Introducing the city

£1.00 | Rp16,760

GBP | IDR

3 * Hotel p/n £17.39 | Rp291,438

One-way ticket £0.23 | Rp3,908

Beer £1.75 | Rp29,313

Main Course £1.75 | Rp29,313

About Sumatra

If you want to get off the beaten track in Indonesia, then the extraordinary untouched landscape, fascinating wildlife and rich multiculturalism of Sumatra will satisfy your wanderlust needs.

The site of many natural disasters, Sumatra has seen its fair share of devastation. But time after time it rises again, proving that idyllic natural beauty, fierce wildlife and passionate, proud people can never be defeated.

Travellers will love Sumatra for its exotic wildlife including orangutans, elephants and rhinos that are all native to this Indonesian island. Throw in a few active volcanoes, the world's deepest lake and some of the best surfing spots in Asia and you've found yourself an adventurer's wonderland.

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Weather

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When should you visit?

In general, the best time of year to visit is between May and September as the weather is dry and sunny.

As the sixth largest island on the planet, Sumatra's weather can vary from north to south. Sumatra temperatures hover between 27 and 28 degrees Celsius. The summer months can bring highs of 34 degrees Celsius. North Sumatra has a slightly more tropical climate so expect rain year-round, although it tends to be heaviest between October and January. South Sumatra has drier weather between April and October and rainfall between November and March.

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Travioor top tips

Tangkahan
Samosir
Dolphin Boat

Insider Info

  • If you go to the Gunung Leuser National Park, make sure you visit Tangkahan to get up close and personal with Sumatran elephants. Villagers work with the elephants to patrol the park, protecting it from illegal poaching and logging.
  • If you want to learn more about the history and culture of the native Batak tribe of North Sumatra a trip to Samosir is a must.
  • Swim with wild dolphins at Kiluan Bay. The bay is said to have the largest population of wild dolphins in Asia so you are sure to see them. Join an organised boat trip as locals will have a better knowledge of the bay and know the best spots for finding dolphins.

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Food and drink

Main Course £1.75 | Rp29,313

3-Course Meal £8.74 | Rp146,565

Cappuccino £1.50 | Rp25,163

Beer £1.75 | Rp29,313

The Scene

Indonesian food is all about the spice. Spices are chopped up and ground to form pastes which are then used as a base for curries or to season fish and meat. Avoid sambal, a sauce made with only the hottest chillies and spices, if you can't take the heat. Rice and noodles are staples to Indonesian diets so expect to eat a lot of this when dining out.

For cheap, quick food visit a kaki lima (mobile stall) or warung but don't expect to see a menu. It's best just to point at what you like the look of or ask to try a variety of dishes if you're not sure what you fancy. If you tire of spicy rice-based dishes then you might be able to find larger restaurants that offer foreign cuisine, but expect to pay a lot more as service tax is often added to the bill in the more high-end places.

The Batak cuisine of North Sumatra offers a little more variety than elsewhere in Indonesia as the Batak people are Christian so can eat pork. Try saksang if you're a pork lover - that's if you don't mind your meat cooked in pig's blood.

The popular Padang cuisine of Western Sumatra is eaten across Southeast Asia. 'Masakan Padang' is also a hit worldwide with those who love coconut milk and spicy chilli. Try favourites such as beef randang and gulai ayam. If you visit a Pandang restaurant expect to have dishes brought to your table as soon as you sit down. You only pay for what you eat.

Sumatra is famous for its coffee, Kopi Luwak, known to be the most expensive coffee in the world. It might be made from the ground remains of civet cat faeces but it's loved by people worldwide.

Simply add boiling water and leave the coffee to sink to the bottom. Try not to drink it with milk or sugar as this takes away the unique taste.

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History

Sumatra’s Story

The Kingdom of Sriwijaya ruled Sumatra in the 7th century. By the 11th century, Sriwijaya had control of other areas of southeast Asia including Cambodia and southern Thailand. Aceh, located in the north of Sumatra, gained control of the island when Sriwijaya forces dwindled. It is also believed that Islam was first introduced to the area by Muslim sea traders from western India at this time.

For centuries, Sumatra has been used for its resources, with the Americans using Aceh for pepper exports, the Chinese taking tin reserves from Bangka and the British once ruling in Bengkulu. However, it was the Dutch who would come to battle with the Sumatran's for control of the island in the years that followed.

Sumatra's biggest moment in history was the 2004 Boxing day Tsunami. An earthquake of 9.1 magnitude struck 30km below the surface at around 160km off the western coast of northern Sumatra, killing approximately 170,000 people in Indonesia alone. Now, over a decade later, most of the damage has been repaired and villages have recovered but the memory of the event stays with everyone.

Language

Halo | Hello
Terima kasih | Thank you

Indonesian

Indonesian or Bahasa Indonesian is the official language of Indonesia. However, certain regions in Sumatra have regional languages or local dialects:

  • Northern Sumatra - Dairi Batak and Acehnese
  • Southern Sumatra - Lampung
  • Southwest Sumatra - Rejang
  • Central Sumatra - Minangkabau

Use these common phrases to make getting around the island a little easier:

  • How are you? - Apa kabar?
  • How much? - Berapa?
  • Where's the toilet? - Di mana kamar kecil?
  • Not too spicy! - Tidak pedas!

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Need to know

+62 61 Dialling code
118 Ambulance

Get The Low-Down

  • Dialling codes vary between regions due to the size of the island. The number above is for North Sumatra. Other area codes can be found online
  • The easiest way to reach Sumatra is via a flight or ferry from Java
  • Roads are poorly maintained in Sumatra so research transport thoroughly. Angkot (minibus) or becack (cycle-rickshaw) are the most common forms of transport in towns and cities. 
  • Drink only bottled, boiled or sterilized water.

VISA INFORMATION

Find out about the visa requirements for Indonesia here

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Travioor Recommends

1. Pulau Weh Aceh

If you're a diving fanatic then you must visit Pulau Weh Aceh - it's still an insider's secret. Nearby Lumba Lumba diving centre is also a great place to meet other divers.

2. Gunung Kerinci

Climb to the top of Mount Kerinci, Indonesia's highest volcano, for astonishing views. Spend a night on the mountain at a shelter, the hike shouldn't be rushed.

3. Gunung Leuser

A trip to Sumatra should always include orangutans, elephants, tigers and rhinos. See them all at the Gunung Leuser National Park. Visit the Orangutan centre at Bukit Lawang.

4. Mentawai Islands

Visit Pulau Siberut, the only tourist-friendly Mentawai island, for incomparable surfing, tropical forests and tribal experiences. It's only 100km off the west Sumatran coast.

5. Tsunami Museum

The devastating tsunami of 2004 is an important part of Sumatra's history. Re-live and learn more about the experience at the Aceh Tsunami Museum in Banda Aceh.


See What's On In Sumatra