Sumatra is an island of beautiful landscapes and thick forests. The remaining jungles are filled with the last of the endangered Sumatran Tiger, herds of Sumatran Elephants, Sumatran Rhino and the orange Orang Utan. It is also culturally diverse. On the far western tip of the island is Aceh which is ruled under strict Shariah law, while the Batak christians of Danau Toba prepare pork dishes and for the matrilineal Minangkabau women rule over the men.
The most popular tourism destinations are in the north of Sumatra. Places like Bukit Lawang where tourists trek through the forests to see the wild orang utan and wash elephants in the rivers. Or the famous Danau Toba, which is the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia, where you can spend days relaxing on the waterside resorts of Samosir island.
Yet the west of Sumatra has its charms that draw tourists from around the world. For example, there are the Mentawai Islands, a beautiful series of tropical islands which have some of the best surfing breaks in the world. Further to the west just off the tip of Aceh is the isolated Pulau Weh with some of the best diving in Indonesia.
For all its charms is not so popular with tourists. Outside of the major cities your choice of accommodation is limited. There are few luxury hotels and many of the more basic hotels are expensive for what you get when compared to the more tourist friendly island of Bali. Still, if you want to be surrounded by nature there are few better places to visit than Sumatra.
Transport and Infrastructure
Travelling around Sumatra is difficult. The island is huge, the roads are busy with heavy trucks and the occasional highwayman. If you’re renting a car without a driver its commended that you travel in convoy through the countryside to avoid any problems. Public transport meanwhile is limited, prepare yourself for endless hours spent in cramped buses with drivers who dangerously overtake on blind corners.
Flying is the most convenient and fastest way to get around Sumatra. All of the major cities on the island have international airports. Medan is the main transport hub for flights on the island. Garuda Indonesia, the national carrier, operates routes between Jakarta to most of the cities. For low cost carriers we recommend Air Asia or Lion Air.
Sumatra: Local and City Guides
To help you arrange your trip around Sumatra we collected a selection of our most useful resources for exploring the island. You can find a variety of city guides, hotel recommendations and itineraries in the links below. We hope you find them useful for arranging your holiday.