I’ve visited my fair share of beach resorts and usually, there’s a certain rhythm you get into while visiting one of them. You wake up early, hit the breakfast buffet then go back to your room to get your swimmers on and lather up with sunscreen. Then you head down to the pool or beach to read books and swim until dinner time. You go to sleep then wake up the next day and do it all over again. A holiday like that isn’t bad, by any means, but a trip to Sumbawa will turn everything you know about a beachy island getaway on its head!
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Getting to this massive, remote island is a journey all in itself. For us, it began at the domestic airport in Denpasar, a hive of activity and smiling Indonesian locals on the move. If you love to travel, you’ll love the feeling of the airport as it’s straight out of your quirky travel dreams, a melting pot of sounds, sights and smells. From here you fly to Lombok, an island in West Nusa Tenggara which is home to some 3.17 million Indonesians. A driver will take you on a 2-3 hour drive to the coastline where you wait for the local fast boat, sheltered in a large open-faced tin shed. The fast boat takes around 2 hours to arrive at Sumbawa and, depending on where you’re staying, the drive to your resort will add an extra hour or so onto the end of the journey.
It’s a long journey, but it’s an incredible adventure making your way there. Especially because you’re off the main tourist track, which means you get to meet many beautiful Indonesian people (and incredibly cute little kids!) and see how they live, shop, eat, play and dress away from the very touristy areas like Kuta.
Sumbawa is huge, at 5,448 km2 (5,965 sq miles) it is three times the size of Lombok! The landscape is dramatic, a beautiful mix of volcanic ridges, jungle and rice fields combined with impossibly perfect white-sandy beaches and bright blue ocean. The surf is incredible and, no doubt, the lack of other surfers makes it a haven for those chasing uncrowded swell.
The island is much less developed than other areas of Indonesia and the people survive on a much smaller income, sometimes burdened by the lack of food due to poor crops. A trip to the local market will give you an insight into the simple way of life here. Food, including fruit, vegetables, meat and fish, is laid out on wooden slats with no refrigeration and flies are casually brushed away using home-made swatters. Little kids run around the market smiling, playing with each other and laughing while the women of the market chat, huge smiles across their faces as they share stories and catch up on gossip.
I was walking through the market, chased by three of the funniest little kids, taking photos of the food and market layout. A few of the women saw my camera and start calling out, laughing they grabbed the only man in sight and pulled him toward me, motioning for me to take his photo. While he posed very handsomely next to his scooter they all laughed and smiled, it was such a good-heartened community feel. Quite a few people, mostly men, funnily enough, stopped me that day and asked me to take their photo! A lot of the younger men loved posing, trying to channel their inner super-model no doubt.
There’s an effortless feel on the island, like nobody is really in a hurry and there’s nowhere to be but where they are right now. There are no signs of stress or sadness, everyone just goes about their business and stops for a talk and a laugh when they can. It gives the entire island a relaxed charm.
The beaches in Sumbawa are unlike any I’ve seen before. If you take a trip out to Scar Reef you’ll be met with a seemingly endless stretch of white sand and clear water that leads out to the very sharp reef, a known hot-spot for great surf. The reef is razor-sharp and more than a few have come off second best against it. The amazing thing about spots like these is that you can go there and not see another tourist, except for the few brave surfers. If you visit the secret beach and you’ll be able to snorkel in the waves, chasing brightly coloured fish around and exploring the coral.
So often when we go to an island resort it’s overrun by other visitors and we can get into that monotonous holiday routine. In Sumbawa, you couldn’t get into that routine for very long as there is so much to see and do. There are mountains to climb, jungles to explore, hidden waterfalls to find and jump off, beach after beach to discover and so many unique local experiences to be had.
The place is so laid back they sell fireworks to anybody who asks at the local shop. We stopped and stocked up on an absolutely ridiculous amount of fireworks, which we let off safely on the beach in front of the resort, lighting up the ocean and night sky. Everyone laughed so hard that for a while there we completely forgot about the rest of the world and felt completely wild and free.
Because the island is so big and there is so much to see and do, the best way to see and experience it all is to stay at a resort that has drivers to take you around. The term resort is used quite loosely as it won’t be anything like what you may be used to if you’ve visited the Whitsundays or stayed in Seminyak. Everything in Sumbawa is a little bit run-down and that’s what gives it a unique, beachy, laid-back feel.
We stayed at Nomad’s Tropical Resort and really loved it. It is right on the beach so you wake up every morning and are greeted to a beautiful place with very few visitors around, a huge mountain to the right and blue water in front. You can eat every meal looking at this view and, trust me, you won’t get sick of it. The traditional local food, prepared at the resort, is really delicious so be sure to try as many of the local dishes as possible.
There’s a lot to love about Sumbawa and it really should be on every travel-lovers bucket list. It’s a holiday that takes you back to the bare necessities; a bed to sleep on, delicious food, friendly people to meet and absolutely beautiful scenery everywhere you look. You’ll experience the raw, natural beauty of a remote island and the friendly, warm welcome of local Sumbawans.
Sumbawa has to be one of my favourite holiday destinations because it is so remote and unspoiled, it’s the perfect mix of adventure and activities combined with relaxation and perfect beaches. Not only do you get to see a beautiful place but you also get to experience another culture, a holiday like that is priceless.
Phoebe is a travel writer and photographer with a love for storytelling and making people laugh. Matt is a videographer and photographer with a passion for the great outdoors and big adventures. Together we inspire big adventures through our guides, videos, vlogs and photographs. Find out more about us here.