In this Sumabwa itinerary we're assuming you're arriving on a ferry from Flores and heading west, though you could just as easily be flying into Bima from further afield and tracking west from Sape. If you're starting in the east, just turn your screen upside down as you read this. Can't spare a month? Take a look at our one-week and two-week itineraries for Sumbawa.
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.
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 – Sape
Sape is no great shakes when it comes to accommodation. There are a couple of places just inland from where the Flores ferry docks and they are pretty much bottom of the barrel, but comfort yourself in knowing everywhere else you stay in Sumbawa will be better than where you stayed in Sape. So why are you staying here? So that you can do a boat trip to nearby Pulau Bajo, where you can snorkel off White Sand and Santigi beaches. They're probably not drop dead amazing if you've just come from Komodo, but they are not half bad. Grab dinner in Sape proper (a five-minute ojek ride away) and in the morning get a bus to Bima.
Day 2-3 – Bima
Even the most generous visitor probably wouldn't describe Bima as a highlight of Sumbawa, but it is an inoffensive enough place to warrant a couple of nights and it does form a handy base for exploring the surrounds. As you'll be arriving mid-morning, we'd suggest finding a hotel and a bite to eat, then visiting the Sultan's Palace, the hilltop cemetery and perhaps the port terminal for some sunset pics.
On your second day, you have two options, in opposite directions, so unless you want to give Bima an extra day, you'll need to pick one or the other. Southwards, a couple of hours by scooter, lies the impressive/abandoned Rontu Beach. Think "beach that would be heavily developed if it was anywhere but Sumbawa". Northwards, you can travel what we've coined the "Sangeang loop", a scooter ride (or car drive) which takes you north from Bima through some impressive hill scenery then along the coast to Sangaeng, where you can see traditional boat-building and the spectacular Gunung Api volcano offshore. If we had to choose, we'd go for the Sangaeng loop. Regardless of which you do, grab a mid-morning bus on day three to Dompu – the earlier the better.
Day 4-5 – Dompu
Dompu is primarily a transport hub that roughly marks the point where the trans-Sumbawa road has a southern spur to Lakey Beach and a northern spur to Pancasila and Gunung Tambora. For those with a bit of time, it is also a handy base to visit two outlying sites. On the afternoon of the day you arrive, ask your hotel to arrange you an ojek to visit Krama Bura, a terraced rice field area just to the north of town. Best visited in the early morning or late afternoon, when the rice is close to harvest, it is a very pretty scene. Get to bed early as you have a big day tomorrow.
The next morning, leave your bags at the hotel and get a bus bound for Calabai or Pancasila (for Tambora) and jump off at Kempo, from where you'll need to charter a boat for the trip out to Gili Pudu. While the island's beaches may be badly soiled by trash, the reef offers some good snorkelling and outside of weekends you'll most likely have the island to yourself.
Day 6-9 – Tambora
Drag yourself out of bed early and grab a bus to Calabai, first stop on the trip to an ascent of the volcano that changed the world, Gunung Tambora. From Calabai, you need to catch an ojek to Pancasila, the starting point for the ascent. You'll arrive mid-afternoon assuming an early-ish start from Dompu, which will leave you enough time to sort out a tent and sleeping bag, plus any other food and supplies you need along with organising a guide and/or porter. See our detailed write-up on the climb for more information on what is required. Realistically, a person of a moderate level of fitness should be able to complete the climb – we'd say it is harder than Gunung Agung on Bali, but definitely easier than Gunung Rinjani on Lombok.
Assuming you spend three nights on the climb, you'll return to Pancasila late afternoon early evening, so it is another night there, then either return to Dompu first thing the following morning, or, if you are travelling with a crew to make the trip affordable, consider a morning jaunt to Satonda Island before heading back to Dompu, where you'll arrive mid to very late afternoon, depending on if you went to Satonda or not.
Day 10 – Dompu
This is just a transit stop, a quick overnight before getting the morning bus down to Lakey. Grab some satay and rest those aching feet.
Day 11-13 – Pantai Lakey
Lakey Beach is one of the premier surf spots in Sumbawa and while the beaches are not as good as the beaches of West Sumabwa, they are still more than reasonable and the dedicated beach bum should have no problems filling in a few days here. Off the beach there is a waterfall and some hot springs, and also a scenic viewpoint a few kilometres south of the main strip. It is also possible to organise boat trips and there is some off-the-beach snorkelling for those who prefer to be under the water rather than carving it up. Once you're done in Lakey, grab a morning bus to Dompu with a connecting (in theory) bus to Sumbawa Besar.
Day 14-15 – Sumbawa Besar
Depending on how you went getting a bus connection at Dompu, you should arrive mid- to late-afternoon in Sumbawa Besar, which will allow you enough time to find a room and grab a bite to eat. If you're not fussed about staying downtown, consider staying at Kencana Beach, 11 kilometres to the west of town if you prefer to be beachside.
