Sumatra is a resplendent island paradise west of Java in Indonesia, accessible via plane or a series of ferries that will land you in the provincial capital of Medan.
You can head to any number of breath-taking destinations that aren’t as tourist-clogged as Bali or Lombok, so it’s the perfect spot for an unplugged kind of holiday where you can truly feel that you’ve gotten away from it all.
To experience the immense beauty of the region, you can visit the following top destinations:
The north Sumatran capital is the entry point to all of the delights the province has to offer, and most people tend to move right past this city on their way to more exotic pleasures. However, there’s a lot to see and do in Medan. You can spend a day here marvelling at the Istana Maimun, the palace of the Sultan, where you can learn about the royal family’s history and even dress up in period costume to take photos in the lavish throne room. Tjong A Fie mansion is another excellent spot to visit if you happen to be into history and culture; it was built in 1895 by a Hakka merchant who happens to be related to Cheong Fatt Tze, whose mansion is likewise a tourist attraction over in Penang.
In addition to lavish and historical architecture, Medan is also home to what many consider as the best food in all of Indonesia, so don’t miss out on regional specialties such as soto medan, a sweet and creamy chicken soup made with coconut milk, and curry from legendary curry stall Curry Bihun Tabona, where they serve the eponymous dish atop a bed of vermicelli noodles for a truly filling meal.
Toba Lake is what most people come to Sumatra for; it is Indonesia’s biggest lake and the largest volcanic lake in the world, bordered by incredible scenery on all sides. There are a number of vantage points around the lake that offer picturesque views of its placid waters. After taking your pictures against the stunning natural backdrops, head down to the island in the middle of the lake called Samosir where you can take part in the local culture, go hiking, biking, or paragliding, or visit the ancient tomb of King Sidabutar, said to be the first person to come to the island.
Known as the Yosemite of Indonesia, this photogenic destination in the Lima Puluh Kota district is a peaceful nature conservation that is home to several species of indigenous flora and fauna. Its disconnected quality makes it an excellent retreat for naturalists and people who enjoy the outdoors. Stay at Roemah Abdoe Lembah Harau, a cosy sharehouse that is walking distance from the Harau Valley Waterfall. Take in your serene surroundings with a trek or a bike ride through the woods, or up the adventure quota by climbing up the steep rock walls that border the valley from any of 300 starting areas.
This group of islands off the coast of West Sumatra is a well-known surfing destination, with world-class waves between 2 to 15 feet tall. Best experienced between the months of March and October, there are a number of surf spots that are sure to delight and challenge surfers of all levels of experience and skill. Aside from the excellent waves and beautiful unspoiled scenery, Mentawai is one of the few places in the region that have yet to be overly developed or commercialized—there’s no shortage of activities to try out: you can go snorkelling, kayaking, or fishing, or just lounge on the beach and soak up some sun.
Beloved to Singaporeans as an island getaway just an hour away by ferry, this is where to go if you wish to experience Sumatra in style. Luxury resorts abound, offering high-class accommodations with stunning views of the South China Sea as well as plush amenities such as in-house spas and fine dining restaurants. Thrilling attractions such as riding a Jetovator or an open-cockpit seaplane are among some of the major draws here. You’ll likely encounter more people and most of them will be tourists, but the convenience of having modern comforts in a tropical island setting can’t be beat. Go for a round of golf, drift over the dunes on an ATV, or go wakeboarding in the largest man-made seawater lagoon in Southeast Asia—in Bintan, there’s an adventure around every corner.
Whether you’re going on a holiday to be one with nature, to immerse yourself in culture and history, to satisfy your need for thrills and adventure, or simply to relax in unhurried convenience and luxury—there’s something for everyone in Sumatra.
Every trip here can be quite different from the last one, so plan your visit accordingly to avoid getting overwhelmed by the number of awe-inspiring activities and destinations you have access to while in the region.