Planning to visit Sumatra? This green island crossing the equator is famous for incredible wildlife, which will surely amaze you. I created the video from my month-long trip, recommending the highlights and my favorite spots. The article below is a summary of what to see in Sumatra and supplement at the same time. Hope you’ll enjoy it!
What to see in Sumatra:
Most of the people land in Medan, as it’s a good base to go to the most famous attractions and very convenient flight connection from Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, or Indonesian islands. City itself has not too much to offer, in my opinion. For me it was nothing but traffic, noise and mess. There are palace and museums, though. From the main point of view, coming to Sumatra, people expect to see outstanding nature. On the other hand, if you are interested in archeology or cultural heritage you won’t get disappointed either. Batak culture tradition or stones Menhir in Maek, which are as mysterious jars in Laos, yet to be explored! Still a lot of history and facts about human evolution to discover.
There are 2 main spots most of the people head to, while in Sumatra: Bukit Lawang and Toba Lake. The first destination is around 3 hours by bus from Medan, on the entrance to national park of Gunung Leuser. Bukit Lawang is famous for jungle experience and orangutans watching. It was absolutely worth it! I did the 2 days trekking in the jungle and I could see several orangutans and many other animals. Wildlife of the jungle is amazing! Please find out more in the article and video I created.
My favorite place in Sumatra was Toba lake, because of it’s breath-taking views and warm-hearted Batak people. Batak is an ethnic group in that region, you can still see plenty of traditional houses made out of wood or participate the dance show. Most of the people go to Samosir Island, which is definitely worth it. However, if you have time don’t forget there are many other spots around the lake Toba, which are totally awsome.
I would add one more place to “my best of Sumatra” list: Sabang Island. It’s a unique paradise island close to Banda Aceh. Why unique? It’s not often to see island with cristal clear water, amazing beaches and all those under Sharia law! When I got there, I just wanted to put on my bikini and drink a beer under the palm tree, but that was not possible. Strict Muslim rules didn’t even allow to swim on Thursday afternoon/Friday morning to respect the holy day for Islam.
However, I don’t want to discourage you, there are still little “tourist zones”, which are more liberal. The island is perfect for snorkeling and very popular spot for diving in Indonesia together with Komodo, Raja Ampat or Sulawesi and many other islands. Just loved to go around by motorbike and see the views, volcano, waterfall or jump into the hot spring. Sunset are just stunning, while on western side of the island. Highly recommended!
Other parts of the island
If you don’t have much time to travel, in my opinion, you shouldn’t go any farther. However, if you are wandering what to see in Sumatra next, there are still some interesting spots like Harrau Valley and Bukkitingi region. It’s a beautiful area full of mountains, waterfalls and exotic views over the rice fields and coconut trees. This province inhabits Minankabou ethnic group, which unlike other Muslim states, surprisingly privilege women! The Minangs are the world’s largest matrilineal society; wamen and female lineage inherit properties such as land and houses and women are leaders of the family. The husband supposes to looks after females of the family more than male. After divorce man stays with nothing, there are even special shelters for men, who have nowhere to go.
Very popular for visiting are also Mantawai islands. White sandy beaches, surfing courses and unique tribes are the main points of interest. However trip there is much more pricy than other parts of Sumatra.
Moreover, if you happen to have to use Indonesian airlines for domestic flights, you may have quite an experience. I spent the whole day on the airport in Penang, which is well prepared for all the flights being late each day – they give free meals for those who wait already for few hours. The board on the airport was marking flight as “departured”, while it was late for time unknown for anyone from the staff I asked. Which also means, that when any plane was departing I had to run to each gate and ask where this plane is going, since non of the boards was displaying the destination. Karma for being not eco-friendly traveler and wanting just to be comfortable instead of taking a long-distance bus. It was a tough day, thanks to Lion Air, but from perspective a hilarious experience to see what theater was happening on that airport.
Not many people go more south in Sumatra than Padang. Well, this information shouldn’t discourage you from exploring. Even though there are not too many popular spots, it doesn’t mean it’s not worth to go, you may still have great adventures on the way. What’s more, don’t miss trying local coffee or luwak coffee made out of shit and visit some of the coffee plantations.
Hope you found my tips on what to see in Sumatra useful for your next trip. Don’t hesitate to tell me how was yours, and what are your favorite spots, in the comments.