You know those places you find yourself dreamily thinking back to over and over again? Well, Nihi Sumba Island is one of them. I couldn’t have imagined a more perfect place to spend my honeymoon than here. Named as the #1 hotel in the world by Travel + Leisure for two consecutive years now, it was everything I’d hoped it’d be and more. SO much more. Quite simply, it is the most special place I have EVER stayed and I honestly doubt it could ever be topped.
After spending a couple of days in Bali at this villa, we headed to Nihi for a week of pure bliss. Since I gush about this place to every single person I talk to, I absolutely had to share it with you too! There’s a special kind of magic here that stays with you long after you leave. It’s the kind of place that makes you cry when it’s time to check out (I’m not even exaggerating). If you’re wondering what could be so special about this hotel, read on for my full review!
Staying at the #1 hotel in the world: Nihi Sumba Island
Nihi Sumba Island is located (unsurprisingly) on the island of Sumba in Indonesia, 400 km east of Bali. Even though it’s double the size of Bali, most people have never heard of the island. This is understandable considering it’s one of Indonesia’s least developed and has even been nicknamed the ‘forgotten island’. Garuda operates a short daily flight between Bali’s Ngurah Rai International Airport and Sumba’s Tambolaka airport, which takes about 50 minutes. It’s then a 90-minute drive to the lodge, which is located on the southwest coast.
Eco-conscious travellers will fall in love with Nihi Sumba Island since every aspect of the hotel has been designed in harmony with the natural environment and in celebration of the Sumbanese culture. Each of the buildings have been constructed with indigenous materials, including timber, stones and grasses. The villas are built in the traditional Sumbanese style and are crowned with the distinctive conical roofs, while meandering paths that snake their way across the retreat are designed to represent a local village.
The hotel check-in process is like no other I’ve ever experienced. As soon as you arrive at Bali’s airport to check in for your flight, you’re given the most amazing VIP treatment. We were whisked through security by a Nihi representative and personally delivered to the airline check-in counter. And, while checking in for our flight, we checked into the hotel too! This saves you from having to worry about completing paperwork when you arrive, which is always the last thing you feel like doing. I loved this idea so much.
Since Nihi Sumba island is a 90-minute drive from the airport, we’d pre-arranged a transfer with the hotel. Our air-conditioned SUV, complete with fresh coconuts and homemade treats, took us through traditional villages, rice fields and dense forests. It was such an interesting drive and the journey went by in a flash.
Arriving at the property, we were welcomed by our personal butler, a sweet-natured Sumbanese woman named Asna. And yes, you read that correctly – we had our own butler! She was there to look after us for our entire stay and to completely customise our experience. As soon as we’d stepped out of the car, we had a welcome drink in hand and were being guided down to our villa. We’d already checked in at the airport so there was nothing else that needed doing except start our honeymoon!
As Asna took us through the property towards our villa, I’m quite sure my eyes almost dropped out of my head with how stunning the setting was. The grounds were lush and impeccably manicured and the whole place was more beautiful that I could have imagined.
Stepping through the wooden gate into our villa (the Kanatar one-bedroom), it was pretty clear that this was the most luxurious accommodation we’d ever stayed at. I couldn’t believe my eyes when we walked in. The space was huge. On the bottom level alone we had our own private infinity pool and decking area, open-air living space, powder room, double shower and back garden. Upstairs was the luxurious master bedroom complete with stunning canopy bed and an open-air ensuite. I knew we would be VERY happy here for the next 5 nights!
Every possible comfort for guests has been considered in the villas. From a free minibar (including spirits) topped up daily, to insect spray, beach bags, yoga mats, sandals and daily complimentary laundry, there’s nothing that hasn’t been thought of. It would be very easy to lock yourself away in your villa for your entire stay if the rest of the property wasn’t so inviting!
The grounds of the hotel are absolutely stunning and we loved discovering all the hidden spots around the hotel. Windy paths lead through lush, tropical greenery and there are pretty surprises at every turn.
Aside from our own private plunge pool that we had in the villa, there’s also a stunning infinity pool down by the ocean. Ben and I spent most of our afternoons down here reading, swimming and ordering fresh coconuts on repeat. It was heavenly.
There’s also the most pristine, palm-lined beach right just steps away from the lodge. It is honestly one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever been to with some really interesting rock formations. We loved ending the day with a slow stroll along it.
The room rate includes all the delicious food and non-alcoholic drinks you can fill your belly with. I loved not having to consider prices and being free to order whatever I felt like. The menu is varied and features a good mix of both Indonesian and international dishes. There’s always a new daily special too, which meant that there was enough variety for our six-day stay. As much food as possible is harvested on site, either from the two organic kitchen gardens, chicken farm or caught fresh from the ocean.
There are two restaurants on the property. Ombak, perched on the hilltop overlooking the sweeping coastline, serves breakfast and dinner. I always looked forward to waking up with my coffee over this stunning view and we’d watch the surfers catch the first waves of the day at the world-famous ‘Occy’s Left’ surf break below.
