Cidomos—horse carriages—are the preferred method of transportation around villages, and cattle wander freely in the middle of the road, often impeding traffic.
Goats are tied precariously to the top of trucks as they’re driven to market. Veiled women sell watermelons along the road. And helmetless children, no older than 14, weave their motorbikes through pedestrians, kicking up dust which lingers in the dry air.
On this island of 1.25 million Muslims, it’s almost impossible to buy a beer or a meal with pork ingredients, yet the brothels that service the miners somehow go un-harassed by the local government or religious leadership.
English is hard to come by as there are very few westerners here (brush up on your Indonesian words), and those that do venture to Sumbawa are mostly surfers.
So what does West Sumbawa mean for a traveler? One of the hidden gems of Indonesia.
Stunning white sand beaches lapped by crystal clear water, friendly locals that never stop smiling, world-class fishing, magnificent coral reefs bustling with life, and some of the best/least-crowded waves in Indonesia.
If you’re the adventurous type looking to get off the beaten path in Indonesia, then West Sumbawa is your ideal destination.
Need help planning a surf trip to West Sumbawa? I can help, feel free to email me.
How to get to Sumbawa from Bali
Getting to West Sumbawa can be somewhat of a challenge, and that’s why the island has remained uncrowded despite being such a beautiful destination. Depending on your budget, there are three options for getting to Sumbawa from Bali.
- Hire a car or motorbike in Bali – This is most affordable, and easiest way to get to Sumbawa. You will need a car or bike in Sumbawa, so why not get one in Bali?Rent a motorbike in Bali (pay no more than 40.000 IDR per day), drive to the port town of Padang Bai on the east coast of Bali, take the public ferry to Lembar (100.000 IDR for a motorbike ticket, 4.5 hour crossing time), drive across Lombok to Kayangan Port (2 hours), take the public ferry from Kayangan to Poto Tano (70.000 IDR, 1.5 hour crossing time), drive from Poto Tano to Maluk, or to Ratung (1.5 hours).Ferries run about every hour or so, on “Indonesian Time”, meaning they won’t disembark right on time.Make sure you have your International Driver’s License sorted out, or be prepared to pay the police at the port a “fee” of 150.000 IDR.Total Time = 11 hoursTotal Cost = ~200.000 IDR, not including motorbike rental
- Fly to Lombok, then make the crossing to Sumbawa – The Lombok International Airport in Praya services many destinations, including Perth and Bali. If you want to cut out 5 hour ferry from Bali, you can fly into Lombok, hire a motorbike and follow the route described in the first option above.Another option after flying into Lombok is to hire a private driver or metered taxi to take you to Poto Tano (1 hour, 150.000 IDR).Since you won’t have a motorbike, you can take the Numont Fast Boat (as oppose to the public ferry) to the port of Benete, on the west coast of Sumbawa, just north of Maluk (125.000 IDR, 70 minute crossing). Then take a taxi to Maluk or Ratung (20 minutes)Total Time = 2.5 hours + flight timeTotal Cost = ~250.000 IDR + flight
- Fly to Brang Bidji Airport – Flights to the airport in Sumbawa Besar are few and far between, making this the least-popular option for getting to West Sumbawa. But Lion Air does service some flights from Bali.Once you arrive in Sumbawa Besar, you’ll need to take a taxi or private transportation to Maluk or Ratung (3 hours, 600.000 IDR).Total Time = 3 hours + flight timeTotal Cost = 600.000 IDR + flight
In the 1980s, crowds in Bali pushed adventurous surfers farther out into the Indonesian archipelago in search of undiscovered waves, and expat Australians working in the Sumbawa gold mines started exploring the coastline. What they found were some of the best, and most consistent waves in all of Indonesia.
Not too much has changed in West Sumbawa since then; there are only 4 accommodations that cater to surfers, and locals still stare at westerners with curiosity. On any given day you’ll surf a perfect, clear-water wave with 10 other guys at most.
In fact, if you stay in West Sumbawa for more than a week, and you’re outgoing, then you’ll know every surfers name by the time you leave.
Despite being the star location of several high-profile surf movies like Lost Atlas and Now Now, West Sumbawa has maintained it’s relaxed vibe and deserted feeling.
