Sumatra, Indonesia: The Forgotten Island

Sumatra is the sixth largest island in the world.

It is a southeast Asian island, West of Indonesia. Some travelers have dubbed Sumatra the Wild West of Indonesia.

Although it is one of the lesser traveled areas on the southeast Asia ‘banana pancake’ circuit, the island contains some amazing gems.

1. Berastagi


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There are 2 active volcanoes nearby. Sibayak is a gentle volcano, easy to climb and is a very popular spot to watch the sunrise.

The climbing difficulty at Sinabung is higher. Although climbing Sinabung was possible for a long time, the eruption in 2010 has made climbing Sinabung dangerous. It spews out clouds of smoke many times a day and is famous for having a fiery explosion once in a while. Watch the show from a distance but do not attempt to climb.

Explore the Tahura National Park, a gorgeous spot with lush jungle all around. Within the park, there is a waterfall and several paths for walks and hikes through the area. Wildlife is a common sight, especially for gibbons, the hornbill, and other exotic birds. The Park also offers elephant and horse rides.

At the base of Sibayak are hot springs that are open to the public. Admission is generally 5000 Rupiah.

A forty minute drive from Berastagi is the Sipiso-Piso waterfall on the northern edge of Lake Toba. The waterfall is 120m high and is formed by an underground river. It is named after its narrow and straight appearance, which means ‘like a knife’.

2. Lake Toba

Lake Toba

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It is the world’s largest volcanic lake and is probably the world’s biggest caldera.

The eruption that created it about 70,000 years ago was the largest explosive eruption to happen on earth in the last 25 million years. This explosion was so powerful it has changed the earth’s climate and almost wiped out the human race.

In contrast, Lake Toba is now so serene and idyllic that people stay by the shores of the lake for weeks and months on end. This because the views on the lake are picturesque, and the villages are happy to welcome newcomers.

In its environs, you will find quaint attractions such as the ancient Batak village, along with its stone chairs and head chopping blocks. The local king would call for meetings on the chair formations hewn from stone.

Here you will also find the ancient tombs of king Sidabutar in the Tomok village just three miles southeast of Tuk-Tuk.

3. Bukit Lawang

Bukit Lawang

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The orangutans in Bukit Lawang are the main attraction, swinging freely through the surrounding forest.

These forests are part of the Gunung Leuser National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site. The park has some of the most vibrant tropical forest ecosystems on earth. For example, 8 species of primates, tigers, rhinos, elephants, and leopards.

The best way to experience the jungle is by trekking through it.

Duration of trekking excursions may range from 3 hours, 6 hours, to 1 or even 3 days. Regardless of the trekking duration, you will see hidden waterfalls and swimming holes that look like they are straight from a storybook. There are various temporary and permanent campsites that are set up and run by guides.

4. Pulau Weh

Pulau Weh

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Many people enter Sumatra through the largest city, Medan.

An alternative route is coming in through the northern city of Banda Aceh. This way you will be able to visit the beautiful diving site that is Pulau Weh. Here you will find shipwrecks, canyons, underwater volcanoes, and a diversity of marine wildlife.

Snorkelling is another attraction that is made even better by the high visibility water at Pulau Weh. Across the channel between Iboih and Pulau Rubiah is a gorgeous reef with vibrant corals.

5. Pulau Nias

Pulau Nias

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This is an island off the coast of Western Sumatra.

Nias is internationally famous as a premier surfing destination. Sorake Bay, enclosed by the beaches of Lagundire and Sorake, has both right and left-handed breaks. The two most famous waves are the Asu and Bawa. The best time to surf here is between May and September, although sometimes the season can stretch from April to October.

In the 1960’s Nias was part a famous hippie trail, frequented by surfers which ultimately led to Bali. Before the island was discovered by three wandering Australian surfers in 1975, Nias was known only by a few hard-core travelers. The island was mainly visited by archaeologists to study its ancient culture and traditions.

6. Bukittinggi


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Bukittinggi means ‘high hill’ in Indonesian. The town is located on the east of the Ngarai Sianok Canyon. The Merapi and Singgalang mountains flank the south of the town. The gorgeous lake Maninjau is not on the usual tourist trail but is a site worth visiting.

The main attraction for this town is its Minangkabau culture, apart from stunning vistas that surround the area. It’s a great opportunity to learn about the matriarchal culture of the indigenous people living there.

Pay a visit to Jam Gadang, an important piece of Minangkabau architecture. It is a stunning clock tower built from sand, white egg and chalk.

If you’re fond of unique fauna, The Minang Highlands also just happen to be Rafflesia country. If you are fortunate, you might be able to track down a giant parasitic Rafflesia Arnoldi. You can also find Amorphophallus titanium. It is another huge and awful-smelling flower named for its resemblance to deformed male genitalia.

Want to know more about Indonesia? Find out more top 10 Indonesia Islands You Should Visit in Your Lifetime.

Final words

In 2004 a tsunami struck the northern shores of Sumatra in Acah, killing 127,000 people.

This area is prone to earthquakes and you should familiarise yourself with the risks involved when visiting. It is important to purchase travel insurance to safeguard against these possible risks.

Comprehensive travel insurance covers theft, loss and medical problems. Be careful when choosing policies. Some insurance policies exclude dangerous activities such as scuba diving and surfing. Sumatra is a hidden gem with amazing sights and treasures, have fun exploring!