Mentawai Islands, Sumatra Travel Guide

The beautiful Mentawai Islands are a small archipelago that sits off the west coast of Sumatra in Indonesia. They are famous for their surfing conditions, being on of the top 10 surf spots in Indonesia. It even rivals those found in the surfer’s paradise of Bali.

As such, many surfers come to the Mentawai Islands after the surf season in Bali has finished. But surfing is not the only activity on offer here. Many of the islands provide delightful opportunities for trekking as well as fishing and snorkeling. If none of these appeals, then you can also spend time relaxing on the beaches here or learning more about the Mentawai culture.

Beautiful view at Mentawai Islands, Indonesia

Beautiful view at Mentawai Islands. Photo by Warm Winds Surf Shop

Where is it

The Mentawai Islands are located around 150 kilometers off the west coast of the island of Sumatra. They consist of Pulau (island) Siberut, Pulau Sipura Pulau Pagai-utara and Pulau Pagai-selatan. To visit here, you will have to first go to Padang in West Sumatra before making the journey across by boat.

Fishing village at Bintan Island, Indonesia

Map of Mentawai Islands

Why go

If you are a surfing aficionado, then the Mentawais offer some of the best surfing in the country. These islands are not to be missed as part of your wider surf trip in Indonesia. If surfing is not your thing, the Mentawais still offer you the chance to see a far less touristy side of Indonesia, with a fascinating culture that many visitors don’t get to see. With relatively good travel links to Padang, the Mentawais are also quite easy to visit, especially for intrepid travelers looking for some adventures a little off the beaten track.

Surfing the waves of Mentawai Islands, Indonesia

Surfing the waves of Mentawai Islands. Photo by Colm Walsh

When to visit

The best time to visit the Mentawai Islands is after the rainy season, which starts around November or December and then runs until approximately March or April. During this time it can rain every day, and if you want to spend time surfing or sunbathing then, this can be a rather damp time to visit. Months like September and October are good picks as the weather is pleasant and this is also low season after the summer holidays and before the winter rush for Christmas and New Year. The flight tickets and accommodations are often discounted during this time. The overall general best time to visit the Mentawai Islands is during the dry season of May to October.

People of Mentawai Islands, Indonesia

People of Mentawai Islands. Photo by Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

What to see

The Mentawais are islands of sand and surf so bear in mind that most of the things to see here are focused on beach life.

Siberut Island – the biggest of all the islands and where most of the population lives. Most of the island is made up of tropical rainforest, and for this reason, it is a UNESCO reserve. It is also the spot where you will find Siberut National Park where you can go trekking and explore the unique flora and fauna of these islands.

People of Mentawai Islands, Indonesia

River at Pulau Siberut Island. Photo by viajar24h.com, via Wikimedia Commons

Sipora Island – If you want to see a more developed side of the Mentawais then head over to Pulau Sipora. It is the home of the ‘capital’ city of the Mentawais called Tua Pejat. The local government offices are also located here and it is the urbanest of all the Mentawai Islands.

Pagai Islands – separated into Pulau Pagai Utara in the north and Pulau Pagai Selatan in the south. Travelers hardly ever make it out that far, but you can charter a boat and cruise around the waters here if you want to explore further afield.

What to do

If you like islands and beaches then you will find much to do on the Mentawais.

Surfing – the top activity here with consistent surf breaks. Some of the popular surfing spots here are E’bay, Beng-beng, Nipussi and Pitstop. Here you can get many islets and flawless reef with sun blue waters, and also offshore winds and spitting tubes.

Fishing – the usual fishing using a rod, or spear fishing using a spear gun are both popular on the Mentawais. You will find a huge number of fish living in the shallow reefs around the islands.

Snorkeling – also a great activity on the islands and the visibility here is excellent. You can rent snorkeling equipment easily from many guesthouses and hotels.

