Even though it has been a while ago I visited Sumatra (this was actually in 2013), the most famous places on the island haven’t changed. I’m so happy I got the opportunity to live in Indonesia, which allowed me to make 10-day trips (you were allowed to skip some classes) and shorter weekend trips. The highest on my list to visit, which was possible in a shorter amount of days, were Sulawesi (including the Togean Islands!) and Sumatra. In this Sumatra Travel Plan, I show you the best places we’ve visited on this wonderful island in a day-by-day itinerary. Be prepared for some tough night buses, but it is all worth it.
Sumatra is most famous for the Orangutans still living in the wild. You can visit them in Bukit Lawang. Next to that, Sumatra also hosts Lake Toba, which is the largest Lake in Indonesia and the largest volcanic lake in the world. Enough reasons to go and explore I would say. Let’s start with this travel guide explaining my Sumatra Travel plan.
Day 1 – 3: Bukit Lawang
Day 4: Tangkahan
Day 5-7: Pulau Weh
Day 8-10: Lake Toba
Day 1: Tangkahan
Day 2-4: Bukit Lawang
Day 5-7: Berastagi, Gunung Sibayak, Sipiso Piso Waterfall
Day 8-10: Lake Toba
The reason our itinerary is different from what I would recommend is that Mount Sinabung, another volcano near Berastagi, erupted when we were in Bukit Lawang. This meant we had to cancel our initial plans and had to figure out where to head to. This led to the decision to visit Pulau Weh, which is a great place, but you’ll spend a lot of time on night busses. Hence, I would recommend you to go with Berastagi and visit Gunung Sibayak when you can to avoid spending too much time travelling.
Medan is the capital of Sumatra and the main place to arrive on the island. From the airport, we went straight to Bukit Lawang, which can be done with several busses as described in my full Bukit Lawang guide. Medan itself is from what we saw when travelling through the city not worth a visit. On the way back, we stayed in Medan for one night to make sure we could catch our flight back to Surabaya.
We started our trip in Sumatra by heading to the most famous sight. When in Bukit Lawang, the best activity to do is to book an overnight jungle trek to spot the orangutans. Not much luxury, but an experience to never forget. I can elaborate even more here, but let me refer to the full Bukit Lawang guide I’ve written which covers all you need to know about a visit to the Orangutans.
After spending a night in Bukit Lawang, one night in the jungle and another night in Bukit Lawang, we arranged a mini-van with a couple of people we met that would bring us back to civilization. When we were visiting Bukit Lawang, our initial travel plan changed because of a volcanic eruption. Hence, we could head to Berastagi & Gunung Sibayak as we planned in the beginning. Instead, we decided to go to Pulau Weh, which meant we had to take the night bus to Banda Aceh from Medan. On the way there, the minivan drove us to Tangkahan, which is an elephant sanctuary with an amazing national park.
In the night from day 4 to day 5, we took a night bus from Medan to Banda Aceh. Be warned, this is quite intense, but on such a big island and on a student budget the cheapest and most time-saving way to travel is the night busses. We arrived in Banda Aceh early in the morning, where we took a cab to the harbour, where we took the ferry to Pulau Weh. Pulau Weh is a tropical island, that was impacted by the tsunami in 2004. Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t really on our side when being in Pulau Weh, but it is a pretty island. Relax at the guesthouse, enjoy some good food or rent a scooter to discover the island. To get to our destination, we took a cab from the harbour in Pulau Weh and drove for around 30 minutes. A great recommendation for food is Mama Mia’s restaurant!
When visiting Lake Toba, actually means you are visiting Samosir Island. This island is located in the middle of the Lake and is a great place to explore. The vibe on Lake Toba is one of a kind. We travelled from Banda Aceh to Parapat with the night bus, after which we took a more touristic smaller minivan. Afterwards, you’ll take the ferry from Parapat and within 45 minutes you’ll be arriving at Tuk Tuk Samosir. This is also the village where stayed. They even have different drop-off locations, so you can ask to be dropped off at the closest one to your hotel. Lake Toba is a perfect place to swim and relax (if warm enough), and you should rent a scooter one day to explore the island and the Batak culture.
We were flying out early the next morning and to not risk missing the flight, we travelled back to Medan the afternoon before. Check out the recommended guest houses in Medan by Lonely Planet here or all Medan hotels here. I found out that the place where we stayed is out of business.