So what’s it like to stay the “best hotel in the world” for two years in a row?
But that’s the wrong question. Nihi Sumba is not just a hotel. It’s a state of mind. It’s a dream. It’s a story where you’re the narrator and the hero. This is by far the most difficult review I had to write because where do you find words to describe an incredible experience like this.
My trip to Nihi Sumba started at Denpasar Airport in Bali where Nihi Sumba staff will meet you and literally whisk you through customs and security. Even your boarding pass will be ready by the time you are at the priority check in desk. It was the fastest check in process in all my years of travel and it took me about 5 minutes from setting foot at the airport to being at the gate to wait for my flight. You know you’re into something good when a hotel has staff to help you at the airport you’re flying from not just the one you’re arriving in.
A short one hour flight from Bali landed us at Tambolaka Airport in Sumba where again you’ll be met by Nihi Sumba staff to escort you immediately to your car. Don’t worry about having to wait your luggage at the belt because the hotel staff will handle that for you while you’re on the way to the resort.
Another hint into how amazing this experience is going to be was the transportation from the airport — a spacious open air safari Jeep to ensure you get full and real experience as you make your way to the hotel.
Sumba is raw. It’s cleaner than Bali and Lombok. It’s fresh. It’s green. And it’s friendly. In the 1.5 hour drive from the airport to the hotel we were greeted by countless and priceless smiles and waves of young and old locals on the sides of the road.
On arrival you are met by a welcoming committee led by the general manager who personally greets and sees off all guests at the hotel. He manages the hotel with his wife (#teamgoals) and the entire place is run by what feels like a family rather than a corporation with hierarchy.
What makes Nihi Sumba special?
The first thing I did when I got to my room was open Google Maps to see where I was exactly on a larger scale, and if you zoom out a bit you’ll soon realize you’re at the edge of the world, or, as the hotel dubs it, the edge of wildness. The hotel is located in the southern part of Sumba, facing the westernmost part of Australia and then it’s nothing and no one until the end of the world. This feeling of solitude is incredible especially as you take a deep breath of fresh air from your private patio which overlooks the ocean.
Staying at Nihi Sumba can never be boring. I could have stayed a month and still found something to do. The hotel arranges a large number of activities from waterfall treks to cycling to nearby villages to standup paddling in a river or the ocean, AND believe it or not, chocolate making classes.
However, the star of the show has to be swimming with the horses. Nihi Sumba is home to a stable of gentle and majestic Sumbawese horses that the hotel staff guide to the ocean for a swim everyday. This activity is open to everyone and you do not need any experience being on a horse (it was my third time only). I rode my horse and the staff led it to the ocean. I got off the horse then and bathed it! The horses are very friendly and playful, and they enjoy being petted. Almost all the horses eventually got in the water while the others were rolling in their backs in the sand. It was a surreal experience which you’ll really appreciate when later in the day you’re looking at the pictures you took.
Spa Safari — these two words popped up next to each other in my itinerary, which left me puzzled at first. I know of spas and I know of safaris but what’s a spa safari? Nihi Sumba’s spa is located outside the hotel itself on a secluded beach surrounded by coconut trees and virtually isolated from the rest of the island. To get there, a guide from the hotel escorted me through rice fields, a small jungle, and beautiful hills on a 90 minute trekking journey to reach the spa.
Guests can also opt for a car to take them there but I can not recommend walking there enough! I am not really an outdoorsy person but I do not think I ever enjoyed walking as much as I did on this trek. Although I was drenched in sweat by the time I reached the spa, I felt like I have finally earned the relaxing experience I was about to get. Shoutout to my guide, Tiger, who’s not only the funniest but also quite possibly the fastest coconut tree climber on the island.
Upon arrival at the spa, you are greeted with fresh and cold coconut water and a small, delicious breakfast to recharge. After that, I was asked to choose not one but THREE different treatments! The massage rooms are open air and directly overlook the ocean. No need for an elevator music soundtrack here because the waves are all the tunes I ever needed. As you’re receiving your treatment, the spa staff would be washing the dirty clothes you arrived in — it’s always the smallest things that make all the difference. The spa also has a swimming pool and direct beach access should you decide to take a break between treatments.
Very frequently, I take pictures of my food at restaurants and hotels using my phone. The food at Nihi Sumba was so delicious that I started and finished eating before I realized that I should take a picture. The menu is strongly based on the fruits of the sea, with Asian, international, and vegetarian options. The hotel also hosts “white nights” where guests are asked to wear white and partake in an open buffet of every kind of seafood you can think of grilled fresh before you. I wish I had more days just to try everything on the breakfast menu which looked amazing. The chia pudding, mango smoothie bowl, and the huevos rancheros were particularly a highlight. Don’t miss the fresh juices especially anything with ginger because it’s the best that I have ever tasted.
Being located in one of the economically poorer and underdeveloped islands of Indonesia has given Nihi Sumba two options: either to ignore its surroundings and focus solely on the pleasure of the guests or help the community improve its current life conditions and its prospects. And I’m so glad Nihi Sumba chose the second option by establishing the Sumba Foundation which helps provide clean water, adequate nutrition and medication, and proper education to the children of Sumba. Nihi Sumba arranged for us to visit a malaria clinic that was established by the foundation and the donations of guests who stayed at the hotel.
The clinic continues to provide free malaria tests and medicine to the locals. We also visited a school where the Sumba Foundation provides meals to the young students. Between all the conversations, smiles, laughs, and high fives we exchanged with the young children, it was easy to see the remarkable impact that Nihi Sumba and its foundation are making in the community. The foundation has a lot of ways for guests to help if they wish to do so. Even the smallest donations can help change not only one person’s life for the better but an entire village maybe. If you donate money to fund the education of a nurse, you should remember that the nurse will be helping other people as well.
Last but certainly not least, the staff at Nihi Sumba make the place what it is. Everyone from the general manager, Julien, to the inaptly-named Anggri (because she’s all smiles and laughs!), who was my captain during my stay, to my spa safari guide, Tiger, to everyone else I came across have an incredible and contagious Sumba Island energy which you will feel from the moment you set foot on the island.
Nihi Sumba is not just a hotel. It’s an energy and it’s an experience that drives hundreds and thousands of guests — and hopefully me — who stayed there to come back again.