Boat for surfing and snorkeling Mentawai Islands, Indonesia

Boat for surfing and snorkeling. Photo by Warm Winds Surf Shop

Trekking and hiking – For anyone who prefers to stay on dry land, these are the best activities to do on the Mentawai Islands. There are treks to suit all levels of ability and you can either take a guided tour that lasts for a full day or go for an easy hike independently for a few hours. One of the popular trekking places is the Siberut National Park

Shaman traditional ceremony – If you are looking for a bit of local culture then make sure not to miss out on this. The indigenous people of the Mentawais are the Sikerei tribe. You will find the traditional performances information in hotels and guesthouses on the islands.

Where to stay

The most choices of places to stay on Mentawai Islands would be on the big island of Pulau Siberut *. You may also find some remote and luxurious choices at Sipora Island, for example, the Simakakang Villa *.

Mentawai Islands at night, Indonesia

Mentawai Islands at night. Photo by Bruno Ahlgrimm

How to get around

The Mentawai Islands are easy to get around. You may be able to walk around on foot if you are just going from your guesthouse to the beach. If you want to explore further, however, then it is a good idea to rent a scooter or a bicycle which can be easily arranged from a local hotel or guesthouse.

How to get there

To get to the Mentawai Islands, you first need to travel to the city of Padang in West Sumatra. There are flights from Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta to Padang. There is also a range of domestic airlines that make the journey from other parts of Indonesia. Some of the local airlines that travel to Padang are Garuda Indonesia, Air Asia Indonesia and Lion Air.

Local fishermen returning at Padang beach Mentawai Islands, Indonesia

Local fishermen returning at Padang beach. Photo by Fadillah Jafar, via Wikimedia Commons

Once you have travelled to Padang, you will need to get a boat to the Mentawai Islands. One of the best ways to do this is to take a fast ferry that leaves every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. Note that the ferry leaves at 7 am from Padang Harbor, so you will need to come to Padang the night before. The ferry will then travel to Sikabalua Port arriving at 10 am and then on to Siberut at 12 pm where the majority of hotels and guesthouses are.

Where to go nearby

Padang – a coastal city with Dutch colonial buildings and fishing boats
Pekanbaru – the capital of Riau and well known for its modernity and cleanliness while maintaning the many of its unique heritage architectures.

Related articles:
Sumatra Travel Guide
Top 10 Places to Surf in Indonesia
Pulau Weh Island, Sumatra

Indonesian Visa on Arrival, Extension and Long Term: Free or Fee?

So AFTER booking my ticket to Indonesia, like every irresponsible backpacker, I wondered to myself, “HMMMM.. do I need a visa?” Unlike my other trips to Indonesia which were short and sweet thanks to the *generous* 10-day vacation policy in the US, I figured I’d stay longer than 30 days, which is what is allotted on a visa free visit.

Luckily for most people, entry into Indonesia is pretty hassle free, if you’re planning to stay for less than a month. Indonesia allows nationals from over 168 countries to remain in the country Visa Free for a maximum of 30 days.


Gili Trawangan Island, Indonesia


Gili Trawangan, a paradise I can easily stay for more than 30 days

Indonesia Visa Free vs Visa on Arrival

Since I wanted a chance to explore this culturally, biologically and ethnically diverse archipelago made up of 17,000 islands and stretches 5,120 kilometers (just saying… there’s a lot to see!) AND also visit family, I was left with two options: paying for a visa on arrival (VOA) or doing a visa run because you cannot extend the length of your stay if you enter visa free. There is also the option of applying for a social/cultural visa if you’re the type of person who plans ahead (more information at the end of the article!)


Family and friends, Indonesia


Family and friends during my last visit to Indonesia

For those who are unfamiliar with the concept of a visa run, it’s when you hop across the border to another country and then re-enter the country, which you left in order to restart the number of days you’re allowed to stay. While a visa run may tow the line of questionable practices, I hadn’t heard of people running into issues, so I figured it was a viable option. Since I’m currently ballin’ on a budget, I tallied up the cost and decided the cheaper option would be to purchase a VOA at the airport.


Getting Visa on Arrival in Indonesia aiport

Follow these signs in Indonesia aiport to get your Visa on Arrival… easy enough (NOT!)

