Sumbanese Culture and Traditions, Surfing and Exploring in the Lesser Sunda Islands

Sumbanese Culture and Traditions, Surfing and Exploring in the Lesser Sunda Islands

After travelling around Bali we headed to the island of Sumba located in the Lesser Sunda Islands. Despite being only a 90 minute flight from Bali, Sumba is a huge contrast to the busy and hugely populated Bali. 

Whilst Bali is one of the wealthiest islands in Indonesia and a popular tourist destination, Sumba is one of the poorest and more remote islands with few tourists and was the perfect destination for the boys to learn to surf, for us all to relax, explore and to learn about the local Marapu religion.

If you are looking for a destination that has low impact tourism, varying landscapes, dreamy beaches then I highly recommend including Sumba in a visit to Indonesia. Despite Sumba being twice the size of Bali it has only a fifth of the population and compared to hectic Bali, with traffic everywhere, we barely saw any traffic on Sumba during the 50 minute drive to our hotel, the newly opened Design Hotel, Cap Karoso. Located in the Kodi region in the west of Sumba Cap Karoso was our home for a week and by the time we left we felt that we had gained an extended family. 

From Cap Karoso we explored by bike, by foot and by car the diverse and unspoiled landscape which ranged from tropical forests and savannas to waterfalls and dry plains.  We swam in fresh a water lagoon located in an underground cave and the salt water Weekuri Lake which we could cycle to from the hotel. We visited the local village of Buku Bani which is home to the most powerful Marapu shamans of the region and engaged with the local villagers whose religion is based on a belief in ancestral spirits and the power of the natural world.  A visit to Pero Konda, a small predominately Muslim fishing village, located at the mouth of the river and on a beautiful beach, was an interesting contrast to Buku Bani with it’s distinctively tall roofs and megalithic tombs. 

The boys learnt to surf and surfed every day.  Unlike many surfing spots, they did not have to compete with anyone else for the waves, it was just the two of them and their instructors.   When the sea was calm we took out paddle boards and kayaks.

At sunset we watched the sun go down over the Indian Ocean sipping locally inspired cocktails whilst listening to chill out sounds created by the visiting DJs JOYLI. One evening we experienced riding bareback on local Sandalwood horses on Koroso beach.  None of us had ridden a horse before so this was a truly unique experience for us.

Even on a remote island like Sumba you can indulge in a unique blend of a fine dining restaurant and a community table. Julang at Cap Karoso hosts visiting star chefs to create tasting menus using ingredients from the hotel’s organic farm.  Whilst most of our meals were taken at the Beach Club we really enjoyed an intimate dining experience at Julang with Italian chef Maurizio Bombini.    

There is so much to see and do on Sumba we didn’t have time to do everything but we left feeling completely spoilt and educated and were sad to leave.  The staff at Cap Karoso made our stay, they were so kind, thoughtful, funny and attentive.  Sumba is a magical place where time stands still and has left a special mark on our hearts.

Helen travelled to Sumba with her family in August 2023.