When I was preparing Indonesia itinerary for 2 months, Sumatra was quite high on my bucket list, because of the chance of spotting orangutans. So it was pretty clear to me that I would add this island to my route. Sumatra is located near Singapore and Malaysia and is therefore quite easy to reach from these countries. For example, after a few days in Singapore, I flew to Medan in less than 1.5 hours, which was the start of my itinerary in North Sumatra.
Sumatra is big, quite big even. The Indonesian island is even the sixth largest island in the world with about 470,000 km². So to see most of the island you already need a few weeks. Since I wanted to see more of Indonesia, I decided to visit only the north of Sumatra during my trip.
Itinerary North Sumatra
Medan ➤ Bukit Lawang ➤ Berastagi ➤ Lake Toba ➤ Medan
It’s also possible to travel this route the other way around.
Medan is where my itinerary through North Sumatra started and chances are your travel in Sumatra will start here too. It is the capital of the northern province and has one of the largest airports in Indonesia.
Medan is a busy and uninviting city. It’s therefore recommended not to stay too long and if possible to travel directly to your next destination. That is exactly what I did; after I arrived in Medan I traveled straight to Bukit Lawang by taxi.
At Medan Airport you can immediately buy a SIM card if you wish. Because I immediately traveled onward, it was quite handy for me to buy one at the airport. As far as I know, there are no SIM cards for sale in Bukit Lawang. I chose Telkomsel, one of the best but also more expensive companies. Costs for a 1 month SIM card is IDR 180,000 for 6 GB and IDR 220,000 for 15 GB.
So I had just arrived in Indonesia and I was already in the middle of the jungle, in Bukit Lawang. Bukit Lawang is a cute village next to the river. It’s known for the largest animal reserve of the Sumatran orangutan. There are about 5,000 of these beautiful animals in the area. In addition, Bukit Lawang is one of the best gateways to Gunung Leuser National Park.
Choose a good tour company in Bukit Lawang for a cool trip. I definitely recommend a 2-day trip. You then spend a night in the jungle in a camp, which I found a very cool experience. Yes, of course also a bit uncomfortable now and then, but that’s part of the deal!
Here you can read all tips and info about my jungle trekking in Bukit Lawang.
Berastagi is an village between Medan and Lake Toba. It is known for the Gunung Sibayak (2212 meters) and Gunung Sinabung (2460 meters) volcanoes that are located in the area. Since the village is a lot higher than most places on the North Sumatra itinerary, it is recommended to bring warmer clothes.
During my visit to Berastagi I climbed the Sibayak volcano on my own. It was the first volcano I ever climbed and I was very impressed. I thought it was cool to see how much force and noise the sulfur spurted out of the ground.
You can read everything about tips and sights in Berastagi here.
In addition, the Sipiso Piso waterfall is highly recommended to visit. This 120 meter high waterfall is located near Lake Toba, making it a perfect sight for the road. That is why I took a taxi with three other backpackers towards Lake Toba with the Sipiso Piso waterfall as a stopover. On the way we also stopped at a viewpoint.
From Berastagi I traveled on to Lake Toba. I rented a taxi together with 4 others and we visited the 120 meter high Sipiso Piso waterfall together. Since it was Independence Day, we had to set off early to avoid the biggest crowds. We paid IDR 700,000 for the taxi (perhaps it is normally cheaper). The drive from Berastagi to Parapat (the port) took about 4 hours.
From Parapat you can easily take the boat to Samosir island in Lake Toba (also called Danau Toba). Lake Toba is a crater lake and with its 1146 km² it is the largest lake in Southeast Asia. Tuktuk is a popular destination on the island where most of the accommodations are located.
On Samosir island you will find the traditional Batak houses. In some places you can choose to stay in such a traditional house.
The best way to discover Samosir island is by renting a motorbike / scooter. For 100,000 IDR, you can rent one for a whole day.
The temperature around Lake Toba is also slightly below average for Sumatra, but the temperature is still very pleasant.
After my visit to Lake Toba I traveled back to Medan and flew to Jakarta where I started my Java itinerary. The shared taxi cost 120,000 per person from Parapat to Medan Airport.
Alternative itinerary (North) Sumatra
You could also choose to travel further south from Lake Toba and eventually end in Padang. Your route would then be something like this:
Medan ➤ Bukit Lawang ➤ Berastagi ➤ Lake Toba ➤ Sipirok ➤ Bukittinggi ➤ Padang. From Padang you can easily fly to other destinations in Indonesia, such as Java.
In addition, you could also add Pulau Weh in the far north to your itinerary through North Sumatra. For example, your itinerary would be as follows:
Medan ➤ Lake Toba ➤ Berastagi ➤ Bukit Lawang ➤ Ketambe ➤ Banda Aceh ➤ Pulau Weh.