15 Best Attractions in Sumatra (Indonesia)

Sumatra is located in western Indonesia and is part of the Sunda Islands. Sumatra is made up of a number of different provinces and is generally less visited by tourists compared to some of Indonesia’s popular attractions such as Bali or Lombok. It’s a shame because Sumatra offers a completely different side of this vast and stunning country and is covered in gorgeous pristine rainforests that Sumatran tigers, elephants and orangutans call home.

One of the biggest draws of Sumatra is the variety of experiences it offers tourists, you can spend time in big cities like Medan or Banda Aceh, relax on soft sandy beaches or in some of Indonesia’s most famous national parks Hiking inside. When it comes to unique culture, Sumatra does not disappoint, you can head to Lake Toba to learn about the Batak way of life, or visit Padang, the hometown of the matriarchal Minangkabau people.

No matter where you choose to travel in Sumatra, you’ll find a hospitable place away from the usual tourist routes, allowing you to immerse yourself in traditional Indonesian life and culture.

Here are 15 of the best places to visit in Sumatra…

1. Medan

Sultan Palace Maimon in Medan

Medan is the third largest city in Indonesia and the capital of North Sumatra province.

Unfortunately Medan is often used strictly as an entrance and exit for tourists who want to travel to other attractions in Sumatra, but to miss a visit to Medan is to miss a trick.

Known by domestic tourists as the culinary capital of Indonesia, this sprawling city can happily spend the day savoring local delicacies such as Soto Medan and delicious Nasi Padang.

You’ll also find some impressive cultural attractions here, such as the sultan’s hometown of Istana Maimun, where you can learn about the history of the royal family and even dress up in period costumes and take photos in the opulent Throne Room.

Other attractions include the stunning Tjong A Fie Mansion and the main spectacular mosque called Mesjid Raya.

2. Lake Toba

lake toba

Lake Toba is undoubtedly the main attraction in Sumatra, about a 5-hour drive from Medan.

Touted as the largest volcanic lake of its kind in the world, the lake is said to have been the result of a massive volcanic eruption or, as local legend has it, the wish of a magical fish.

Whatever the true story, the lake in the crater of an extinct volcano is one of Indonesia’s top attractions, and you can take a boat out to sea or go for a swim to cool off.

On the main island of Samosir, you can visit a cultural village, learn about traditional crafts such as weaving, and visit some spectacular old Batak chalets.

You can easily explore the Lake Toba region by car or motorcycle, and if you head to the mountains, you’ll find hot springs and beautiful villages scattered across the scenic countryside.

See also  15 Best Places to Visit in Sumba (Indonesia)

3. Bukit Lawang

Bukit Lawang

Another major attraction in Sumatra, Bukit Lawang is a small village on the outskirts of Gunung Leuser National Park.

This jungle reserve stretches from Sumatra to Aceh province and is home to many native flora and fauna.

The main reason many people come here is to see the local orangutans living here, and you can go to their feeding station twice a day to watch them swinging up and down the trees looking for bananas.

Hiking is a common pastime here, and you can choose between day hikes or long treks, which means you can set up camp in the rainforest.

If the downhill trek back to Bukit Lawang is not your thing, you can choose to go down the river that runs through the jungle.

4. Padang

Rumah Gadang or big house in Padang, West Sumatra

The city of Padang in West Sumatra is rarely visited by international tourists, although it is a popular attraction in the domestic tourism community.

The reason many Indonesians flock here is for the food, as this is the birthplace of Nasi Padang, arguably the most famous regional dish in Indonesia.

Nasi Padang consists of rice served with a variety of curries and side dishes, and there is no better place to taste it than where it was originally created.

If you want to continue surfing in the Mentawai Islands then you will need to spend the night in Patong and it is well worth spending a day or two here before moving on.

5. Gunung Sibayak

Gunung Sibayak

Gunung Sibayak is one of several volcanoes in Sumatra, and although it is classified as a dormant volcano, it is one of the easiest to climb if you are in the area.

Gunung Sibayak is located near the town of Brastagi, the crater still spews gas and smoke from time to time, and you will also find some soothing hot springs on the side of the volcano, which are said to have medicinal properties due to the volcanic minerals found within.

The hike to the top of Gunung Sibayak is about 7 kilometers long, so depending on your fitness level, it will take about three hours to reach the top.

Especially if you are not an experienced hiker, a guide is recommended, but not mandatory.

6. Mentawai Islands

Mentawai Islands

The Mentawai Archipelago is made up of more than 70 small islands off the coast of Padang, West Sumatra, and if you love surfing, this is the place to be.

The islands are said to have some of the best surfing conditions in Indonesia, and insiders often travel to Bali before heading to the Mentawai Islands for the rest of the surfing season.

