Sumatra has it all: dreamy rice fields, volcanos, dense jungle, the sea, hot springs, mountains. And right in the heart is 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.
Its wide range of eco-systems contains volcanos, rivers and lakes. But the Gunung Leuser National Park offers also about 10,000 plant species. 45% of all recorded plant species in the West Indo-Malayan region can be found in this area. The spectacular Rafflesia Arnoldi and Amorphophallus titanum, the biggest and the highest flower in the world, can be found here.
In the north, a fascinating underwater world awaits you on Pulau Weh. Its said that whale sharks can be spotted here, too. But even a walk along the rice fields in the Harau Valley near Bukittinggi is already a nature experience. Along the way you can admire exotic flowers that you can only see in botanical gardens. Then from time to time a waterfall and the nature experience is perfect.
The area around Gunung Leuser National Park is one of the most bio diverse eco systems in the world and home to 750 different animal species: Elephants, tigers, siamangs, rhinos, macaques, Thomas leaf monkeys and gibbons – just to name a few. Bukit Lawang is the starting point in the Gunung Leuser National Park for jungle trekking where you can observe orangutans.
Sumatra, like most Indonesia, is Muslim. But there are also exceptions. The Batak, one of the tribes of Sumatra, are Christians. They live on and around Lake Toba. There you can see a lot of churches. The Batak, similar to the Minangkabau who live around Bukittinggi, have their own unique style and traditions.
The Minangkabau are Muslims, but they practise matriarchy. This means that e.g. property passes from mother to daughter, and women also manage wealth.
There are even untouched tribes living in Sumatra, like the Sumatran Pygmy Tribe.
Whether you want to surf, dive, trek or simply relax, Sumatra has a spot for you. You can set out in the middle of the night to climb a volcano and enjoy the sunrise from the summit. You can swim in hot springs, trek through the jungle, swim in a volcanic lake or explore the area with a scooter and enjoy the scenery.
But the most exciting adventure might be as easy a getting from A to B. Local transport can be a challenge, herefore most travelers opt for the shared or private transport. But especially getting from Medan to Bukit Lawang by local bus can be an adventourus ride.
Read here how to get around Sumatra.
If you are looking for cold brew coffee and smoothie bowls, you are better off to Bali. 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 of which is undoubtly Rendang, Soto, Sambal or Gulai.
Padang restaurants are very common on Sumatra. They display their already cooked dishes in the front window, mostly curries, fish, egg, tempeh or vegetables. Pick out the ones you like. The default way to eat is with your right hand (the left hand is dirty). But you can also ask for a “sendok” (spoon).
Read also: Sumatra for foodies
You will meet nice, friendly and helpful people everywhere. You can stroll through the market and be greeted with a smile. Even if you stroll past the souvenir stalls at the hot spots, no one tries to sell you anything. Unthinkable on Bali. Be aware, the further you move from the well-known sights, the less English is spoken. A few lumps of Bahasa, especially numbers, can not hurt.
7. It’s cheap
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.