Sumatra’s main attraction is its astonishing natural beauty. But this isn’t any old natural paradise.
Awaiting you on this, the sixth largest island in the world, are rugged hillsides, idyllic beaches, lakes, wildlife-filled jungles and smouldering volcanoes whose wonders are hard to beat anywhere else in the world. What’s more, no less than 25,000 square kilometres of rainforest on the island are on the UNESCO World Heritage List so there’ll be infinite opportunities to explore and discover.
This is a perfect place for adventure activities: trek in the numerous national parks (don’t miss Lake Toba, the world’s largest volcanic lake), dive amid the clear waters of Pulau Weh or enjoy some of the world’s best surfing off the Mentawai islands and Nias.
If you’re new to Sumatra, there are a few showstoppers you won’t want to miss:
Spreading over three of Indonesia’s National Parks (Gunung Leuser, Kerinci Seblat and Bukit Barisan Selatan National Parks), Sumatra’s rainforests are nothing short of spectacular. They host fabulous Lake Gunung Tujuh, the highest lake in Southeast Asia and massive Mount Kerinci Volcano, in addition to smaller volcanic, coastal and glacial lakes set within their lush forested surroundings.
The rainforests are home to half of the plant species of Sumatra. Today it’s deemed important to protect what was once a vast area of tropical rainforest which has been greatly reduced over the last 50 years.
Sumatra’s 34 magnificent volcanoes are as iconic as its rainforests. Noteworthy is Gunung Sibayak at 2,094 metres high, partly because it is easily accessed, making it ideal for hiking (one of three trails); that is, if you are prepared for a 5 hour round trip. You will need a guide if you are trekking alone or would like to take the jungle route.
Gunung Kerinci in Kerinci Seblat National Park is the highest volcano in Sumatra at some 3,805 metres high. Dominating the northern end of the park, it offers fantastic views of the volcanic lake Danau Gunung Tujuh and the surrounding mountains and valleys. Join a summit trek at the entrance to the national park and a guided trip including overnight camping will take you up to the glorious summit.
Padang Beach (Tapi Lauik or Taplau) is great for strolling over white sands and enjoying spectacular coastal scenery, including verdant hills and shady trees. The beach attracts a lively crowd at dusk when wining and dining commences at the area’s various eateries.
About 20 kilometres south from Padang, the white, powdery sands of Bungus Beach sparkle, backed by an emerald stretch of hills and lush palm trees. Clear, warm waters wash up to the shoreline, gently sliding back with vibrant colours. This beach is quiet, yet popular for sunbathing, swimming, fishing, snorkelling and sailing or canoeing to the nearby islands.
Across the bay from Padang city lies the famous island of Pulau Pisang, one of many you can access off Bungus Bay. Expect the rugged beauty of thick forests and abundant wildlife, along with isolated white sands from which you can enjoy some snorkelling, turtle spotting or watching wild gibbons that live on the island. Nearby is Tiger Beach, so called for the mysterious tiger prints once found in the sand.
Another of nature’s wonders in Sumatra is its population of endemic Sumatran Orangutan, which are smaller and rarer than the usual species of orangutan from Borneo. They live in the wild in northern parts of the island but perhaps the easiest place to see them is in the Gunung Leuser National Park at Bukit Lawang.
Bukit Lawang’s famous orangutan centre helps these primates readjust to the wild after captivity or displacement due to rainforest clearing. Try to arrive for the twice-daily feedings which provide a wonderful close-up view of the orangutans.