Stay – Review of Nihi Sumba
Last updated: July 26, 2019
Nihi Sumba, formerly known as Nihi Watu is an award winning luxury resort where “luxury meets unregulated freedom” on the Island of Sumba in Indonesia’s southernmost province of East Nusa Tenggara. Just a 1 hour flight away from DPS – I Gusti Ngurah Rai Bali International Airport, Nihi Sumba offers guests a unique and memorable escape from crowded tourist areas to experience adventure, nature, and relaxation “On The Edge of Wildness”.
From humble beginnings as a surf camp to Travel + Leisure’s World’s Best Resort in all categories for 2016 and 2017, Nihi Sumba has not only put Nihiwatu Beach on the tourist map but also the entire island of Sumba due to all the natural beauty that is found here. We don’t surf but we do like beaches and visiting new places in general and we were fortunate enough to be able to include a stay at Nihi Sumba in December 2018 as part of our 4th around the world trip. In this post, we will share information about all aspects of our stay at Nihi Sumba and travels to Sumba Island.
Nihi Sumba has a total of 27 villas with one to five bedrooms each, and all of the villas have their own private pool.
As part of the daily room rate, 3 meals are provided at the restaurant ($25 fee for in villa dining), non-alcoholic drinks throughout the resort and in the room, bottled water and snacks in the room, 6 pieces of laundry per day per person, and complimentary alcohol in the mini bar (a couple of beers per day, and a small portion of gin, vodka, and whiskey).
Guest services include an assigned “Kapten”, who is your liaison during your stay and helps to arrange activities, assistance with flight arrangements (for a fee), and coordination of airport transfers (not included in room rate). The resort also coordinates “buggy rides” to transport people around the property as needed (booked through your Kapten or the front desk).
The hotel offers by sea, on land, wellbeing, spa, and food related activities for an additional fee in addition to some complimentary ones. For more information about the activities, check out the Nihi Sumba website: https://nihi.com/experiences/ .
There are 3 restaurants on the property:
- Ombak: Main restaurant that offers break, lunch, and dinner. The restaurant and bar are completely open air but there are covered areas. There are international and local a-la-carte options for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and dinner buffets some evenings.
- Nio Beach Club: Casual beach dining by the pool (grilled fish, salads, and pizzas).
- Kaboku: Beachfront sushi bar with limited seating so advanced reservations are required.
As far as places to visit and hangout outside your villa, there is gym onsite where you can book personal training sessions and complimentary yoga classes are offered daily as well. Near the lobby, Menara is the resort’s living room games, a pool table, and library. There is also Chris & Charly’s Chocolate Factory where chocolate from Sumba cocoa is made. The beach is 2.5 kms long and guests can participate in water activities (some are complimentary and some have a fee associated). i.e. snorkels and paddleboards are free but surfing is not and needs to be booked months in advance.
Traveling to Nihi Sumba:
We decided to book our flights separate from the VIP package offered by the hotel to save $400 (the VIP package is $500 per person and our flights were $100 per person). We flew from DPS – I Gusti Ngurah Rai Bali International Airport to TMC – Tambolaka Airport on Garuda Indonesia’s CRJ service departing at 12:55 for a 14:00 arrival. When we arrived to the airport, there was a Nihi Sumba representative there and a porter to help us with our check-in, get our boarding passes, and check our bags. As the overhead bins are very small in the CRJ, we recommend checking your bag even if you have a small carry-on like ours. We were pretty impressed by Garuda Indonesia overall; the airplane was clean, the service was good, and everything was on time.
Unfortunately, Garuda has since cancelled the CRJ service and Nam Air and Wings Air are the only air carriers operating commercial flights at this time. Personally, we would feel hesitant to use either of these discount Indonesian carriers who use very old airplanes; Wings Air operates an ATR-72 and Nam Air operates a 737-500. We have also noticed there do appear to be frequent delays with the flights to Sumba. The only other options to get to Sumba are via helicopter, charter a private flight, or by sailing on a yacht. Both Nihi Sumba and Lelewatu advertise that Nam Air is part of the Garuda Group because it sounds more legit. Essentially, Garuda acquired rival Sriwijaya Air, which Nam Air is part of. Garuda has operational control of Sriwijaya Air to increase their market share in Indonesia to compete with Lion Air, which Wings is part of.
As for departing from TMC – Tambolaka Airport, since we did not sign-up for their VIP package, we were dropped off at the terminal and left on our own. The female bathrooms outside the secure area (pre-security) are a lot cleaner and have a flush toilet. There is a VIP Lounge, but it was not open when we were there and it is unclear if you can use Priority Pass or if it is only for guests of Nihi Sumba who purchased the VIP package. We feel Nihi Sumba should allow all their guests flying out of TMC access to the lounge regardless of if they pay for a VIP package as the passenger waiting room is not very comfortable. As we waited close to 2 hours for our inbound aircraft, there was nowhere to go but sit in a waiting room with no air conditioning and modern toilets (male and female bathrooms had squat toilets with a bucket of water). We were quite surprised by this since TMC is a newly built airport due to the influx of tourism to the island. We were very happy when our aircraft landed as it meant we would be able to sit in a/c and use a proper toilet.
