Sumba, Indonesia

The Sanubari

Price per night from$431.06

Price information

If you haven’t entered any dates, the rate shown is provided directly by the hotel and represents the cheapest double room (including tax) available in the next 60 days.

Prices have been converted from the hotel’s local currency (IDR7,000,000.00), via openexchangerates.org, using today’s exchange rate.

Style

End-of-the-Earth hideout

Setting

We don't talk about Sumba

If you’ve got a case of the ‘been there, done thats’, let us reassure you that the world’s not done with surprising you. Take the Sanubari, which at first glance looks like the blueprint for a luxurious beach resort with its thatched villas and the requisite endless white sands and stained-glass waters. However, this resort sits in a vast swathe of off-the-radar isle Sumba, Indonesia’s ace up its sleeve, where locals still live in village clusters, practising ancient Marupu religious rites and making ikat weavings, ceramics and carvings (which you’ll find in your villa). You’ll see herds of buffalo wander along the sands, chat with fishermen breaking for beers, ‘swim’ with horses and be truly transported on a genuine-article getaway. 

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A cocktail on arrival

Facilities

Photos The Sanubari facilities

Need to know

Rooms

Six villas built in traditional Sumbanese style.

Check–Out

Noon, but flexible, subject to availability. Earliest check-in, 2pm.

Prices

Double rooms from £421.97 (IDR8,470,000), including tax at 21 per cent.

More details

Rates include a breakfast of fresh coffee and juices, fruit salad and an array of Western and Asian mains (say, pancakes with ginger-star anise syrup and lime cream, nasi goreng or a dragonfruit smoothie bowl), plus gluten-free choices.

Also

While villas are sizeable enough for guests with mobility issues to comfortably stay in, rustic and sandy surrounds make navigation harder.

At the hotel

Public beach, 120-hectare reserve, farm, outdoor gym, volleyball court, pushbikes to borrow and snorkelling kit, charged laundry service, universal plugs, and free WiFi. In rooms: TV (on request), wireless speaker, yoga mat, desk, minibar, international plug sockets, bathrobes, free bottled water, coffee and tea kit, custom eco-friendly bath products, air-conditioning and ceiling fan.

Our favourite rooms

All villas are set on the beach and have uninterrupted ocean views, so you won’t be missing out whichever you book. Styled with pitched alang-grass-thatched roofs, they echo the houses in the local villages, and are filled with local carvings, ikat weavings and ceramics, but with a modern bent. For your own private swimming spot, and a bath tub set (discreetly) by the window, choose the one- or two-bedroom Beachfront Pool Villas.

Poolside

Some villas have their own private pool, generously sized and terrazzo-lined, blending seamlessly into the sand; and the Savu Sea has those mightily inviting brochure-ready waters that are all the more luminous in person.

Spa

The lack of a spa won’t trouble your relax-ometer, whose needle will be hovering around the ‘Hindu cow’ marker. But if you need some get-up-and-go, the alfresco gym will challenge you callisthenics-style.

Packing tips

You won’t want for home comforts here, but Sumba doesn’t exist in service to tourists; don’t expect to be able to stock up in a local shop (easily, anyway), so make sure your travel kit’s together before take-off. That includes eco-friendly mozzie spray. Having said that, Sumba stays wonderful through collective effort so try not to bring, and definitely don’t leave, any disposables.

Also

It’s not just locals you’ll see ambling along the beach, but also herds of buffalo or wild horses, lazy lizards and frolicking dolphin pods among Sumba’s many untamed characters.

Children

There aren’t any dedicated facilities for kids, but the Two-Bed Pool Villa fits a family of four, and there are distractions suited to younger guests who’ll thrill at the adventure of it all.

Sustainability efforts

The hotel plays its part in keeping Sumba paradisiacal well. An onsite farm supplies the kitchen with fresh produce (and only local growers and fishermen are called on to supplement), solar panels are being installed, bath products are custom made and green as can be, and plastics have been drastically reduced. Villas have been built using local stone, teak and alang grass, and thousands of native trees have been planted within the resort. The native community has been cared for, too, forming a 100-strong team of staff; and owners have built a school and water stations for the nearby kampungs (villages).

Food and Drink

Photos The Sanubari food and drink

Top Table

Those romantics at the Sanubari have the (heart) eye for a love-story setting, say a table on the beach for a sunset barbecue, cushions on the sand round a fire pit, or a parasol-shaded clifftop picnic.

