Sumbawa (east of Lombok and reached by a ferry) is a rugged island between Lombok and Komodo. Most tourists just pass through it on their way to Komodo and Flores, which means there are plenty of unspoiled spots for those who want to linger. The only problem is that getting the best places is difficult because off the main routes the roads are poor and there isn’t much public transport. Many of the foreign travelers to the island are surfers.

Sumbawa is predominately Muslim. Conservative Islam isn’t as strong here as it is in some parts of Lombok but Islam itself is well entrenched. The western part of the island has traditionally been the home of the Sumbawans (Tau Samawa), who have lighter skin and are related to the Sasaks on Lombok. The eastern side has traditionally been the home of the Bimaese (Dou Mbojo) who have darker skin and are related to the ethnic groups on Flores. Both groups speak different language but have mixed with other groups. The biggest thing to happen on Sumbawa in recent years is the opening of the Newmont gold mine, which employs 4,000 people, near Maluk.

Sumbawa is a remote yet beautiful place. Known for its waves, sandy beaches and coral reefs, Sumbawa mainly attracts surfers and divers. The slogan of Sumbawa tells you all you need to know about this island. B E S A R stands for Bersih, Elok, Sehat, Aman Damai, Rapi (Clean, Beautiful, Healthy,and Neat). As this is a rural destination Sumbawa lacks the tourism infrastructure of nearby resort islands like Lombok and Bali. The pace of life in Sumbawa is slow. Traditional beliefs and practices continue to influence daily life. Many of the ritual events of old ways are still performed such as water buffalo racing and berempuk — a ritual boxing match. But all in all there really isn't that much on this island. It is beautiful and all and saw a fair number of monkeys during my three days bicycling from one end to the other but I can't remember anything remarkable. Surfers fly all the way from California to go to seek the beaches on and sur spots in the south.

Getting to and Around Sumbawa

To get to Sumbawa generally first you have to make your way to Lombok, Bali or Flores. From Lombok, you can take a ferry to Poto Tano in West Sumbawa. The ferry I went on in 1988 was pretty rickety and crowded I hope its changed. A man had an epileptic seizure on that journey and everyone on the boat flipped out. It seemed like they thought the guy was possessed.

You can reach Sumbawa by air by flying to the cities of Sumbawa Pesar on the western coast of Sumbawa and Bima on the eastern coast of Sumbawa. There are daily services with Merpati Airlines, and 4 times a week with Wings Air from Bali to Bima’s main airport, the Muhammad Salahuddin. Flights are less frequent to Sumbawa Pesar. From Bima you can take a taxi-bemo (public transportation) to other places in the island. Some resorts can arrange a private sea plane from Bali directly to Sumbawa or a fast boat from Lombok.

On Sumbawa there are public buses which run on the islands main highways. Car hire is possible through hotels in Sumbawa Besar of Bima. Motorcycles can also be rented. If you want a more authentic experience, try a traditional horse cart — called a benhur — to explore around Sumbawa Besar.

Sights and Activities in Sumbawa

Sumbawa Besar is the main city in the west. It has a new sultan’s palace and a reconstructed old sultan’s palace. Dima is the main city in the east. It too has a sultan’s palace. Other destinations on Sumbawa include Maluk and Sekongkang, popular surfing spots; Moyo Island (Palau Moyo), an island near Sumbawa Besar with excellent coral reefs and savannahs with wild pigs and barking deer; Hiu and Lakey Beach, another popular area with surfers; and Wawo, an area with traditional houses. Near Palau Moyo is Pulau Satonda with its unique salt water lake.

Sumbawa Besar is the main town of West Sumbawa. The Dalam Loka (Sultan’s Palace) is the main tourist attraction here. It was built in 1885. Visit the remains of this imposing palace which covers almost an entire block. During festival times you may be lucky enough to see traditional Sumbawan fighting, called berempah. This is a type of bare fisted boxing.

Mount Tambora, which is 2,851 meters high, is the highest mountain in Sumbawa. It erupted spectacularly in 1815 but has since lay dormant. You can hike to the rim of the volcano and peer over the edge into the three-kilometer-wide crater. The picturesque village of a Rite is filled with traditional Bima-style houses with rice granaries called lengge.

The surf at Hu’u and Lakey beach in East Sumbawa attracts surfers from around the world. The best surf is between June and August. Surfers also flock to Maluk village where a superb white sand beach and turquoise waters can be found. If you are a pro surfer try hitting the famous Supersuck — a reef break that gives rides up to 100 meters long.

