North Sumatra 7 Days / 1 Week Itinerary – Medan, Berastagi, Lake Toba

Planning an itinerary for Sumatra can be tough as it is not as firmly on the tourist trail compared to many other places in Indonesia, for example, Bali or Java and so it can be difficult to know what to do there and where to go. Planning the itinerary for Sumatra is also no easy feat but don’t worry as our itinerary will fit in some of the must visit places in Sumatra, fitting them all in one week.

In this itinerary, you will find yourself covering the 3 main tourist locations of Sumatra that are interlinked to your convenience. They are Medan, the main city and where you most likely fly into, Berastagi, the Karo highlands of rice fields and the famous Lake Toba, the largest volcano lake in the world with arguably the best tourist facilities in Sumatra.

Here is a suggested itinerary that you can tailor according to your own preferences for your 7 days in Sumatra.

Medan

Suggested time: 2 days
Connects to Berastagi (2 hours) or Lake Toba (5 hours)

Medan is not typically thought of as a tourist destination by international travelers who used it simply as an entry and exit point to move on to other places. The domestic market in Indonesia, however, sees things very differently and Medan is known as the culinary capital of Indonesia.

Tjong A Fie Mansion in Medan, Sumatra, Indonesia

Tjong A Fie Mansion in Medan, Sumatra. Photo by Pratyeka, via Wikimedia Commons

Day 1 – Medan sightseeing and food

Tjong A Fie Mansion was a relative of the better known Cheong Fatt Tze who lived in Penang and built the gorgeous Cheong Fatt Tze mansion. This is one of Medan’s few real attractions and is definitely worth a trip to see how people would have lived in 1900. It’s also near to Kesawan Square, a great option if you are looking for some authentic Medanese food.

Addres: 105 Jl. Jend. A. Yani,
Kesawan, Medan Bar, Kota Medan,
Sumatera Utara 20111;
Telephone: 0813 6120 3998.
Opening hours: 9 am to 5 pm.

Soto Medan, Sumatra, Indonesia

Soto Medan. Photo by Fachriazmi9, via Wikimedia Commons

Soto Kesawan is located just across from Tjong A Fie Mansion so it makes sense to combine the two. You will need to get here before 4 pm however as they shut up shop after that. This small cafe is famous for its Soto, a soup made with coconut milk and filled with juicy prawns.

Address: Jl. Ahmad Yani, Kesawan, Medan Bar,
Kota Medan, Sumatera Utara
Telephone: 20236; 061 4514518
Opening hours: 7 am to 4 pm.

Day 2 – Medan Mosques and Palaces

Mesjid Raya Al Mashun is the great mosque of Medan and is known for its great beauty and imported building materials. You will see glittering green tiles here as well as graceful black domes and pretty stained glass and marble floors. Make sure to dress modestly if you are going to visit.

Address: Jl. Sisingamangaraja, No. 1, Medan Kota,
Kota Medan, Sumatera Utara
Telephone: 20212; 061 4512555.

The great grand mosque of Medan, Sumatra, Indonesia

The great grand mosque of Medan. Photo by Rolling Okie

Istana Maimun is the royal palace that used to belong to the Sultanate of Deli. Now it has been turned into a museum and you can also catch a traditional band here that play local tunes every day at 10 am.

Address: Jl. Sultan Ma’moen Al Rasyid No. 66, Medan Maimun,
A U R, Medan Maimun, Kota Medan, Sumatera Utara 20151.
Opening hours: 8 am to 5 pm.

Istana Maimun (Palace), Medan Sumatra, Indonesia

Istana Maimun (Palace), Medan. Photo by I, Merbabu via Wikimedia Commons

Merdeka Walk – If you are looking for dinner in Medan but can’t decide what to get then consider a trip to Merdeka Walk. Here you will find a long strip that has a range of stalls selling all kinds of dishes from noodles, to rice, to soups, to desserts.

Address: Jl. Balai Kota, Medan Barat, Kesawan,
Medan Bar, Kota Medan, Sumatera Utara 20236.
Opening hours: Some places here are open 24 hours a day.

Moving on from Medan, you have two options:

How to get to Berastagi – Take a bus from the main bus station on Jalan SM Raja that will take you directly to Berastagi. The trip takes about 2 hours.

If you want to skip Berastagi then you can also take a bus directly to Lake Toba from Medan which takes around 5/6 hours.

Berastagi

Suggested time: 2 days
Connects to Medan (2 hours) or Lake Toba (4/5 hours)

From Medan, you can easily move on to Berastagi, home of the Karo people with just a 2 hours bus ride. One of the highlights of Berastagi is picking your own fruit like oranges and strawberries at one of the local farms, although you need to be there when the fruit is ripening so it’s best to check when you are actually in Berastagi.

