Not all hoteliers would seek out a blessing from native ancestral spirits in a riotous ceremony before checking the first guest in, but extra-mile going is Indonesian island retreat Cap Karoso’s calling card. And the locals who live along this spectacular remote Sumba shoreline aren’t just on board – their arts and crafts take pride of place throughout too, with a voluminous ikat cloth hanging from the beach club ceiling, panels carved with indigenous symbols, sculptures and paintings, and wabi-sabi pottery and glassware. Shamans have bestowed their healing knowledge on the spa and native ingredients are grown in the on-site farm, adding authenticity to lavish beachside spoiling here. A work of art, with plenty of heart.
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A tapas plate and trio of wines to try in your room on arrival
11am, but flexible, subject to availability. Earliest check-in, 1pm.
Double rooms from £186.58 ($231), including tax at 10 per cent. Please note the hotel charges an additional service charge of 10% per booking prior to arrival.
Rates usually include a Franco-Sumbanese à la carte and buffet breakfast, served at the beach club, and use of non-motorised watersports equipment. Over the festive period (21 December to 6 January), there's a minimum five-night stay.
Seeking to make meaningful connections between the indigenous Marapu makers and artists from Indonesia and further afield, the hotel runs an artist residency programme. Invitees have included mod-weaver Alexander Sebastianus Hartanto; Clarissa Nilistiani who works with textiles, raffia, banana and pineapple leaves, and natural fibres; abstract painter Ines Katamso; and playful, brightly hued, architecture-inspired pieces by Yuki Nakayama. Bali’s Bitte studio designed the modernist residences.
At the hotel
Beach lined with day-beds, beach club with outdoor cinema, spa and gym, organic farm and school, plant nursery, buffalo herd, chicken coop, dairy, charged laundry service (one load free for guests staying five nights or more), bikes free to borrow, free WiFi. In rooms: Klipsch soundbar, gourmet minibar with an ice well, Italian espresso coffee machine, Indonesian single-estate coffee and tea, custom room fragrance and bath products, Cabas bags, bathrobes, yoga mats, air-conditioning. The Beachfront Suites and up have a Bang & Olufsen speaker or sound-system too, and each villa has a private swimming pool.
Our favourite rooms
How long would you like to stay? If your answer is – understandably – ‘forever’, well the villas are suited for extended stays with their ample space, private tropical gardens and infinity pools. They’re especially handy if you’re staying with little ones, each coming with a private kitchen. Otherwise the Beachfront Suites fit the bill for a dreamy den, with the sands practically at your door, a can’t-take-your-eyes-off-it panorama of the Flores Sea, alfresco soaking tub, artwork by French-Indonesian painter Ines Katamso, and a stylish bamboo coffee table by designer Sarah Ellison. But, whichever you stay in, you’ll delight in the considered details: Sumbanese-style carved panels, handwoven ikat fabric, native paintings and sculptures, symbolic artefacts, bespoke wood and rattan furnishings from Kalpa Turu Bali, ceramics from Gaya – and nods to the owner’s French heritage with Pierre Frey textiles and stacked-stone walls in bathrooms, evocative of the South of France.
There are two pools at the hotel: a 33-metre infinity pool (open 7am–7pm) with Flores Sea views at the heart of the action, which – while not strictly adults-only – has a more serene grown-up feel; and a second pool (open 7am–9pm) at the Explorer’s beach club where children can splash about with abandon. All villas have a private infinity pool if you want some more intimate soaking, and the lagoon’s mirror-clear waters are a very enticing prospect.
At the heart of the hotel, the spa pays homage to local culture in both style and spirit. It’s housed in a building with a peaked roof like the village’s uma mbatangu dwellings (all the better for communing with the spirit world), and treatments are adapted from shamanic healing rituals using wild herbs, flowers and sea salt, and perhaps a singing bowl or two. And holism goes deeper still here, with visiting practitioners in meditation, mindfulness, nutrition and life-coaching, plus Pilates and yoga sessions on top of the cliffs, on the beach or at the hotel’s pavilion. A gym has strength and cardio-training equipment too.
Stack your suitcase high with leisurewear of all sorts (swimming costumes, yoga gear, hiking shoes, rash vests), but leave space for numerous new-home accoutrements you’ll pick up in the local villages.
Massage tables can be brought out to your suite or villa on request, and all rooms and residences have a full cocktail-making kit, plus an ice-maker to get you sundowner ready.
The Little Adventurers club (for under-12s) will blow your little ones’ world views wide open, with activities ranging from astronomy to sustainable farming. Villas are family sized with a handy kitchen, there’s baby kit aplenty, and babysitting too.
The hotel is well kitted out for kids of all ages, but juniors and up will get the most from the experience.
Villas have at least two bedrooms, a private pool (the dream), lots of outdoor lounging space and their own kitchen for flexible meal times.
The Little Adventurers kids’ club (for three to 12 year-olds) is a wellspring of local knowledge that’ll slyly educate smalls as they have fun. They’ll help to grow crops and meet the resident animals in the organic farm, map out constellations with the hotel’s astronomer, learn to ride and look after the horses, take measures to conserve marine life, make artwork in the local style, cook, compose world music and visit the surrounding villages. Otherwise the beach is peaceful with space to spread out your towels and safe-for-swimming waters in the lagoon.
