Phoebe Lee

The secret Indonesian destination you’ll fall in love with

Taking a break at a beachside resort is a wonderful thing. You can lose days swimming, laying on the beach and doing your best to destroy the breakfast buffet. Sometimes, though, it’s nice to escape the monotony of your typical resort packed with tourists. In search of a different experience, we found ourselves falling in love with a breathtaking island in Indonesia that was unlike anywhere we’d been before.

As a keen surfer, my husband Matt had heard about Sumbawa years earlier as an amazing surf destination unspoiled by hordes of tourists and relatively untouched. We couldn't help but get excited about the idea of something totally different to the usual mainstream beach break.

Getting to this massive, remote island was a journey all in itself.


It began at the domestic airport in Denpasar, a hive of activity and smiling Indonesian locals on the move. If you love to travel, you’ll love the feeling of the airport as it’s straight out of your quirky travel dreams; a melting pot of sounds, sights and smells. From here you fly to Lombok, an island in West Nusa Tenggara which is home to some 3.17 million Indonesians.

A driver will take you on the two to three hour trip to the coastline of Lombok where you wait, sheltered under a large open-faced tin shed, for the local fast boat. It takes around two hours to arrive at Sumbawa on the fast boat and, depending on where you’re staying, the drive to your resort will add an extra hour or so to your trip.

It’s a long journey but also an incredible adventure to get to Sumbawa, especially because you’re off the main tourist track which means you get to meet many beautiful Indonesian people, including some incredibly cute little kids.


Sumbawa is huge. At 5,448 km2 (5,965 sq miles) it is three times the size of Lombok! The landscape is dramatic; a beautiful mix of volcanic ridges, jungle and rice fields combined with impossibly perfect white-sandy beaches and bright blue ocean. The surf is incredible and, no doubt, the lack of other surfers makes it a haven for those chasing uncrowded swell.

The island is less developed than other areas of Indonesia and the people survive on a much smaller income, sometimes burdened by the lack of food due to poor crops. A trip to the local market will give you an insight into the simple way of life here. Food, including fruit, vegetables, meat, poultry and fish, is laid out on wooden slats with no refrigeration and flies are casually brushed away using home-made swatters. Little kids run around the market smiling, playing with each other and laughing while the women of the market chat, huge smiles across their faces as they share stories and catch up on gossip.

There’s an effortless feel on the island, like nobody is really in a hurry and there’s nowhere to be but where they are right now. There are no signs of stress or sadness, everyone just goes about their business and stops for a talk and a laugh when they can. It gives the entire island a relaxed charm.

The beaches in Sumbawa are unlike any I've seen before.


If you take a trip out to Scar Reef you’ll be met with a seemingly endless stretch of white sand and clear water, with no other tourists in sight. The amazing thing about spots like this one is that you can spend the whole day there and have this unspoiled slice of paradise to yourself, except for the few brave surfers paddling out.


There is so much to see and do on the island. There are mountains to climb, jungles to explore, hidden waterfalls to find and jump off, places to snorkel and chase brightly coloured fish and beach after beach to discover, with so many unique local experiences to be had.

There’s a lot to love about Sumbawa and it really should be on every travel-lovers bucket list. It’s a holiday that takes you back to the bare necessities; a bed to sleep on, delicious food, friendly people to meet and absolutely beautiful scenery everywhere you look. You’ll experience the raw, natural beauty of a remote island and the friendly, warm welcome of the locals.


Things you should know:

  • Pack very, very light. This place is super low-key and relaxed, all you'll need is your swimmers, flip-flops and a few sarongs, shorts and singlet tops to get around in. 
  • Stay at an all-inclusive beachside resort if you can. Because Sumbawa is so remote, you won't find grocery stores or restaurants and cafes. Staying at an all-inclusive spot will make your life easier. 
  • Learn a few key phrases before you go, saying 'thank you' in Indonesian goes a long way with the locals. 
  • Make sure you visit the local wet market, it's an eye-opening experience and a very interesting way to learn about the culture of the people who live in Sumbawa. 
  • Try Murtabak, a savoury pancake/crepe stuffed with really yummy fillings. 

Phoebe Lee is a writer, award-winning blogger and travel lover sharing helpful travel tips, insight and reviews for regular people. Follow her adventures at home and around the world, on her blog Little Grey Box .

Instagram @littlegreybox_phoebe, Twitter @littlegreyboxFacebook and YouTube.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by the author and those providing comments are theirs alone, and are meant as travel inspiration only. They do not reflect the opinions of Cover-More Insurance. You should always read the PDS available from your travel insurance provider to understand the limits, exclusions and conditions of your policy and to ensure any activities you undertake are covered by your policy.