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Sumatra may seem otherworldly for those who’ve only been to Indonesia’s big touristy spots. As one of the archipelago’s largest islands, Sumatra’s tourism scene covers everything from world-class surfing to historical highlands.
Outshined by the more popular Bali or Java, the fascinating charms of Sumatra are often overlooked. Its charms are reserved for the most venturing souls who don’t mind a bit of a wild card in their travel plans. But this beautiful island holds places and experiences you can’t find anywhere else, and those attractions are certainly worth revising your itinerary for. The wide variety of scenes and landscapes offers something new and exciting for everyone beyond the mainstream, not to mention the fascinating culture different from anything you’ve ever seen, even in other parts of Indonesia.
This archipelago off the coast of West Sumatra is world-famous as a surfing paradise. Surfers of all skill levels flock here for the wide range of waves, varying from 2 to 15 ft tall. Mentawai Islands also keeps a treasure chest under the surface, with a rich and vibrant marine biodiversity below the waves. Even if you insist on staying dry, there are still plenty of things to do, from relaxing on exotic beaches to exploring the villages and discovering the fascinating Mentawai tribe.
This resort island is a popular getaway from Singapore, accessible via a one-hour ferry ride. Despite the foreign establishments and English-speaking crowd, Bintan Island is a beloved part of Indonesia’s Riau Province. Thanks to its popularity abroad, this exotic island is a distinguished tourism gem untypical of a Sumatran island. Lavish resorts, fun modern attractions, and avant-garde activities can be found all over the island. We’re talking Southeast Asia’s first seawater lagoon, a flying club that lets you ride an open cockpit seaplane, and more.
This highland town in West Sumatra is a profound cultural destination, aside from its exceptional natural charms. Bukittinggi has been an integral region throughout the nation’s different episodes of history. From serving as a fort town during colonial era, being a Japanese military base, to the capital of Sumatra province post-independence, history left its mark on this city through the years. The indigenous tribe of Minangkabau is a fascinating subject to learn about, and let’s not forget the emerald Lake Maninjau with all its surrounding countryside scenery.
Constituting Indonesia’s westernmost point, the remote geography has protected this beautiful island from too many tourists. But with the idyllic white sand beaches and translucent water, the journey is still very much worth taking. The island has splendid diving and snorkelling spots with thriving, undisturbed wildlife. The unspoiled condition doesn’t mean this island is underdeveloped – tourists will be welcomed by exotic cottages and beachside restaurants to enjoy sunsets while feasting on fresh seafood.
Medan in North Sumatra is Indonesia’s often overlooked third-biggest city. Beyond serving as a hub to explore nearby attractions like Lake Toba or Gunung Leuser, the city is an unmissable highlight in itself. Medan has the fascinating diversity of a metropolis, being home to different ethnic communities including the indigenous Batak tribe, Chinese descendants, Tamil, and more. That mishmash of culture and influence translates well into the culinary scene, cultural landmarks, houses of worship, and more. Among the city’s exceptional landmarks are the Maimun Palace, Graha Maria Annai Velangkanni church, and the Great Mosque.
Most Indonesians may be surprised to learn that Nias is actually a world-famous destination for surfing. This small island on the western coast of Sumatra remains an underrated destination among domestic tourists, even though its coastal beauty and fascinating culture are not unheard of. Due to the rather isolated geography, the indigenous culture is still alive and prominent on this island, with traditional houses, festivals, and rituals that include the well-known War Dance and Stone Jumping.