Sumbawa really belongs more to Eastern Indonesia than to to the West. The effects of Hindu and Buddhist cultures are minimal in Sumbawa; the majority of the population are Muslims.
During the dry season (April to November) a lot of dust is blown up and around. Strong winds blow in off the ocean, and the lush green hills, mountains and valleys turn a dusty brown. When the rainy season begins an amazing transformation takes place and the island becomes a lush jungle once again. Because of dryness, Sumbawa is frequented with crop failures, and even more so than Lombok, is subject to extreme poverty and starvation is not uncommon, robberies due to extreme desperation do occur. In October 2012, 20 children died in a single month on Sumbawa from malnutrition.
As most of the island is still developing, there is a very rural feel to just about everything, including Sumbawa Besar, the capital of the western side of the island. The mining company, Newmont, has a gold and copper mine down in the southwestern corner of the island around the villages of Sekongkang, Maluk and Benete. Their presence has speeded up the development process in this side of the island, though the vast majority are in abject poverty and claims of environmental destruction have been made against the company, which has had to suspend operations due to mass rioting.
Bahasa Indonesia is spoken widely in Sumbawa.
- Sumbawa Besar, the capital, is on the western side of the island. It is a really pleasant, compact little city with a vibrant, centrally located market. There are many street-food vendors so gastronomes are well looked after. The former Sultan’s palace has been restored and is well worth a visit.
On Jalan Hassanudin at number 47 is Cipta Sari Bakery. This is a great place for snacks both sweet and savoury. Eric and Leah are lovely people who welcome travellers and are good sources of information. Badas port, about 6km west of the city, is a fascinating place if you like ships. You can see manual loading of corn into bulk freighters which transport it to Surabaya. It’s tough work raking out the corn trucks. The workers are very friendly guys. Sumbawa Besar is a clean town. People are very friendly. There are some good day trips in the area. At Semongkat there is a swimming pool built by the Dutch. There is good coastal scenery at Tanjung Menanggis and the beach at Aik Lemak is so tranquil. There are a couple of cool coffee lounges in Sumbawa Besar. Oases is just off Jalan Kamboja and Kedai Chit Chat is not far from Hotel Tambora. Funky decor and great music. There is a fine Chinese-Indonesian restaurant on Jln Hasannudin. Aneka Rasa Jaya has been around for years, has a huge menu and serves beer.
- Bima is on the eastern side of the island.
- Dompu is on the eastern side of the island.
- Poto Tano is the tiny, north-western port to catch the ferry to the neighbouring island of Lombok
- Sape is a small port at the eastern end of the island. A daily ferry to Labuhanbajo in Flores leaves from Sape. The trip takes 7-8 hours. In the dry season (May-Oct) there are often two ferries per day.
There is also a twice weekly ferry from Sape to Waikelo on Sumba