Mount Sibayak in the distance, behind the city of Berastagi in North Sumatra

Berastagi, Sumatra – Gateway to the Karo Highlands

This post was last updated on May 25th, 2020 at 09:52 am


Berastagi is a market town in the “cold” Karo highlands. The city itself is not that special, but the surroundings of Berastagi are really beautiful! In the area are two active volcanoes that form the landscape. This makes the soil in the area very fertile, and this is reflected in the many plantations that you’ll see on the ridges.

 

The Gate to the Karo Highlands

Berastagi is mainly known for the two active volcanoes in the area; Sibayak and Sinabung. This is clearly noticeable in the environment. What many people also don’t know is that this town was an old colonial Dutch town.

 

It is only a two-hour drive from Medan, making it a popular getaway for locals. They like to come here to enjoy the cooler climate. It is the base to discover the Karo highlands.

 

Akisoto’s Experience in Berastagi

We had to get used to the temperature here. It is a lot cooler than in the rest of the country. However, you quickly forget that when you see the surroundings. On a clear day, you can see the peaks of Sibayak and Sinabung.

 

This, combined with its unspoiled character, made Berastagi a super-cool destination for us.

 

Best Things to Do in Berastagi

Berastagi is not the nicest city we have seen in Sumatra. The city center has no real appeal. However, that’s not the reason why you come here. The main reason to visit Berastagi is the environment. And the surrounding area has plenty of fun activities to offer.

 

Below, we give you an overview of the best things to do in and around Berastagi.

 

1. Climb Mount Sibayak

Berastagi is about 1,300 meters high and that is due to the two active volcanoes in the area; Sibayak and Sinabung. These are equal to the two main attractions in the area. Many travelers come to the city to climb one of these volcanoes.

 

Mount Sibayak is the easiest of the two to climb. It takes about three hours to reach its 2,212-meter high peak. The tour starts in dense jungles and ends in a barren volcano landscape.

 

Trekking trail to top of Mount Sibayak volcano
Trekking to the top of Mount Sibayak

 

Crater of Mount Sibayak Volcano
The crater of Mount Sibayak

 

The view from the top of the volcano is really beautiful!

 

TIP – It is possible to climb the volcano without a guide. However, we recommend making the climb with a guide, as many accidents have happened on the volcano. Read more on our complete guide to Mount Sibayak.

 

2. Climb Mount Sinabung

The other volcano of Berastagi is Mount Sinabung. It used to be possible to climb this volcano but that changed in June 2019. On June 10th, 2019, Sinabung volcano erupted. The volcano spewed a cloud of smoke of seven kilometers high.

 

Since then it is no longer allowed to admire the volcano up close.

 

You are not allowed to get within 5 kilometers of Sinabung. Smaller eruptions can often be seen on the volcano but from a distance. You can also see this volcano from Berastagi city.

 

TIP – If you don’t have time to take in both volcanoes, we recommend going to Mount Sibayak.

 

Mount Sinabung volcano with smoke rising into the sky
Mount Sinabung volcano likes to show its power more often

 

3. Explore the Center of Berastagi

As we said earlier, the center of Berastagi is not really that interesting. If you still have a few hours left to spend in the city, it is nice to explore the center.

 

Many eateries with Indonesian delicacies can be found on the main street. For example, try roasted buffalo skin at one of the local restaurants. Believe us, it tastes much better than it sounds!

 

If you are looking for food in Berastagi it is best to go to the Pasar Buah market.

 

In the volcanic environment of Berastagi, a lot of fruit and vegetables are grown, because the soil is very fertile. You will also find a large fruit and vegetable market where locals sell their products.

 

TIP – The market is located next to a large roundabout in the center.

 

Houses and roads in Berastagi city
Berastagi City

 

4. Visit Sipiso Piso Waterfall

The Sipiso Piso waterfall is an hour and a half’s drive from Berastagi. Berastagi is often used as a base to visit this waterfall. The 120-meter high waterfall is the highest waterfall in Indonesia.

 

There are several tour operators in Berastagi who offer the tour for a full or half-day. You can also arrange transport yourself because you do not need a guide to get to the waterfall.

 

Sipiso Piso waterfall in the jungle of northern Sumatra

 

5. Relax in Local Hot Springs

Berastagi is also known for its hot springs. Sibayak and Sinabung volcanoes are both active. This means that underground water sources are heated and you can relax above ground in warm natural hot springs.

 

The hot springs are found at the foot of the Sibayak volcano. There are several hot springs with varying temperatures. It’s a great way to relieve your stress from walking too much.

 

TIP – When you book a Sibayak day tour you will also pass the hot springs!

