Parapat village next to a lake in Sumatra

Sumatra, Indonesia – Tips on this Beautiful Island

This post was last updated on June 4th, 2020 at 08:03 pm

Sumatra is one of the most beautiful islands in Indonesia and, in our opinion, also one of the most relaxed. In addition to the beautiful nature, Sumatra also has a very friendly population. It is the ideal destination for anyone looking for a combination of Indonesian culture and nature.


Sumatra: a Unique World

Travelers often visit well-known islands in Indonesia. Think of Java, Bali, Lombok, and the Gili islands. That is a shame because Sumatra is not only gorgeous, it is also easy to reach, and it is a lot quieter than other islands.


This island is known as one of the most diverse and most impressive islands in Indonesia. With volcanoes, beautiful jungles, impressive waterfalls, green rice fields, beautiful valleys, and tropical beaches, that is not surprising.


TIP – The dry season, which runs from May to September, is the best time to visit Sumatra.


Full of Highlights

There is a lot to do in Sumatra. You can visit Lake Toba, cross beautiful valleys, find Oran Utans in Bukit Lawang, visit Gunung Leuser National Park, or enjoy the snow-white sandy beaches on one of the beautiful islands.


13 Beautiful Sights of Sumatra

Sumatra is one of the most beautiful islands in Indonesia. Lakes, valleys, volcanoes, and tropical beaches alternate at dizzying speed. One view is even more beautiful than the other. Unfortunately, it is almost impossible to name all the sights on this island. The most beautiful sights in Sumatra can be found below.


1. Jungle Trek in Gunung Leuser National Park

Orangutan Relaxing on a Tree in a Tropical Jungle in Sumatra


Gunung Leuser National Park is one of the most famous national parks in Indonesia, best known for the orangutans that live here. If you walk through the jungle for a day, you are very likely to encounter some of these inhabitants.


Besides these world-famous orangutans, you will also find peacocks, lizards, tapirs, elephants, and rhinoceroses.


Most travelers leave directly to the village of Bukit Lawang which is more touristy. Gunung Leuser National Park, however, is a place without mass tourism or flattened forest trails and with real wildlife. Here the jungle is exactly like you expect it to be in Indonesia.


TIP – Want to know more about the park? Check out our Gunung Leuser National Park page.


2. Visit Lake Toba

Clear water with a forest at Lake Toba, Sumatra


Lake Toba is located in the north of Sumatra and is the largest lake in the country. The lake was created several tens of thousands of years ago in a crater created by the eruption of a volcano.


There is a large peninsula in the middle of Lake Toba. This island is very popular with tourists because of the great walks you can take here.


There are some small villages on the peninsula where you can spend the night cheaply. Many travelers go to Lake Toba for relaxation and nature. But you can also go to Lake Toba to cool off.


TIP – You can read more about this lake on our Lake Toba page.


3. Explore Bukit Lawang

Orangutan cub swinging from the trees in the Gunung Leuser National Park, Sumatra


Bukit Lawang is one of the major attractions in Sumatra. It is a small village on the edge of Gunung Leuser National Park. This protected area of ​​dense jungle stretches all the way from Sumatra to Aceh province and is home to many orangutans.


Bukit Lawang is the primary place for travelers to visit Gunung Leuser and see the orangutans that live here.


Many travelers go trekking through the jungle here. This can be done in a day, but also in several days. If you go trekking for several days, you will spend the night in the middle of the rainforest!


If you don’t feel like going back to Bukit Lawang, you can choose to go tubing on the river that runs through the jungle.


TIP – Read our tips about Bukit Lawang here.


Jungle Trek in Bukit Lawang

For people who love natural beauty and wildlife spotting, Bukit Lawang is a true paradise on earth. The region is known for its great biodiversity. So you will find wild rhinoceroses, tapirs, elephants, tigers, and leopards here. But the park is mainly known for its great apes; the orangutans.


We are happy to share our tips on one of the best things to do here; jungle trek in Bukit Lawang.