Getting the visa on arrival seemed pretty easy; I thought all I needed was a valid passport, $35, and a smile to enter (okay, maybe not a smile, but you should do it anyway because you’re in INDONESIA!) However, I found out later that the extension process was a lot more tedious and needed to be done at least two weeks in advance.

Indonesia Visa extension

Two weeks? Why? Well, apparently, I needed to visit three times: once to complete the forms, another time to pay and take my photos and fingerprints, and finally to pick up my passport with the visa extension. On top of that, there are a limited number of offices that you can process the visa extension, including three in Bali, which are almost, always full of people.

Visa, Indonesia


I finally got my Indonesian Visa!

Another option I discovered was that I could get some immigration agent to handle the visa process for about $50. I would still need to start the process about 10-15 days before the visa expired, but I could leave my passport with the agent, enjoy gallivanting and soaking up some sun rays in the other islands, and come back to the office where everything would be completed. And since time is money, it didn’t seem like such a terrible idea. I was left debating whether it would be cheaper to do a visa run OR to pay an agency, and decided to go back in time, and channel my former agency role by making an excel sheet for my budget.



Options to extend my Indonesian Visa: Agent vs Flying in and Out


Options to extend my Indonesian Visa: Hiring an Agent vs Flying in and Out

The best option became pretty obvious; it was cheaper for me to fly from Lombok to KL then to Medan, in order to restart the 30 days. I was a little upset for spending the initial $35 for a VOA (that equals to 10 Bintangs!!!) but I had no one to blame but myself for only doing half the research. But hey, you win some and you lose some, and now I’m on my way to Lombok and Flores before heading to Sumatra. Can’t wait to share more stories with you!



Post visa woes: 
Babe on bikes, exploring Bali

Post visa woes: 
Babe on bikes, exploring Bali on scooters….the easiest and most adventurous ways to get around

Indonesia Long Term Stays Visa

If you are planning ahead (good for you!), below are the two types of most common visas for non-professional longer term stays. You should note that the date of arrival in Indonesia is counted as day one of the permitted stay and the date of departure is also counted as a full day even if the flight leaves just after midnight.

Visa on Arrival

As the name states, this is a visa you can purchase when you arrive in Indonesia at designated entry points by paying US$35 (as of 2016).
Single entry visa
Good for up to 30 days
Can be extended ONLY ONCE for an additional 30 days for another US$35 (as of 2016)
You can also apply for this visa at your respective country’s Indonesian embassy or consulate

Social Cultural Visit Visa

This visa requires a letter of sponsorship from an Indonesian citizen
Good for up to 60 days
Can be extended up to four more times, for a maximum of 180 days total
You must apply for this visa outside of Indonesia
Valid up to three months from date of issue
If you want to extend this visa, you must apply for the extension in the same district stated by your sponsor’s identity card
Here’s more information on Social Cultural Visit Visa

If you do happen to overstay your visa, you will be fined Rp 200,000/day for every day, then deported once you have paid the fine. The maximum fine for overstaying a visa is Rp 25 million and 5 years in jail, so just don’t do it!

Related articles:
Indonesia Tourist Visa Requirement
Indonesia Travel Tips and Information
Do I need a Travel Insurance for Indonesia?

Jimbaran, Bali: Seafood Dining on a White Sandy Beach

Famed for delicious varieties of beachside grilled seafood, Jimbaran is a quaint, little beach resort town settled along the Jimbaran Bay in South Bali. Every night, Jimbaran comes alive with numerous beachside warungs serving grilled fish varieties on the candlelit tables set on the sand. It is simply a wonderful and unique experience enjoying fresh seafood on the beach while watching the gentle waves of water coming from the sea and ultimately wetting your feet in the sand.

Jimbaran, also sometimes called the “Beverly Hills of Bali”, was actually a little fishing village in its earlier days, where people used to trade their catch at the daily market. Things started to change after the 1980s with the wave of development that completely changed the identity of the village. Today, Jimbaran is home to several luxury resorts, high-end villas, and up-market chain hotels, all catering to the needs of luxury tourists visiting Bali to witness the beauty and the charm of this mesmerizing island.