Lakey Beach

Lakey Beach (in Hu'u Village on the east coast of Sumbawa, 45 minutes from the city of Dompu) is famous among surfers for its strong Left Hander waves. Lakey beach is a long, wide, palm-lined, white-sand stretch of beach fronted by reef. Much of the bottom is rocky, but farther up the beach it's sandy and good for swimming. The majority of surfers come from Australia, South America and the United States. So what makes this place so unique? The waves here appear to sweep to the left in direction, instead of right, as is common. The uniqueness of this fact, with the added, natural beauty of the beach makes it special. Add to this, the sea breeze is fairly strong which supports the activities of wind surfing or kite surfing as well as regular surfing.

Since its discovery by Australian surfers in the mid-1980s, Lakey Beach has been known to offer Sumbawa's most consistent and challenging surf. The waves break at four separate spots, including the renowned Periscopes. These swells are not for the faint-hearted as they break over exposed razor-sharp finger coral. For you surf enthusiasts this is your ideal spot. It is said that Lakey Beach’s waves are fairly stable throughout the year (not affected by seasons) and, therefore, have several times been the location for world-class surfing competitions. Dozens of participants of this competition usually come from all corners of the world, including many local Indonesian competitors. The advantages offered at Lakey Beach are already visible at Dompu city center, in the form of a large statue of a man mid — surf.

For you surf lovers, big and tall waves are usually the most desirable and sought after, but the waves here at Lakey Beach hold a unique challenge all of their own. Being not very high (around two to three meters), the challenge lies in conquering the left-handed direction of the waves, a task that requires special expertise to master.

From April to October is the best time to visit this beach. At times, the beach will be visited by up to 300 foreign tourists at a time, to come to spend weeks or even months living there. Aside from the surfers, this beach is also visited by travelers enroute to Dompu city, closest town to Mt. Tambora. Besides surfing, you can also swim off the beach, but be careful to remember the size and strength of the waves here are pretty fierce. Dangerous rocks are also widely scattered along the surrounding beach. However, the crystal clear sea water does make for an excellent snorkeling site. There are specific spots marked off especially for snorkeling.

You can also do some sightseeing tours of the the waters surrounding the beach by using a charter boat. While on these tours you can have the boat stop for fishing directly from the boat. If you're lucky, you might see some dolphins. Exactly opposite Lakey Beach, there is another beach, opposite not only in location but in color. The sand covering this beach area is blackish in color.

Accommodation and Getting to Lakey Island

Though rather quiet and secluded, there are approximately 10 existing hotels around Lakey Beach, which you can choose from according to your needs and financial situation. Some of them are five-star hotels, but there are also several homestays with rates starting from Rp 100,000, per night.

Lakey Beach Inn is one of the hotels of the Lakey Beach neighborhood which is run by a gentleman named Rachel. Rachel originally came to the island as a tourist in 1990 and fell in love with the beach and the island and decided to settle here. Rachel married a local resident and opened a hotel for tourists. If you have booked a room in advance at this hotel, upon arrival at Bima airport there will be vehicles available to pick you up and transport you to the hotel. For more information, you can visit the Lakey Beach Inn website. Lakey Beach Inn Hotel, Jl. Pantai Lakey, Huu,, Mataram, Tel. 0370 — 623576

Listed below are several other accommodation options. These are hotels, and homestays.: 1) Hotel Lakey Beach Inn Dompu, Jl. Pantai Lakey Huu, Dompu, Tel. 0370 — 623576; 2) Prima Donna Cottages, Tel. 0373 — 21168; 3) Lakey Peak Amangati Hotel, Jl. Raya Nangadoro Hu'u Lakey, Dompu - Sumbawa, Tel. 0373-623031; 4) Hotel Monalisa Lakey Beach, Jl. Pantai Lakey, Huu Dompu

To get to Lakey beach, you need to fly in through the city of Bima on the eastern coast of Sumbawa. There are daily services with Merpati Airlines, and 4 times a week with Wings Air (recommended for passengers traveling with surfboards), from Bali to Bima’s main airport, the Muhammad Salahuddin. From Bima you can take a taxi-bemo (public transportation) which will take you to Hu’u (about a 3 hour drive) for about Rp 300.000 per person in a car, or private transfers can be arranged for about Rp. 750.000 per vehicle (maximum 4 people). From Hu'u, Lakey beach is around a 30-45 minute drive.

Moyo Island

Moyo Island (three kilometers off the North coast of Sumbawa) is known for its pristine environment which includes rugged coastlines, coral reefs and a grassy savannah that is home to a variety of wildlife. The island’s most famous visitor Princess Diana of England who sought refuge on this island from the paparazzi. It’s best to visit Moyo Island in the dry season from June through to August.

The main attraction of this island lies beneath the surface of the ocean. Moyo Island (Pulau Moyo) is surrounded by beautiful untouched coral reefs which are ideal for snorkeling. Swim with white tip reef sharks, dive next to blue spotted sting rays, encounter a school of tropical fish. These experiences in the tropical warm waters of Indonesia will be unforgettable. Bring your own snorkel and fins as there is nowhere on the island to rent these. Don’t snorkel off the tip of Tanjung Pasir as the currents are very strong.

