However, if you want a real authentic adventure & not all the tourist bells & whistles then Sumatra is the island for you.
As Sumatra is a very large island it is split up into many provinces each offering a widely different vibe, from cultural cities like Medan to the remote Mentawi islands of the coast which are filled rainforests & Orangutans!
Sumatra is one of the only places in the world ,where you can relax on secluded beaches & then go trekking through a rainforest.
Quick Facts about Sumatra:
- Sumatra has Indonesia tallest waterfall (Sipiso Piso) its 120 metres high and lies just outside Medan.
- Sumatra has active Volcanos (Mount Sibayak) with relaxing hot springs at the bottom.
- Sumatra has a “two colored Waterfall“(Sibolangit) close to Mount Sibayak. (1hr 45min from Medan)
- 60% of Siberut Island (Part of Mentawai Island, Sumatra) is covered with tropical rainforest and its a designated UNESCO biosphere reserve.
- Sumatra has parts which are home to many indigenous hunter/gatherer tribes. (Mentawai Islands)
- Sumatra contains many rare plant species such as the tallest flower in the world.
- Sumatras Lake Toba is TWICE THE SIZE OF SINGAPORE! It was formed by a Supervolcano eruption. (Danau Toba) (3 hours from Medan)
- Sumatra has many historic landmarks & religious temples from 2000 person Mosques (Grand Mosque) to Cathedrals, Hindu temples and opulent 19th century Mansions.
- Sumatra offers a host of wild Orangutans, Rhinos, Tigers and elephants in parts such as Bukit Lawang or the Mentawi Islands.
Is Sumatra more affordable then Bali?
Absolutely, as Sumatra is an up & coming island in tourism terms expect lower prices & a more authentic charm.
Map of Sumatra:
Dive into our Map below to find out the greatest regions of Sumatra.
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Our 13 amazing places…you’ve probably never heard of, but definitely should visit in Sumatra.
13. Lampung –
Highlights: Dolphins, Secluded Beaches, Treks
Lampung Province has very few foreign visitors & is thus one of the secret gems of Sumatra. It is home to Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park, which offers adventurous hiking trails and variety of rare flowers & plant species. This national park was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, so expect breath taking untouched nature.
After a hike, you should head down to the secluded Pasir Putih Beach (White Sands Beach) to relax.
Head to Kiluan for some magical dolphin spotting.
Highlights: Surfers & Divers Paradise
If your into surfing then Nias island is like a less busy & more affordable version of Balis surf scene. On Nias island its very easy to rent a surf board or some diving gear & hit the clear blue waters.
Historic Tradition (Stone Jumping):
If your in town you may be lucky to see the local “Stone Jumping Tradition” where many locals try to clear a high stone in one jump as a symbol of their amazing athleticism.
Highlights: The Shimmering Musi River
Palembang is the capital city of the South Sumatra province and is one of the oldest inhabited areas of Indonesia. As it is centred next to the Musi River, Palembang was a trading hotspot during the Ancient Srivijaya Kingdom.
These days the waterfront is a great place to dine out & indulge in some delicious local foods & you gaze out over the shimmering river.
Highlight: Lakes, Lush Countryside & Architecture.
Bukittinggi lies in the west of Sumatra and has some of the most breath taking scenery in Indonesia. The main highlight is Lake Maninjau which offers deep emerald waters surrouded by a lush countryside.
As you walk around the town be sure to check out the detailed Minang architecture, created Minangkabau people. Here you will find many homes which have their design influenced by the horns of a buffalo.
9. Bukit Lawang
Highlights: Wild Orangutans!
Bukit Lawang is a small village which lies close toGunung Leuser National Park. Here you will find protected UNESCO jungles which is home to a diverse range of plant life, wild flowers & of course wild Orangutans!
Head to the Orangutans feeding platform (twice/day), where you can watch the Orangutans swing through the trees as they search for Bananas.
You can also take part in day hikes or longer treks which will take you deep into the rainforest & you can camp there. Just make sure you’ve got the correct Hiking gear.
Instead of trekking back downhill tube, kayak or packraft back down the river to Bukit Lawang.
8. Banda Aceh
Highlights: Tsunami Museum, Ship wrecks & the Grand Mosque.
Banda Aceh is the capital of Aceh Province, this area is sadly known as one of the places where the deadly tsunami hit in 2004. After the destruction the city was rebuilt and you can visit the Tsunami Museum, to learn about the tragedy.
You can also visit the prestigious Grand Mosque & check out spooky relics from the Tsunami such as ship wrecks.
Aceh is famous for its high quality coffee so grab a cup at the well regarded Warung Kopi Solong coffee shop.
7. Weh Island
Highlights: Secluded Paradise Island, Crystal Waters, Virgin beaches.
While in the Aceh Province you have to head to Weh Island, which is just of the coast. This is a hidden gem of Sumatra which offers miles of virgin sand and some of the most crystal clear waters I have ever seen! Be sure to bring your snorkeling or diving gear, or hire on the island.
