbang
Take a day to enjoy the beach and possibly organise a boat trip to adjacent bays (which we’re told are even more spectacular).
Day 6 — Lewa
Head back up the hill to Lewa and if the road is in good condition, fit in a side trip to Laputi Waterfall on the way. If you arrive in Lewa early, go to the Taman Nasional Manupeu Tanah Daru (National Park) office and organise a permit and ranger to trek to Kanabu Wulang, a meteor crater lake, or ask Mama’s Homestay to help you. If birdwatching is your thing, add a day here for some twitching.
Day 7 — Waikabubak
If you didn’t get a chance to visit the meteor crater, you should be able to fit it in this morning before continuing west to Waikabubak. On the way stop at Pasunga village on the highway and check out the huge megalithic graves, and there’s more to explore in the area if they are of interest. Mata Yangu Waterfall is worth the trek, but not easy to find — you’ll need a guide.
Day 8 — Waikabubak
Waikabubak is traditional village central. If this appeals, you could spend all day and more exploring — some are an easy walk around town, others you’ll need transport to get to. Don’t forget the betelnut.
Day 9 — Wanokaka/Lamboya
Head south to explore the beaches around Wanokaka and Lamboya and stay in one of the simple, friendly homestays or choose one of the upmaket options if you’re cashed up. Turn off for a break at pretty La Popu Waterfall. On the way to the beaches, drop into Waigalli and Praigolil villages where you’ll see some of the megalithic graves that have become a Sumba icon. You could spend the day beach hopping from one idyllic deserted beach to the next, or pick one and enjoy the solitude. Lamboya and Wanokaka both have Pasola fields, so if it’s Pasola season, add an extra day to get in on the excitement.
Day 10 — Waitabula
Continue to Waitabula. You’ll have to backtrack through Waikabubak, and can make short detours to Waikelo Sawah Waterfall, Lokomboro Waterfall or Pabetilakera Waterfall along the way. Or drop into a traditional village (although don’t get village fatigue, as the best is yet to come). Stop in for lunch at Rumah Makan Richard near the post office—you’ll see why it’s a favourite with the locals—then visit Rumah Budaya Sumba Museum to get the lowdown on local culture. You could spend the night at the guesthouse here, one of the better options around town, but we suggest you head to the beaches if the choices are within your budget. Both Oro and Mananga Amba Beach (Pantai Kita) offer decent midrange options, but they will add a little time to your travel when exploring the area.
Day 11 — Waitabula
Be prepared to be gobsmacked today as you explore the Kodi region, and pack a picnic lunch and your swimmers too. Head south to Ratenggaro village for the tallest rooftops in Sumba. If you visit no other village, this one should be it. Yes, it’s touristy, but it’s Sumba—it won’t be overrun. From here venture west to Pero for spectacular rocky coastline and a mesmerising (smallish) blowhole. Spend the rest of your day at Weekuri Lagoon, an impressive tidal salt lake; you can even bring your snorkel gear as there’s some coral here too. On the way back, you could stop in at Wee Wini Lake, but you may be disappointed after Weekuri. It’s still a good chance to mingle with the locals.
Day 12 — Waitabula
Today explore more of Sumba’s magnificent coast. Wainyapu village is just across the river from Ratenggaro, which you may have seen in the distance yesterday, but it’s a bit of a distance to drive between. Don’t be tempted to swim across — crocs have been spotted in the river. This village is like a small metropolis, and if you are here during Pasola season, it houses one of the venues for the ceremony. The sea is a little treacherous for swimming at Bwanna and Watu Malandong beaches, but the dramatic rock formations you’ll see make the long drive worth it.
Day 13 — Waitabula
Spend your final day in Sumba exploring the north coast. Head to the Muslim fishing village at Katewel Beach to see the traditional salt making. You can beach hop the way back—don’t miss secluded Oro Beach and if you’re keen for one last village visit, take the road less travelled to Totok.
Day 14 — Departure
Time for a swim if you’re staying by the beach, or drop by the local markets before your flight from Tambolaka.
Sally spent twelve years leading tourists around Indonesia and Malaysia where she collected a lot of stuff. She once carried a 40kg rug overland across Java. Her house has been described as a cross between a museum and a library. Fuelled by coffee, she can often be found riding her bike or petting stray cats. Sally believes travel is the key to world peace.
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.