Jimbaran Beach, Bali, Indonesia

Jimbaran Beach, Bali. Photo by Trans World Productions

Where is it

Jimbaran is located about 15 km from Denpasar and 3 km from Ngurah Rai International Airport in South Bali. It lies between Kuta and the Bukit Peninsula, with Kuta to its northeast and Uluwatu to the southwest.

Why go

Think of a town where you can have a superb seafood dining experience while watching the sunset on a white sandy beach. Jimbaran is the only place on Bali wish provides you with this wonderful opportunity. The town also offers a beautiful coastline along Jimbaran Bay, serving as home to some of the best surfing sites in Bali.

Fishermen at Jimbaran Bay, Bali, Indonesia

Fishermen at Jimbaran Bay, Bali. Photo by Mark Lehmkuhler

When is the best time to go

Although you can visit Jimbaran any time of the year, the period from May to August is usually the best time to visit the town. The cool, pleasant weather makes conditions perfect for traveling during these months. Jimbaran, like other regions of Bali, experiences tropical climate year round. The rainy season lasts from October to March and is usually avoided by tourists for travel purpose.

What to see

Jimbaran beach, a pleasant white sandy beach, with calm waters which makes it completely safe for swimming. One of the favorite activities for tourists on this beach is to enjoy the sunset with food and drink at any of the restaurants located on the beach.

Fish Market at Jimbaran Bay, Bali, Indonesia

Fish Market at Jimbaran Bay, Bali. Photo by Annie Mole

Jimbaran fish market, located at northern end of the Jimbaran bay. Every morning, fishermen return to this traditional fish market to sell their daily catch. Different varieties of fishes are sold here, and all top restaurants of Bali get their fish supply from this market. The best time to visit the market is between 6 am – 9 am when the market is buzzing completely with the activity of buyers and sellers.

What to do

Of course enjoys Jimbaran’s beach barbeques. There are several beachside warungs which serve fresh fishes grilled over coconut husks, and it is an amazing experience enjoying the dinner served at candlelit tables on the sand.

Seafood dining at Jimbaran Bay, Bali, Indonesia

Seafood dining at Jimbaran Bay, Bali. Photo by Güldem Üstün

Surfing on Jimbaran Bay. Jimbaran is one of the safest places in Bali to try surfing and swimming. Some perfect surf breaks are accessible from Jimbaran Bay using chartered boats. The bay is also perfect for swimming. A large number of local children can be seen swimming on the beach in the evenings.

Strolling on the narrow streets of Jimbaran is an activity that most tourists like to enjoy. The town with its small streets and gangs (alleys) appears like a little Balinese society, and watching smiling faces of the locals while walking on Jimbaran streets is a pleasant experience for most tourists.

What and where to eat

Jimbaran is famous for fresh fish barbeques served at most beachfront warungs. You can find many people coming to Jimbaran from areas like Kuta, Sanur, and Nusa Dua just to enjoy the fishes grilled in front of them and served with sauces and vegetables. At every beach-shack warung, you will find a table set out on the sand. Warungs near the Kedonganan fish market offer the cheapest food. Sharkey’s Ayu Wandira, and Pudak are some of the well-known warungs in this area.

Four Seasons Resort at Jimbaran Bay, Bali, Indonesia

Four Seasons Resort at Jimbaran Bay, Bali. Photo by Sarah_Ackerman

Where to stay

Most of the accommodation available in Jimbaran is up-market, catering to luxury tourists. You can find several beach resorts, 5-star hotels, and high-end villas in the town. Budget accommodation is available but little in number. Rimba Jimbaran by Ayana, Kayumanis Private Villas and Spa, The Villas at Ayana Resort, and Jamahal Private Resort and Spa * are some of the well-known top-end options in Jimbaran.

-> Find the best hotel deals in Jimbaran at Booking.com *

How to get there

Fly into Ngurah Rai International Airport, which is served by many national and international airlines including Garuda Indonesia, Korean Air and Singapore Airlines.