The main pool at the heart of the resort has a more adult ambience, but little ones can frolick freely at the beach club pool (just keep an eye on any swim-newbies).
Julang restaurant’s Michelin meals may be a little OTT for developing palates, but the Explorer’s Beach Club is more laidback with some child-friendlier choices.
Hotel staff are happy to help book a babysitter as long as you give them 24 hours’ notice.
No need to pack
Owners Fabrice and Evguenia Ivara have children of their own and so understand what on-the-go parents need – be sure to bring the essentials as there isn’t exactly a supermarket down the road, but should you be missing something reception may have it.
Baby monitors are available on request.
When your hotel journey starts with you asking the spirits of the locals’ ancestors for their blessing in a Sumbanese ceremony, it’s only respectful to shoulder the responsibility of keeping the land pristine and traditions watertight. And it’s not something the hotel’s owners or staff take lightly. Throughout you’ll find paintings, carvings, ikat fabrics, ceramics and wood screens decorated with important Sumbanese symbols painstakingly made by artisans on-island and throughout Indonesia. In putting these pride of place, and through village visits and an artist-residency programme in partnership with local craftspeople, the hotel owners hope to raise awareness of the exquisite and meaningful creative work residents excel in. In collaboration with NGO the Sumba Hospitality Foundation, underprivileged youths have been hired as staff, and the hotel’s three-acre organic farm (cultivated by agriculturalist, Philippe Guiglionda) doesn’t just supply the restaurant with the likes of cabai Sumba chillies, papayas, salad greens and tomatoes, but acts as a school for local farmers, where they can learn about plant propagation, nursery skills, garden maintenance, organic farming and permaculture, plus health and safety. It’s naturally fertilised by the hotel’s buffalo herd, staff practice mulching and composting and low-water plants are favoured; a chicken coop provides eggs and there’s a dairy onsite too. While local fishermen sell their catches directly to the hotel. And, in the wider surrounds, non-indigenous weed species are swiftly removed, a hundred palm trees have been planted on the beach, water is treated using an eco-friendly system, and half of the hotel’s energy comes from a bank of solar panels (they aim to reach 85 per cent solar power by 2025). Plus villas are planted with green roofs, and they’ve banned the use of plastic packaging, alongside more Earth-saving ideas for the future.
Keep the sea in your eyeline for mood-ring skies and refreshing sea breezes.
Something thrown on over your swimwear for the beach club. For Julang, take inspiration from intricate ikat patterns and mimic the colours of land and sea.
The Marapu ancestors are generous sorts, overseeing abundant crops, fertile land and lively seas. The hotel benefits greatly from this bounty, buying seafood straight off the boats as they come in with their morning hauls and teasing indigenous and rare crops from the earth in their organic farm, including tomato strains from France and Georgia, salad greens, fiery cabai Sumba chillies, and all manner of tropical fruits. In Julang Restaurant, the hotel’s fine diner, acclaimed chefs are invited from all over the world to man the open kitchen and craft these homegrown delicacies into multi-course Mediterranean feasts. These will be theatrical meals that invite discussion, and with just 28 covers, it’s ideal for date nights. The Explorer’s Beach Club is a little more casual, and meals are designed for sharing, so groups can gather around a whole fish straight off the kamado grill, ladle pasta from steaming bowls, or order up a round of pizzas freshly paddled out of the artisanal oven crafted in Naples by the Acunto family.
The drinks list at the Explorer’s Beach Club has a little oh-là-là, and shows off the impeccable taste of the French owners, with fine champagnes and wines from across the Med. The drinks may be elegant, but this is more of a swan about in a sarong hangout, with a DJ spinning a chill-out soundtrack of electro, funk and deep house; cushioned day-beds; a vast ikat hanging which took a village to make; and views that’ll guest star in your dreams back home. And, Apicine, next to the main pool, has cocktails inspired by signatures from the world’s top bars and fruity farm-to-glass concoctions.
At the beach club, breakfast is 7am to 10am, lunch 11am to 4pm and dinner 6pm to 10.30pm. Julang only opens for dinner from 7pm to 11pm. And Apicine serves drinks and snacks from 10am to 10pm.
From 7am to 11pm you can dine in your room, and peckish night owls can order up a selection of snacks outside these hours. Those in villas can also call out the hotel’s chef to man their kitchen or barbecue.
Cap Karoso is in the untamed paradise of Kodi on the left coast of the sunniest and lesser-travelled Indonesian isle Sumba, set between a luminous lagoon and a wild spread of hilly savannah, tropical forest and stepped rice paddies.
Sumba has two airports, serving flights from Bali and other Indonesian islands, but Tambolaka is the closest at just over an hour’s drive away. Most visitors will come through Bali’s Ngurah Rai, which is an hour’s flight away and services are fairly frequent. Group or private transfers can be arranged starting from US$60 a person, each way.
