Chris Burch’s Preservation of Luxury & Wilderness Abound at “World’s Best Hotel” Nihi Sumba

In trying to pinpoint the exact moment that Nihi Sumba finishes first in the race toward the “world’s best hotel” title, there is considerable ground to cover. Owner Chris Burch has made delicate, deliberate decisions to create the peaceful paradise that is fitting to and respectful of the land on which his hotel sits. Various hallmarks set this Indonesian hideaway resort apart, clearly defining why Nihi has been named the number one hotel in the world by Travel + Leisure for the last two years. On the quiet island of Sumba, the secluded beaches harmonize with lush jungle, the private surf (on what is arguably the world’s best wave) is sacred and protected, the world-renowned spa offers a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and the resort activities are vast, overflowing with the island’s culture and representative of Nihi’s mission to give back to its community. These, and many, many more are what set Nihi Sumba apart as the best in the world.

Aerial shot of nihi oka, @nihiwatu’s off site spa experience. #nihigram

A post shared by Chris Burch (@jchristopherburch) on

The Beach

Nihi Sumba asserts itself as the stopping point for “luxury at the edge of wildness.” While world-class beach destinations like Hawaii or Bali boast white sands and clear waters, Sumba sets itself apart in its unregulated, undiscovered freedom. The island’s ancestors, the Marupu, landed on its shores centuries ago and the island has remained relatively commercially quiet since.

Sumba’s secluded beach attracted surfers Peter and Petra Graves in 1988, a wanderlust couple destined to find the perfect wave. The Graves found exactly what they were looking for and immediately fell in love with Sumba’s beaches and its people, setting up a small surfer’s retreat that attracted wave enthusiasts from around the globe. In 2012, entrepreneur Chris Burch and hotelier James McBride expanded the possibilities of the Graves’ vision and spent the next three years and $30 million dollars renovating what would soon be the world’s best hotel. By keeping the resort small, exclusive, and directly rooted in Sumba culture, Chris Burch and co. preserved the character of the Graves’ surf shack and the integrity of the land it cohabitated. That “perfect wave” found by Peter and Petra Graves in 1988 was deemed “Occy’s Left” – a perfect, rare, left-hand reef break that Nihi Sumba has kept pure and private since.

Nihi Sumba, Jason Wolcott for Travel + Leisure

The Surf

Occy’s Left isn’t just a great wave. Occy’s Left has been hailed by surfers around the globe as one of the world’s best waves. This is in no small part due to Chris Burch’s mission: luxury meeting wildness. Occy’s is and always was a unique, world-class wave, but the vision to keep it private was a bold and beautiful move to preserve its wonder. Nihi Sumba’s entire beachfront is dedicated to hotel guests – and the wave itself is available to only ten reserved surfers per day on a first-booked, first-served basis. For those lucky enough to secure a spot, Occy’s Left will prove itself to be a challenging, rewarding, unforgettable ride down a 200-300m barrel inside on of the world’s most sought-after but most private waves. At Nihi Sumba, both the luxury and the wildness are emboldened by the exclusivity of Occy’s Left.

Occy’s Left, from

Novice surfers or first-timers can also reserve lessons on Occy’s, depending on the swell; and for guests who don’t reserve their place on the famous wave, there’s plenty of other surf to be found at nearby Coconut Cove, where surfers can spend breakfast or lunch at their leisure with light surfing, with or without instructors from the hotel.


The Spa

Nihi’s spa services can be delivered beachside, private poolside, or in guest quarters, but the world’s best hotel would settle for nothing less than the world’s most breathtaking and unique spa experience. The lavish “Nihioka Spa Safari” offers guests a full-day experience hiking through Sumba’s dramatic landscape to nearby Nihioka valley to a private, outdoor spa. Sweeping views of the coastline collide with rest and relaxation in what are reported to be some of the best views in the world. Crashing waves serenade the day’s treatments, lauded by many guests to be their favorite part of the trip. 

The Activities

Nihi Sumba offers a vast array of resort activities. Sport and leisure are to be expected: fishing, diving, snorkeling, yoga and hiking excursions are aplenty, and exploring the jungles and waterfalls of Sumba is a must, but it’s the Sumba-centric activities that really garner accolade.

Women from nearby villages teach traditional Sumbanese weaving classes at the Pasar Sumba near the resort’s social hub “The Menara.”  Ikat weaving is a gorgeous, ancient artform that the women love to share. Equestrian activities are extensive and are also deeply-rooted in the island’s culture, horse-breeding being a long-held tradition throughout Sumba. From Nihi, guests can enjoy horseback beach rides, treks through the lush tropical forest or Nihi-led equestrian tours through nearby villages. Culinary classes are also available to take a taste through the island’s rich heritage using the local herbs and spices of traditional Indonesian cuisine. This class culminates in a trip into the kitchen cooking some of the Nihi chef’s signature Indonesian dishes.


The Culture

The preservation and celebration of Sumba’s culture at Nihi tie back into the mission of Peter and Petra Graves who stepped on the land decades ago. The respect for the Sumba people is reflected in Chris Burch’s mission of giving back to the community by way of The Sumba Foundation. Burch himself maintains all administrative costs of the humanitarian effort, allowing 100% of donations to directly fund meaningful projects, namely: clean water, education and efforts in healthcare and malaria aid. Nihi Sumba is the island’s largest employer and the greatest advocate for its social and ecological prosperity. At the core of the resort is the Sumbanese community, whose traditions add to Nihi’s unique appeal: pairing the luxury of a world-class resort with the rare opportunity of immersion in the Sumbanese culture, beautifully set on the edge of wilderness.

Haley Thompson

About Haley Thompson

Haley is a journalist with over 10 years of experience in the field. She has held many editorial roles at a number of high-profile publishers – both offline as well as online.

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