See also  15 things to do in Aceh (Indonesia)

Other activities on the Mentawai Islands include swimming, water sports and hiking, as many of the islands are covered by pristine areas of tropical rainforest.

7. Banda Aceh

Banda Aceh

Banda Aceh is the capital of Aceh province, unfortunately famous for the terrible tsunami that hit it in 2004. Much of the city has now been restored, and you can visit places like the Tsunami Museum to learn more about the tragedy.

Other Aceh highlights include its Grand Mosque, one of the most beautiful religious monuments in Indonesia, and other haunting relics from the tsunami, such as a large ship that washed ashore, now a permanent museum.

Aceh is also nationally known for its coffee, so be sure to stop by its most famous coffee shop, Warung Kopi Solong, to try a cup.

8. Bukit Tinggi

Bukittinggi

Bukittinggi is located in western Sumatra, and the main reason to come here is to enjoy the stunning surrounding scenery.

The main attraction here is Lake Maninjau, with its emerald green waters surrounded by lush countryside.

Apart from the views from the water, this is also the land of the Minangkabau people, and you can see wonderful Minang architecture here as the shapes of many of the houses reflect the horns of the buffalo.

9. Wey Island

Wai Island

If you’re heading to Aceh province, you can also hop over to Wee Island, just off the coast.

Weh Island is one of Sumatra’s secrets, offering you miles of beautiful sandy beaches and some of the clearest waters in the region, so if you like diving or snorkeling, it’s a great option.

You’ll find a good range of guesthouses here, as well as some seaside cafes, ideal for watching the sunset, and easy to rent surf or diving equipment.

10. Palembang

Palembang

Palembang, the capital city of South Sumatra province, also has a fascinating history as it is one of the oldest inhabited areas in Indonesia.

In ancient times, it was the strategic center of the mighty Srivijaya kingdom, occupying a beautiful location on the majestic Musi River.

The river is actually one of the main reasons to visit Palembang, as the waterfront is dotted with boats that also serve as restaurants.

On these boats, you’ll find delicious local delicacies that also allow you to enjoy views of the water while you dine.

11. Berastagi

Brastagi

The town of Berastagi is only a few hours away from Medan, but its higher elevation means it has a very different feel.

Many of the fruits and vegetables that go to Medan are grown in Brastagi, and one of the highlights of the trip here is visiting one of the fruit farms and picking your own fruit straight from the trees.

This is also the home of the Kahlo people, and you can learn about the local culture and visit the stunning Kahlo architecture.

See also  15 Best things to do in Batam (Indonesia)

12. Nias

Nias, Sumatra

Unfortunately, Bali has come to dominate the Indonesian surf scene, although if you’re in Sumatra and looking for some waves, Nias Island is the place to be.

Here you will find less crowded Bali where you can easily rent surfing or diving equipment and explore the waters around the island.

The area is also known for its rock-jumping tradition, where locals have to jump high rocks at a time, so if you’re in the area, be sure to check out this amazing athletic feat.

13. Batusanka

Cow race in Batusangkar

Batusangkar, which means “stone cage” in Indonesian, is known in the domestic market as one of the most important cultural venues in Sumatra.

Batusangkar is located in the Tanah Datar Regency in western Sumatra and is home to a range of historical attractions such as Fort van der Capellen, a Dutch colonial outpost.

Batusangkar is also known for its traditional festivals such as pacujawi, which is basically a bull race on the muddy grounds around the city.

The jockeys grab a set of reins attached to the cows and glide across the mud-surfaced fields, a fantastic experience not to be missed if you’re here at the right time.

The schedule changes from year to year, so it’s best to ask locally when the next race will take place.

14. Belitung

Belitung Islands

Belitung Island is an island off the east coast of Sumatra in the Java Sea and part of the wider Bangka-Belitung archipelago.

One of the main attractions here is the opportunity to explore the bays and islets, some of the main beaches not to be missed are Tanjung Ferringhi Beach and Tanjung Krayang Beach.

When visiting here, you’ll see cobalt blue seas, sandy beaches and a series of rugged granite rock formations towering into the sea.

Some of the main activities here include snorkeling and swimming, or you can take a boat trip to the scenic spots.

15. Lampung

Puti Beach, Brazil

Lampung is one of the best hidden gems in the region as few foreigners have ever visited Sumatra.

You can head to Pasir Putih Beach, which means white sand beach in Indonesian, and if you head to Kiluan, you can even spot dolphins and admire the graceful creatures swimming in the waters here.

Lampung is also home to the Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park, which offers you some great hiking trails and the chance to see a range of local flora and fauna.

The rainforests of Sumatra have been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, so the opportunity to enjoy the natural beauty is one of the highlights of a trip to this part of Indonesia.

Where to Stay: Best Hotels in Sumatra, Indonesia
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