 

6. Visit a Buddhist temple

Just outside Berastagi is a large Buddhist temple called Taman Alam Lumbini. The temple is a replica of the famous Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, Myanmar.

 

It is an impressive building if you stand in front of it. It is possible to enter the temple as a tourist. You must, of course, take off your shoes, wear appropriate clothing and take off your cap or hat.

 

Taman Alam Lumbini Buddhist Temple
Taman Alam Lumbini Buddhist Temple

 

7. Enjoy the View of Gundaling Hill

From Gundaling Hill you have a magnificent view over the two volcanoes at Berastagi. The viewpoint is located at 1,575 meters above sea level and about three kilometers from Berastagi. Because Berastagi itself lies at 1,300 meters, the climb to the viewpoint only takes 45 minutes.

 

TIP – At the top, you will find a park where you can enjoy the view of the city and the two volcanoes.

 

8. Visit the Air Terjun Sikulikap Waterfall

There is another waterfall near Berastagi; Air Terjun Sikulikap. This 30-meter high waterfall is located in a small nature park just outside Berastagi.

 

In the nature park, it is possible to go on a small 15-minute hike.

 

We were lucky to see a family of Siamang Gibbons swinging through the trees!

 

View of the blue Lake Toba from Berastagi
Beautiful view with Lake Toba at the bottom

 

9. Air Terjun Dua Warna

f you like waterfalls you can go for a hike in Berastagi, from Sibolangit to the Dua Warna waterfall. It is a 2 color lake with a beautiful waterfall. Some of the locals consider it a miracle from nature.

 

Dua Warna Waterfall in Sibolangit
The beautiful Dua Warna Waterfall in Sibolangit

 

10. More Fun Activities

  • Go for a walk through a green rural area of plantations, hills, waterfalls, and villages.
  • Ride a bendi (horse and cart) through the city and its green surroundings.
  • Walk around Lau Kawar, a mysterious mountain lake. A walk to and around the lake is a pleasant pastime and along the way, you can enjoy the green surroundings and see how the people work the land.
  • Visit Kuta Rakyat, a small village on the slope of the Sinabung volcano. The area is really beautiful and authentic and there is no tourist in sight. It is nice here to walk through the fields and plantations and at the same time pick and eat a few mandarins. Here you will experience the daily life of the farmers of the Batak Karo community.

 

Food and Drinks

As soon as the sun goes down, the street food stalls open and you can enjoy amazing Indonesian dishes. From delicious satay to nasi goreng. Your evening can’t go wrong! Rumah Makan Family has delicious ayam bakar, chicken from the barbecue. There are many street vendors with carts selling freshly cooked corn on the cob. These are really delicious and also very cheap. Here are some of the best restaurants in Berastagi:

 

  • Deep Art Cafe: This is a very beautiful and artistic cafe with great coffee, tea, and amazing food !! The staff is very friendly and we all got tips about Indonesia and the surrounding area. You can get authentic Indonesian dishes here. Vegetarian options are available.

 

  • Biji Hitam: The best coffee and tea shop in town! You can try a variety of coffee and tea here.

 

  • Restoran Asia: Probably the best restaurant in Berastagi. We ordered the ‘steamboat’ for two people and it was delicious! An amazing dish is prepared on the table with fish, prawns, vegetables, etc. We definitely recommend it! You’ll find many Chinese and locals here with few tourists.

 

Plate of nasi goreng with shrimp and egg

 

  • Berastagi Mountain View Pizzeria: It’s a bit tricky to find (Google Maps) but the staff is very friendly and it’s quite a new restaurant. You can only sit outside so bring a sweater and use some mosquito spray. The pizza’s are great. They’re baked in a real pizza oven.

 

  • Jabu Berastagi: A great dining experience with a view of Berastagi city. The menu mainly offers Indonesian cuisine. For those who are into it, there are some quite spicy dishes. The desserts and coffee are also great. It can get a bit busy but it still feels cozy.

 

  • Panorama Resto: This restaurant is located right next to the fruit market. The host is an elderly gentleman who studied in Germany, close to the Dutch border and speaks fluent German and a little Dutch. A very friendly man who treats his guests very courteously. The menu has plenty of options and the food is prepared quickly and expertly. Many locals come here which also indicates that the food is good.

 

Karo Villages Around Berastagi

There are several Karo villages around Berastagi. Karo are one of the many subcultures that Indonesia has. The Karo tribe lived isolated for years in the highlands around Berastagi and they have their own traditions.

