Sumatra is a gigantic island with many places still unexplored by travelers. This island is located in the Indian Ocean and has lush forests and impressive jungles. Many of its volcanoes are still active and its cities, like most cities in Southeast Asia, are full of people, with a chaos that makes you fall in love.
Sumatra is often less visited by tourists than Java, Bali or Lombok. It's a shame, as Sumatra offers a completely different side with very beautiful and special places.
Sumatra is the sixth largest island in the world, it has a population of 50 million people and its largest city, Medan, has around four million people.
The majority of its population is Muslim but there is also a Christian, Buddhist and Hindu population as in the other Indonesian islands.
It is the closest Indonesian Island to Malaysia, which is why many itineraries combine some cities in Malaysia, Singapore and Sumatra. Although personally, I recommend you do these countries on separate trips. I tell you more about Malaysia on its main page and you can also find information about the best itineraries to tour Indonesia here.
In this post I detail a guide to all those places on the Island of Sumatra that I recommend you visit. At the end of the post I will tell you transfer options and how to move around the country and some accommodation recommendations.
HOW TO GET TO SUMATRA, INDONESIA
By plane to the Bandara Kuala Namu International Airport, in the city of Medan. Although you can arrive by ferry from the island of Java through the south of the island. If you are going to make an itinerary, I recommend you get to Medan and from here go down to the south of the island.
WHAT TO SEE AND DO IN SUMATRA, INDONESIA
What to see in Medan
Medan is the third largest city in Indonesia and is also the capital of the North Sumatra province.
The vast majority of times Sumatra is used as an entry and exit point for travelers who want to move to other parts of the island. It was a mistake not to add time in this city to your itinerary!! Give him at least one day to walk its streets and get to know the most emblematic places. You will not regret.
You'll find some impressive cultural attractions such as Istana Maimun, which is the home of the Sultan, and you can learn the history of the royal family here and even dress up in period garb and have your photos taken in the ornate throne room. Other places not to be missed are the Tjong A Fie mansion and the spectacular main mosque called Mesjid Raya.
What to see in Lake Toba
Lake Toba is undoubtedly the main attraction in Sumatra and is about a 5 hour drive from Medan. And you can make the journey by taxi or private transport, buses from private companies or the public bus.
The lake is reputed to be the largest crater lake of its kind in the world and is said to be the result of a massive volcanic eruption or, as local legend has it, the result of a magical fish wish.
Regardless of the real story, the lake which is located in the crater of a long extinct volcano is one of the main attractions in Indonesia and it is allowed to swim and do some activities like kayaking, boating, paddle surfing...
On the main island of Samosir you can visit a cultural village to learn about traditional crafts like weaving and see some spectacular old Batak houses made of wood.
You can easily explore the Lake Toba region by car or motorbike and if you go up into the mountains you will find hot springs and small towns.
What to see in Bukit Lawang
Bukit Lawang is a small town that is located on the outskirts of the Gunung Leuser National Park.
This protected area of jungle stretches from Sumatra to Aceh province and is home to a wealth of local flora and fauna.
The main reason many people come here is to see the local orangutans that live here and you can travel to their feeding platform twice a day to watch them swing through the trees in search of bananas.
In this natural reserve you can do an infinite number of hiking trails, there are companies that do various tours, from one day (8h days) to routes of 2 and 3 days.
There is also the option of going down the river that crosses the jungle in a canoe or even riding on the back of an elephant. I do not like to recommend activities where animals are used as a means of transportation or fun, so if you want to join you can avoid this activity and do another. But I leave the information for you to decide if it suits what you are looking to see and do in Sumatra.
What to see in Padang
The city of Padang in West Sumatra is rarely visited by international tourists, and you notice it because upon arrival the locals are quickly curious about you. They will treat you great from the first moment.
If you want to travel to the Mentawai Islands for surfing, then you'll need to spend the night in Padang, and it's worth spending a day or two eating (the food is great) and touring the city.
What to see in the Mentawai Islands
The Mentawai Islands are made up of more than 70 small islands off the coast of Padang and if you like surfing, this is a place that should not be left out of your itinerary.
And even if you are not a lover of this sport, on the islands you will find the option of beautiful beaches for sunbathing and enjoying swimming, hiking and touring some of its most virgin areas covered by tropical jungles.
What to see in Gunung Sibayak
Gunung Sibayak is one of several volcanoes that you can find in Sumatra.
It is located near the town of Berastagi. Gunung Sibayak still has gases and smoke coming out of the crater from time to time, although they consider it dormant. Nearby you will find some relaxing hot springs and said to have medicinal properties thanks to the volcanic minerals. That is why some accommodations offer packages with spa treatments, massages related to volcanic stones and baths in hot springs.