Back on land, two thirds of the island is a game reserve. Wildlife here includes deer, feral cattle and a variety of different types of birds. From great billed herons, spotted brahminy kites to white bellied sea eagles — bird watchers will be in for a treat with the amount of birds that make this island their home. Those with an interest in archeology and culture should visit Batu Tering traditional village where you can see the remains of an ancient megalithic culture. After you check in with the village chief, ask for a guide to show you round Airnung where you can see the remains of old rulers and ancient relief carvings.

Many travelers come to Moyo on a day trip from Sumbawa however there is basic accommodation available at the nature conservation post at Tanjung Pasir. There is also a fancy resort. The Amawana Resort is truly a remote paradise. Located in the island’s reserve, you will never be bothered by distractions from the outside world. This secluded and intimate hotel has attracted world famous guests including Princess Diana. Guests stay in tailor made tents where curious deer may just peek in as they walk by.

The only way to get to Moyo Island is by boat. You can arrange a boat from Sumbawa Besar. Your hotel may be able to arrange this for you, or you can go in person to the jetty at Muara Kali and bargain for a boat. There is the option of taking a faster, more expensive speed boat or, if the wind is suitable, sail across in a local fishing outrigger. The outrigger takes double the time but it is a peaceful and pleasant way to soak up the atmosphere.

Pulau Satonda: Unique Salt Water Lake of Sumbawa

Pulau Satonda (off the northern coast of Sumbawa, close to Moyo Island ) is unique salt water lake formed by volcanic eruption on the sea floor at a depth of 1000 meters, and thrust upwards hundreds of thousands of years ago. The island is located in the Flores Sea and is administratively part of the Nangamiro Village area, in the district of Dompu, in the province of West Nusa Tenggara.

The Satonda crater resembles a figure eight with a diameter of 950 meters from the south and 400 meters from the east. This ancient lake was formed from the Satonda eruption thousands of years ago. The Satonda volcano which is supposedly older than Mount Tambora, grew along with several parasitic volcanoes scattered around Tambora. The lake that was formed in the crater was once filled with fresh water. It is said that the eruption of Mount Tambora resulted in a tsunami which filled the crater and turned it into the salt water lake that it is today

The volcanic island of Satonda looks especially stunning when viewed from the top of Mount Tambora, which is located approximately 30 kilometers from Pulau Satonda. The coral reefs off the island are worth a look. There are several types of coral in the waters around the island Satonda, namely Acroporidae, Xenia sp, Favidae, Sarcophyton sp, sp Labophyton, Hetractris crispa, Nephtea sp, sp Capnella, Lemnalia sp and sp Astrospicularis. In the living corals surrounding this island are also many species of ornamental, exotic fish and other sea creatures. Hawksbill (Eretmochelys imricata) is also often seen swimming and foraging among the Satonda coral reefs. As for the types of marine flora found here, several in abundance are, ketapang (Terminalia catappa), sea pandanus (Pandanus tectorius), fig (Ficus sp), sea hibiscus (Hibiscus tiliaceus), nyamplung (Calophyllum inophyllum), Mentigi (Pempis sp) and tamarind (Tamarindus indica).

Satonda is often visited by scientists and researchers in part because of the presence of the island that can not be separated from the phenomenal eruption of Mount Tambora which shook the world on 15 April 1815. Two European scientists named Stephan Kempe and Josef Kazmierczak were researching Satonda Lake in 1984, 1989 and 1996. The result of their studies showed that Satonda Lake is a rare phenomenon because of the salty water with alkaline levels much higher than regular sea water. It was their combined opinion that Satonda basin coincided with the formation of craters which aged back more than 10,000 years. (Microbialites and Hydrochemistry of the Crater Lake of Satonda ", 1996)

Visiting Pulau Satonda

Pulau Satonda is uninhabited. On the island are white sand beaches, to ancient volcanic caves in addition to the unique salt water lake. To reach the island which is located approximately 3 kilometers from the Sanggar peninsula on Sumbawa, you need to take a motorized outrigger boat from the nearest village, which is Nangamiro Village. During the trip which normally takes approximately one hour, if you’re lucky, you might be able to catch a glimpse of the dolphins swimming across the waters of the Flores Sea.

The ascent to the Crater Lake begins around the middle of the island. A road climbs to the rim of the crater of Mount Satonda, which has a figure-eight-like shape like the lake. The water in the lake is green in color and lies peacefully in the middle of the crater surrounded by a forest of green trees. You can swim in the lake and because of the high salt content it’s a bit like swimming in the Dead Sea. As this island is uninhabited, the nearest accommodation is in Sumbawa Besar, 50 kilometers away.