4. Discover the City of Medan

Medan is the largest city in Sumatra. It is a very vibrant city with many interesting sights. There are also still many influences from Dutch colonial rule. Especially the appearance of certain historical buildings is typically Dutch.


Mesjid Raya

Great Mosque in Medan City (the Masjid Raya)


The Mesjid Raya is one of the city’s major attractions. This mosque is the largest mosque on the island. What is special about this mosque is that it was designed by a Dutch architect. The construction of the mosque was completed in 1881.


It is a very special experience to visit this mosque when you are in Sumatra. Keep in mind that you are not allowed to enter the complex with your shoes on. In addition, both women and men must wear appropriate clothing.


Maimun Palace

Another fun attraction to visit in Medan is the Maimun Palace. This palace was built at the end of the 19th century. It is especially popular among travelers because the interior is very impressive.


Other interesting cities in Sumatra that are worth a visit are: Banda Aceh, Palembang and Pekanbaru.


TIP – More information about Medan can be found here.


5. Visit Berastagi

View of a mountain and lake Toba from Berastagi, Medan


While in Medan, head to Berastagi, just a few hours’ drive from Medan. This city lies at a much higher altitude, which means it looks very different. Many of the fruits and vegetables sold in Medan are grown in Berastagi. Visiting its fruit farms is a fun activity to do.


In addition, the town is located in beautiful surroundings. The town is also home to the Karo people. Chat with them and learn about the local culture and the amazing Karo architecture.


6. Explore Padang, the Largest City in West Sumatra

Nasi Padang, Indonesian Food with rice, a crunch, vegetables and sauce


The city of Padang in West Sumatra is rarely visited by tourists, while it is a well-known place for locals. The main reason why many Indonesians come here is for the food because Padang is the birthplace of Nasi Padang, perhaps the most famous dish of Indonesia’s regional cuisine.


Nasi Padang consists of rice served with various curries and side dishes and for food lovers, there is no better place to taste it than the place where it was first made.


TIP – If you want to go to the Mentawai Islands, you have to stay the night in Padang. It is worth sticking around for a day.


7. Watch the Sunset on Mount Sibayak

Gunung Sibayak volcano through the trees with a blue sky


Mount Sibayak is one of the many volcanoes in Sumatra. Mount Sibayak is a dormant volcano and one of the easiest volcanoes in Indonesia to climb. Climbing this volcano is definitely recommended because of the beautiful sunrise that you can watch.


Mount Sibayak is close to the city of Berastagi and smoke is still coming out of the crater. There are also some wonderful hot springs near the volcano that are said to have medicinal properties thanks to the volcanic minerals in the water.


To the Top

The hike to the top of Mount Sibayak is about 7 kilometers, so depending on your physical condition it should take about three hours to get to the top. A guide is recommended, especially if you are not an experienced trekker. You could also do it alone.


TIP – Read more about Mount Sibayak here.


8. Discover Banda Aceh

Baiturrahman Grand Mosque in Banda Aceh


Banda Aceh is the capital of Aceh province. The name of the city may seem familiar to you. That’s because the city was hit by a tsunami that wreaked havoc here in 2004.


Fortunately, much of the city has now been restored, and visiting places like the Tsunami Museum will help you learn about this shocking event.


Other Aceh highlights include the Grand Mosque, one of the most beautiful religious buildings in Indonesia. You will also find a large ship that was washed up here by the tsunami and has now become a museum. In addition, the region is also famous for its coffee.


TIP – One of the best places to taste a cup of coffee is coffee shop Warung Kopi Solong.


9. Visit the Sipiso Piso Waterfall

Sipisopiso waterfall with rice fields in Sumatra


If you are looking for an impressive piece of nature, the Sipiso Piso waterfall is the place for you! At 120 meters high, it is one of the largest waterfalls in Indonesia. The waterfall can be admired from a magnificent viewpoint.


Sipiso Piso is located north of Lake Toba, a well-known landmark in Sumatra.


Because of this, many travelers make a stop at the waterfall. You can visit the waterfall quite easily. A walk of about 30 minutes brings you down to the waterfall where all the water comes together with great force.


