I did not know what to expect when I booked my trip to Sumatra, Indonesia. It was the first time I was setting foot anywhere on the Asian continent and I’d say I was looking more for nature and animals than I was big cities or famously overpopulated beaches. I knew that I wanted a one-of-a-kind experience in a less touristy place, and above all, close encounters with elephants and orangutans.
What I discovered was a small jewel of unspoilt beauty. Less frequented than other Indonesian destinations such as Bali and Lombok, Sumatra has a lot to offer the unconventional tourist. It is a land of rugged landscape, delicious spicy food and friendly people. It’s a place that breathes and nurtures diversity. Here’s a snapshot.
If you love nature as much as I do, you’ll be in heaven in the Sumatran jungles of Bukit Lawang and Tangkahan. Sure you get woken up early in the morning by the naughty macaques and Thomas’s leaf monkeys jumping on your roof, but it’s all worth it the moment you see the gentle orangutan hanging from a branch right in front of your eyes–a rare (and emotional) sight, and a memory I will always treasure.
Elephant lovers are in for a treat, too. Watching these majestic creatures is a privilege and an opportunity you’ll treasure for years to come. Visiting Sumatra taught me the importance of protecting these threatened animals, of sustainable tourism and conservation of wildlife.
Sumatra is home to Lake Toba, the largest volcanic lake in the world. Samosir Island emerges majestically from the middle of the lake, providing an ideal place for a peaceful break. Relax or choose among numerous activities like swimming, sailing, hiking, cycling or motorcycling (extremely popular in Sumatra). There’s also fishing–your call! The only thing you’ll regret is leaving this paradise behind.
Another breath-taking stop is Lake Maninjau in West Sumatra. It takes 44 spectacular hairpin bends down a steep road (called “Kelok 44”) to get there. It’s a bit of an adrenalin rush before some calm, rewarding scenery.
How about watching the sunrise from the top of an active volcano? In Berastagi, you can opt for an invigorating hike up the Sibayak mountain (2094m [6,870 ft]), which overlooks the effervescent Mount Sinabung.
Sumatra seemed the obvious choice to me for its pure nature, wildlife and adventure. What I did not expect to find was its wonderful, pristine beaches. From Padang, the capital city of West Sumatra, take a taxi to Bungus Bay where for a modest fee, you can embark on a day trip to Pagang Island, a great spot for snorkelling and mixing with the locals.
Sumatra’s true richness resides in its wonderful people. Though predominantly Muslim, it hosts a variety of ethnic groups and cultures and allows numerous religious beliefs to coexist. This is a place where Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Catholicism, Protestantism and Islam are all recognized and practiced, thereby helping establish Sumatra’s mixed identity.
It is obvious that Sumatrans are very friendly and helpful people, who respect and welcome visitors. At times, you might occasionally find their attention and kindness slightly disconcerting, but they are genuinely good-natured and well intentioned. The people of Sumatra always wear a smile, even in absolutely chaotic traffic.
Home to the largest volcanic lake in the world, beautiful jungles, infinite rice fields, gorgeous beaches, and some of the warmest people you’ll meet anywhere, Sumatra is an experience you’ll never forget. Looking back, I feel lucky to have gone there. I was seduced by Sumatra and promised to tell the world about it. Terima Kasih (thank you), Sumatra.