Richly biodiverse, Sumba’s been blessed with scenery whose beauty might bring a tear to your eye. Waters have clarity and colour, the hills are golden with savannah, and tropical forests run rampant. Hidden within are little villages with the island’s uniquely lofty thatched roofs (all the better for keeping in touch with the spirit world), and every turn is a discovery. So, driving may open up the island in spectacular fashion; however, it’s tricky (roads aren’t always well maintained and ojek motorbike taxis fly at you out of nowhere) and dangerous (banditry is possible in this region) especially after dark, so hire a savvy local driver to chauffeur you around. There’s free valet parking onsite.
There are some ferry routes from nearby islands (Sawu, West Timor, Flores), but journey times can take 20-plus hours depending on your destination, so flights are the less-tedious option.
Worth getting out of bed for
When it comes to travel, you might think there are no roads left untrodden, but floating decorously between Bali and Timor, paradise isle Sumba has been keeping some of its beauty spots to itself, especially on the west coast where warrior tribes still live in wood dwellings with distinctive tall thatched roofs arranged around family mausoleums and overseen by a rato (shaman and usually the village elder). Kodi, where Cap Karoso has taken residence with the locals’ blessing, is a beguiling blend of rippling green waves of savannah, flocked plains, gently warmed reef-rich aquamarine waters lapping at gold-dust sands, and lustrous jungle. It’s terrain that calls to the adventurous, and staff can show you the most rewarding hiking trails and pinpoint inland waterfalls, lend you a bike or e-car, or saddle up some native sandalwood horses (so important to the Sumbanese that they’re known as the ‘vehicle of life’, are often used for dowry payments, and are the star attractions of the bloodthirsty annual Pasola festival). For added inner peace, have a meditation guide accompany you for a hilltop conscious breathing session, or take your horse for a swim in Karoso’s lagoon. And, of course, you must ingratiate yourself with the locals; on village visits you’ll see traditional dance, get hands on with handicrafts, see acrobatic spear-wielding and megalithic tombs, and discover the intricacies of the animist Marapu religion that dates back to the Bronze age. Early risers can join on a traditional fishing trip too, in a hand-carved boat, and have their catches cooked on a kamado grill on their return; for a shot of extra luck, make like the Marapu and hide an egg under the largest tree you can find. The lagoon is all set for lazy swims or snorkelling through luminous coral gardens, but you could also dive into the salt water of Weekuri Lake – a turquoise glimmer amid the jungle – surf bulging breaks at Pero (staff can drive you there and back), or bask on cliff-sheltered Mandorak Cove. Back at the hotel, you’re once again immersed in local culture, with an array of artworks and artefacts to admire, and an arts residency programme to support Indonesian talent and introduce modern creatives to age-old practices. Plus you can indulge in some holistic healing, shaman-style in the spa, or join a yoga class in the pavilion, on the beach or atop the cliffs. Films are frequently screened alfresco at the beach club's open-air cinema; and, at the end of the day, stretch out on your deck’s day-bed with a tropical cocktail in hand and watch the sunset tint clouds cotton-candy pink and the sky ombré oranges and blues.
Every hotel featured is visited personally by members of our team, given the Smith seal of approval, and then anonymously reviewed. As soon as our reviewers have returned from this impressive showcase of traditional Indonesian craftsmanship on the lesser-trodden isle of Sumba and unpacked their reams of ikat cloth and solemn carved-stone figures, a full account of their off-the-radar break will be with you. In the meantime, to whet your wanderlust, here's a quick peek inside Cap Karoso in Indonesia…
For first-time hoteliers Fabrice and Evguenia Ivara, making their breathtaking Indonesian arts-and-crafts haven Cap Karoso a reality was a baptism of fire…and shamanic ritual, warrior dances with spears, spirit summoning and blood sacrifice. It’s no tall tale: to win the approval of the communities native to Kodi on the western coast of largely undisturbed island Sumba, they had to arrange a huge ceremony for 600 villagers, where ratos (shamans) got the nod from their dear-departed ancestors, a buffalo was slain in appeasement and raucous celebrations were had. All of which should clue you into the wild and wonderful world you’ll be immersing yourself in here. This wasn’t just lip service: Sumbanese craft is a core principle at the hotel, and throughout there are carved figures, perfectly imperfect earthenware pots, weavings and wall-hangings, reams of ikat fabric, shapely glassware and screens carved with important symbols (say the horse: the ‘vehicle of life’ here). Jakarta-based Bitte design studio helped to conceive the modernist suites and residences, using local rattan, bamboo, stone and teak, incorporating slender columns to bridge the spirit world and hanging a vast village-made ikat cloth across the beach club ceiling; plus hand-tooled furnishings were commissioned from Kalpa Turu Bali and wabi-sabi ceramics from Gaya. In the spa, shamanic – bloodless – healing rituals are carried out, the farming school and community outreach make a positive impact on the community, and village visits let guests authentically experience a largely lost way of life. All efforts which give the Michelin-starred Mediterranean meals, champagne and cocktails on the beach’s squishy day-beds, and afternoons lapped away in your villa’s private infinity pool a little more substance. Much like the lovingly laboured-over textiles throughout, the Ivara’s have woven luxury and dignified local culture into something very beautiful, which we’re sure those ancestral spirits are smiling kindly on.