Driving to Nihi Sumba:
When we arrived at TMC – Tambolaka Airport, we were warmly greeted by more Nihi Sumba staff (of the 320 staff, 93% are Sumbanese). As it takes about 2.5 hours to drive to Nihi Sumba, I recommend using the washroom at the airport which was actually quite modern and clean. We were led to our open air vehicle to settle in and enjoy a chilled coconut as we made our way to the resort. On the drive, we were surprised at how happy and excited children and other people were to see us as they said “hello” and waved to us most of the way.
Upon arriving at Nihi Sumba, the vehicles stops at the top of the hill so you can get your initial view of the resort and beach. Make sure to take photos!
Upon arrival, you are greeted by the General Manager, Julien who knows everyone by name pretty much and you are assigned a Kapten who will take you to your villa and explain things to you. We were assigned Anggri and we really bonded with her: she was very nice, informative, answered all of our silly questions, and had a great sense of humor.
Our Villa – Marangga:
We stayed in a Marangga villa which has 1 bedroom and a large backyard that faces the ocean and leads down to a private beach hut with stunning views of the beach and sunset. The villa is equipped with a king sized four poster bed, a bathroom with a large indoor shower and bathtub, 2 outdoor showers (beach hut and bathroom), an outdoor dining area, a day bed by the pool, a day bed in the beach hut, and lounge chairs. The room also has air conditioning and a ceiling fan above the bed. Our Kapten, Anggri also told us that we could request netting put around the beach hut bed if we wanted to sleep outside which was a nice option.
We were very comfortable here to say the least and the biggest stresses were figuring out where we wanted to watch the sunset or take a nap. The setting was so spectacular that it was hard to leave the daybed or loungers because the view and peacefulness lulled you into relaxation. We’re keeping the design of this villa and yard in mind for that day when we can build our own little home somewhere tropical!
The Food – Ombak Restaurant:
As we were visiting during “Green” season when the occupancy is lower and the weather wetter, the pool restaurant was closed for lunch so we had all of our meals at Ombak. Each meal, we were able to get a nice table in the uncovered section with views of the beach thankfully.
We had read reviews stating the food was not as good as it should be for a resort of this caliber but we found it to be excellent. We really appreciated the healthy options, like ceviche made with local fish and these Thai style salads.
Non-alcoholic drinks were also complimentary and we really enjoyed their ginger drinks. One night, they had a BBQ buffet where you went and chose your seafood and meats and they grilled it for you and you could choose sauces, the Sumba sambal was our favorite as it was spicy and tangy! In addition to the seafood and meats, they had sushi, salads, veggie sides, and a dessert station.
As far as alcohol, the beers were about $6USD and cocktails $15USD ++. They also have an extensive wine list for those who want to drink wine.
We went through the activity brochure and knew we wanted to go hike to the blue waterfall and do the sunset horseback ride. Unfortunately, you cannot go visit the blue waterfall during rainy season and so we were disappointed and wished they’d have mentioned that in the brochure.
As for the horseback riding, it was lovely and the staff are very well trained to deal with the horses and nervous riders like myself. They provide helmets and riding boots for safety and do a quick safety briefing with you. During the horseback ride, the staff take photos for you. When the horses are not being ridden or groomed, they wander freely and the pastures and the beach. The Sumbanese horses are of high cultural significance in Sumba, hence why they’re a part of the landscape at Nihi Sumba; they are such beautiful animals.
We also really enjoyed just walking on the 2.5 km stretch of beach that was pretty much deserted other than when you saw the horses and a local farmer walking with his water buffalo.
The Sumba Foundation:
The Sumba Foundation is a registered non-profit in the USA founded by Nihi Sumba’s initial founders and focuses on helping the people of Sumba have basic needs met while preserving their cultural traditions. The projects they work on are centered on nutrition, education, health, water, and the economy. While the hotel and foundation are separate entities, they do have a partnership and leverage guest involvement to fund projects.
A few days a week, the Sumba Foundation takes guests to tour a medical clinic, water projects, and a local primary school. In the zones it has focused on, the Sumba Foundation has managed to eliminate malaria by 93% through screening, treatment and education. At the clinic, they explain how malaria spreads and shows you blood samples to learn more.
At the school, you get to visit classrooms, meet the children and practice English with them, and help to feed them as part of the school lunch program. The children are very friendly and so happy to see you. If you do this tour, take the little booklet at the front desk as it has common Bahasa phrases which helps when speaking with the children. Many of the children don’t have their own lunch and often the only meal they get is provided through this lunch program funded by the Sumba Foundation. They also didn’t have water at the school until the Sumba Foundation installed a water system. It was quite humbling yet inspiring to meet these kids, who were very happy, kind, and attentive. Unlike our state of the art classrooms, there is no technology and so to teach math, you use what you have, which are often things like rocks.
