Sumbawa Besar is the capital of Sumbawa, an island to the east of Bali and Lombok and west of Flores. Compared to those islands, particularly Bali and Lombok, Sumbawa is not particularly developed or touristy. That can be a good and bad thing for visitors. On the plus side, it means it’s quieter, and you’re more likely to have meaningful interactions with local people. On the other hand, it means there are not so many amenities for tourists. As the capital of the island, though, Sumbawa Besar has a decent range of places to eat and sleep. Read on to find out more.

Getting to Sumbawa Besar

Arriving to Sumbawa Besar is relatively easy from other places in Indonesia, whether by air or water. Sumbawa Besar has a small airport with regular connections to Praya in Lombok. There are around three flights daily and the flight takes around 30-40 minutes. From Lombok, you can connect to most major destinations in Indonesia and beyond, with flights to Kuala Lumpur and Singapore.

Many visitors to Sumbawa Besar are travelling the old fashioned way: over land and sea from the west. From Lombok, you can arrange for a bus to take you from Mataram to Sumabwa Besar, which takes around seven hours including the boat trip.

What to do in Sumbawa Besar

Surfing in Sumbawa

The majority of international visitors to Sumbawa only stop off here to surf. The island has some of Indonesia’s finest surf breaks, without the crowds of Lombok or Bali. From Sumbawa Besar, you can catch a bus to Maluk on the west coast, which takes around three hours. Here you’ll find Supersuck, one of the island’s most celebrated surf spots. Sumbawa Besar is also often the jumping-off point for surf breaks further afield, such as Hu’u and Lakey Peak. Many of these are only suitable for advanced surfers – Sumbawa is not really a place to pick up a board for the first time. However, serious surfers make the effort to come here because some of these breaks are among the finest anywhere in the world.

Moyo Island

Probably the biggest tourist destination in the vicinity of Sumbawa Besar is Moyo Island, a beautiful nature reserve. Around half of the island is owned by Amanwana Resort, which probably accounts for the majority of visitors. It is run by the Aman Group and is one of the most famous and luxurious hotel in Sumbawa. There’s great

If you want a cheaper option from Sumbawa Besar it is perfectly possible to visit independently, though it takes a little effort. You will need to drive or take a bemo or ojek to Ai Bari, a fishing village around 15 miles north of Sumbawa. There, you can charter a fishing boat to take you to Moyo. There is some basic accommodation in Labuan Aji, a village on Moyo, but it’s easier to arrange return transport to Sumbawa with your boat driver. On Moyo, you can hike through forests and waterfalls, spotting wild pigs, buffalo, and tropical birds. It’s advisable to ask about hiring a guide, from your hotel in Sumbawa Besar.

The Sultan’s Palace

Pretty much the only attraction of any interest in Sumbawa Besar itself is the Sultan’s Palace. This wooden palace was built in the late 19th century without the use of a single nail. Perhaps surprisingly, it’s still standing, and it’s in pretty good condition. You can have a look around for a small (voluntary) donation, although it’s not exactly a tourist attraction. You’ll likely have to wake up the dozing guard to let you in, and there’s not much to see inside – a few of the rooms are used to house lawnmowers and other equipment. Still, it’s a relaxing enough place for a stroll and provides some respite from the afternoon sun.

Where to stay in Sumbawa Besar

As mentioned above, Sumbawa Besar is not a tourist resort, and there’s not a huge range of hotels here, although it’s the best you’ll find in Sumbawa. Most travellers end up at the Hotel Tambora, which has a wide range of rooms and a decent central location.

If you have a little more money to play with, Samawa Transit Hotel is a good mid-range choice. As the name suggests, it’s close to the airport so it’s great if you’re just stopping over. However, it’s close to the centre of town, too. It also has lovely modern rooms, a spa and a café and restaurant.

At top range, the choice gets even narrower. There’s pretty much nowhere within town itself, but Samawa Seaside Cottage, on the coast northeast of town, is a beautifully relaxing place to stay. It’s also directly opposite Moyo, making it more convenient for trips to the island than Sumbawa Besar itself. The dark wood bungalows are very comfortable and you can enjoy ocean views from the comfort of your own bed.

Where to eat in Sumbawa Besar

This is an area in which Sumbawa Besar comes up really short. If you’re coming from Java, Bali or Lombok, you will notice a distinct lack of proper restaurants in Sumbawa Besar. That said, there is no shortage of warungs, meaning this is a great place to sample traditional dishes in the local Indonesian way. The area around Jl Hasanuddin is the best place to look.

Final thoughts

Sumbawa Besar is not a tourist destination in itself, but there’s enough in the way of hotels to make it OK for a stopover. Most visitors will come to explore nearby Moyo Island, or to surf Sumbawa’s famous breaks.

Have you been to Sumbawa Besar? Do you have any suggestions other than those listed here? Let us know in the comments below.