Find lunch at the relaxed, sandy-floored Nio Beach Club, just footsteps from the beach. We’d find a shady spot under one of the open-aired thatched pavillions or dine by the pool. I could never look past the seafood – it was some of the freshest I’ve ever had.
Guests also have the option to dine privately and so on our last night, we booked a private, beachside dinner. Little did we know it would be the most memorable dining experience of our lives! When we wandered down at dinnertime, we couldn’t believe the effort the lovely staff had gone to. Not only were there lanterns and candles lighting our way, but they had built a little pavillion for us and had decorated it with botanicals and hanging flowers. They even spelled out our initials in the sand with fresh petals. We felt so special. And all of this was for no extra charge – it was included in the room rate! So many hotels would charge hundreds of dollars for this experience. It was the best way to spend our last night and it’s something we’ll remember forever.
Almost every night at sunset we’d head down the Boathouse for happy hour. We’d sip our cocktails and watch the sky transform from orange to pink to purple.
Other facilities and services
A host of included activities are available for guests at no extra cost, including snorkelling and paddleboarding. Another is daily yoga – either at sunrise or sunset – in the stunning yoga pavilion overlooking the coastline. I’ve never done sun salutations in a more beautiful location.
If it’s the right season for it, you can also help to release turtle hatchlings into the ocean at nightfall. There’s a turtle hatchery on site that we’d pass by every day on our way to lunch. Locals bring up sea turtle eggs to Nihi’s hatchery to protect them from dogs and other predators. The turtle hatchery here sees a much bigger hatching rate compared to the wild, which is having quite a profound impact on the conservation of turtle species in the region. Releasing them into the ocean was definitely a bucket-list experience for me. So special!
The local Sumbanese culture is the heart and soul of the Nihi experience. Both around the resort and across the wider island, you can observe the local culture. See the chefs buy produce from local farmers, watch Sumbanese women making traditional Ikat weavings or visit a local market in a nearby town. Down at the beach you’ll often see local fisherman or smiling kids waving up to guests.
What really sets Nihi Sumba Island apart from other luxury retreats, however, is its deep commitment to preserving the island’s fragile culture and improving the lives of its local people. The hotel is the largest employer on the island and 93% of the workforce are Sumbanese.
The Sumba Foundation provides humanitarian aid through village-based projects that have quite dramatically improved local health, education and economic opportunities. Quite impressively, since the foundation’s establishment, the island has seen malaria rates drop by 85%, four health clinics have been constructed that treat over 25,000 people and more than 240 water stations and 60 wells have been built to provide clean water for the communities. Guests are encouraged to visit one of the foundation’s projects (for free) to see the wonderful impact it’s having.
You’ll never have chocolate withdrawals at Nihi because you can find their very own chocolate factory on site! How cool is that! Nestled under the shady palms is Chris and Charly’s Chocolate Factory. It produces the most delicious, organic, homemade chocolate on the island and it’s right at your doorstep. Once I tasted the little samples in the minibar, I was down here in a flash – so yum!
In addition to the free activities included in the room rate, there are a host of paid activities and excursions available. From guided trekking to waterfall swimming, world-class surfing to spa safaris, there are plenty of adventures waiting.
One thing that I was dying to do while I was there was go on a sunset horse ride along the beach. The Sumbanese have a long and deep connection with horses. To pay tribute to that, Nihi is home to a state-of-the-art equestrian facility: Sandalwood Stables. I had never ridden a horse in my life so I thought a gentle stroll along the beach was the perfect introduction. It was one of the most memorable experiences of our whole stay. The whole time we were riding, I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face!
On our second last day, we chartered a private boat for a morning out on the water. We headed to nearby Coconut Cove for paddleboarding (let’s just say that I’m not a natural!) and also had the chance to do some fishing. Within minutes we’d caught a beautiful spanish mackerel, which the chefs prepared for our lunch and dinner that day. That morning out on the water was another highlight of my stay. There’s just something about being on a boat.
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Book this hotel if…
If you’re celebrating a special occasion and want an experience of a lifetime, Nihi Sumba Island is your place. It’s expensive (naturally) so it’s somewhere to head when only the best will do. While a lot of luxury retreats can be pretentious, Nihi is the very opposite of that. The vibe here is relaxed and easy-going. The staff are genuinely some of the loveliest people you’ll ever find working at a hotel. They are kind and generous and eager to help wherever possible. The worst thing you can do is be fooled in thinking that this is just another beachside luxury retreat. It’s so much more than that. What you’ll find here is a celebration of the local environment and its people and a deep commitment to looking after what was here first.
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- When Only the Best Will Do: Checking in to the Peninsula Tokyo
- Honeymoon Heaven in Seminyak: The Elysian Boutique Villa Hotel
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Tell me, is Nihi Sumba Island on your bucket list now?