By Taxi – The airport lies just 3 km north of Jimbaran, and a pre-paid taxi costs around Rp 65,000 – 85,000; the exact figures depend on the location of your hotel in the town. Metered taxis are available from outside the airport area and a bit cheaper compared to pre-paid taxis.

By Bus – Dark-blue bemos ply regularly between Tegal bus terminus in Denpasar and Jimbaran (via Kuta). Trans Sarabagita bus service also connects Denpasar to Jimbaran and Uluwatu.

How to get around

You can easily explore Jimbaran’s downtown area and narrow lanes on foot. Like other tourist resorts in Bali, rented motorbikes and metered taxis are also readily available all around the town day and night.

Sunset at Jimbaran Bay, Bali, Indonesia

Sunset at Jimbaran Bay, Bali. Photo by Adam Lai

Where to go nearby

Denpasar, the administrative capital of Bali

Kuta, Bali’s most famous beach resort offering lots of opportunities to enjoy partying and surfing.

Ubud, the center of art and culture in Bali and home to a large number of artistically-designed temples.

Uluwatu, located south of Jimbaran and featuring Uluwatu Temple, one of the oldest existing temples in Bali.

Nusa Dua, a high-class beach resort located southeast of Jimbaran.

Related articles:
Sanur: The Relaxing Beach Resort Town of Bali
Top 10 Areas to Stay in South and Central Bali
Top 10 Best Bali Beaches

Bedugul, Bali: Mountains, Lakes and Treks

The Danau Bratan region, also just known as Bedugul, refers to the large area in the central highlands of Bali and is famed for imposing mountains, picturesque lakes, beautiful trekking routes and impressive temples. Bedugul region encompasses many villages including Bedugul itself, Pacung, Candikuning, Wanagiri, Pancasari, and others. The area lies at an altitude of 700 m or higher and is usually visited by the tourists seeking a respite from the hot, humid conditions of the coastal regions of Bali.

Most of the tourist activities in Bedugul region center around the three beautiful lakes: Danau Bratan, Danau Buyan and Danau Tamblingan. Danau Bratan, surrounded by rolling lush green hills, provides a wide array of water sports activities to tourists. Local Balinese farmers worship the lake goddess at an ancient temple that sits near the lake. The smaller Danau Buyan and Danau Tamblingan lakes are located northwest of Bedugul village and are easily accessible by means of good, motorable roads.

Village, lake and mountain of Bedugul, Bali, Indonesia

Village, lake and mountain of Bedugul, Bali

Where is it

Bedugul is located in the central highlands of Bali, about 50 km north of Denpasar and 25 km south of Singaraja.

Why go

To take in the natural beauty of the region while getting indulged in lots of adventurous activities at the same time. If you want a break from hot, humid conditions of coastal Bali, Bedugul is a perfect destination to head for.

When is the best time to go

Nights at Bedugul are cooler compared to the coastal areas of Bali. The dry months of May to August are considered the best months to visit Bedugul. The rainy months of October to March are generally avoided by tourists. Christmas and New Year time are usually the exceptions when a large number of domestic and international tourists arrive at Bedugul to enjoy their vacations.

View of the lake at Bedugul, Bali, Indonesia

View of the lake at Bedugul, Bali

What to see

Bali Botanical Gardens. One of the four official botanical gardens of the country, the picturesque Bali Botanical Gardens are situated in Candikuning area. These gardens are spread over an area of about 160 hectares across the slopes of Gunung Pohon and give visitors an opportunity to spend a whole day in close proximity to more than 400 species of orchids, 650 species of trees, and over 80 species of birds. A massive “corn on the cob” stone statue at the entrance road is amazing to watch. The gardens remain open between 8 am – 4 pm daily.

Pura Ulun Danu Temple, Bedugul, Bali, Indonesia

Pura Ulun Danu Temple, Bedugul, Bali

Lake Bratan Temple (Pura Ulun Danu Bratan). As of the Top 10 Temples to Visit in Bali, this immensely attractive temple stands on the shore of Lake Bratan. The temple is devoted to Ida Batara Devi Ulun Danu and dates back to 1633. It is also one of the top most photographed temples of Bali. Its close proximity to lake creates an illusion that the temple is floating on the lake.

