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Welcome to Sumatra


Sumatra is the second largest island in the Indonesian archipelago and is about the size of California, formed by a longitudinal spine of mountains including 90 volcanoes. 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, orangutans and tapirs can be seen on organised safaris within protected reserves.

The majority of the population lives 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.

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. Though not as popular a tourism destination as neighbouring Bali or Jakarta, Sumatra is an increasingly fashionable eco-tourism destination, and cycling or riding a scooter through the mountains and valleys can be a great way to see Sumatra's natural beauty.

Information & Facts


Sumatra's climate is tropical but temperatures can often be lower than expected due to the highlands. The average daytime highs range from 72°F - 86°F (22°C - 30°C) while the rainfall differs from region to region and humidity levels are high in the lowlands. With two main seasons, the dry season runs from February to August and wet season from September to January. The best time of year to visit Sumatra is during the dry season.

Kids Attractions

Children on holiday in Sumatra should not expect water parks and arcades. Instead, this exotic island boasts plenty of fantastic outdoor activities to keep the little ones entertained and enthralled. Lake Toba is a perfect family resort town with plenty of water sports, scenic cycle rides and colourful local cultures to enjoy. Take a trip to the Orangutan Sanctuary in the Gunung Leuser National Park in northern Sumatra, or visit the Berbak Wildlife Reserve in Jambi for a great day out with the family where children will enjoy spotting hairy-nosed otters, Sumatran tigers, barking deer, crocodiles and gibbons. The King Palace in Bukittinggi is a magical experience for kids of all ages where they can learn about the Minangkabau Kingdom, while a trip to Belitung Island will reward with a day spent on one of its beautiful beaches which are safe for swimming and provide plenty of open space for kids to let off some steam. Many of the major hotels in Sumatra offer kids clubs where children can meet and play with other kids their age and it is often worth checking into a hotel with these facilities.

Bahasa Indonesia is the official language, but many dialects are spoken. English is widely understood in Jakarta and tourist resorts.

Rupiah (IDR) is the official currency and is divided into 100 sen. Foreign currency can easily be exchanged at banks, hotels and money changers in major tourist destinations; US dollars is the most accepted currency. Cash often yields a better exchange rate than travellers cheques, which are not always accepted. It is recommended that travellers cheques also be in US dollars. Most major credit cards are accepted at hotels, restaurants and stores catering to the tourist trade. ATMs are available in main centres. Small change is often unavailable so keep small denomination notes and coins for items like bus fares, temple donations and cool drinks.


Sumatra's shopping is mostly centred round the larger towns and cities such as Padang, Berastagi, Medan and Bukittinggi. Most of Sumatra's towns have plenty of road-side stalls selling the usual tourist souvenirs such as fake designer goods and Bintang t-shirts. For a more western shopping experience, but head to places like Minang Plaza or Plaza Andalas in Padang. Fantastic bargains and buys can be found in Padang - with a bit of haggling. Head to Padang's Pasar Baru street market for great buys like leaf hats, batik silk fabrics and clothes. In Bukittinggi, make a stop at the bustling Pasar Atas market for souvenirs while the town itself boasts a plethora of craft, jewellery, and antique shops for visitors to peruse. For fresh produce, the nearby town of Berastagi is best known for its fresh fruits and vegetables, particularly passion fruit. Travellers wanting a real taste of Indonesia should try betel nuts from the market in Berastagi, which are chewed together with lime and tobacco, or pick up some local palm wine known as tuak.Another good buy is Sumatran coffee beans, which are prized by coffee connoisseurs the world over.


Sumatra may not be the first stop on most travellers' Indonesian itineraries, but this island is still a popular tourist destination and boasts some fantastic attractions and activities that will appeal to all kinds of people. Depending on your sport of choice, a trip to the Mentawi islands, Batu or Nias Island is a must as they are fantastic locations for surfing, windsurfing and scuba diving, while those wanting something a little more relaxing will love a cruise down the Siak River back in West Sumatra. The holiday resort of Lake Toba in the north makes the perfect location for a relaxing holiday break while the glistening Lake Maninjau offers retreat from the bustling tourist-packed beaches and frenetic outside world. A hike to the Mertua Waterfall in Pekanbaru is a must for all nature lovers, as is the Kerinci Valley and National Park which boasts the largest collection of Sumatran Rhinos, for a brush with orangutans, visit the Gunung Leuser National Park in the north, or for the ultimate wildlife experience, visit the Burbak Wildlife Reserve near the strait of Melaka to view clouded leopards, Malayan sunbears, otters and gibbons. Bukittinggi, which served as headquarters for the Japanese army during WWII, is worth exploring to visit the King Palace, Tuo Belimbing Mosque, or even Lake Singkarak. With all these great attractions and so much more, visitors will find there is more to this island than just its abundant natural beauty.

Indonesia spans three time zones. GMT +7 (West, including Java and Sumatra), GMT +8 (Central, including Bali, Sulawesi and Lombok), GMT +9 (East, including Irian Jaya).

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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