Hot off the press from Sumba Island’s Nihiwatu Resort
What would one expect to find in a resort dubbed by Travel & Leisure Magazine as the #1 HOTEL IN THE WORLD? Let’s see… Gorgeous and very unique accommodations? Check. Delicious and healthy cuisine? Check! Exceptional service and amenities? Check! Fascinating nature adventures and cultural experiences? Double Check! Mind blowing beauty and design of the property? Triple check! NIHIWATU, located on the island of Sumba in East Indonesia, is the very deserving recipient of this prestigious title. In fact, it has won countless Best Hotel awards from the most popular travel magazines. Although it’s just a one hour flight from Bali, when you’re there, you feel like you’ve gone far off the beaten path and slipped into another world of serene paradise. Well tucked away from tourist crowds, this island is known for its waterfalls, white sand beaches, palm and papaya trees, and gorgeous turquoise blue waters.
Nihiwatu covers an expanse of 560 acres of enchanting tropical jungle and private beach. The five-star resort is comprised of 28 private villas ranging from just 1 bedroom all the way to 5 bedrooms. They’re all built on terraces, each with its own pool and private veranda. Some even have private cabanas for napping out in the open air. Built in the style of a Sumbanese house, the villas have multiple levels and are topped with conical thatched roofs made of Alang Alang grass. They’re very tastefully decorated with lovely natural furnishings and have full length windows that reveal the stunning scenery all around. They’re also equipped with complimentary wifi, mosquito nets and repellent.
The Treehouse Villa is one of the most popular ones, with 2 separate structures set up on wooden stilts and connected by a bamboo bridge. The villa I stayed in was the Wamoro Family Villa, which had a giant covered cabana area with comfortable couches, outdoor restrooms, and a kitchen. The huge private terrace and pool overlooked the most breathtaking ocean view. It also had an outdoor shower surrounded by jungle foliage which made showering a heavenly experience!
Each villa is assigned a butler. Mine was a very sweet lady named Asnat, who took care of everything for me the entire time. At Nihiwatu, 90% of the staff are local Sumbanese people, who I found to be very hospitable and seemed to genuinely enjoy providing their best in service.
The dining experience at Nihiwatu is also top notch, and 3 meals per day (plus snacks) are included in the overall price of the hotel booking. At the helm of the culinary operations is award-winning Australian chef Ben McCrae. One thing that makes the food so delicious is that they grow their own organic vegetables, so everything is as fresh and flavorful as it can get! They also have their own chicken farm and catch their own fish. The main restaurant is the Ombak which offers Indonesian cuisine in an open air setting. It offers a la carte breakfast and dinner daily. On Thursday nights the menu centers on Indonesian BBQ making it a very popular night. Also on Sunday evenings after dinner they offer “Movie Night Under the Stars” which makes for a great family evening. The Nio Beach Club features open air dining, and they’re the main lunch spot. They serve salads, fish, and pizza made from a large clay oven.
Private in-villa dining is also available upon request. I opted for this one evening, and it was a totally amazing and unforgettable experience! The staff spent 3 hours setting up the most elaborate and beautiful dining spread I’ve ever seen, with flowers hanging from the sky and lanterns everywhere. This would be perfection for honeymooners!
To add a wonderful treat for the kids (of all ages!), Nihiwatu has their very own chocolate factory right on site called Chris and Charly’s. So for all who felt envious back when they read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, you yourself can tour one, along with tastings and live demos. “Chocolate Wizards” teach the chocolate making process from plant to bar, using local cacao and coconut palm sugar as key ingredients. A really wonderful thing for families is that the Chocolate Wizards and the resort’s dedicated babysitters get together daily from 10am-5pm to provide little ones with chocolate-making fun, kids yoga, mask-making, traditional Sumbanese dance lessons, nature walks, scavenger hunts, castle making and all kinds of games. This gives Mom and Dad a chance to escape for a good surf, trek the famous Blue Waterfall hike, or go on the Nihi Oka Spa Safari.
Ok, more about the Nihi Oka Spa Safari! This is the perfect romantic retreat for couples, or the perfect way to pamper yourself with some rejuvenating me-time. It can span the whole day, starting with a 90 minute trek through rugged hills, ancient villages and scenic rice fields to the secluded Nihi Oka Valley. If you aren’t up for the hike, an open air Land Rover will take you. After arriving, guests will be invited to breakfast and then led to their own personal shaded pavilion enclosed by bamboo up on a cliff overlooking the rolling waves. There they can relax into a therapeutic massage, some reflexology, and wraps & body scrubs while basking in the extraordinary views. The spa also offers yoga, meditation and other wellness options. Once you’ve had your fill of pampering, the Land Rover will return you to your villa.
Nihiwatu sent me on the decadent Spa Safari. After our brisk hike, my guide, Tiger, climbed straight up a huge Palm Tree, plucked off a few coconuts from the very top, and then climbed back down to serve one to me. After breakfast I was escorted to my own little massage villa, complete with a direct ocean view, where I got unlimited treatments all day long. My travel-weary body was happily reinvigorated.
A bit about other activities: Nihiwatu has riding stables which offer scenic beach-to-bush rides, riding lessons, and even horse-whispering lessons from the resident horse whisperer. Surfing is a major attraction of Sumba. Known for its prime location and generous swells, it attracts surfers worldwide. Surfing lessons are offered for all skill levels. Stand up paddleboarding and spear fishing are also very popular. For those who enjoy snorkeling or diving, the coastal waters have an abundance of diverse marine life. Tours of local markets and villages are available, where guests can purchase local arts and crafts, including the famous and beautiful Ikat weavings. Guided hikes are also available.
Nihiwatu is a sustainable, eco-friendly luxury resort with a priority of preserving the natural environment and Sumbanese culture. A portion of its profits are donated to supporting Sumbanese schools, hospitals and farms through the Sumba Foundation. They’ve built and staffed 5 health clinics, reduced Malaria infection rates by 85%, developed more than 60 wells and 240 water stations, and refurbished 16 primary schools, providing them with water, toilets, tables & chairs, and other needed supplies. Twice a week they provide nutritional lunches to 1100 children. The resort frequently organizes tours for guests to see, and sometimes participate in, some of the Sumba Foundation’s projects; and many have reported that the experience was the most gratifying highlight of their stay. As opposed to a vacation of just lavishing the senses with physical comforts, guests leave Nihiwatu feeling enriched, engaged and energized on many levels.
*All swimwear by Summerlove Swimwear
*I was hosted as a guest of Nihiwatu, however all of the opinions expressed in this article are, as always, my own.