A nice place to visit is the viewpoint where you have a breathtaking view of the waterfall and the surroundings.


TIP – Want to know more about the waterfall? Check out our Sipiso Piso page.


10. Go to Palembang, The Capital of South Sumatra

Palembang is the capital of South Sumatra and has a fascinating history as it is one of the oldest inhabited parts of Indonesia. This city used to be the strategic center of the powerful Srivijaya kingdom.


It is beautifully situated on the impressive Musi River. The river is actually one of the main reasons for visiting Palembang as the waterfront is dotted with small boats that also serve as a restaurant. It is very pleasant here in the evening.


11. Walk Through Beautiful Nature at Bukittinggi

Bukittinggi is located in the west of Sumatra and the main reason to go there is the stunning surrounding landscape of the city. There are few regions where you can find such beautiful nature as in Bukittinggi.


The rice fields you can find here are at least as impressive as those around Ubud or in Sapa.


Maybe even more beautiful. In addition to the beautiful views of the area, this is also the region of the Minangkabau people who keep the beautiful Minang architecture alive as many of the houses are built to mimic the horns of a buffalo. Kind of like Tana Toraja.


Lake Maninjau

Rice field terraces with Lake Maninjau in the distance (Danau Maninjau)


One of the most famous sights in the area is Lake Maninjau, characterized by its deep emerald green water and the surrounding countryside. This lake is a must-see when you are in Sumatra. Few places are as beautiful as this.


TIP – You can also spend the night in Bukittinggi. We’ve written an extensive article on one of the best guesthouses in Bukittingi, Sam’s Bungalows. Check out for more great accommodations.


12. Go to Mount Kerinci

Lake Kerinci with Mount Kerinci in the distance


Mount Kerinci is one of the most important national parks in the world. The Kerinci-Seblat National Park is home to various animal species that are threatened with extinction. New animal species are regularly discovered in this national park. The park was established to preserve the tropical rainforest of the region.


In addition, with almost 14,000 square kilometers, it is the largest national park in all of Indonesia. The rainforest is also on the UNESCO World Heritage List. You can take a great walk through the area led by a local guide. A multi-day trip is also possible.


TIP – Want to know more about this park? Check out our Mount Kerinci & National Park page.


13. Walk Through the Harau Valley

Steep Cliffs and green rice fields in the Harau Valley


In the middle of Sumatra lies the impressive Harau valley. This valley is known for the very high, steep rock walls of more than 100 meters high. In the valley, 55 kilometers from Bukittinggi, you will find rice fields with buffaloes and volcanoes. There are some relaxing activities to do in Harau valley.


You can swim underneath a waterfall or take a nice walk. There is also plenty to do for the more active travelers. You can enjoy kayaking, rock climbing, and mountain biking.


Lemba Harau and other waterfalls in the valley are very popular, especially during the rainy season. Rock climbing is also a major attraction in the Harau Valley. A guided climb will cost you about US$25 p.p.


How to Get There

The easiest way to reach Harau is from Bukittinggi by renting a scooter (65,000 to 80,000 IDR) or taking an ojek (200,000 IDR, which takes about two hours).


17-Day Backpacking Trip Through Sumatra

We traveled through Sumatra for 17 days and saw the most beautiful things. Sumatra is not that well known yet, which is why we like to share our backpacking route through Sumatra. Full of useful tips and nice accommodations.


The 5 Most Beautiful Islands of Sumatra

Sumatra is not only known for its beautiful interior region, although that is one of the reasons why many people come here. Sumatra is also home to some beautiful islands that you can visit. And the biggest advantage of these islands is that it is much quieter here than islands such as Bali, the Gili Islands or Lombok. These are the 5 most beautiful islands.


1. Pulau Weh

Paradise Beach with azure blue waters on Pulau Weh


Pulau Weh is located in the Indian Ocean and is known for its beautiful diving and snorkeling spots. This island is located in the northernmost tip of Sumatra. If you’re traveling through Aceh province to Banda Aceh, it makes sense to go to Pulau Weh or Weh Island as well. It is located just off the coast.


