Nihi Sumba in Indonesia is the edge of wildness, where horses run free, and the locals thrive



Instead of taking from a local culture, or decimating it for the sake of tourism, there’s a wonderful ethical balance that they’ve found on the island of Sumba, and it’s an example of a sustainable operation, in harmony with the environment and the local people.



Bali and Sumba are two of the almost 15,000 islands that make up the archipelagic region of Indonesia. While Bali is one of the wealthiest islands in Indonesia and the most popular tourist destination, Sumba, twice the size and with a lot fewer inhabitants, is one of the more remote islands and was one of the poorest, but not anymore. 


It started with Claude and Petra Graves, avid surfers who in 1988 arrived on the island to build a small resort. Nihiwatu Beach had the perfect waves, and they fell in love with the idyllic understated beauty of the island, its people, its culture, and, just under an hour’s flight from Bali, it was perfect. 


Nihiwatu means “mortar stone” and was named by early settlers for its isolated rock formation along the tide. The Graves aptly called their resort Nihiwatu for its surrounding legacy. 



Nihi Sumba villas in the jungle
Amazing villas in the jungle Georg Schorschal



Initially they more or less lived off the land, getting to know and employing the local families, who they came to realize had little access to running water but were subject to widespread malaria, a day’s walk to the nearest clinic, and had low to no education. 


The Graveses decided to draw up a 20-year Sumba Foundation business plan on what could be achieved while preserving the local’s way of life, and started to get their guests involved. One of them, Sean Downs became a major player and in 2001 The Sumba Foundation was born. The goal of the foundation: To help ease the burdens of poverty the Sumbanese communities were living under and to preserve and share the breathtaking beauty of Sumba with those who would truly appreciate it. 


Since its inception, The Sumba Foundation and Nihiwatu model; that of a non-profit working side by side with a for-profit business, each with its own role to play in poverty reduction, was recognized in 2007 when the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) awarded Nihiwatu the Tourism for Tomorrow Award, the “Oscar” of all travel awards.



You don’t really need a caption for this, do you? Alexandre Ribeiro



In 2008, this tourism model was the winner of the PATA (the Pacific Asia Travel Association) Gold Award.


The Foundation has been able to build clinics, fund schools, provide education for the children with lunch programs, and sponsoring children through higher education with college scholarship programs. And they work around the island with healthcare education and the community.


So far the foundation has treated over 400,000 patients at their clinics, and reduced malaria in the area by over 90%. Read that again — reduced the world’s number one fatal disease by 90%.


This great work is not only supported by the resort’s guests, but now also by entrepreneur Chris Burch, who in 2012, alongside business partner and global hotelier James McBride, heard that Claude needed help to expand the resort, and together they rebranded it as NIHI SUMBA. The Graves little eco-surf-resort had blossomed unbelievably (and has since won Best Hotel in the World awards by T+L magazine).


Now NIHI has its own stables where rescued horses or retired racehorses are housed. Every day they come out to gallop along the beach and swim in the Indian Ocean. An unforgettable experience. For riding excursions, NIHI caters to riders of all capabilities and cherish having children at the resort. (They also have babysitting services for when you’re at the Jungle Spa. Just saying.)


Now that’s a sustainable room… Tania Araujo

There are 26 gorgeous and roomy, teak, air-conditioned private and family villas, all built on terraces with private verandas, some nestled in the forest, and some with their own infinity pool with a view of the Indian Ocean, the spectacular sunsets and gorgeous white sand.



Committed to conservation, the resort has its own desalination plant where they use reverse osmosis to make drinking water. They have an organic garden and food forest where they try to produce as much as they can to offset their carbon footprint in shipping needed produce to the island.



NIHI grow their own fruits, vegetables and herbs, lemongrass, chili peppers and cocoa trees that they cultivate chocolate from. Yes they have their own chocolate factory! Chris and Charly’s Chocolate Factory, and you don’t have to be a kid to go there (but imagine if you are!).


Other special programs include The Turtle Hatchery. The locals used to forage for turtle eggs to consume, but NIHI started an initiative where they buy the eggs from the locals, take care of the eggs, hatch them, and let the little turtles loose into the ocean. Repopulating. Once the turtle’s DNA imprint is on the beach they will come back to that same beach to lay their own eggs when the time comes. Last year in 2022, they released 9000 baby turtles into the ocean.

They have a similar Bird Breeding & Release Program to bring back the numbers of yellow crested cockatoos and Eclectus parrots to the island after suffering declines in vast numbers due to the illegal wildlife trade.


They have no plastic at the resort, instead using banana leaves to cover food or line their bins, they provide glass drinking bottles regularly refilled, and straws made out of papaya leaf stems.



Tracks in the sand, on Nihiwatu Beach Alexandre Ribeiro



There is plenty to do from paddleboarding through Sumbanese villages along the river, to their Jungle Spa Safari, to riding on the beach at sunset, to fine dining.


Guests are encouraged to visit the local villages and the many Sumba Foundation clinics, schools, and communal farms, and there are excursions offered which highlight local art and artisans and visiting rice paddy fields. Or, to literally see where the (water) buffalo roam, go to the Yoga Pavilion.


And, of course, you can surf!



NIHI SUMBA, Indonesia