Sumbawa is one of the 13,000 plus islands in the Indonesian archipelago. It's a large island to the east of Bali and Lombok. Sumbawa, along with Lombok, is part of West Nusa Tenggara. There are hundreds of small islands in this area in addition to the two major islands.
Sumbawa is known to some tourists for its great waves and sandy white beaches. Due to the somewhat trying process of getting there and the scarcity of cheap tourist facilities, the island is not visited much by non-surfing tourists which is unfortunate as parts of the island are quite beautiful.
Sumbawa really belongs more to Eastern Indonesia than to to the West. The effects of Hindu and Buddhist cultures are minimal in Sumbawa; the majority of the population are Muslims.
During the dry season (April to November) a lot of dust is blown up and around. Strong winds blow in off the ocean, and the lush green hills, mountains and valleys turn a dusty brown. When the rainy season begins an amazing transformation takes place and the island becomes a lush jungle once again. Because of dryness, Sumbawa is frequented with crop failures, and even more so than Lombok, is subject to extreme poverty and starvation is not uncommon, robberies due to extreme desperation do occur. In October 2012, 20 children died in a single month on Sumbawa from malnutrition.
As most of the island is still developing, there is a very rural feel to just about everything, including Sumbawa Besar, the capital of the western side of the island. The mining company, Newmont, has a gold and copper mine down in the southwestern corner of the island around the villages of Sekongkang, Maluk and Benete. Their presence has speeded up the development process in this side of the island, though the vast majority are in abject poverty and claims of environmental destruction have been made against the company, which has had to suspend operations due to mass rioting.
Bahasa Indonesia is spoken widely in Sumbawa.
Sumbawa is considered somewhat remote even by Indonesian standards, and an overland-and-sea journey from Bali takes 15 hours beginning in Singaraja, Bali, and ending up in Poto Tano, the port on the western side of Sumbawa.
Only the cities of Sumbawa Besar on the western side of the island and Bima on the eastern side of the island have regular air service. Wings Air, the subsidiary of Lion Air, Garuda Indonesia, and Transnusa fly to both cities from Denpasar (Bali) and Lombok on Western-made ATR-72 or Fokker 50 turboprops. It used to have Susi Air fly from Bima to Labuanbajo continue to Waingapu once a week in 2015. Sekongkan also has an airport, but flights have been stopped for an indefinite period after a small airline called Tropical Air ceased operating. Travira Air seaplane is available to charter from Bali directly to Moyo.
To get to Sumbawa from Bali most people take the ferry from Padang Bai, Bali to Lembar, Lombok (4-5 hours), travel overland to the eastern seaport in Lombok (Labuhan Lombok) and then take another ferry (1.5 hours) to Sumbawa, ending up in Poto Tano. Passengers Rp 22,000, motorcycles Rp 55,000 and Rp 352,000 for a car. From Poto Tano to Sumbawa Besar is 3 hours drive. From Sumbawa Besar to Bima is around 8 hours and another 1.5 hours to Sape.
In the other directions, ferries from Labuanbajo, Flores travel to Sape.The slow ferry is daily (takes approximately 7 hours) and the fast boat is three times a week. The fast boat also goes to Sumba twice a week. Call Kapal Cepat Express Bahari 0823 592 87 257 in Sape, 0822 373 68 767 in LB or 0812 3743 6447 in Waikelo (Sumba).
Seamless transport across Sumbawa is problematic, and it may be best to book ferries and buses as combined tickets from either Lombok or Flores if you are trying to cross the island as fast as possible. There aren't local long distance buses for the whole trip or tourist oriented door-to-door transport as offered in Java, Bali and Lombok.
However, transport within Sumbawa is quite possible and easy using local buses and bemos (small vans). Most places of interest and major cities have bus terminals served by plenty of bemos and motorbike taxis. Locals will help direct you to the correct bus. These are local buses without air-con and will stop often to drop and pick-up passengers. However, roads are generally smooth and traffic is light.
Buses leave Sape at 5:00 AM headed towards Bima, then on to Dompu. Travel time takes approximately 4-5 hours to Dompu. Transfer buses at Dompu towards Sumbawa Besar, with another 5-6 hour bus ride. Total cost from Sape to Sumbawa Besar is no more than 90,000-100,000 Rupiah.
Ikan Bakar (barbequed fish) at the sole warung located at Telok Santong on the road between Sumbawa Besar and Bima.
In Maluk the Ikan Bakar at Warung Cotok Lamongan is equally good. Choose your own fish from the cool case, sit and have a drink and 15 minutes later you'll be in seventh heaven!
In Taliwang try Ayam Taliwang, a dish now famous in other parts of Indonesia but beware - it's pedas! (spicy)
The general rule is stick to the tourist spots and don't be too flash with your cash. If you plan to tour extensively, having a reliable driver is a must.
Malaria and Dengue are real risks. The general rule is that if it is 14:00, boiling hot and your sumbawa host is wrapped in blankets, they have malaria. You want to be away from their vicinity before 15:00 and early evening which is when the dengue and malaria mosquitoes are most active.
Sumbawa is made of a number of districts.
The district of Sumbawa Besar on the west coast tends to be the calmest and safest of Sumbawa. The main town of Sumbawa Besar offers some accommodation which might be described as safe. As the second largest town, you can walk around or ride a motorbike but use common sense. On the island of Moyo there is the 6 star resort of Amanwana. It's unlikely that you'll get much change from USD1000 a night but, of course, you should be be safe there.
If you're looking to surf, you will need to travel 3 hours due south to the main breaks of Jerantut and Maluk (supersuck; scar reef). Further south east (but still west) you reach Sekongkang Bay. There is reasonably basic accommodation which can be described as safe.
The district of Dompu is generally devoid of places where you can stay. For this reason, it's not considered a safe place to stay, except as a day trip. One exception where it is safe is Hu'u which has a large concentration of world class surf breaks (Lakai Peak, Periscopes etc) and thus a large number of hotel rooms concentrated within a 1km area. During the surfing months between May to the end of October, the hotels tend to be fully booked so booking is a must. For those who want to get away from the surfing crowds, you can visit the surf break of Majik Point which is about an hour away by boat. About 2 hours away is the left hand break of Tiger point, again accessible only by boat. Between these two breaks, are a number of beaches and there are plans to build resorts on Xili Beach. Whilst it is generally safe to walk these beaches, there is no accommodation and camping for extended periods is not recommended. Be aware, that some local boats are not that reliable and may break down in large reef surf. There are no lights on this coastline and you will need to be back in Hu'u before dark (bear in mind that boat men also have to drive back to their village so they will want to drop you off before).
Day trips: There is a road which goes through the mountains to Sape which is paved and safe. The road to Pulau Sangeang - a volcanic island is also a recommended day trip from Bima. Tamboura is worth a visit but it is a 17 hour round trip. consider going earlier or with a tour with overnight accommodation. Your driver will tell you if the road has been washed out.
As a general rule, be friendly, keep a low profile, use common sense and you will be safe. Use a driver for day trips and try to stay in hotels with a safe and safe deposit keys. Stick to the tried and tested places and do day trips.