On the drive during the tour and back to the resort, you get to ask a lot of questions to learn more about Sumba and see some nice scenery too. We highly recommend signing up for this activity to learn more about Sumba.
Sumba is a pretty mysterious place as it remains pretty much untouched but things are changing as a second luxury hotel has been built and the island now has one traffic light, which is joked about quite often.
Marapu is the indigenous belief system still present despite the presence of Christianity. Westerners may have trouble understanding the beliefs and traditions in Sumba, as headhunting was still a common practice as late as the 1960s, animals are still worshipped and sacrificed, and every year rival tribes throw spears at one another in a bloodshed festival known as “Pasola”.
We attended Nihi Sumba’s Sumbanese Storytelling event one evening where one of the staff, Max was telling us about Pasola. During Pasola, Sumbanese men of rivaling tribes throw hand carved spears at members of opposing tribes to draw blood to fertilize the soil; the more blood that is shed, the better the harvest will be. If someone dies, that is even better. Women are not allowed to throw spears but are allowed to participate as spectators. Some guests were quite shocked that this is an actual thing, and we can understand why but we were also curious and took the opportunity to ask Max as many questions as we could and he was more than happy to answer of course. By the end, he asked Jason to join his tribe in this year’s Pasola…but we are back home now, so maybe next time he can fight and I can cheer him on! 😉 If you want to know more or watch scenes from Pasola, Vice.com has a documentary about it. We highly recommend attending the Sumbanese storytelling to hear these stories and meet the staff.
Despite all the accolades, we weren’t entirely sure what to expect at Nihi Sumba because we don’t really enjoy being stuck at the resort. As there is very little tourist infrastructure on Sumba, Nihi Sumba does a fantastic job in facilitating experiences for guests and offering luxurious accommodations. You’re essentially staying at an all-inclusive resort that doesn’t feel like the standard, it feels more personal. This was one of the more difficult reviews that I’ve written because it is hard to explain everything and we have no basis for comparison either. Nihi Sumba is uniquely unique, as cliché as that sounds.
It was very difficult to leave Nihi Sumba to go back to Bali for a few days before our long journey home because there were so many more things we wanted to do, see, and learn. Of all the places we’ve been, Sumba has been the one most off the tourist trail; there isn’t any tourist infrastructure like we’re used to (we found Sri Lanka to be somewhat lacking in tourist infrastructure).
Some say that Sumba was how Bali was before over tourism began to be a problem and we can only hope that Sumba will be able to balance that as it modernizes and receives more visitors. We really hope to go back and bring our families with us as we want to share the experience with them too and hopefully see the Sumbanese staff who shared their culture with us and made our visit so memorable.
- Cash: There are no money changers on Sumba so make sure to exchange money prior to your arrival.
- Insect Repellant: Nihi Sumba does provide insect repellant in spray format but you may want to bring your own as well; we brought wipes with Deet.
- Malaria: There is malaria on Sumba Island and each visitor needs to assess the risks and make a decision whether or not to take the pills or not. We chose not to take the pills but when we return, we will, if only because our Dr lambasted us when we returned.
- Pack for a Purpose: Nihi Sumba is a “Pack for Purpose Destination”.
- Duty-Free: There is a duty free shop that sells snacks and alcohol in the domestic terminal at the airport in Bali.
- Tambolaka Airport: While it’s a new airport, TMC lacks some of the comforts we are used to in North America in the departures section: limited food and beverage concessions, the bathroom is not to western standards, and the air conditioning units do not circulate the air well.
On a Budget:
It is not cheap to stay at Nihi Sumba as the costs for flights, the transportation to the resort, the daily accommodation rate, and fees for activities can add up fast. That being said, we enjoyed our experience at Nihi Sumba more than our experience to the Maldives. Many of the guests we met were staying at Nihi Sumba as part of a longer multi-stop itinerary.
- Nihi Sumba rates start at $845USD++ during “Green” season and go all the way up to $1,545USD++ during “High” season for the base one bedroom villa. ++11% tax and 10% service charge.
- A minimum of 3 nights stay is required year-round except for high season and Chinese New Year when you need to stay 5 nights.
- Rainy season in Sumba runs from December through to March. “Green” season is from: 1 Nov 18 – 15 Dec 18 • 08 Jan 19 – 31 Mar 19. Subject to availability, airline employee rates are also sometimes available during green season (30% discount).
If you are interested in a similar experience at a fraction of the cost, we highly recommend the Playa Escondida resort in Sayulita Mexico where we stayed last March. It has a jungle setting, a quiet beach, and activities like surfing and horseback riding as well.
Have you ever heard of Pasola? Are you interested in staying at Nihi Sumba?
- Plan: The Maldives on a $500 budget per day
- Review: Our Maldivian Vacation at the Anantara Dhigu
- Stay: Review of Al Maha Resort in Dubai
- Review: Playa Escondida, Sayulita, Mexico
- Unfinished Business: 3 Days in Tulum
- Review: American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts; Four Seasons Whistler Stay