When it comes to Indonesia, most people know about or have traveled to Bali or maybe Lombok or Java. Sumatra ist still not on everyone’s bucketlist (that needs to change though). So we will tell you with this post, what Sumatra is famous for and give you reasons why you should visit this beautifull island.
1. The biggest crater lake in the world
Right in the heart of Sumatra lies Lake Toba, the biggest crater lake in the world and the biggest lake in South East Asia. And in the center of the lake there is the island of Pulau Samosir, a place that has drawn tourists from all over the worlds for decades. And rightly so, because it is so beautifull. The lake was created by the erruption of a supervolcano some 75,000 years ago. It is said the this erruption led to a decrease of the world climate, killed many humans in that area and possibly created a population bottleneck in Asia. Today it is a pretty tourist destination worth a visit.
2. The Batak and Minangkabau tribes
Most pepople on Sumatra are Muslim, with some exceptions. The Batak people are Christians and live on and around Lake Toba. You can see a lot of churches in the area. The Batak have their own unique style and traditions.
The Minangkabau, who live around Bukittinggi in the South, are Muslims and practise matriarchy. This means that the women manage the wealth of the family and e.g. property passes from mother to daughter.
Besides that there are even untouched tribes living in Sumatra, like the Sumatran Pygmy Tribe.
You can find the Indonesian evergreens like gado-gado, nasi or mie goreng also on Sumatra. But the island has it very own cuisine. The most famous is undoubtly Rendang (also Christine’s favorite). Rendang is a kind of curry, but comes with a (dark) brown sauce. The term Rendang refers to slow cooking, which flourished due to its role in preserving meat in a tropical climate. Rendang is based with coconut milk and rich in spices (ginger, turmeric leaves, lemongrass, galangal, garlic, chillis, shallots and others). And everywhere you go it will taste and look different. You should definitely try it when traveling Sumatra.
Read also: Sumatra for foodies
4. Surfing and diving
With the Mentawais as well as Simeule island, Sumatra offers some of the best surf spots in the world. Every year many surfers visit the islands in the West to conquer some breaks and relax in one of the nice surf resorts. And the best thing? Waves all year round.
Besides that divers gather on Pulau Weh to explore Sumatra from below the surface. The island in the North offers great visibility and superb marine life from the smallest nudibranches to big groups of fish. The strong currents surrounding the island make it a good spots for drift dives. Furthermore there are wrecks and even an underwater volcano to dive to.
5. Adventurous transport
You might have traveled South East Asia already, but traveling Sumatra is something else. The most exciting adventure is getting from A to B. Local mini busses are the cheapest way to get around, but this is everyhing but a comfortable journey. The minibusses have no air condition and can get very cramped. You will be sitting close to others with no legroom. The roads are bumpy and the traffic is crazy. But it is worth it if you are looking for some adventure. But many travelers opt for the shared or private transport which is fairly affordable on Sumatra.
6. You will feel like a superstar
It can happen that you may be asked for a selfie with a local. And no you are not a doppelganger of an Indonesian superstar. Many Sumatrans just don’t see white people very often, some have never seen any. So they just want to have a picture with you. Don’t ask us what they do with it, we don’t know. We know this can get quiet annoying if you have 20 locals in front of you. But you can always nicely decline their request.
Right in the heart of Sumatra lies Gunung Leuser National Park – one of the richest rainforests in Southeast Asia. With an area of up to 8000 m2 it is one of the last places on earth where you can encounter the endangered orangutan in the wild. There used to be an orangutan rehabilitation center for many years, which has been closed in 2002. If you want to see these beautifull creatures up close you can do a jungle trekking for 1 or multiple days.
Read our full guide on jungle trekking in Bukit Lawang.
Coffee has been grown in Indonesia since 1696. Sumatra offers its very unique, quality coffee which is even available at Sartbucks around the world. Even in German supermarkets you can buy this delicious coffee. The Sumatra coffee is one of the best-known coffees in the world and one of the most full-bodied highland coffees. Characteristic is its full aroma, which is flattered by a fine acidity and with its spicy, earthy note.
9. Affordable travel
While most countries in Asia are cheap for travelers from Europe or the US, Sumatra is probably top of the list. If you eat in one of the local restaurants or warungs you can easily get a meal for under 1 Euro and accomodation also in the touristy areas like Bukit Lawang can be as cheap as 3-5 Euro for a private room.
If you come from one of the tourist islands like Bali, Lombok or the Gilis, you will notice first that you are probably the only white person on the plane. The number of tourists is even in the hot spots on Sumatra rather small.
If you are looking for peace, head to Lake Toba. Here you will find accommodation for every budget in Tuktuk on Samosir island, many of them directly at the lake or with lake access. A dream, if you really want to relax. Even in Bukit Lawang you can relax in the hammock after trekking through the jungle. The river rushes past your accommodation and it’s just so calm. And all the other tourists are in the jungle, so you’re pretty much on your own.