A rarely visited and genuinely off-the-beaten-track destination, Sumba has only recently opened up to tourism, but if you’re tempted by traditional tribal culture, ancient tombs, pristine beaches, great surfing, tropical rainforest, pretty waterfalls, aquamarine lagoons and the sight of the impossibly tall-roofed local houses, book your place now to ensure you beat the crowds.
Part of East Nusa Tenggara, along with the islands of Flores and Timor, the rich tribal traditions and landscape of Sumba, sets it apart from the rest of Indonesia. This is not a volcanic island, but what Sumba lacks in sultry volcanic scenery, it more than makes up for in magnificent waterfalls, lagoons, beaches, rainforests and some of the best-preserved tribal culture on the planet. In fact, head-hunting was still practiced here as recently as the 1960s and bloody sacrificial animal rites remain part of Sumba’s cultural traditions and rituals.
The island is rich in kampungs (traditional villages), where the towering conical thatch-roofs of the traditional houses cluster around prehistoric tombs, which are still the site of bloody sacrifices today, within an animist culture that both worships and sacrifices animals and where life is governed by the laws of the spirits. Wainyapu, Rangabaki and Ratenggaro, are all fine examples of this type of traditional village. Wainyapu is also one of the main Pasola festival sites, an annual event in which bareback riders ‘battle’ in ritualised conflict with hand-carved spears. Sumba is also famed for its traditional weaving technique that produces ikat cloth, patterned with symbolic dragons, animals and gods. The designs are a way of passing down history through the generations and the cloth is used for ritual gifts and funeral shrouds, as well as forming part of traditional tribal dress.
The southwest beaches, particularly those at Wanokaka and Lamboya are beautiful, while Kerewe, Dasang and Marosi are good for surfing. We’d also recommend taking a trip inland to the La Popu waterfall, easily reached from either Waikabubak or Wanokaka and involving a short walk through the jungle, after which you’ll be rewarded with pretty cascades of tumbling falls. Another major attraction of Sumba is the Weekuri Lagoon, just 20-metres from the sea, this stunningly beautiful turquoise tidal lagoon can be found around 20-kilometres north of Pero Beach.