Gunung Sibayak (mountain) at Berastagi, Sumatra, Indonesia

Gunung Sibayak (mountain) at Berastagi, Sumatra. Photo by swifant

Day 3 – Berastagi volcano mountain

Gunung Sibayak is a dormant volcano has a large crater at the top from which gas still erupts. There are also hot springs here where you can soak in the naturally warm thermal waters. It is about a 7 kilometer walk to the top.

Day 4 – Berastagi waterfall

Sipiso-piso Waterfall – This is one of the best spots in Berastagi and you can see all the way to Lake Toba from here. You can catch a mini bus called an angkot straight from Berastagi to the waterfall or hire a motorbike and head out there on your own.

Gunung Sipiso-piso Waterfall at Berastagi, Sumatra, Indonesia

Sipiso-piso Waterfall at Berastagi. Photo by Ronald Tagra

Moving on from Berastagi, we head on to Lake Toba.

How to get to Lake Toba – You will need to take a mini-bus to Siantar which takes about 3 hours and then another bus to Parapat which takes about 1 hour. It’s then a short ferry ride across to Tuk Tuk, the main island in Lake Toba.

Lake Toba

Suggested time: 2 days
Connects to Berastagi (4/5 hours) or Medan (5/6 hours)

Lake Toba is a gem in the region of Sumatra and has a crater lake that sits in a dormant volcano. It’s also the largest crater lake in the world and sits next to the charming island of Tuk Tuk.

Lake Toba, Sumatra, Indonesia

Lake Toba, Sumatra, Indonesia. Photo by Holmes Nainggolan

Day 5 – Enjoy Lake Toba and Tuk tuk village

Enjoy the lake – One of the reasons people come to Lake Toba is the lake, so make sure that you enjoy all that it has to offer. You can indulge in a range of water sports here and can tour the lake in a speedboat. For something a little more relaxing you can simply float here in a rubber tube.

Visit Tuk Tuk – The village of Tuk Tuk is charming and is also the home of a Batak cemetery. Here you will find amazing carved graves Batak kings which are in the shape of traditional Batak houses, so make sure to give this a miss to get an insight into Batak culture.

Batak People @ Lake Toba, Sumatra, Indonesia

Batak Women. Photo by Marc Veraart

Day 6 – Explore Lake Toba island

Tuk Tuk is covered in a range of attractions and due to its size, you can see most of them in a day. The best option is to hire a car and driver or a motorbike to whizz around the island.

Day 7 – Back to Medan

Getting back to Medan, completing the loop of Medan, Berastagi and Lake Toba in Sumatra. Here you can choose to head onwards north to Bukit Lawang for the Orangutan trek or the interesting city Banda Aceh or go for diving at Pulau Weh.

Check out our Sumatra Travel Guide.

Related articles:
2 weeks or 15 days itinerary in Sumatra
3 weeks itinerary for Islands of Indonesia

Going Local in Sumatra: Berastagi and Lake Toba

While Bali and Jakarta are high on most people’s must-see lists in Indonesia, the culture, mountains and waterfalls of North Sumatra were calling my name more than the beaches and cities crowded with heaps of tourists. By getting off the beaten track, I wasn’t only able to get a deeper feel for the country; I was able to leave my own impression on the nation as well.

Although my destination was only 40 miles from the Medan airport, crude roads and the occasional bovine traffic jam meant that getting to Berastagi took around 2 hours. The public transportation system also meant that this time was spent in the back of a crowded van painted with such vibrant colors that I could have sworn its original use was for transporting clowns.

Finally arriving at my destination, I found myself facing a dusty street lined with shops that seemed to be acting as venues for card games and lively conversations more than actual retail outlets. The fronts of houses were worn and many featured badly chipping paint, but their inhabitants carried a friendly and pleasant air that floated through the streets.

Mangosteens at Berastagi Market, Sumatra, Indonesia

Mangosteens at Berastagi Market, Sumatra

Almost immediately after getting out of the van, I was greeted with a lively wave by a fit man of 30. He looked upon me with kind eyes as if he was looking upon an old friend. After a brief moment, he introduced himself as Abdy Sitanggang, my host from Nachelle’s Homestay. My mind then clicked back to the endless emails we had exchanged prior to my arrival. Abdy had always been enthusiastic in his communication and was even more so in person. This seemed to be something the man carried in endless supplies as he immediately began to urge that we take off and explore the traditional market. Eager to see something that still excited a local, I promptly agreed. Pleased with my decision and bursting with pride, Abdy began explaining that as “Berastagi” means “rice store”, the town’s market is vital to its 40,000 residents.