What to do

Trekking in the mountain slopes and around the lakes. Trekking in Bedugul area is a highly rewarding experience for most visitors. Many groups organize regular trekking tours for Mount Catur, around Lake Tamblingan, Jatiluwih, and Munduk area. These tours allow trekkers to explore the hidden areas of central Bali while enjoying the spectacular views at the same time.

Trekking to Mount Lesong, Bedugul, Bali, Indonesia

Trekking to Mount Lesong, Bedugul, Bali

Taking a dip in one of the secluded waterfalls. There are several beautiful and secluded waterfalls dotted around Bedugul, and if you can try to find one of these secret spots and take a dip in one of the clearest waterfalls you’ve ever seen.

What and where to eat

Bedugul is known for a variety of restaurants serving a local specialty called Ayam Taliwang, which is a spiced and grilled/fried chicken. Bedugul Lake View, located near Lake Bratan, is known for its delicious local dishes. You can also find several inexpensive places lining the road to the Botanical Gardens. Ngiring Ngewedang near Lake Tamblingan lets visitors enjoy tasty Indonesian food as well as views of the beautiful surroundings at the same time. Restaurant Batukaru (between Mount Batukaru and Jatiluwih), Strawberry Hill (Bukit Strobeli), Strawberry Stop (between Lake Bratan and Lake Buyan), and Warung Bukit Hexon are some other popular restaurants in Bedugul area.

Procession at Pura Ulun Danu Temple, Bedugul, Bali, Indonesia

Procession at Pura Ulun Danu Temple, Bedugul, Bali

Where to stay

Candikuning village in Bedugul is known for providing the best tourist facilities to visitors. Some nice budget options in Bedugul include Ashram Guest House (near Lake Bratan), Ibu Hadi Homestay, Penginapan Cempaka (Jalan Kebun Raya), and Sari Artha Inn. Among mid-range options, Atres Villa * (Banyuatis Village), Aditya Homestay * (Munduk) and CLV Hotel & Villa * are some of the popular names. Handara Golf & Resort * (Pancasari), Puri Candikuning Retreat * (near Bratan Temple), The Kalaspa Health Retreat (Banjar Asah Panji), and Saranam Eco Resort (Pacung) cater to luxury tourists in the region.

How to get there

Ngurah Rai International Airport, also known as Denpasar International Airport, is the nearest airport to Bedugul. The airport is served by several domestic and international airlines including Garuda Indonesia, Singapore Airlines, etc. You can hire a prepaid or a metered taxi from the airport which usually takes not more than two hours to get to Bedugul. Regular bemo (minibus) for Bedugul are available from Batubulan terminal in Denpasar and Singaraja town. Taxis are readily available from different parts of Bali. You can also rent a car and drive up yourself to enjoy the wonderful roads in the region. However, make sure that you have a good map of Bali and Bedugul region before you start your journey.

Local boats at Lake Bedugul, Bali, Indonesia

Local boats at Lake Bedugul, Bali

How to get around

Using a motorcycle is a perfect way to get around the Bedugul area. Many of the places of interest in this area are located too far to be explored on foot. You can ask your hotel staff to arrange for a rented motorbike for you. You’ll also find many taxi drivers willing to take you to nearby attractions for a fixed price. Local bemo (minibus) are generally available, and you can find them around the car parking place in Candikuning market as well as in Pancasari village.

Where to go nearby

Munduk, one of the off the beaten tracks places with its own local charm.
Singaraja, the former capital of Bali, featuring lots of imposing monuments and colonial structures.
Lovina, the coastal town of North Bali, famous for lovely beaches and early-morning dolphin trips.

Photo credits from top: trezy humanoiz, a_rabin , Aleksandr Zykov, Rollan Budi, Castio T. Lauren, Jos Dielis and alex hanoko

Related articles:
Pura Ulun Danu Temple at Lake Bratan, Bali
Lovina Beach – Bali and Black Beaches