On the island there is a selection of guesthouses and a few beachfront cafes which as great to watch the sunset.
Highlights: Ancient Forts & Cow Racing Festivals!
Batusangkar means ‘stone cage’ in Indonesian and is one of the most important cultural areas of Sumatra.
Located in the Tanah Datar Regency of western Sumatra, here you will find a variety of historical attractions from Fort van der Capellen (a colonial dutch outpost) to traditional native festivals such as pacu jawi (Cow Racing across muddy fields!)
Exactly, or as they call it in Indonesian “pacu jawi”. At the festival you will see many talented local Jockeys skate through mud fields in this ancient tradition. The Schedule can vary each year so best to ask around locally for the next tournament date.
5. Belitung Islands
Belitung is an island off the east coast of Sumatra which is located in the Java Sea. It is part of the wider Bangka-Belitung Islands. Popular attractions here are the main beaches Tanjung Tinggi Beach, Tanjung Kelayang Beach and surrounding coves.
The main activities here include, snorkeling and swimming or you can take a scenic boat trip.
Medan is the third largest city in Indonesia and is the capital of the province of North Sumatra.
Although Medan isn’t on the coast and is a very industrial city, it offers its own unique urban character, which is great for sightseeing, nightlife and restaurants.
In addition, it is just a short drive away from pristine wilderness like Lakes (Lake Toba), Hot Springs (Semangat Gunung) and even the Tallest Waterfall in Indonesia (Sipiso-Piso).
Overall, Medan & surrounding areas offer a unique authentic atmosphere like no other city in Asia. Medan is a cultural landmark but also is the perfect place to immerse yourself in nature…by driving out to the surrounding areas.
For our full guide on Medan see: Ultimate Medan Travel Guide
3. Berastagi Highlands
If you fancy a weekend getaway from the hustle & bustle of Medan then head to the Berastagi highlands. Here you will find a rural town which is guarded by tow gigantic mountains, Mount Sibayak and Mount Sinabung.Perfect for a hike! If your feeling adventurous take a hike up these two mountains.
Fun Fact: Berastagi is also home to many farm fields which offer fresh fruit and vegetables1
Mount Sibayak summit is 2,212 m high but the hike is fairly, easy but offers breath taking views from the top.
This Mountain (gunung) is actually a Volcano and although it’s last eruption was in 1881, you can still see plenty of thermal activity such as the hot springs & thermal pools.
Semangat Gunung Hot Springs:
After trekking Mount Sibayak, relax in the public hot springs at the base of the volcano. Here you will be capitivated by Mountain views as you relax in this magical spring.
Fun Fact: The natural spring water here is great for the skin and healing as it’s filled with healthy minerals.
For our full guide on Medan and the amazing areas surrounding such as Indonesias Largest Waterfall see: Ultimate Medan Travel Guide
The city of Padang in West Sumatra, is the gateway to the Mentawai Islands. It is rarely visited by international tourists, but many locals flock here for some foodie tourism. If you in Padang you must try Nasi Padang, a popular regional cuisine in Indonesia. Nasi Padang consists of rice with a pleathora of curries & side dishes. Java is interesting island if your looking further something different the sukamade turtle beach is a popular area to visit.
1. The Mentawai Islands
The Mentawai Islands are a hidden gem located in West Sumatra, Indonesia. Relatively few people have heard of them, which makes them Indonesias best kept secret!
There are four islands which make up this idyllic paradise. Each offers palm fringed virgin beaches and epic waves, which has made the Mentawai Islands popular with surfers for many years.
The Mentawai Islands are 150km of the coast of Sumatra & part of their territory. The four main islands are:
- North Pagai
- South Pagai
The most popular is Siberut Island. This is the largest of the Mentawai Islands & home to most of the population. Approximately 60% of Siberut Island is covered with tropical rainforest and its a designated UNESCO biosphere reserve.
The west half of the island is a protected National Park (Siberut National Park). As you might of guessed this island is popular with Rainforest Treks to see the Native indigenous tribes.
To discover more about the Mentawai Islands & rainforest treks check out: Mentawai Islands: Indonesias Secret Jungle
What should you pack for a trip to Sumatra?
When packing for Sumatra, you will need to think of what type of tour you are going on, will you be trekking through the Rainforest on the Mentawai islands, Surfing, Snorkeling, sightseeing in the cities or just relaxing on beaches.
Of course, lightweight quick dry long pants and long sleeve tops are useful.
Here are a few other Travel Essentials:
4. Travel Photography Gear – To capture some epic memories/videos.
5. Travel Accessories – Insect Repellent, Sunscreen, Power Bank, adapters etc.
Insider Tip: Gunung Leuser National Park, is in the Aceh Province which is governed by Muslim Sharia law, so dress conservatively. Check out Asian culture dos and Donts.