Because it’s so difficult to reach, West Sumbawa generally attracts serious surfers, and surfing etiquette is practiced by all. There is no back paddling or snaking. Surfers wait their turn for waves and follow a rotation to the peak. This is a far cry from the zoo that is Bali, or even the Mentawis.
West Sumbawa Surf Accommodations
If you’re looking for a house rental in West Sumbawa, the beautiful Maluk House is your best bet. Canadians Jesse and Marissa built their dream home atop a hill that overlooks the best wave on the coast, Super Sucks.
I stayed at Maluk House for 4 nights and absolutely loved it. There are some amazing warungs in nearby Maluk, and the beach just below the house is perfect for fishing, snorkeling, swimming and surfing.
The house has two air-conditioned bedrooms, each with a queen bed and bathroom. Upstairs is the kitchen and living room, complete with a wrap around deck and large windows that swing outwards, offering unrivaled views of the amazing Maluk Bay.
In the late afternoon, fleets of fishermen head towards the horizon searching for squid. There is no better place to catch a sunset, or sunrise, than the deck on Maluk House.
In my opinion, the Maluk House is the best surf accommodation in West Sumbawa.
The Maluk House is perfect place for families or friends looking to get off the beaten path in Indonesia. Stay for a week and read that book you’ve been meaning to finish, or work on the screenplay you told yourself you’d write. Or just relax, practice some yoga, play some cards and surf until your arms are noodles.
A local on Sumbawan named Raphael is the caretaker of the house and lives in small hut near the entrance of the property with his two dogs.
See Photos of the Maluk House in the Photo Section
Below the main house, perched on the side of a hill, is the Maluk Bungalow. The bungalow has all the amenities of the main house, at a more affordable price. There is a spacious bathroom with a shower. A two-seat dining table and a kitchenette with a propane stove top, pots n’ pans and cooking utensils.
The Maluk Bungalow feels like its own private home and it a perfect place to escape. I stayed in the bungalow, and loved the view of the surrounding farms, and of course, the ocean. The private patio is a great place to drink a coffee and enjoy the sunrise before paddling out at Super Suck.
See more pictures of the Bungalow in the Photo Section
If taking public transportation to Sumbawa, it’s best to arrange for motorbike rentals before you arrive, as it’s nearly impossible to find a place in town. Ipong is the bike guy, and he has several bikes available, with surf racks, available for hire at 50.000 IDR ($5 USD) per day. Reach him here: +62 (0) 852 5355 5700
Call Lihin if you want a driver for the day to take you surfing. He knows all the spots in and out, and will bring you to the best wave given the swell, wind direction and tide. +62 (0) 813 3777 9184
This home is very popular, for good reason, and is booked weeks in advance by return visitors, so be sure to shoot me an email to reserve your spot: contact me firstname.lastname@example.org
Twenty minutes south of Maluk, near the village of Senkongang, is Pantai Ratung. Here you will find several budget accommodations near the most consistent wave in the region, YoYos’.
Santai is one of my personal favorites, and it’s the closest accommodation to YoYo’s. There are two rows of buildings, for a total of about 20 rooms.
In the back row are rooms with two single beds, with dormitory style bathrooms. These rooms start at 70.000 IDR ($7 USD) but creep up to around 100.000 IDR during the highseason (June – August).
In the front building, there are bigger rooms with Queen sized beds. These rooms are 150.000 IDR per night, and feature their own private bathroom.
In the front of the property, along the beach, is the restaurant and bar. Food prices are affordable (although better prices can be found at warungs in Senkongagn Village a 2 minute motorbike ride away).
There is a beautiful, living coral reef teaming with colorful fish just 5 meters off-shore from Santai, so be sure to bring your snorkel and mask! If you want to go spear fishing, be sure to talk to Indra, he can also be hired as a private surf photographer: +62 (0) 818 0572-8687
To book a place at Santai, contact Katbul at email@example.com
See more photos of Santai in the Photo Section
Adjacent to Santai, just to the south, is Ratung Hotel and Restaurant. Prices are similar to Santai, but the rooms aren’t quite as nice. Like Santai, there is a common area with a pool table.