Dress Code

Brights, colour, pattern… Swathe yourself in Balinese batiks.

Hotel restaurant

The romantic thatch-topped dining pavilion – with its carved pillars, ikat hangings and cane-backed seating – echoes the look of the traditional Sumbanese uma keladas (peaked houses). It sits right on the sand, so sea views are a given. The menu skews both east and west – you could have chicken parm, fish tacos or herb-crusted fish; but we prefer the picks from this part of the world: nasi goreng, coconutty rendang, char siu chicken and yellow curry.

Hotel bar

The bar also looks like a village residence, with its thatched moptop and wood carvings. It’s built on sand too, so you can easily mosey your drinks to your day-bed. Many ingredients come from the hotel farm, which grows passionfuit, hibiscus flowers, soursop fruit, bananas, pineapples, coconuts, lemongrass, and rosemary. The signature sipper called, well, the Sanubari, takes a sweet, sticky tamarind reduction from the hotel’s 200-year-old trees and shakes it over ice before adding generous slugs of gin. We'd chase that with a Dragon in Shaker (with dragonfruit, rum and lime), banana daiquiri with fresh garden fruit, or vodka mixed with lemongrass and lime.

Last orders

Breakfast is from 7am, lunch from noon and dinner from 6pm.

Room service

Restaurant dishes can be brought to your villa from 7am to 8pm.

Location

Photos The Sanubari location
Address
The Sanubari
Dasang Beach Harona Kala Laboya Barat
West Sumba Regency
Indonesia

The Sanubari sits on the sands of the pristine southwest coast of Indonesia’s ancient yet up-and-coming isle of Sumba, where its 120-hectare plot is buffered by thick jungle.

Planes

Tambolaka Airport is the closest to the hotel; you can easily connect from Denpasar (AKA Ngurah Rai) in Bali, around a 90-minute flight. Airport transfers (in various vehicles, for up to seven guests at a time) are included in your room rate and while the drive is nearly two hours, you’ll see a wonderfully wild cross-section of the island en route.

Automobiles

Drop and floppers won’t need wheels of any kind, but if you’re more explorative, note that Sumba’s infrastructure lags a little behind the growing interest in visiting it, so driving can be tricky (and not recommended after dark), although it is possible to hire a car or a motorbike. You can sidestep any navigational stress by hiring a driver for the day (most wait around the airport, but you’ll be whisked off when you arrive, so ask hotel staff to help arrange); be sure to be clear about what you’re hoping to see and do. The hotel has not one but three secure car parks (one by the restaurant, two by the villas).

Other

The hotel’s helipad lets you arrive with swagger.

Worth getting out of bed for

Hermits have never had it so good. Now that Sumba’s an unleashed secret it may be as busy as Bali a few years down the line, but for now the island’s roughshod remoteness is a rare asset. Local communities have had little interference, meaning life – and the Marupu religon’s rituals and ceremonies, such as megalithic burials – carry on as they have for centuries. The Sanubari’s owners have built goodwill with the neighbouring kampungs (Sumbanese for ‘village’), so a limited number of lucky guests can visit to learn more about the locals and buy handicrafts to take home. Of course, your main source of entertainment is the beach: 2.5 kilometres of gleaming white sand and ‘are you kidding me?’ glowy blue-green waters. You could simply drop down on a towel (classic), play beach games, tennis and volleyball or snorkel using the hotel’s free-to-hire gear (part of the beach has a vibrant reef and curious turtles). Embark on a cruise aboard the hotel boat; go fishing; paddle boarding; or surfing on the three rideable breaks along Sanubari’s shorefront (there are more a short bike ride away). Or take it to the next level with kite-surfing. The hotel has some very special horse-riding experiences, saddling up for sunrise or set, or – our pick – ‘swimming’ with them, riding bareback through the waves. Inland lies dense jungle, rice paddies that look like you could reach out and stroke them, and coconut groves: great for hiking and motorbiking and a spot of mountaineering. Ignore TLC’s advice and spend a day-trip chasing waterfalls – you’ll head off on a 45-minute ride (with a guide if you wish) which takes you through the Wanukaka Valley to the Lapopu cascades in Manupeu Tanah Daru National Park and the 75-metre-tall Matayangu falls in Waimanu village.

