Waikabubak is the capital of western Sumba, but as the second town of this undeveloped island, it is not exactly a bustling tourism hub. That is part of its appeal, though. Sumba is a far cry from Bali and Lombok, and that is exactly why people come here. Waikabubak is a pleasant enough town, and it is perfect for exploring the traditional villages which surround it. Read on for some ideas of where to stay and what to do in Waikabubak.

Getting to Waikabubak

Getting to Waikabubak by boat

Regular buses connect Waikabubak with the port at Waikelo, a little over an hour away. From here, there are daily ferry connections to and from Sape, in eastern Sumbawa. The ferry journey takes around nine hours. It departs from Waikelo in the evening, arriving in Sape early morning, and then returns to Waikelo. This makes it easy to get between Sumba and Sumbawa by ferry.

Getting to Waikabubak by bus

You can reach Waikabubak by bus easily from Waingapu, the capital of Sumba. There are local buses throughout the day, and the journey takes around 4.5 hours. You can also easily catch a bus to Waitabula, for Tambolaka Airport – this journey takes around an hour.

Getting to Waikabubak by plane

The easiest way to reach Waingapu directly from other Indonesian islands is to fly to Tambolaka Airport. This connects to Denpasar, Ende, and Kupang. Be aware, though, that this small airport can be unreliable when it comes to both scheduling and safety. Many tourists choose to fly in and out of Waingapu instead, which is slightly better in this regard.

What to do in Waikabubak

Traditional Villages

Waikabubak does not have much in the way of shops, restaurants or nightlife to keep visitors entertained. Instead, the main attraction is the traditional architecture and culture of the villages surrounding the town.

These villages – called kampung – have distinctive Sumbanese architecture, with roofs shaped like pilgrims’ hats. The more traditional buildings have thatched roofs, while many have been replaced by slightly less attractive corrugated iron. Several of the kampung are very easy to reach from the centre of town on foot. Tarung, for example, up a hill in the west of town, is a great example of this kind of architecture. It also has megalithic stone graves, another thing for which Sumba is famous.

The Pasola

Come to Waikabubak at the right time of year, though, and you’ll find a very different atmosphere. The pasola is a spectacular harvest festival which takes place in February or March. Everything about the pasola is bizarre. The timing varies, but is determined by the arrival of huge numbers of brightly-coloured sea worms. Elders then sacrifice a melanistic chicken on the beach, signalling that the festival will go ahead.

In the event itself, two teams of men charge at each other on horseback with spears, with the aim being the ritual return of blood to the earth. Serious injuries and even fatalities are not uncommon. It’s a gruesome spectacle which attracts visitors in their thousands, so flights and accommodation get booked up well in advance.

The pasola is held in the Kodi district of western Sumba, which is easy to reach from Waikabubak by bus. The seaside village of Pero, home to the Mercy Homestay, is the only real tourist-style accommodation in the area.

Another possible activity in Waikabubak is a visit to the daily market; a great way to get a feel for what everyday life is like here. It also presents a good chance to buy high-quality ikat at a good price. Ikat is a type of colourful woven cloth, for which Sumba is particularly famous.

Where to stay in Waikabubak

Waikabubak, as mentioned above, is not a major tourist destination, meaning that there is not a huge range of hotels. If you’re coming straight from Bali, Java, or Lombok, you may have to lower your expectations. However, there are a few decent places to stay, mostly catering for travellers on a budget.

In the centre of town, there are a couple of options. Hotel Pelita is a business hotel with clean mif characterless rooms from around Rp250,000 per night. Slightly cheaper is the Hotel Aloha, where a double will set you back about Rp 200,000.

If you have a little more money to play with, head to Hotel Manandang, the closest thing to a mid-range hotel in Waikabubak. Like Hotel Pelita, it’s popular with businessmen, but it’s a bit more expensive – around Rp 350,000 for a standard room. It’s got a peaceful setting, though, with each room opening onto a lush tropical garden. There is also a decent restaurant.

Where to eat in Waikabubak

As with hotels, the choice of restaurants in Waikabubak isn’t great. You could, of course, see this as an opportunity to do as the locals do – there are loads of roadside warungs. If you are hankering after a more refined restaurant experience, head to D’Sumba Ate. Here, a range of Indonesian and Western dishes are on offer, sometimes with live music for accompaniment.

Final thoughts

Waikabubak is far from a developed tourist resort, and the choice of hotels and restaurants is limited. However, that is why people visit Sumba – because it’s off the beaten track.

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