Even though it has been a while ago I visited Sumatra (this was back in 2013), it seems that the most famous places on the island haven’t changed. Obviously, I’m so happy I got the opportunity to live in Indonesia, as this allowed me to make multiple 10-day trips and shorter weekend trips to explore the beauty of Indonesia. In this situation, the highest on my list to visit were Sulawesi (including the Togean Islands!) and Sumatra. Without a doubt, we booked our flights to Sumatra. As a result, I will show you the best places to visit in Sumatra and share loads of travel tips in this 10-day Sumatra itinerary travel blog post. When following this Sumatra travel guide, you’ll have to be prepared for some bumpy night buses!
As you might know, Sumatra is most famous for the Orangutans still living in the wild, which can be visited 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. Summing up, enough reasons to go and explore the island with this travel guide explaining my 10-day 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
In brief, the reason our itinerary was different from my recommendation is that Mount Sinabung, a volcano near Berastagi, erupted when we were in Bukit Lawang. Subsequently, this meant we had to cancel our initial plans and had to figure out a new travel route. Therefore, we decided to visit Pulau Weh, which adds a lot of time on night buses despite being a beautiful place. Hence, I would recommend you add Berastagi to your travel plans and visit Gunung Sibayak, to limit travel time.
Medan is the capital of Sumatra and the main place to arrive on the island. From the airport, we headed straight to Bukit Lawang by bus, as described in more detail in my full Bukit Lawang guide. Honestly, Medan does not have to be on your Sumatra itinerary unless it is necessary to catch connecting flights. For this reason, we stayed in Medan for one night to make sure we could catch our flight back to Surabaya.
We kicked off our journey in Sumatra by visiting its most renowned attraction. When you’re in Bukit Lawang, there’s no better activity than booking an overnight jungle trek to catch a glimpse of the amazing orangutans. It may not be a luxurious experience, but it’s truly unforgettable. If you want to know more details, I recommend checking out the comprehensive Bukit Lawang guide I’ve written, which covers everything you need to plan your visit with the Orangutans.
On day 4, we embarked on an adventurous journey, taking a night bus from Medan to Banda Aceh. Although intense, this economical and time-efficient option is ideal for exploring a vast island like Sumatra on a student budget. Upon early morning arrival in Banda Aceh, we hopped into a cab and made our way to the harbor for the ferry ride to Pulau Weh. This tropical island, deeply impacted by the 2004 tsunami, boasts scenic beauty despite the weather not entirely cooperating during our visit. Regardless, we found solace at a charming guesthouse and savored delicious local cuisine or ventured out to explore the island on a rented scooter. To reach our final destination, we took a cab from the Pulau Weh harbor, a short 30-minute drive. While on the island, a must-try dining spot is Mama Mia’s restaurant, offering great meals.
Where to stay in Pulau Weh: We stayed at the wonderful bungalows at Yulia’s.
Visiting Lake Toba is synonymous with exploring the enchanting Samosir Island, nestled in the heart of the lake. This captivating destination offers a unique and vibrant atmosphere. Our journey took us from Banda Aceh to Parapat on a night bus, followed by a more tourist-friendly minivan ride. From Parapat, a swift 45-minute ferry ride brought us to Tuk Tuk Samosir, the delightful village where we lodged. The ferry service conveniently offers various drop-off points, allowing travelers to select the one closest to their accommodation. Lake Toba provides an idyllic setting for swimming and relaxation, particularly when the weather is warm. Don’t miss the chance to rent a scooter and immerse yourself in the beauty of the island and the rich Batak culture.
Where to stay at Lake Toba: Samosir Cottages or Juma Cottages
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 an overview of all Medan hotels here to match your needs.
In conclusion, 10 days in Sumatra is enough to visit the main travel sights of the island. Nevertheless, it is easy to extend your stay in Sumatra and there is plenty more to explore. For instance, you could combine the recommended itinerary with a stay in Pulau Weh to add your fair dose of beach to this travel guide. Lastly, I would like to stress that next to Sulawesi, Sumatra was in my opinion one of the most authentic islands in Indonesia. Therefore, I would highly recommend adding Sumatra to your Indonesia travel plans.