Aside from a near-endless supply of Taliwang chicken places, downtown Sumbawa Besar's main claim to fame is Dalam Loka, a former Sultan's palace. As it only demands about 30 minutes of your time, fit it in around the following distractions, all of which are outside of town. Contact Takwa (T: (0812) 3843 9828) to organise a guide to visit the megalithic site at Aik Renung and the nearby case of Liang Petang. This is a full day excursion, delivering you back into Sumbawa Besar that afternoon.
Day 16-17 – Pulau Moyo
Pulau Moyo is one of the most beautiful spots in all of Sumbawa, but it can also be quite frustrating to reach. You basically have two options to get there: Rely on a public boat which goes randomly and returns equally randomly, or charter your own boat for anything from 700,000 rupiah to 1,000,000 rupiah depending on the type of boat, size of group and so on. On the upside, at least you don't have to have an Aman-strength wallet to stay on Moyo, as there are now at least two affordable full-board homestays in Labuan Aji.
Once you get there, we'd suggest half a day to visit the amazing Mata Jitu waterfall and the remainder spent snorkelling at some of the spots dotted around – Takat Segele, around 30 minutes by boat from Labuan Aji, is pretty splendiforous.
Day 18 – Sumbawa Besar
Regardless of whether you visit Moyo as a daytrip or for a few nights, you'll most likely be arriving back at Sumbawa Besar late afternoon, so we suggest you bed down here for yet another night before pushing on west the next morning.
Day 19-20 – Gili Bedil, Merente and Alas
As per our one week in Sumbawa itinerary, 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 bus heading west-bound bus. Explain that you want to be let off at the turn off to Labuan Pade which is about two 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 motorbikes here who will whisk you the five 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 also great around the island.
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.
If you went to Gili Bedil, you'll have no time to visit the waterfall in the afternoon (it is a two-hour hike each way) but you can still go swim in the river. In the morning visit the waterfall and you should be back by midday. After lunch, get an ojek back to one of the cheap hotels or losmens in Alas. If you're there by early afternoon, consider grabbing another ojek out to Pulau Bungin which is supposedly the most densely populated piece of real estate in all of Indonesia. While you could spend this second night also in Merente, Alas will give you a change in scene and is more convenient for an early bus the next day.
Day 21-22 – Gili Paserang and Gili Kenewa
First thing in the morning, you want to get a bus bound for Poto Tano, Sumbawa's western port and the mainstay of the ferry operations to Lombok. You're not going to Lombok however, instead you're going to do another day of island-hopping and snorkelling. Why? Because you deserve it.
B'pak Tude (T: (0852) 3879 6270, no English spoken) is a boatman we've used a couple of times now for boat trips out to Gili Paserang and Gili Kenawa, two islands within about a 30-minute boat ride of Poto Tano. Allow about a half day or so to visit both islands and snorkel on each. Both have a hilltop you can climb for good views over the surrounds. If you're short of time (or cash) and can only really visit one, we'd lean towards Gili Paserang. It is possible to camp on both of them, so if you have your own gear, we can highly recommend it.
Day 23-24 – Jelenga
Jelenga is a great stretch of beach home to the well known surfer break, Scar Reef. While essentially a surfer hang-out, even for non-surfers, Jelenga makes for a good spot to drop off the map. The accommodation is more backpacker and traveller focussed than at Kertasari but as with Kertasari, the options for eating outside where you stay are extremely limited. Spend your time laying on the beach, perhaps doing a snorkelling boat trip or two and visiting the impressive Jereweh Waterfall.
Day 25-26 – Maluk
Just a hop skip and a jump south of Jelenga, Maluk is arguably the second-most beautiful beach in West Sumbawa and while the in-town digs are no great shakes, there are a cluster of surfer-orientated spots on the southern headland that are ideally placed to take in what a gorgeous spot this is. Fabulous surf breaks attract the surfers, but the beach itself is a cracker. Be sure to have a seafood dinner down by the sand at the warung area by the centre of the beach.
Day 27-28 – Sekongkang
Better known as Yo-yo's, home to the same-named surf break, here you'll find a cluster of semi-decent accommodation, a good cafe and you'll be within striking distance of Tropicals, the best beach in West Sumbawa, which just goes on and on and on. If you're a non-surfer, you'll probably find Tropicals or Maluk to be better sun basking affairs. Both are within easy scooter distance of Yo-yo's.
Once you're done at Yo-yo's, you need to get yourself a few bays north to the fast ferry port at Benete (one bay north of Maluk) for the twice-daily fast boat to Lombok. And that's a wrap. If you're a traveller with time enough up your hands to consider four weeks in Sumbawa, you'll probably also find our four weeks in Lombok itinerary also of interest.
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.