Reviews

Photos The Sanubari reviews
Hannah Dace

Anonymous review

By Hannah Dace, Smith scribe

I’m at the Sanubari. I say this with a flourish, because getting here is no mean feat. It took 20-plus hours, three flights, two stop-overs, a 90-minute taxi and a lifetime's worth of dodgy airport cappuccinos – all agreeable, mind, for a slice of this introverted Indonesian island, Sumba.

Relaxation is writ large here. After dropping our bags and our clothes in equal haste (for suitable replacements: a Bintang and a bikini), I’m reminded of the phrase my yoga teacher closes ?av?sana with: ‘there’s nothing left to do’. That’s exactly it.

Ms Smith – my best friend of 16 years – and I assume our positions on a shaded lounger by our private pool. The view is impeccable. There’s a mirage-like haze where pool meets ocean and ocean meets sky – to be broken only in late afternoon, when horses and buffalo catwalk the length of the beach. I close my eyes. There’s nothing left to do.

Despite being just an hour’s flight east of Bali, Sumba is still raw and rough-edged. You’ll find the Sanubari in the south of the island – a landscape of tiny villages, skyscraper palms and rice paddies reminiscent of northern Vietnam. Fewer than 10 villas (I’m being intentionally elusive here, because there were six at my time of visiting, with three more in the works) nose the coastline of the 100-hectare reserve, a patch of land so spotless it’s as though I’d already spent hours hunched over Photoshop.

The villas peter out like paintbrush tips from a jungle-lined path, each a white one-storey manse, topped with a gabled roof made from bamboo and alang-alang grass. Inside, the palette is suitably soothing: creamy marble floors; wicker, wood and teak furnishings; ikat tapestries. Picture windows and sliding glass doors frame the private pool which, in turn, frames views of the ocean.

We narrate our first few hours, as the British are wont to do: murmurs of ‘the weather is perfect’, ‘this view is beautiful’, and ‘I might be too hot, now, actually’. The crashing waves, scorching sun and lily-white sand – all are splendid, and such a welcome step-change from life in London.

We land back on our feet to head to dinner, a relaxed affair in the barefoot beachfront pavilion which doles out local dishes such as yellow fish curry, black-pepper chicken, satay and nasi goreng; plus fish tacos, chicken parmigiana, salad bowls and burgers.

Alas, we never quite make it there. On reaching the thatched moptop bar (which sits right on the sand) we see guests gathering. Reggae music drifts in our direction – playing, we later discover, from the low-key portable speaker perched in one corner. Distracted, we make our way over.

It takes just two rounds of dragon fruit martinis before we’re all firm friends. To our left are honeymooners from Australia (who passionately attest that the restaurant’s chicken ‘parmi’ is to Sydney standards). To our right sits a Balearic-born nomad turned Sanubari ‘waterman’ (his word, not mine) who mans the boats and surfboards during the day, and props up the bar at night.

The group swells as others join pre- and post-dinner. We chat for hours, and end up ordering food together, to the bar. The restaurant can’t be more than 15 steps further. Ah well, there’s always tomorrow.

The sun sets behind us. Callipo-lolly hues of orange, lemon and strawberry paint the sky. The hotel manager lights a beach bonfire while the three resident dogs – Boy, Olive and Peanut – dance circles around his feet. I put down my knife and fork and take a deep breath. There’s nothing left to do.

It’s time for bed, and like sandal-sporting Cinderellas we traipse back to our room at a minute to midnight. I suggest a run in the morning. Ms Smith shoots me an exasperated side-eye. We settle on not even setting an alarm.

The thing is, this is just the place to remain horizontal. But at the very same time, there’s so much to be learnt about Sumba and its people. Marupu culture is fascinating, layered and complex. The hotel works closely with nearby kampungs (villages), and offers small-group excursions to meet locals, see their uma keladas (peaked houses) and hear their stories.

Here, religion reigns. Animals may as well be currency, and road-side rituals, ceremonies and burials are common. There’s far more to be said on this, but for now, back to bliss.

I read three books in as many days. Whole afternoons pass with only a turning of pages. Interruptions are few and far between – a dip in the pool here, a splash in the ocean there.

On our final day, I release a decadent yawn. ‘Lunch?’

‘Lunch.’ responds my near-comatose companion. We move at a glacial pace to the restaurant, order fish tacos and a coconut, sinking into our seats with a sigh. Olive and Peanut snooze in the shade by our feet. We’re in no hurry.

There’s nothing left to do.

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Price per night from $431.06