 

From Berastagi we took a minivan to Kabanjahe and Lingga. The minivans leave from a back street in Berastagi. When we got on the bus, we immediately imagined ourselves in another world. Opposite us is a woman chewing betel nut, a “drug” with a narcotic effect that makes your mouth and teeth turn completely red. Many women wear traditional clothes.

 

The Karo Village of Lingga

A ceremony is taking place in Lingga. A man and a woman from the village are getting married soon and the date must be determined with the help of a Karo calendar (a kind of windmill). The village is considering the how and what of marriage. Large buckets of rice are brought in and other inhabitants provide vegetables.

 

We are invited to look around the village. We don’t want to pass up on an invitation like that! Tobacco and coffee are grown on the outskirts of the village. The village overlooks Mount Sibayak.

 

Traditional wooden Karo House in the village of Dokan
Authentic wooden Karo house in the village of Dokan

 

The Karo Village of Dokan

In the afternoon we visit a second Karo village: the village of Dokan. This village houses a number of special cultural attractions of Sumatra. We are kindly received by the Kepala Desa, the oldest man in the village. He invites us to his house, an authentic Karo house. Eight families live in the house, a total of 30 men. Life takes place in a large living room with a kitchen in the corner. The living room is also the bedroom for most family members, although there are also some side rooms which are barely larger than a bed.

 

The house is quite dark and surprisingly cool. Wood is stored under the high roof. The house is more than a century old – which is quite amazing for a wooden house that is assembled without the use of nails!

 

In the old village of Dokan, you can find more traditional Karo houses, interspersed with new stone houses.

 

How to Get to Berastagi

Berastagi is used as a transit by many travelers. Many people make a stopover in Berastagi from Bukit Lawang and head towards Lake Toba or vice versa. The advantage of this is that the city is easily accessible.

 

We give you an overview of the different ways to reach Berastagi.

 

From Medan to Berastagi

Several buses run between Medan and Berastagi.

 

  • Several buses run to Medan’s Padang Bulan between 6:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. The drive takes about three hours to Medan.
  • An Almasar bus leaves every two hours and goes to the airport.
  • The prices to get to Medan are between US$1 and US$3.60.

 

From Lake Toba to Berastagi

Unfortunately, there are no direct buses from/to Lake Toba. You will have to make a transfer in Kabanjahe.

 

Take a bus to Kabanjahe (20 minutes for about US$0.35). From here you take the bus to Pematangsiantar (2.5 hours for about US$1.40) and then change to the last bus to Parapat (1.5 hours for about US$1.00).

 

This is inexpensive, but quite a cumbersome way to get to Lake Toba. It is also possible to arrange a minivan that will take you directly to Lake Toba. The costs depend on your negotiation skills.

 

From Bukit Lawang to Berastagi

Many travelers will come from Bukit Lawang or head to this place. Unfortunately, there are no direct buses to Bukit Lawang. There are two options to get to Bukit Lawang from Berastagi.

 

  1. By taking a bus to Medan. In Medan, transfer to the bus to Bukit Lawang (takes 5 hours and costs about US$2)
  2. By renting a minivan. This is a more expensive, but faster option. A minivan from Berastagi will cost you around US$10 and the journey takes about 4 hours.

 

Traveling by bus is cheap, but can take a long time. We recommend that you rent a minivan for a little more money because it saves you so much time.

 

View of distant Mount Sibayak in Berastagi
You’ll have a beautiful view no matter where you look!

 

Accommodations

Berastagi is popular with the locals because of the lower temperature there. The destination is especially popular on weekends. It is recommended to book accommodation on the weekend in advance.

 

The city is not very big and there is no district or part that we can recommend. We stayed in the Sapo Karo Rest House and had a great time there. This property can also arrange tours and transportation!

 

TIP – View all accommodations in Berastagi here.

 

Best Time to Visit Berastagi

The best time to visit Sumatra is from May to September, during the dry season. The temperature in Sumatra is always around 30°C (86°F). Berastagi lies at an altitude of 1,300 meters, which is why it is always slightly cooler there. In the dry season, the temperature in Berastagi is between 15°C and 24°C (59°F to 75°F).

 

The time to visit Berastagi is between April and September.

 

It is quite cold compared to the rest of Sumatra. The rainy season runs from October to March. You can still travel in those months, but everything moves a bit slower.

 

Berastagi Weather by Month

JanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec
27°C28°C28°C28°C28°C28°C28°C29°C28°C29°C27°C27°C
161
mm
176
mm
198
mm
229
mm
178
mm
115
mm
98
mm
125
mm
154
mm
164
mm
235
mm
170
mm

 

TIP – Read more about the Best Time to Visit Sumatra.

 

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