Sumba, Bali’s up-and-coming sibling, is an island where you can ride horses on the beach, surf uncrowded breaks or experience traditional village life.
The Portuguese may have visited, the Dutch, too, but this island in the Indian Ocean remains raw, wild and mysterious. It’s just a 90-minute flight from Bali, yet not many tourists have made the trip. But once you climb down the steps of the propeller plane onto the tarmac and see the backdrop of mountains, you’ll wonder why you didn’t come earlier.
Its beaches are endless, its culture is rich, and yet the island of the Marapu people remains relatively undiscovered. The drive to your hotel in Bali may take you past third-wave coffee shops and interior stores laden with artisan buys, while in Sumba you will be greeted with rolling hillsides, clusters of small villages and a buffalo or two lazily chewing grass on the roadside. Life is unhurried, time is merely a suggestion. It’s the perfect antidote to our fast-paced way of life.
Now you have another reason to go. Two new boutique hotels who want to help you leave the rest of the world behind and explore Sumba are Cap Karoso and The Sanubari. Thoughtful and discreet, these getaways are designed not to disrupt, but blend into this slower way of life.
The Sanubari (meaning “soul”) is found within a 100-acre swathe of land that begins at the top of a rice-paddy-filled hillside and rolls down to the Indian Ocean. You can see the high-pitched peaks of the Sumbanese homes dotted along the edge of its grounds. Although you may need to drive closer to see the hotel’s low-rise buildings – they have been designed to almost disappear into the landscape. Though when you do stumble across them along the foliage-lined pathways, you’ll find spacious villas with white walls and blonde wood that look out over the ocean or the rice paddy fields.
The Sanubari is an ode to Sumba. From the shaggy grass roofs of the spacious villas to the ikat-inspired prints and woven puraka rice baskets in the suites. British-Australian couple Rowan and Micha Burn
joined with Bali-based hoteliers Allan and Roger Thomas to turn this corner of Sumba into a sustainable getaway.
The Sanubari has a Silicon Valley surf vibe. It wants its beach-dress-wearing, board-shortsporting guests to feel right at home. Rowan and Micha can be found each morning walking barefoot along the sand, and chatting to guests as they relax on deep sofas in the restaurant or sip hibiscus cocktails through papaya straws at the beach bar.
They may also be seen walking their horses across the sand or stopping to buy half a dozen red snapper from the fishing boats that have just come ashore that morning.
Sumba’s horses are called Sandalwood horses. Their presence on the island dates from the 8th century when Chinese traders would swap their Mongolian-Arabian ponies for Sumba’s aromatic sandalwood. This sturdy and energetic breed can be found in The Sanubari’s thatched stables. Guests can join the stable manager Carlos and his team for a ride along the trails, along the oceanfront, or across the powder white beach to a private island where you can swim with the horses in the sea.
Stay in beachfront luxury at The Sanubari.
Further up the coast you’ll find Cap Karoso, which is another hideaway that wants to introduce the rest of the world to Sumba.
Dine on Asian and Mediterranean-style dishes in the Beach Club or Apicine restaurant, or join what feels like a private dinner party in the single table Julang restaurant. Pizzas are made in a traditional Acunto oven shipped from Italy, and there are also plans to open another restaurant within their organic farm.
Lelewatu Resort Sumba
Relax at the full-service spa, where you can enjoy massages and body treatments. If you're looking for recreational opportunities, you'll find an outdoor pool and a fitness center. Additional features at this hotel include complimentary wireless internet access, concierge services, and wedding services. Getting to the surf and sand is a breeze with the complimentary beach shuttle.
While there may be European elements throughout the resort, it’s not hard to find the nods to the Sumbanese culture, from the skeins of dyed cotton that have been turned into wall art in the lobby to the spa designed in the style of local Sumbanese houses. Guests will be able to find more bespoke pieces created by artisans in the Garden Suites that lie on leafy avenues, which cascade down the hillside.
Cap Karoso’s Sumbanese staff are happy to tell you the history of their homeland under the shade of the
Indian almond trees on the beach, but they encourage you to join them on a short drive to one of the nearby ancient villages to really understand the culture.
Cap Karoso has its own organic farm, where its local members of staff are just as adept at telling you about the cooking techniques for each ingredient as they are for sharing its medicinal properties. Elvis, who was a boat driver on Bali and now drives Cap Karoso’s guests around on dry land, shared that
the Sumbanese will not only add fried papaya blossom to liven up their dishes, but will also boil it to help get rid of a fever. Meanwhile hotel guide Frankie, whose family live locally, will happily pluck a candlenut and peel it to show you the white waxy seed the Marapu people burn to create light. Guests are encouraged to climb aboard one of the hotel’s e-bikes and visit the 7.4-acre farm.
With its quiet surprises of luxury resorts, the cenote-style Weekuri Lagoon and small villages brimming with history and culture, Sumba rewards the traveller who is keen to look beyond Bali.
Discover Cap Karoso's luxury for yourself.
This is an abridged version of the original article written by Claire Turrell. Read the rest of this article on page 66 in the second issue of Dream by Luxury Escapes magazine. Get your copy here.