Ratung Restaurant is the only place around with a proper wood-fire pizza oven. So if you’re craving some western food, this is your place. Be prepared to shell out 80.000 for a pizza.
On Friday nights there is a happy hour with discounted drinks, and a party of sorts. Almost all the surfers in Sumbawa (all 50 of them) come to drink Bintangs and listen to the DJ. But be warned, it’s mostly dudes.
A slightly more expensive option at Pantai Ratung is the YoYo’s Hotel, the only place with WiFi in the area, albeit extremely slow WiFi.
The food at the ocean-view restaurant is excellent; order the chicken cashew or the club sandwich. Swap stories with locals or expats that come to eat lunch here from the nearby gold mine.
Rates are as follows:
Standard Room – Single Bed, TV, AirCon and Breakfast – 250.000 IDR/night
Deluxe Room – Double Bed, TV, AirCon, Refrigerator and Breakfast – 450.000 IDR/night
email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for reservations and questions.
Nomad’s Tropical Resort
5 minutes to the south of Ratung Beach is a resort at Tropical’s. which brands itself as a luxury resort. Although Nomads has a pool, mini ramp for skating and (slow) WiFi, the rates are outrageous: starting at $200 a night. The food and beer is equally as expensive.
The two nights I went to Nomad’s for a beer, the restaurant was filled with 15 drunk Australians that were lighting off fireworks and moshing to 90s punk music. On a positive note, they were too hung-over the next morning to surf, so the lineup was empty.
Judging by the negative reviews on Trip Advisor, you’re better off staying at Ratung, closer to the consistent YoYo’s, at a fraction of the price.
West Sumbawa Surf Spots
It’s never my intention to “blow up a spot”, so I’ll only name the 4 most popular surf breaks in West Sumbawa (although popular is a misnomer because these waves don’t really get crowded).
If you’re looking to surf a spot alone, it’s definitely possible. Use Google Earth to find a reef pass, and drive your motorbike along the main coast road, then hike through the jungle to the beach. There are tons of waves waiting to be discovered.
A barreling, fast left-hand wave that requires a big swell to break. This wave earned it’s name by reeling over a super sharp, live coral reef, in about 4 feet of water. The end section often sucks dry on a low-tide, and only the best surfers end their session without a few cuts (some requiring stitches). Pull-in, hold on, and don’t fall.
Like Scar Reef to the north, Super Sucks is a dangerous, heavy left-hand wave that sucks water off the reef. This is one of the best waves in Sumbawa; 10 second barrels are possible. Make sure to bring your step-up, or suffer the consequences like me
YoYos, near Ratung beach, is the main wave in the region and picks up a lot of swell. You may recognize this fun, hallow right-hander from some of your favorite surf movies.
There are two waves right in front of the Tropical Beach Resort: Tropical Lefts and Tropical Rights. This is definitely the most mellow wave in the region, and tends to suffer from morning sickness. But when it’s working, it’s a really fun wave. The channel makes the paddle out very easy.
There is a Nomad surf camp here, so it can sometimes get crowded.
Sumbawa Surf Map
Use this map to get directions to and from each surf spot.
DOs and DONT’s
Sumbawa is not like Bali. Traditional and religious customs should be observed at all times to avoid upsetting village elders.
Do rent a motorbike and explore the endless miles of untamed coastline
Do take your malaria pills
Do try a local warung or sataye in Maluk
Do go fishing; it’s some of the best in the world
Do hike to the waterfall just north of Maluk
Do brush up on your Bahasa Indonesian, will help immensely. See helpful Indonesian words here.
Don’t drive or walk around villages with your shirt off. Women must cover their shoulders in public.
Don’t put your hands on your hips, this is a gesture of anger or disapproval.
Don’t point or pass things with your left hand. Use your right hand to pass an item, or better yet, use both hands.
Don’t drink a beer in public (none of the stores sell it anyway).
Don’t back paddle or be disrespectful in the lineup.
Property for Sale in West Sumbawa
West Sumbawa is an excellent place to invest in real estate as the area is quickly growing and opening to western visitors. Recently, a property at Maluk Beach became available for $160,000 USD. This property would be a great house, close to the surf, or an excellent location for a surf camp. If you’re interested in the property, please contact me for details.