Welcome to Banda Aceh, a city on the northern tip of Sumatra, Indonesia, where history, culture, and resilience converge. As a tour operator eager to showcase the wonders of Sumatra, let’s embark on a journey through Banda Aceh, a destination with a unique blend of tradition and modernity. While most travellers just pass this city en route to Pulau Weh, we strongly recommend staying here for a night or two to explore the city. When arriving here, you may notice that the city is rather clean and the traffic is very moderat compared to the crazy traffic in Medan. In this travel guide we give you everything you need to know about Banda Aceh.

Getting There

Banda Aceh is easily accessible by air, with Sultan Iskandar Muda International Airport connecting the city to major hubs across Indonesia as well as Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. Airlines like Garuda Indonesia and Lion Air operate regular flights to and from Banda Aceh. Apart rom flying, there are also a (night) busses from Medan that takes around 10-12h. Tickets can be booked online or at the bus station.

Getting Around

Upon arrival, you’ll find various transportation options to explore the city. Taxis and apps like Grab or Gojek are the most convenient option to get around Banda Aceh. The city is also known for its vibrant becak (tuktuk) culture, providing a unique and eco-friendly way to navigate the streets. Banda Aceh also has a public bus system that connects many parts of the city. The buses are cheap, but often crowded. However, as far as we know, there is no route map or schedule whatsoever. So it is best to ask your accommodation.

Where to Stay

Choose from a range of accommodations that cater to different preferences and budgets.

  • Luxury Hotels: Experience ultimate comfort and hospitality at luxury hotels such as Hermes Palace Hotel and Grand Arabia Hotel.
  • Mid-Range Hotels: Hotels like the Favehotel, Parkside Alhambra Hotel Banda Aceh and Hotel 61 provide comfortable accommodations at affordable prices.
  • Guesthouses and Homestays: For a more authentic experience, consider staying at guesthouses or homestays where you can interact with locals and learn about Acehnese culture firsthand.

Sights & activities

  • Baiturrahman Grand Mosque: A symbol of Banda Aceh’s resilience, this iconic mosque has withstood the test of time and stands as a testament to the city’s rich history.
  • Museum Tsunami Aceh: Delve into the poignant history of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami at this quirky museum. It pays tribute to the lives lost and showcases the remarkable recovery efforts.
  • Gunongan Historical Park: Explore the cultural and historical significance of this park, featuring ancient stone structures and the Gunongan, believed to be a monument built for a queen.
  • Ulee Lheue Beach: Relax on the sandy shores of this picturesque beach, where you can enjoy stunning sunsets and fresh seafood from nearby eateries.
  • Aceh Museum: Nice museum, where you can learn about the region’s history and see their traditionel Acenes houses.
  • Museum PLTD Apung: A former ship that has been washed ashore by the tsunami in 2004 to its current location, now boasting a lively open air museum.
  • Monumen Kapal Tsunami Lampulo: Another boat that has been washed ashor during the tsunami now located on the roof of a house.
  • Surfing: While most surfers travel to the Mentawais or Nias, the beaches around Banda Aceh feature fine breaks for beginners and advanced surfers. Season is November to April. You can check out the beaches around Lhoknga.

Tsunami of 2004

While exploring Banda Aceh, take a moment to reflect on the devastating tsunami of 2004. Around 150,000 people were killed in the Tsunami and probably everone you will meet has been affected one way or another. The city has been fully rebuilt, and the Museum Tsunami Aceh serves as a somber reminder of the resilience and strength of the local community. Read more here.

Culinary Delights

Savor the unique flavors of Acehnese cuisine, renowned for its aromatic spices. Try local specialties like nasi goreng Aceh (Aceh fried rice), mie Aceh (Aceh noodles), and the flavorful Acehnese coffee. Many dishes have also been influenced by Arab, Persian, and Indian traders back in the days. Streetfood is also common and many street vendors roam the streets after sunset to sell mie goreng or sate skewers. Read more about the famous Acehnese cuisine.

Wood Beach Cafe is popular among foreign tourists for its vibes and food.

Alcohol

Alcohol is a big no under the Sharia Law. You’ll never see alcohol being sold openly in bars or shops. However, hotels and restaurants may make an exception for international guests.

Sharia and Dress Code

Banda Aceh is known for its adherence to Sharia law and it can be a bit scary for tourists. Sharia law, often referred to simply as Sharia, is a set of Islamic principles and guidelines derived from the Quran (the holy book of Islam) and the Sunnah (the teachings and practices of the Prophet Muhammad). It serves as a comprehensive moral and legal framework governing various aspects of Muslim life, including personal conduct, family matters, business transactions, and criminal justice.

It’s important to understand that Sharia law is deeply rooted in Islamic theology and tradition, and its interpretation and application continue to evolve in response to changing societal norms and circumstances. While it remains a significant aspect of Islamic jurisprudence, its implementation varies across different cultures and contexts.

While the atmosphere in Banda Aceh is generally tolerant, visitors should be respectful of local customs. Dress modestly, particularly when visiting religious sites. That means long pants and long shirts, especially for women. Women have to wear a headscarf when entering mosques. When visiting the Grand Mosque you can rent a full body cape. Swimming in a bikini on the beach is forbidden, for hotel pools please check the hotel’s guidelines or ask the staff to be sure.

Non married couples are not allowed to stay in one room in some hotels. However, this sometimes does not apply for foreign tourists. As far as we know Seventeen Hotel allows unmarried couples to stay together. To be sure, please contact the hotel beforehand. Furthermore acts of affection, like kissing or holding hands, should be avoided when roaming around the city.

Most shops and sights are closed on Fridays as well as during praying times in the evening.

Final Thoughts

Banda Aceh beckons travelers with its resilient spirit, historical significance, and vibrant culture. Don’t let Aceh’s strict Sharia laws stop you from visiting Banda Aceh. If you want to visit Pulau Weh, we recommend adding a night or two in Banda Aceh before or after your trip to Pulau Weh.