Bukkitinggi, Sumatra © Judith Duk
Sumatra is the second largest island in the archipelago and is about the size of California, formed by a longitudinal spine of mountains including 90 volcanoes. The majority of the population live in the foothills, plateaus and highlands of this range as farmers. The entire island was once covered in dense rainforest, but today most has been destroyed by the need for agricultural land, which is the country's prime earner with exports of palm oil, rubber, tobacco, coffee and tea.

Sumatra is a beautiful island with volcanoes and hot springs, lakes and rivers, rolling green foothills, plantations and wild jungle scenery. Many reserves protect the island's wealth of indigenous wildlife, and elephants, tigers, rhinos, orang-utans and tapirs can be seen on organised safaris within protected reserves.

The island is home to numerous people and races, among them the Muslim Minangkabau and the great highland people, the Batak, inhabiting a fertile volcanic plateau, who have a language, dress, religious belief, architectural style and culture of their own. Lake Toba, the spiritual centre of the Batak, is lined with resorts and is a major tourist destination. The busy hill town of Bukittinggi is the hub of the Minang culture, surrounded by spectacular scenery and close to Lake Maninjau, a sparkling volcanic crater lake surrounded by the jungle-covered crater walls.

This is an island of plenty - with its scenery, wildlife, natural resources, cultural diversity and extraordinary architecture Sumatra has much to offer the visitor.


See our separate guides to the following Sumatra holiday resorts: Lake Toba


Gunung Sibayak
Gunung Sibayak © James Gagen


A great place to stop off for travellers en route to the holiday resort of Lake Toba, the town of Berestagi is famed not only for its passion fruit, but also for the two active volcanoes; Gunung Sibayak and Gunung Sinabung. Gunung Sibayak boasts fantastic hot springs where visitors can relax and unwind in the warm waters which are believed to have therapeutic properties. More active travellers can climb this mountain instead, where breathtaking views over the island of Sumatra can be enjoyed from atop.

View over Lake Maninjau
View over Lake Maninjau © James Gagen

Lake Maninjau

Lake Maninjau is set like a burning sapphire stone in the crater of the mountain and is a spectacularly beautiful place to relax and unwind. This caldera lake located in west Sumatra and is thought to have been formed by a volcanic eruption around 52,000 years ago and set at some 1545 feet (471m) above sea level, the average temperature of the water in the lake is around 86°F (30°C). Visitors can enjoy cycling the 37-mile (60km) circumference of the lake, or plodding through the neighbouring rice paddies while others can swim, canoe, hike the surrounding mountains or explore the local villages.

Surfing Sorake, Nias
Surfing Sorake, Nias © jenjoaquin

Nias Island

Famed for its right-hand reef breaks, Nias is a key surfing destination for many travelling through the area, with the best known surf spots being Sorake Bay and Lagundri Bay. But this fascinating island also boasts a rich cultural history with prehistoric remains which are thought to have been built in the megalithic Stone Age. Tourists visiting Nias Island can enjoy the war dances performed by locals, while the beauty of the island can be enjoyed by all who visit its shores. Popular activities other than surfing include scuba diving and snorkelling around the clear waters brimming with fantastic marine life.

Padang © A. www.viajar24h.com


The capital of Sumatra, Padang offers a compact and enjoyable cross-section of Sumatran life and its various cultures. Many surfers stop here on their way to the Batu or Mentawi Islands, but the town itself boasts a few noteworthy attractions such as the Adityawarman Museum which features a collection of antiques, or the cultural centre where locals perform traditional dances on Sundays or even pencak silat (martial arts) performances. Many people come here for the markets, for which Padang is famed, but Padang beach is also popular for its spectacular sunsets and hundreds of colourful food stalls.


Bukit Lawang

The little village of Bukit Lawang is situated on the eastern banks of the pretty Bahorok River facing one of the grandest forest areas in South East Asia, the Mount Leuser National Park. With its restful and pleasant setting, it was once one of the most popular tourist destinations in Northern Sumatra, the town existing primarily to cater to the tourist trade, with guides, restaurants and a variety of delightful guesthouses strung along the river. Since November 2003, however, Bukit Lawang has struggled to recover from the massive flash flood that wiped out most of its infrastructure, taking a huge dip in tourism that once formed the backbone of its economy. The charm is still there though, and its major attraction, the Orang-Utan Rehabilitation Centre across the river welcomes visitors more enthusiastically than ever. The Rehabilitation Centre was set up to help orphaned orang-utans that had been displaced because of land clearing or rescued from captivity, and teaching them the necessary skills to be able to survive in the wild. Visitors have an opportunity to view the apes twice daily when they come swinging through the trees to collect the bananas and milk left on feeding platforms in the forest, providing visitors with one of the more memorable experiences in Indonesia. Jungle trekking and tubing down the river are other popular activities.


Meaning 'high place', Bukittinggi is situated on a hill and set among majestic mountains, green plantations and rice terraces. One of the friendliest and most easy-going towns in Sumatra, it is home to the Minangkabau people and the area is seeped in the Minang culture, which is Muslim and strongly matrilineal. It is the commercial, educational and administrative centre of the highlands. One of the features of the town is the characteristic architecture - wooden houses with curved roofs soaring to a point representative of buffalo horns and decorated with beautiful wooden carvings. The Jam Gadang (Great Clock) is a Maningkabau-style clock tower and the town's landmark, overlooking the bustling market place that is crammed with fruit, vegetables and clothing stalls, and rickety horsecarts whose drivers insist on squeezing them through the colourful chaos.
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