The green island of adventure
Sumatra is the westernmost major island of Indonesia. Here on the third largest island of the archipelago you find the very quintessence of the word ‘jungle’. Giant trees rising up to more than 60 meters, swinging lianas as thick as one’s leg, exotic flowers, monkeys and apes brachiating and running through the trees and many other beautiful animals hiding behind the thick foliage. Besides all this natural beauty, Sumatra also offers the visitor a unique cultural life still existing in all of its provinces. The Batak people of North-Sumatra and the matriarchal Minangkabau of West-Sumatra are a good example of this cultural diversity.
Although all of the provinces offer a range of tourist points of interest, we have concentrated our tours in two of the most popular provinces, North and West Sumatra, partly because of the high concentration of interesting places and cultures and partly because of the relatively easy accessibility.
See our example tours for inspiration on your Sumatra adventure:
North Sumatra is the homeland of six different Batak tribes each of them with their own habitat, language and distinctive
ethnicities. Only in the coastal areas and on the smaller island west of the province have other communities settled. As result of their suspicion of foreigners and the inaccessibility of their homeland the Karo-Batak who inhabit the northeastern regions of North-Sumatra and the Toba Batak who are concentrated around Lake Toba have still maintained much of their traditional customs. Although converted to Christianity in the beginning of the 20 th century their belief in ancestors and spirits is still very much part of their daily life. This is most obvious during their burial and marriage rites.
Another interesting ethnic group can be found on the island of Nias to the west of North Sumatra. Separated by the Mentawai Strait, these ono niha, or ‘children of the people’ as they call themselves developed their own very distinctive culture known for its megaliths and impressive architecture. Although no more new megaliths are erected nowadays, the island is scattered with remains of this stone culture. And also the traditional houses that differ in architecture in the south, central and northern part of Nias are still numerous. Besides this cultural inheritance the white beaches and great surf are also definitely a great attraction. The island of Nias can be reached from the coastal town of Sibolga, a trip of 8 to 10 hours.
Just half hour off shore of Sibolga is the small island of Poncan Gadang: white beaches, coconut trees and coral reefs in reasonable condition. The hectic capital city of Medan is the starting point to discover the beauties of North-Sumatra. Relatively close to Medan is the orangutan rehabilitation center Bohorok, located on the edge of the national park Gunung Leuser. Here captive orangutans are reintroduced to their original environment, the dense tropical forests of Northern Sumatra. Besides a chance to see the daily feeding of those big red apes Bohorok offers the opportunity of exciting jungle walking. Deeper into the heart of the Leuser National Park is the village and site of Tangkahan, a beautiful and tranquil spot surrounded by tropical forest. Here you will find an elephant centre. These big grey beasts are used to survey the area for poachers and loggers. Tangkahan, managed by former loggers who are now keepers of the forest, offers great walking, tube rafting and elephant washing.
Brastagi on the Karo plateau is also situated on a relatively short distance to Medan. In these cool surroundings and on its fertile volcanic soils the Karo Batak grow all sorts of vegetables. Their interesting traditional houses, which are sadly deteriorating quickly, can be seen in some of the villages on the plateau. The still active volcanoes Sibayak and Sinabung that dominate the landscape are a challenge to climb. A five-hour drive from Medan will bring you to the town of Prapat on the shores of the largest lake of Sumatra, Lake Toba. Formed some 75.000 years ago as a result of an enormous eruption, the lake and the island of Samosir have been major tourist destinations since the Dutch colonial rule. The lake offers great swimming and on Samosir you can experience a relaxed atmosphere brightened by catching songs of the Toba Batak, see small villages with interesting architecture and go for great walks with splendid views. Samosir is definitely worth staying several days.
A province of equal beauty is North-Sumatra’s neighbor West-Sumatra. Many visitors are impressed by its green landscape with rolling hills, forested mountains and volcanoes in which rice terraces, lakes and valley’s take a prominent place. The heart of the province is formed by the Padang Highlands, part of the Bukit Barisan mountain range that forms the backbone of Sumatra. These highlands are the home of a hardworking and well-educated ethnic group, the Minangkabau, known for their matriarchal culture. From the rumah gadang, the traditional house of the Minangkabau, the oldest women of a clan, called Bundo Kanduang rules over her family with great wisdom.
Beyond dispute the best place from which to explore this province is Bukittinggi. Situated at an altitude of about 900 meters above sea level this charming cool town offers the visitor several attractions like a lively market, the remains of a Dutch fort, a small zoo, a museum and energetic dance performances. There are lots of local restaurants that serve the very spicy Padang food, consisting of many (meat) dishes cooked with a lot of hot chili and coconut milk. In the vicinity of Bukittinggi are the Ngarai Canyon and the Harau valley, both offer impressive nature and are very suitable for adventurous hiking. Harau Valley has some simple accommodation. Touring by chartered car is ideal to visit the colorful large rumah gadang, a Minang palace, historical remains, take a look at different home industries, like silverwork and songket weaving (a technique where a raised pattern of gold or silver threads are added using extra heddle rods to lift selected warp yarns) and of course enjoy the province’s incredible beautiful landscape.
Just to the west of Bukittinggi lies the spectacular Lake Maninjau, snuggled inside an ancient steep walled crater. The surrounding hills are covered with tropical forest and closer to the lake rice terraces are constructed. There is some attractive hiking possible with monkeys on the way and breathtaking views.
West from Padang, the capital city of West-Sumatra, lies a fascinating chain of islands called the Mentawai archipelago. There are four islands, but the island of Siberut is by far the most interesting one because of the authenticity of its nature and culture. Due to a deep gorge that separates the Mentawai islands from the mainland the fauna and flora have endured their own evolution, which has resulted in a high endemism. The indigenous people that inhabit the islands have developed their own customs and beliefs that differ remarkably from those found on the mainland. Their intriguing way of living and their belief in spirits are still very much preserved until now. There are hardly any roads on the island and traveling is done via rivers or by walking through sometimes knee-deep mud.
Just off-shore of Padang you can find several islands with accommodation. These islands fringed with a white sandy beach and coral gardens are a great place to relax, dive and snorkel.