Tambora (northern Sumbawa) is the volcano that erupted spectacularly in 1815 with five times the force of Krakatau. Reaching a height of 2,851 meters, Tambora is the tallest peak in Indonesia outside of Papua and has been mostly dormant since 1815. You can hike to the rim of the crater and peer over the edge into the crater’s remarkable gigantic hole that has a diameter of over six kilometers wide. In the crater are two colored lakes. The slopes of the volcano contain house-size boulders and grasses burned by hunters not the eruption. The inside of the crater is barren and the floor is brown, flat and dry. Sometimes a lake is produced here in the rainy season. In the air you can smell sulfur. The local name for the mountain is “gone.”

Tambora is situated near the northern edge of the island of Sumbawa in the West Nusa Tenggara Province, between the islands of Lombok and Flores. It can be reached in a few hours from Bima by a very bumpy bemo or bus ride. A road climbs up about a third of the way to the summit on the southern slope. From here you can take a trail that switches back and forth to the summit. After several hours you reach the 1000-meter-deep crater. Not many people do the climb because the road to get to the trail is very poor and the bus ride is long and bumpy.

Mount Tambora is known to the world as the site of the largest and most deadly volcanic eruption in recorded history. Just like Mount Toba in North Sumatra, it is recognized as one of the world’s supervolcanoes. However, while Mount Toba hasn’t been active in tens of thousands of years, Mount Tambora is still regarded as active.

The mega-eruption of Mount Tambora plunged the Earth into a multi-year period “volcanic winter.” It left a a seven-kilometers-by-6.2 kilometers wide crater containing a two-colored lake with depths reaching 800 meters, considered as the largest crater lake in Indonesia after Lake Toba. In 2004, archaeologist Haraldur Sigurdsson discovered the preserved bodies of two adults buried in nearly 10 feet of ash in the remnants of a small village on the volcano.


Dompu is the third largest city on Sumbawa and convenient stopover on trips to Tamboro and Lakey Beach. Even though it basic Indonesian town, it was once the capital of a significant sultanate. In the 14th century, the powerful viceroy of the empire of Majapahit in East Java Gajah Mada, personally led an invasion of Dompu and neighbouring kingdoms, when the region then came under the rule of Majapahit. However, the explosion of Mount Tambora in 1815, wiped out the sultanate of Dompu, and its people, as well as other sultanates of Tambora, Sanggar and Pekat. Their people too were completely wiped out, buried under the hot clouds, ash and lava of Mt. Tambora. A new Islamic sultanate later emerged on Dompu, but ended in the early 20th century.

For people with an interest in archaeology and history, there are sites here dating back to the old kingdoms Sumbawa. Doro Bata (meaning “mountain” or “hill” in the local language) is a hill of bricks in the middle of the town's residential area in the village of Kandai I, Dompu District. This site is believed to have been part of the Dompu palace when Dompu was under the control of the Majapahit empire.

A number of archaeologists and researchers have come to Doro Bata to do excavations around it in an attempt to uncover its history buried here whose civilization was completely destroyed by the Tambora volcanic eruption. Some believe that the Doro Bata site was a place of worship and a meeting place for the local Ncuhi or chieftains before the eruption.

Excavations have discovered bricks from a temple at a depth of 1.5 meters. Around Doro Bata scientists have discovered the Candi Sambi Tangga (Sambi Temple Stairs), approximately one kilometer from Doro Bata, and the Warukali site, believed to be an ancient tomb complex, located some two kilometers from Dompu. They have also found small ancient wells in an area of around 100 square meters, used by town residents during the dry season at the peak of Doro Bata.

Dompu is located in east of Sumbawa island. There are buses from Bima to Dompu. The distance is approximately 100 kilometers; the bus ride takes about three 3 hours. Here is a list of hotels and homestays for in and around Dompu City: 1) Bima Mantika, Jl. H. M. Noor Latif, RT04/RW01, Bima, Nusa Tenggara Barat; 2) Aty Losmen, Jl. Sukarno Hatta, Dompu, Tel. 0373 — 21360; 3) Kota Baru Wisma, Jl. Sonokling No. 8, Dompu, Tel. 0373 — 21032; 4) Praja Wisma, Jl. Sukarno Hatta No. 26, Dompu, Phone 0373 — 21699; 5) Samada Wisma, Jl. Gajah Mada No. 18, Dompu, Tel. 0373 — 21417, Manuru Kupang Wisma, Jl. Manurubata No. 1 Dompu, Tel. 0373 - 21387;

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Indonesia Tourism website ( ), Indonesia government websites, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Japan News, Yomiuri Shimbun, Compton's Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Updated in August 2020

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