I was intrigued to visit Nihiwatu resort in Indonesia, after it was recently rated the #1 Hotel in the World by Travel + Leisure magazine. Since I was returning to nearby Bali, I inquired about visiting Nihiwatu and the dates happened to fall over the famed British Polo Day event at the resort. In addition, once I found out about the resort’s new Spa Safari, involving endless spa treatments, I had to book immediately!
Nihiwatu is located on the island of Sumba in southeastern Indonesia, a 50-minute flight from Bali on Garuda Airlines. The island is twice the size of Bali, yet Nihiwatu is the only resort on the island, possessing just 33 spacious villas amidst 550 acres of beaches, hiking trails, waterfalls, a professional equestrian center, rainforest and rice paddies. The island also features one of the world’s most coveted, private surf waves, Occy’s Left, reaching over 20 feet high, a bucket list destination for the world’s top surfers. Only 10 surfers per day are permitted to ride Occy’s Left, at $100 each.
Nihiwatu opened in 2015 by Chris Burch, who was married to fashion designer Tory Burch, and Managing Partner James McBride, who spent years with The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, as well as Little Dix Bay, Caneel Bay and the Carlyle Hotel. The resort employs more than 300 people, and 98 percent are local natives from Sumba, making the resort the largest employer on the island.
Arriving from Bali, guests enjoy a 90-minute drive in an open-air safari vehicle, driving through the vast island by many groups of children waving, farmers carrying produce, and other locals. I stayed in a spacious villa with a large plunge pool, indoor/outdoor shower, huge indoor bathtub resembling a Chinese wok, and a day bed by the ocean, equaling true sublime paradise. Each villa also comes with a personal butler, and design features truly the essence of relaxed beach luxury. I traveled with my friend Kathryn, who stayed in a two-story villa with a large pool on the bottom level, and a deep soaking golden bathtub on the upstairs patio, with dramatic views of the sea below.
Each night, Kathryn and I enjoyed sundowner cocktails by the beach bar hosted by the resort’s general managers Loraine and Jason Trollip, who joined the resort from Singita’s Grumeti safari camp in Tanzania. We met such fascinating people from around the world. The atmosphere felt like staying at someone’s private estate, as all the guests wanted to get to know each other, and I’m still in touch with several new friends following my stay at Nihiwatu months later. Since the British Polo Day took place at Nihiwatu, there was an elegant white party on the sand with all the guests one evening following the sunset cocktails with a lavish buffet.
The Spa Safari was a top highlight of the trip to Nihiwatu! We arrived at James McBride’s villa at 7 am to begin our 90-minute trek through the natural landscape with four other guests, past large water buffalo and bulls, until we reached a spectacular beach area filled with palm trees, where we enjoyed fresh coconuts brought down from the tops of the extremely tall trees by our hiking guide. This was followed by an open fire, bush-cooked breakfast overlooking the sea, along with fresh pressed juices, and then the superb spa experience began!
We were escorted to the Uma Izzie villa, a one-bedroom Sumbanese-inspired property, with an outdoor deck set up with two treatment tables with unlimited spa treatments. The Spa menu included 10 spa treatments, and we chose to experience five treatments each, including a facial, Sumbanese Lulur Exfloliation, hydrating hair smoothie, body scrub and signature Nihi Oka massage. We enjoyed a lunch with great veggie options, including a salad with rice noodles, grilled vegetables, and tempeh skewers, served between spa treatments. We stayed until sunset and this was one of the most epic spa experiences of my life, to be remembered forever.
It was very hard to leave the Uma Izzie Villa at the Spa Safari Nihi Oka that day, and in fact, honeymoon couples can now opt for the new overnight version of the Spa Safari, which also includes an intimate dinner for two prepared in the open treehouse fire, nestled in the side of ancient rocks above the beach. Couples are surrounded by 1,000 lit candles, enjoying a romantic meal of locally-inspired dishes accompanied by the soothing sound of the waves, and then spend the night in the remote villa.
There is a spectacular yoga pavilion featuring a 360-degree platform at the highest point of the resort with serene views of the sea. The yoga instructor that week was in residence from Singapore and led an energizing Vinyasa flow class. Following yoga, guests can relax at the resort’s new expansive infinity-edge pool, or lounge by the pools in the privacy of their own villas.
In addition, a very unique part of the resort is the Chris & Charley’s Chocolate Factory, an intimate chocolate factory with a unique cocoa bean shaped design, where the resident chocolatier Charlie (his real name) and his team demonstrate how to make chocolate, and they also have the artisan chocolate bars available for purchase. Nihiwatu also places complimentary versions of the chocolate bars in the guest villas to enjoy.
On the philanthropic side, Chris Burch provides significant funding to the Sumba Foundation, to helping the local community with a school lunch program, doctor visits, and other community-based projects. Over the last 14 years, the Foundation has set up four medical clinics, and has developed over 100 water wells and water stations. The Foundation currently feeds young children in a malnutrition program, and has refurbished and supported 15 primary schools, and provides lunch to more than 1,000 schoolchildren twice a week.
As more travelers are seeking unique, experiential, activity-driven and exclusive travel experiences, Nihiwatu provides an ideal haven in an unspoiled land.
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