The Ultimate Sumatra Travel Guide

Unlike its neighboring islands Bali or Java, Sumatra doesn’t bring a lot of travelers and even though this is precisely what drew me to the island, it’s hard to know why. It’s the largest island in Indonesia and it has plenty to offer; jungles, orangutans, elephants, volcanos, waterfalls, etc. 

Let’s explore Sumatra. 

Gunung Leuser National Park

Home to the orangutang and the Sumatran tiger, Gunung Leuser National Park is a pleasing place for a jungle trekking. Don’t be frustrated that you – most likely – won’t see any tigers though, as my guide told me no one ever sees one and it would presumably be the last thing you’d ever lay eyes on anyway.

Starting early from Bukit Lawang, it didn’t last long before we were besieged by orangutangs and Thomas Leaf monkeys climbing the trees. It was astonishing to see how well the guide knew how to function around each orang tang, as they all have their own personality traits and some of them like stealing bags.


This tranquil village at the border of the Gunung Leuser National Park really took my heart. There are lots to do here; washing elephants, river tubing, swimming in the waterfalls, all this being circled by the beautiful tropical forest. An excellent place to connect with nature.

Although Indonesians are especially friendly people in general, this is unquestionably the place where you will meet the most generous people ever. Always ready to help and keen to show you about their culture, the guides will do everything to make your stay truly excellent.

Also, elephants are incredible animals and I want to see them happy. I’m not a specialist but I do think I saw happy elephant faces in Tangkahan.

Sibayak Volcano, Berastagi

Mount Sibayak is one of Indonesia’s active volcanos and the view hiking up to its crater is extraordinary. As you climb up to the top, the smell of sulfur gets stronger and there are heating vents with yellow-colored rocks all around.

Funnily, as I was using sunscreen my guide asked me why on earth I was covering myself with this white cream all the time. He first stared at me in shock, then began laughing uncontrollably when I said I’d turn red if I didn’t.

Samosir Island, Lake Toba

An island on an island! You will not only find stunning landscapes here, but Samosir is also home to the Batak people, an antique tribe that will happily teach you about their culture. With their traditional dances, colorful ensembles, and beautiful houses painted with geometrical designs, their culture will amaze you.

Banda Aceh

I was a little reluctant at first to put Banda Aceh in my list of favorite destinations in Sumatra but the culture shock I encountered there and the tsunami remains the city holds turned my visit into an exceptional experience. One day in this city, as a transit point to Pulau Weh, was enough though!

Being ruled by strict Sharia law, this destination is not for everyone but if you decide to go there, it will surely leave you in awe.

Banda Aceh was hit by the tsunami in 2004 very severely and the influence it had on the city is still visible. You will find the extraordinary sight of boats in the middle of the city or on top of a house, left untouched as a memorial here. The Tsunami Museum offers an insight into the horrifying reality the people survived and it’s worth visiting too.

Pulau Weh

This is a small island located right above Sumatra, easily approachable from Banda Aceh by ferry. With its brilliant clear water and white sanded beaches, Pulau Weh is heaven to snorkel, dive, or to relax. There are so many exotic fish here that I felt like I was swimming around in a real aquarium!

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