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I usually will roll my eyes whenever I see those “best of” travel lists, but Travel and Leisure’s World’s Best Awards are generally well-vetted. So when Nihi Sumba Island was named the #1 hotel of 2016, I knew I had to check it out and see what all the buzz was about — and if the resort could live up to all the hype.
Although Nihi Sumba Island isn’t a points hotel, I was still able to save $1,331 by booking the six-night stay with my Citi Prestige Card and using its fourth night free benefit. The Citi Prestige offers 3x points on hotel stays, so I came away with 24,867 Citi ThankYou points, worth $398 based on my most recent valuations. I booked a Kanatar Room through Citi Concierge at the rate of $1,381 a night (including taxes), but was upgraded to the Marangga Villa, which goes for $2,250 a night during high season. Full disclosure: We were likely upgraded because owner Chris Burch and I have some mutual friends — and we’d asked for permission to film on the property — so I wouldn’t normally expect the same treatment if you book. Tell them TPG sent you though — it never hurts to ask!
The property is also a member of American Express Fine Hotels and Resorts (FHR), so booking this way would give you exclusive benefits like noon check-in and room upgrades (when available), complimentary Wi-Fi and daily breakfast for two and guaranteed 4:00pm check-out among other perks. For me, saving the additional $1,331 was more important than these extra Amex FHR benefits, but everyone’s different. If you think you’ll get more use out of the FHR perks — the two complimentary 50-minute massages you’ll get at this resort are a nice touch! — that could end up being a better value depending on what you’re looking for. Note that you’ll need either The Platinum Card from American Express, the Business Platinum Card from American Express or an Amex Centurion Card to gain access to Amex FHR.
I was on a three-week trip that had taken me to the Maldives, where I’d stayed at the Park Hyatt Maldives Hadahaa and the St. Regis Maldives Vommuli Resort. To get to Indonesia for the next part of my trip, I flew from Malé (MLE) to Bali (DPS) via Singapore (SIN) on Singapore Airlines for $1,578 one-way in business. I paid cash for this flight but could have also used 35,000 KrisFlyer miles for the one-way hop if there had been any availability in business class at the time.
Nihi Sumba Island is located on an Indonesian island with roughly 685,000 people that’s just a short hop from the coast of Bali. The best time to visit is March through September. I was there over New Year’s and it was pretty busy — luckily, the weather was good for all six days of our stay.
I paid $175 for a round-trip flight on Garuda Indonesia from Bali (DPS) to Tambolaka (TMC) — note that there’s only one of these flights each day.
After a comfortable 45-minute flight, you’ll land at Tambolaka. From there, it’s a two-hour drive to Nihi Sumba Island.
I was given a fresh coconut to help tide me over on the ride to the resort. The drive weaves through small towns full of kids playing in the streets and running along the road. I learned the Indonesian word for giant — Raksasa — which the kids called me when we stopped on our way to the resort.
Nihi Sumba Island is perched on a hillside, and there’s a sign that reads “The edge of wildness.” That’s the beauty of this place, that the beach, beautiful hikes, relaxation and culture all come with great food and service — and it’s all authentic.
The Marangga Villa
We stayed in the Marangga Villa, which we were upgraded to even though we’d originally booked the Kanatar Room. The Villa is modeled after a traditional Sumbanese hut with a thatched roof, but, thankfully, is a bit more stable than a traditional shelter — we were especially thankful for that after experiencing a pretty substantial earthquake on our first night.
The room has amazing views of the island’s famous surf, with huge doors that opened up to our own outside area. The best part: the room actually comes with your very own infinity plunge pool.
What I loved most about the room was the bed; it was so comfortable. Even though there are no doors and bugs do come in, the mosquito nets around the bed actually enhanced the room and made things more comfortable.
The property had beautiful interiors as well, featuring furniture made from local coconut wood.
The mini-bar blended with the decor of the room and the chocolates from the resort’s onsite chocolate factory.
