Sumatra has something for everyone to explore - lush rainforests, exotic flora and fauna, cascading rivers, sparkling crater lakes, beautiful white sand beaches, impressive volcanoes, limestone caves and an incredible diverse array of traditional ethnic groups who inhabit some of the most spectacular volcanic landscapes in the world.
Don't come looking for a holiday, that’s Bali. Sumatra is an adventure, the kind of demanding ride that requires a dusty knapsack and tough traveling skin. Climb up the smoking volcano craters that ring the hill town of Berastagi, slog through muddy jungle paths and spot a wild orangutan high up in the canopy at Bukit Lawang, or scuba dive through a sculpted underwater landscape at Pulau Weh. Endure the Sumatran spin cycle and earn your rest amid a picturesque volcanic lake at Danau Maninjau where you can slip into the morning mist and swim through the land before time.
Sumatra is still visibly diverse, with more than 52 tribal languages and the full spectrum of societal organisation. In a few remaining pockets, hunter-gatherer tribes use the jungle for survival. Other tribes have sewn together the expectations of the outside world with their own customs. From the Bataks of Danau Toba to the matrilineal Minangkabau of West Sumatra – each bus ride will deliver you to another tribal heartland.
By plane: Medan, as the largest city on the island, has the most flights including many international services to Singapore and Malaysia. Palembang, Pekanbaru, and Padang and Banda Aceh also have domestic and some international services. Most international flights are by AirAsia.
By boat: There are numerous ferry services connecting Sumatra to Malaysia as well as other Indonesian islands. The main port is Dumai in Riau, which is a visa-on-arrival point and has direct links to Port Klang (3 hours), Port Dickson and Malacca (2 hours) in Malaysia, as well as to the Indonesian island of Batam near Singapore.
People & Culture
Sumatra is still visibly diverse, with more than 52 tribal languages and the full spectrum of societal organisation. In a few remaining pockets, hunter-gatherer tribes collaborate with the jungle for survival. Other tribes have sewn together the expectations of the outside world with their own customs. The Bataks of Danau Toba; the matrilineal Minangkabau of West Sumatra – each bus ride will deliver you to another tribal heartland.
Nature is the primary attraction of Sumatra. There are jungles, volcanoes and lakes. The rainforest of this island is so important that in 2006 no less than 25,000 square km was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site and named The Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatra. This area comprises three distinct national parks.
Perhaps the most notable specific attraction is the endemic Sumatran Orangutan (smaller and rarer than the only other species of orangutan which is endemic to Borneo). These are restricted to the northern parts of the island and perhaps the easiest place to see them is at Bukit Lawang in the Gunung Leuser National Park.
Rarer still are the tiny populations of critically endangered Sumatran Tiger and Sumatran Rhinoceros. The chances of casual visitors glimpsing one of these are slim, but you never know.
Sumatra's most famous contribution to Indonesian cuisine is nasi padang white steamed rice served with numerous curries and other toppings. This is originally from Padang but has been assimilated throughout Indonesia.
Another popular and delicious option is rendang, a dry beef curry-type dish. It is prepared by slowly cooking the beef in coconut milk and spices for several hours until the liquid is almost gone, allowing the meat to absorb the spicy condiments. It is typically served with steamed white rice.