Published On: Sun, Feb 18th, 2024

Inside the world’s tiny paradise where wild horses roam and a mystical culture prevails | Travel News | Travel

Indonesia began its tourism journey at the beginning of the 20th century when Vereeniging Touristen Verkeer wrote a guidebook about the country’s attractions.

From that point on the sector has exploded with Bali, its most visited island, a place renowned among tourists around the world.

The trend has extended across the country, with many smaller towns and cities, as well as islands within its borders quickly cashing in on the travel bug.

This includes Sumba, a secret island home to miles and miles of unspoiled beaches and pristine coastline.

Just an hour away from Bali by plane, revellers are now rushing to see this slice of paradise before it gets too packed.

While the island of Sumba is rarely visited by foreign tourists, there has been a marked increase in the last 20 years. People were first drawn there for its beautiful native ikat cloth, expertly woven and magnificently bright.

More recently, however, Sumba has become more famous for its diving and secluded beaches. Land on the islands and you will find a world far from the traditional party reputation other parts of Indonesia have gained.

Herds of horses swimming in the sea can be spotted on a good day and a mystical culture that continues to practise ritual sacrifice even in 2024 lives on.

The island is split into two distinct regions: Eastern Sumba and Western Sumba.

The east is largely dependent on the export of cattle, water buffalo and the famous Sumbanese horse, and is also home to traditional ikat material, often exported to Bali and sold to keen tourists. The best part of the cloth is said to be reserved for the islanders, however, who use it in burials and important ceremonies.

Traditional houses are scarce, and you won’t find the pristine temples as in Bali, but the east is home to what is possibly Sumba’s oldest village.

Prailang, or Praijing, consists of a smattering of such homes and is nestled on one of the more beautiful stretches of the island, perched on the top of a hill far inland.

No hotels have yet to be built on this side of the island, but the nearby Lapangan Pada Eweta Waikabubak airport means visitors often spend a few hours exploring the wild stretch of land before heading west.

And that is where the majority of tourists go. The western half of Sumba is more densely populated, in large part due to its rainier and cooler climate.

It has the most to offer those looking for the idyll Sumba has to offer, with long stretches of untouched white sand the perfect place to rest after a day spent scuba diving, searching for dazzling corals and exotic underwater life.

Cultural expeditions see tourists given a glimpse into the islanders’ animist belief systems through ceremonies and sacrifices, all of which are a part of life.

Coupled with the chance to explore ancient tombs, Sumba is fast becoming a must-see destination for the more hardy travellers. Or so you would think.

Social media influencers, enchanted by the beaches and celebrity visits — including the Beckhams and Jennifer Lawrence — are all looking to upgrade their feeds with Sumba’s natural beauty.

Maikel Pare, a Sumba native who later moved to Bali, told The Sun all about the island, describing it as one of Indonesia’s “most beautiful”.

He said: “Sumba offers so many things on one island. You’ll see beautiful waterfalls, beautiful hills, beautiful people and beautiful animals at the same time.

“It’s still undiscovered and not that many people go there. It’s slowly growing, but it’s untouched and still so pretty. We Sumbanese love tourists, and we celebrate them in our lives. If a foreign visitor talks to a local kid, they will be in awe all day.

“We love to welcome visitors to our beautiful island to show them our homeland, our people, our culture and traditions – we are so proud of them all.”

The island’s most important animal is the horse. During the annual Pasola Festival, men on horseback fight with spears in ritual war games. And it is said that when a man proposes to a woman, his suitability is judged by how many horses he has.

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