Rarely visited by westerners, Sumba has an interior not unlike Texas hill country, only hotter, containing fewer people, bigger hills and more rugged roads. It is a sparsely populated island with just 620,000 people spread across its 11,000 sqm.
Aside from a couple of resorts, tourism infrastructure is very basic and it is not an easy destination for independent travel except for the most hardy of traveler. If you do make the effort though, you will be rewarded by experiencing a unique culture and some stunning beaches. This is perhaps the most mysterious and least understood of all Indonesia's major islands.
Christianty is the dominant religion but an estimated 30% of the indigenous population practice the animist Marapu religion, the customs and rituals of which are of considerable interest to the travelers who do make the effort to visit this rugged and remote island. Many Christians on the island combine their faith with Marapu practices.
The Marapu religion believes in temporary life on earth and an eternal life in the world of spirits in Marapu heaven (Prai Marapu)). Marapu teaches that universal life must be balanced and only then can happiness be achieved gained. This balance is symbolised by the Great Mother (Ina Kalada) and the Great Father (Ama Kalad) who live in the universe and take the forms of the moon and the sun. They are husband and wife who gave birth to the first ancestors of the Sumbanese.
To honor Marapu, the Sumbanese put effigies on stone altars where they lay their offerings and sacrifice cattle. A further manifestation of devotion to the ancestors is reflected in the construction of impressive stone burial monuments, vestiges of one of the last surviving megalithic cultures on the planet. Funeral ceremonies and burials can be delayed for decades during which the bodies of the deceased are kept in the homes of the living
While the influence of evangelical churches is growing in Sumba and reflected in mass conversion ceremonies, many islanders retain their beliefs practiced in secret. These conversions can be traumatic for elderly Sumbans who believe by doing so they sever the relationship with their forbearers. Others, particularly young people, convert for more pragmatic reasons. Indonesia formally recognizes five state religions and sought-after positions in the civil service, police and military are closed to Merapu practitioners.
Sumba always seems to have been a sparsely populated island and pre-colonial era records are few and far between. The first European ship arrived in 1522 and the Dutch East India Company slowly took control of the island. It was never a major colonial consideration though and it was not until well into the 20th century that the island was truly part of the Dutch Indonesian administration.
The Sumbanese speak several closely related and localised Austronesian languages. Not much English is spoken around these parts, but if you can speak Indonesian, generally the people in Sumba will understand you.
Regional carrier Merpati Nusantara Airlines  operates direct flights to Waingapu from many several cities in eastern Indonesia, with less frequent flights also offered by Batavia Air and Pelita Air Services. As everywhere in Indonesia, flights often change and it is important to reconfirm locally.
The Pelni  passenger ship Awu calls in at Waingapu twice on its 14 day round trip of Nusa Tenggara. This allows access from Kupang and several other cities in the region. The Awu is by far the safest and best way to reach Sumba by sea.
A fast boat connects Waikelo in Sumba with Sape in Sumbawa and Labuan Bajo on Flores. As of May 2014 it runs twice a week and the price starts at 170000 rp. Call Kapal Cepat Express Bahari 0823 592 87 257 in Sape, 0822 373 68 767 in LB, 0812 3743 6447 in Waikelo. It is possible to fly to Bima (much cheaper than flying to LB or Sumba). Then Sape is a 2 hour bus ride away.
Independent travel to and within Sumba has its challenges, and many visitors do so by joining an organised tour starting in Bali or Lombok. Once a rarity, these are now increasing and the quality of experience improving.
Sumba is one of the very few places globally where the neolithic/bronze age practice of burial in megaliths remains intact. Stone megaliths (and other standing stone stuctures) are widespread on the island.
A number of pasolas are held each year in western Sumba near Waikabubak, usually sometime in either February or March (or both). These are ritual horseback jousting trials which including a ritual battle where mounted riders attempt to dismount other riders using blunt-tipped spears (sometimes there are fatalities). The pasola is an important annual ceremony and a key, unique attraction in Sumba.
Visit small villages in the vincinity of the towns of Waingapu and Waikabubak. The best way to explore is to charter a bemo in the towns and negotiate on a price to drive around and visit a few villages during the day. Despite the island being relatively poor, bemo's will not be cheap here as there are few of them available. Speaking bahasa indonesia will be of great benefit as understanding of english is limited, especially outside the two major towns.
If you visit Sumba, be sure to try goat. Dining opportunities are limited, although there are several small restaurants in both waingapu and waikabubak. Beer is sold from some shops, some streetside restaurants do not serve beer but will allow you to bring your own. This may seem odd to western tourists but is quite common around these parts. Most of the little restaurants will sell coke, fanta and bottled tea. Some make fresh fruit juices, which are available depends on the season.
Besides goat, pork, chicken and fish are usually available. Do not expect a luxurious meal, nor everything on the menu (if they even have one on paper) actually being available. The food sold is generally safe to eat although it is best to eat from places frequented by locals that have a decent turnover rate.
The population of Sumba is mostly Christian, hence the availability of pork and alcohol on this somewhat isolated indonesian island. Contrary to most of Indonesia, Muslims are a small majority on the island.
Several villages produce very high quality cloth (Ikat). Sumba is known for a special weaving technique resulting in double woven cloth (double ikat). This cloth is relatively expensive since it is very labour intensive to produce. If you are interested in purchasing any you need to bargain to get a fair deal.
Sumba has very little nightlife. Alcohol (mostly beer) is available in the two major towns, but sold from shops and not always cold. Some ho(s)tels will serve drinks to guests, but don't expect something like a lively hotel bar.