Pulau Weh is a well-kept secret in Sumatra and offers miles of beautiful sandy beaches and the clearest water in the region. That immediately explains why you can dive so well here. Watching a sunset or surfing is also possible. You will find a good range of accommodations here.


TIP – More information can be found on our Pulau Weh page.


2. Nias Island

If you feel like the surfing scene in Bali is too crowded or touristy and you can’t or don’t want to go to Sumbawa (the surf paradise in Indonesia), but you want to surf, then look no further than the island of Nias. Actually, this is the less crowded version of Bali. Its good surfing and diving opportunities make it a fun island to explore.


The area is also famous for its tradition of “stone jumping” in which the locals have to jump over a high stone. Nice to experience if you are in the area. You can rent surf and diving equipment at your accommodation.


3. Mentawai Islands

Surfer on a green wave in Mentawai Islands


The Mentawai Islands consist of more than 70 islands off the coast of Padang in West Sumatra. Like Nias, you can surf very well here. These islands, like Sumbawa, have some of the best surfing conditions in Indonesia. Many experienced surfers often travel to Bali first before heading to the Mentawai islands for the rest of the surf season.


TIP – You can go trekking here because many of the islands are covered with pristine rainforests.


4. Lampung Islands

Gold sandy beach with a forest in the distance on Kiluan Island


The Lampung Islands are rarely visited by foreigners who travel to Sumatra. This makes it one of the best-hidden gems in the region. From Pasir Putih beach, which means White Sands Beach, on the mainland you can go to Kiluan. You might encounter dolphins in the water along the way.


Lampung is also home to the Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park, which is great for hiking. The rainforests of Sumatra have been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, so the chance to enjoy the natural scenery is one of the highlights of a trip to this part of Indonesia.


5. Belitung

Rock formation on the beach of Belitung Island


Belitung is an island off the east coast of Sumatra and is part of the Bangka-Belitung islands. One of the main attractions here is exploring the beautiful bays and islets. Some of the main beaches that you shouldn’t miss are Tanjung Tinggi Beach and Tanjung Kelayang Beach.


The sea here is particularly blue and very clear. What is even more striking are the many rock formations that protrude from the water and lie on the beach. Some of the main activities here are snorkeling and swimming and you can take a nice boat trip.


TIP – You can find the islands here (opens in Google Maps).


Best Time to Visit Sumatra

The best time to visit Sumatra is from May to September (during the dry season). The temperature is always around 30°C (86°F). Because it is a hilly island, it is always cooler inland. The rainy season runs from October to March. You can still travel here during the rainy season, but everything moves a bit slower.


June and July are the best months to visit Sumatra.


Please note – For the majority of the island, May to September are the best months, and October to March are the wettest months. However, this pattern is reversed in North Sumatra!


Sumatra Weather by Month

Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
27°C 28°C 28°C 28°C 28°C 28°C 28°C 29°C 28°C 29°C 27°C 27°C


How to Get to Sumatra

Sumatra is one of the larger islands of Indonesia. It is quite easy to reach from Java, but also from Bali. You can also travel to Sumatra quite easily from Malaysia or Singapore. The two ways to get there are by boat or plane.


By Boat from Java

Sumatra has several ports where you can arrive by boat. The most popular ferry route is between Java (Merak) and Sumatra (Bakauheni). Merak is a town on the west coast, 140 kilometers from Jakarta. There is nothing to do there except for taking the ferry to Sumatra.


Ferries from Merak to Bakauheni run every day, every 30 minutes, 24 hours a day. If you come without a vehicle, the journey will cost you IDR 15,000 (US$1) and the journey will only take 2 hours. There is also a fast boat, which costs 41,000 IDR (US$2.75) and takes 45 minutes.


TIP – The bus between Jakarta and Merak costs 100,000 to 130,000 IDR and takes 3 hours.


By Plane

The most famous and most important airport of Sumatra is the one in Medan (Kualanamu International Airport). There are daily flights to and from Jakarta, Bali, Singapore, and Kuala Lumpur. A single ticket to Medan will cost you around US$42 p.p.


TIP – Check out Skyscanner for more flights.


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