One of the most fascinating destinations in Indonesia, Sumatra is the westernmost of the main islands in the Indonesian archipelago. Renowned for its wide range of natural beauty and rich wilderness, Sumatra boasts mountain forests, untouched areas and more than 10 national parks.
Sumatra was covered by jungle at the end of the 19th century. Although only 30 percent of the island's jungles remain, visitors can still appreciate the natural side of this tropical paradise.
The most well-known city in Sumatra is Medan. The Sultan's Palace and the Grand Mosque are some of the interesting historical sites in Medan. Within a short drive of the city is Lake Toba, a vast lake set inside the caldera of a volcano. Aceh Province is known for its breathtaking sceneries, a traditional dance and severe political turmoil.
Say hello to the friendly orangutan that roam the lush wilderness in Bukit Lawang. The town is an ideal destination to relax and eat cheap food and there are many trekking routes in the area. Not to be missed is a heart-stopping trip down the river in an inner tube. The journey takes about three hours and there are a few dangerous spots along the way.
The thriving capital of West Sumatra is Padang, a hotspot for beach lovers and sun worshipers. The city's highlights include the Adityawarman Museum with its impressive collection of antiques and the Taman Budaya cultural center where traditional dances are performed every Sunday.
Other hotbeds for beach bums are the lovely islands of Pulau Siberut and Pulau Nias, off the west coast of Sumatra. Not always easy to get to by regular ferry, visitors can admire beautiful, unspoiled beaches and enjoy a number of water activities. Once a very low-key, almost unknown area, Pulau Nias is now bustling with surfers who come for the waves and sandy beaches.
Getting around in Sumatra is very easy, with becaks (trishaws or pedicabs) being the most popular means of transport. Some travelers also opt for a motorbike or a bicycle to visit places within the cities. A number of domestic and international airlines serve Medan from airports in Singapore and Malaysia.
Despite having been recently developed, Sumatra provides good facilities for visitors. There is a wide range of accommodations to suit all kinds of budgets while local eateries serve good and inexpensive food. The peak tourist season falls around July and August so it's always a good idea to book your hotel and flights in advance.