Bima is the largest city on the island of Sumbawa, and sits on the island’s east coast. Many travellers will end up spending some time here if they are crossing Sumbawa. That said, there is not a huge amount to make it a travel destination in its own right. The range of hotels and restaurants isn’t great, but there is enough to keep visitors comfortable for a day or two. Read on for advice on getting to Bima, where to stay and what to do.
Getting to Bima
Getting to Bima by bus
As the biggest city on Sumbawa, Bima is well connected by road to other major points on the island. The Trans-Sumbawa Highway is in good condition, making bus travel relatively comfortable. Sumbawa Besar, the western gateway to the island, is 6-7 hours away by bus. Sape, the easternmost port on Sumbawa, is around 90 minutes away. There are regular buses to and from both places throughout the day.
Getting to Bima by plane
Bima’s small airport lies out of town to the west, and makes the city easy to reach. It has regular connections to Denpasar, Makassar and Praya, meaning it is easy to reach from Bali, Sulawesi and Lombok.
Getting to Bima by boat
Bima is an important port for the island of Sumbawa and is well connected to other ports in Indonesia. The harbour is a couple of kilometres west of the town centre. Pelni ferries run to Makassar on Sulawesi and Kupang on Timor twice a week. The ferry to Makassar takes around 30 hours and to Kupang it takes around 40 hours. There is also a weekly ferry to Surabaya on Java, which takes around 50 hours, and to Waingapu on Sumba, which takes around 13 hours. Tickets can be bought from the Pelni office in Bima, which is on Jl Kesatria, or through travel agents in town.
What to do in Bima
As mentioned above, Bima is not a great tourist destination in itself. However, as the largest town on Sumbawa, it is a good base for exploring harder-to-reach parts of the island. There are also a couple of things to do in the town itself.
The Sultan’s Palace
If you have some time to kill in Bima, the Sultan’s Palace is an option for an afternoon. This well-preserved, largely wooden structure dates from the 1930s and is the former home of the Sultan of Bima. It contains exhibitions of royal and martial paraphernalia and various other odds and ends connected to Bimanese history. There are even some waxworks decked out in traditional costumes. The palace costs Rp 3,000 to get in. The whole place is a little odd and run down but that’s part of the charm. A member of staff may offer to give you a guided tour in exchange for a small tip.
The area around Bima is called Wawo. The area is famous for its traditional architecture and houses with thatched roofs. As ever in Indonesia, the easiest way to explore is to rent a motorbike and visit local villages at your own pace. However, you can also spot them through the bus window on the route between Bima and Sape.
This mighty volcano in the north of Sumbawa changed the world’s weather when it erupted in 1815, causing a global ‘Year Without a Summer’. Conditions were so gloomy in Switzerland that Mary Shelley was inspired to write Frankenstein. Bima is often used as a base for visiting Mount Tambora as it has the closest airport, but it’s still a good five-hour drive away. The volcano is seriously remote and is an arduous climb, but is visited occasionally by adventurous climbers.
Where to stay in Bima
Bima does not have a brilliant range of hotels. Most visitors are business travellers, and the hotels reflect this; they tend to be somewhat sterile and overpriced. That being said, it’s a large town and you won’t be stranded without somewhere to stay.
Hotel Lambitu has a wide range of rooms to suit all prices, including the best budget rooms in town. It’s a clean, modern hotel in a large building in the centre of town. Staff are very friendly and will do their best to help you organise activities or transport. Rooms start at Rp 160,000; suites are available from Rp 350,000.
A decent mid-range option in the centre of town is Lila Graha. This is a large hotel, with a gloomy maze of corridors leading off into lots of rooms. The rooms are old-fashioned and not particularly cosy, with white tiled walls and floors and dingy bathrooms. However, they are clean enough, and the hotel has a convenient central location. There is also an attached restaurant, which does decent Chinese and Indonesian food. Be warned, though, that the restaurant shuts up shop by about 9pm, as most do in Bima. A double room costs Rp 200,000.
The best hotel in town, and also the most expensive, is Marina. This is the closest thing to a modern hotel you’ll find in Bima. As with all the hotels, it caters mainly to business travellers. However, rooms are modern and clean, there’s a decent restaurant attached, and staff are friendly.
Where to eat in Bima
The choice of Western-style restaurants in Bima is even more limited than the range of hotels. You may find that you end up eating in your hotel restaurant most of the time. However, there are lots of warungs all around town, serving authentic Indonesian food at very cheap prices.
Bima is not a great tourist destination in itself. Most visitors are either on business or passing through as they cross Sumbawa overland. However, it’s not an awful place to be for a day or two. The Sultan’s Palace in town is worth a visit, and the city is a good base for those adventurous enough to tackle the mighty Mount Tambora. The largest town on Sumbawa, Bima has a limited but adequate range of hotels.
Have you been to Bima? Do you have any suggestions other than those listed above? Let us know in the comments below.