The walk to the top of Gunung Sibayak is approximately 7 kilometers long, and you can get there in more or less two hours. I recommend doing the climb with a guide.
What to see in Banda Aceh
Banda Aceh is the capital of Aceh province and is known for the terrible tsunami that hit here in 2004. However, much of the city has been repaired and you can visit places like the Tsunami Museum to learn more about the tragedy.
Other Aceh highlights include its Grand Mosque, which is one of the most beautiful religious monuments in Indonesia, as well as other haunting relics from the tsunami era like a large ship that washed ashore and has now been turned into a museum. permanent.
It is the only city and place on the list of Sumatra that I have not been to, I did not have time to meet him. And I have it pending. I wanted to add it to the list because it is an important point to see in Sumatra and if you have time and feel like including it in your itinerary I can't wait for you to come back and tell me about your experience.
What to see in Palembang
Palembang is the capital of the South Sumatra province and also has a fascinating history as it is one of the oldest inhabited parts of Indonesia.
In ancient times, it would have been the strategic center of the mighty Srivijaya Kingdom and occupies a beautiful spot on the majestic Musi River. This river is actually one of the main reasons to visit Palembang, since on the coast you will find many boats that serve as restaurants and accommodation.
On these boats you will find delicious plates of local delicacies that will also allow you to enjoy the views over the water while you dine.
Although it is not my favorite place in Sumatra, it is an interesting option for a stopover for a day if you are crossing Sumatra from end to end by road.
What to see in Batusangkar
Batusangkar means 'stone cage' in Indonesian.
It is located in Tanah Datar area in West Sumatra. And it stands out for its Fort van der Capellen, which was a Dutch outpost during the colonial period.
Batusangkar is also famous for its traditional festivals like pacu jawi, which is basically a cow race that takes place in the muddy fields of the city.
Riders hold on to a set of reins attached to the cow and then skate across the fields on the surface of the mud, making this an incredible experience not to be missed if you're here at the right time. Generally, the same rider is holding two cows at the same time, skating between them.
The schedule changes from year to year, we were able to see it by chance because we had no idea of this tradition, nor that it would coincide with our travel dates. As I publish I advance you from now that you will end up full of mud.
What to see in Belitung
Belitung is an island off the east coast of Sumatra that lies in the Java Sea and is part of the wider Bangka-Belitung Islands.
One of the main attractions here is the opportunity to explore the coves and islets.
You can't miss Tanjung Tinggi Beach and Tanjung Kelayang Beach.
If you like snorkeling here you will enjoy a lot, in addition to being beautiful beaches they have the advantage of being less known and with less tourism.
What to see in Lampung
Lampung province is almost never visited by foreigners and if you add to the little tourism how impressive this place is, it becomes the best hidden wonders of the region.
In Lampung you will find the Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park, where there are beautiful hiking trails and you will have the opportunity to see a wide variety of native flora and fauna.
Sumatra's rainforests have been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, so the chance to take in the natural scenery is one of the highlights of a trip to this part of Indonesia.
HOW TO MOVE AROUND SUMATRA
Being such a large island, it is not recommended to do it on a motorcycle, like some other destinations in Indonesia. And for free it is a bit difficult, even more if you have little time. For example:
From Medan to Labo Toba (Parapat population) it takes 4 hours by car.
And from Medan to Bandar Mapung (the other end of the island) it takes 35 hours by car.
The best way to get around is by taxi (you rent a taxi for a day) and the driver will give you the tour. There are public bus options, although they usually make more stops, which lengthens the itineraries. And there are also internal flights for long distances.
Although the most comfortable option is to rent a car.
WHERE TO STAY IN SUMATRA
Sumatra is a country on one island, due to its size and the number of people who live here. Although I have traveled a lot and on several trips to Indonesia, it is still quite unknown to me. In the itinerary guide, I advise you on some of the hotels that I have stayed and that are worth it. But if you feel like looking for options for free, you can search from the following link for the best offer that suits your preferences, dates and the town you want to visit.
Indonesia (outside of Bali) accommodation facilities are a bit so-so. So when you are looking for accommodation you will see thousands of options and I advise you to do a quick screening, adding a score greater than 9 first. If in the list with this score you find an accommodation that suits the price and location, go ahead. (There are many options, I'm sure you'll find it).
PLAN YOUR TRIP STEP BY STEP
I hope you enjoy your trip to Indonesia a lot and that this article has been useful to you. You can continue reading many more related articles on the blog.
If you liked this article, subscribe to the blog so you don't miss out on upcoming destinations, curiosities, travel tips and inspiration for your trips.
A hug and see you soon!