© Mark Levitin
© Mark Levitin

Unexpected attractions around Waingapu, East Sumba

4 minutes to read

Sumba is just another island among the 17000 others that comprise Indonesia, and yet almost a country in its own right. It is a tribal land where the arrival of Christianity, and later of the internet, has changed little if anything. The southernmost landmass in the country, Sumba, is one of the few large islands without a single volcano. This means white sand beaches, by the way, not the usual black wet volcanic ash. Here, the lore stands above the law, funerals involve pulling giant slabs of rock for megalithic tombs, slaughtering buffaloes, and lots of merriment. Humans and crocodiles make pacts of non-violence, and ancient spirits dwell next to their descendants. Ah, and the Sumbanese, if you ask them, are not native to this island or, for that matter, this planet. They descended from heaven on a big ladder. There are many unexpected attractions to see in Sumba in one go. Let us start with the area around Waingapu, the capital of East Sumba.

Weaving ikat

© Mark Levitin
© Mark Levitin

The town of Waingapu is a typical administrative capital of tribal backwaters, spread over a few hills in an extended, uneven blob. The ambiance is mellow, there is a lot of greenery, and people are nice, but it does not warrant exploration in itself. There is only one attraction in the town - the royal village of Prailiu. This is a deliberately preserved traditional village, with high-peaked straw roofs and plenty of megalithic tombs. Kings and shamans of the past are buried here, in giant stone structures with elaborate carvings. But the main reason this is considered a tourist attraction is ikat - the hallmark weaving method of Sumba. Threads are tied in bunches, then dipped into locally made natural dyes and stomped by village women until the pigment soaks in. The actual weaving comes after. Every house here has a loom underneath, and the entire process of making ikat fabric can be observed on most days (except Sundays, when everyone is in the church). One building has been converted into a shop where various ikat items could be purchased straight from the local community. Even though it cuts out the middleman, the textile still is not cheap - it takes months to produce a high-quality sarung this old-school way. 

Kampung Raja Prailiu, East Sumba
Kampung Raja Prailiu, East Sumba
Prailiu, Kambera, East Sumba Regency, East Nusa Tenggara, Indonesia

The hills of Mauliru

© Mark Levitin
© Mark Levitin

Devoid of volcanoes, Sumba is relatively flat. For mountain ranges, you would have to choose another island. Instead, it is mostly comprised of gently rolling hills, and wherever they have been deforested (or are naturally grassy), it makes for a lovely panorama. Mauliru area near Waingapu is one such place: a wide expanse of undulating hills with small traditional villages squeezed in between and rice fields forming a textured frame. The most common viewpoint is Bukit Tanau, but you can walk freely from one hillock to another and select your own. There are ikat-weaving villages in this area as well, but no large megalithic monuments.

Tanau Hills, Mauliru
Tanau Hills, Mauliru
Bukit Tanau Mauliru, Mauliru, Kambera, Kabupaten Sumba Timur, Nusa Tenggara Tim., Indonesia

Tanggedu Waterfall

© Mark Levitin
© Mark Levitin

Of the waterfalls in the vicinity of Waingapu, this is the most spectacular. In fact, it is not a single waterfall but a system of them. Tanggedu is located at the confluence of two rivers, where one slides through a rocky canyon in a series of cascades, while the other plunges into it from a side in a mighty drop. It is rather hard to reach, requiring either a 4WD or off-road biking skills, and exploring the network of cascades may involve a bit of climbing and jumping over smaller streams. Along the way, there is a rather attractive savanna-like plain, also half-heartedly promoted as a tourist destination.

Tanggedu Waterfall, East Sumba
Tanggedu Waterfall, East Sumba
Kalamba, Haharu, East Sumba Regency, East Nusa Tenggara, Indonesia

The dancing mangroves of Walakiri Beach

© Mark Levitin
© Mark Levitin

The northern shores of Sumba Island, protected by the nearby island of Flores, get mellow tides and low waves. Therefore, they do not spot ragged cliffs and stone arches typical for the southern shoreline but offer shelter for vast mangrove forests. This is what made Walakiri Beach 20 km east of Waingapu the most popular destination in all of Sumba. For whatever reason, dozens of mangrove trees here stand at a distance from the main forest, and the tidal forces have bent them at weird angles, creating the impression of a wild arboreal jig. The area around the dancing mangroves is shallow, about waist-deep at high tide, ankle-deep or even dry during the ebb. This is the perfect place to see the sunset when the gnarled silhouettes of the trees stand out in the background of the reddening sky. Locals wade through the shoals collecting edible marine life. The sea bottom is absolutely full of it here: sea urchins, starfish, bizarre-looking seaworms, jumping shrimps. The beach itself is lined with simple eateries offering grilled fish freshly caught by the local fishermen. A couple of very basic and overpriced homestays are available, but it really makes more sense to stay in Waingapu and visit unexpected attractions in Walakiri for a day trip. 

Walakiri Beach, East Sumba
Walakiri Beach, East Sumba
Pantai Walakiri, Watumbaka, Pandawai, Watumbaka, Pandawai, Kabupaten Sumba Timur, Nusa Tenggara Tim., Indonesia

The author

Mark Levitin

Mark Levitin

I am Mark, a professional travel photographer, a digital nomad. For the last four years, I am based in Indonesia, spending here roughly half a year and travelling around Asia for the other half. Previously, I spent four years in Thailand, exploring it from all perspectives.

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