The bathroom was huge.
We had an extra large tub that would easily fit three of me — and I’m 6’7″.
The gorgeous outdoor shower passed the TPG shower test with flying colors.
The real beauty of the Marangga Villa is its outdoor space. To the right of the plunge pool, there’s a short path that leads down to the beach.
If you step outside at night, you’ll have a great view of a beautiful Sumbanese night sky that’s super-clear due to the lack of light pollution.
Service, Food & Beverage
The property is the largest employer on the island of 750,000 people and its Sumba Foundation is doing amazing work to improve the lives of the people who live there. Service overall was decent — there were some hiccups here and there — and I really came to know and like our Subanese butler, who helped dress us up as locals for the New Year’s Eve celebrations.
Tânia Araújo, Nihi Sumba Island’s official photographer and designer, acted like a private concierge and helped us book all our restaurant visits and activities. Note that all food and drinks were included in the price of our room, except for alcoholic beverages, of course. The food was pretty good but I just wasn’t blown away by it. I did like how the three onsite restaurants are outside so you can enjoy the weather and all the scenery around you while you eat.
There’s so much to do at Nihi Sumba Island and the good thing is many of the activities are included in the price of your room. From trekking through the jungle to surfing some of the best waves in the world, this resort has something for everyone. Try out free activities like stand up paddle boarding and basket weaving or pay a little extra for other experiences like horseback riding and spearfishing.
Keep in mind that activities at Nihi Sumba Island change by the moment based on weather and availability, so you really have to go with the flow and manage your expectations. It helps to think of it like a surf resort, not a St. Regis.
It’s technically optional, but I recommend taking the 90-minute safari trek through beautiful Indonesian-island rice patties to the spa, which is perched on an insane cliff overlooking the ocean. It’s not the easiest hike in the world — especially because it can be pretty hot, even in the earlier morning — but along the way, you’ll get to stop by a traditional Sumbanese village and see how the people of the island live. Sure, you’ll burn off some calories but will surely end up gaining them all back once you eat your breakfast or lunch cliffside before your marathon of spa treatments begins.
The traditional massages there are out of this world. There are several different treatment rooms available, and we got ours in the honeymoon suite, which includes a private villa that you can stay in on your last night (if you request it). The best part is that after you’re deep into your post-massage haze, you won’t have to hike back since there are cars to whisk you away to your villa.
Prices for the spa safari start at $495 for a half-day and $695 for a full-day experience. The cost is per couple and includes the safari, breakfast, a private eating area and a dedicated spa therapist.
I never thought I’d be able to surf, especially at 6’7″ and with gravity not really working in my favor. But on a recent trip to Nihi Sumba Island, one of the top surf spots in the world, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to at least give it a try.
Here, you can take lessons in a protected bay with beginner waves before trying to take on the hotel’s signature, privately owned wave, the only one in the world. You’ll actually need to make reservations for the wave — often referred to as “God’s Left” — and spaces is limited, as only 10 permits are given out per day to surf it.
Since I still had some learning to do, I stuck with the smaller waves this time around, but was pretty impressed with myself — I only wiped out once! Learning from the surfing coaches in one of the most beautiful parts of the world was just another great way to pass the time at this incredible resort. Prices start at $250 per person for a 90-minute private surf lesson.
And if you want to take it easy, just enjoy the simple pleasure of walking down Nihi Sumba Island’s wonderful beaches at sunset.
I can see why Nihi Sumba Island was named the #1 hotel in the world by Travel + Leisure. The scenery is beautiful. The rooms are traditional, and yet the place feels modern and luxurious. The entire property is just so gorgeous that it’s hard to pick one thing that stands out. The only disappointment was the food, which was surprising for a five-star hotel. Although the property is pricey, it helps that most activities (and food) are included in the cost of your stay. I think of Nihi Sumba Island as the perfect combination of exploration and relaxation, with a taste of Sumbanese culture, which will stay with me for the rest of my life.
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