I quickly found this importance to be far from an exaggeration as the moment I entered the market; I was met with open-air stalls, bursting with vibrantly coloured fruits and lively chatter. Abdy’s excitement fit right in as he bounded towards a large pile of round purple fruits topped with fluorescent green leaves. “Do you know what these are?” he asked excitedly. I made a guilty face in response; fearful my lack of knowledge would come as a disappointment. However, Abdy smiled on to explain: “they are mangosteens,” winking at the stall owner and taking a fruit off the top of the pile “see how this one is purple and squishy? That means it is the tastiest,” he explained as he peeled the purple skin to reveal a white interior.

Traditional Market, Berastagi, Sumatra, Indonesia

Traditional Market, Berastagi, Sumatra

I then took off to explore the market on my own and while wandering past a shop bursting with cheery flowers, I heard a group of school children call out “miss, miss” from behind me. When I turned towards the group, they began fiddling with their hands and whispering nervously to each other. Finally, one of the girls was pushed to the front of the pack and asked it I would practice English with them. I wasn’t going to deny them something as simple as my time, so I agreed. With this, the kids immediately began rummaging through their school bags to pull out notebooks filled with perfectly handwritten English phrases.

Their meek demeanours immediately vanished and I received inquisitions about things like: “what is your favourite colour?” and “do you like Indonesia?”. As I had only just arrived in the country, I told the kids they were my favourite part of Indonesia and was met by beaming faces.

The region offered more than traditional marketplaces however, and the next morning, Abdy and I embarked on a trek up Mount Sibayak, a stratovolcano three miles out of Berastagi, at 3am the following morning to reach its peak for sunrise. We headed towards the summit in the pitch dark while being guided only by a small flashlight. Despite having summited several mountains in the Canadian Rockies, all of my previous climbs had been during the day and trekking at night was a completely different experience. Despite my hiking boots, the lack of lighting meant I almost lost my footing on several occasions and instead of the usual treetop vistas, the sky was the main attraction, hosting the largest collection of stars I had ever seen.

The peak offered more surprises as we were greeted by groups of local children also eagerly awaiting the view with more zeal than I thought was possible for anyone to have at such an early hour. When the sun began to peak over the horizon, the sky erupted with pink and orange light. With each passing minute, more of the landscape was revealed and surrounding mountains seemed to appear from out of thin air.

Sunrise at Berastagi, Medan, Sumatra, Indonesia

Sunrise at Berastagi, Sumatra

Once the sun had fully risen, I began my descent back down. The trail was incomparable to what I had experienced on my way up as I could now see the dense foliage and sharp outcropping of sulphuric rock that surrounded it.

My final excursion then took me to Lake Toba. Abdy explained this site as a caldera from an ancient volcano, which over time became inactive and flooded from a stream flowing down the tallest waterfall in Indonesia. This Sipiso-piso falls drop down a height of 360 feet before releasing their waters into the largest volcanic lake in the world at 702 square miles.

After trekking around the falls and witnessing the water rush powerfully off the cliff-face, Abdy took me to the small village of Tongging for lunch along the lake’s shore. Here, we entered a bright blue building overhanging right into the lake. There was a selection of tables, but I opted for a seat on a mat by the windows in order to get a full view of my surroundings. Rugged green mountains met trees with bright violet flowers before plummeting into shimmering turquoise waters. With a slight haze in the distance, the lake seemed to extend infinitely into the horizon.

Shops at Lake Toba, Medan, Sumatra, Indonesia

Shops at Lake Toba, Sumatra

As much as I wanted to gaze simply upon the calm waters and breath the clean, crisp air, Abdy pulled me away to introduce me to “the best cook on Lake Toba”. To my bewilderment, this cook turned out to be a spunky young girl of 13, Lina. Despite her young age, she lived up to her title, giving me a full demonstration on how to catch, cook and season Tilapia to perfection.

The process began by using a large net to remove the fish from their pen. Then, a couple of incisions were made and rubbed with lemon juice, onions and curry paste. Once the fish had been fully coated, Lina then placed it in a pan a top a wood burning stove to grill for about 5 minutes on each side. Once the fish was prepared, we all sat down to enjoy our creation. Although full sets of cutlery were put out, Lina and Abdy dug into their saucy fish with bare hands and I decided to dig right in as well. While enjoying crispy and spicy mouthfuls of fish and picking out a surprisingly large amount of bones for such a small animal, Lina asked in broken English about my favourite colours and what I liked most about Indonesia. Clearly wanting to practice her English, I told her my favourite thing about the country was her fish and asked her about her favourite colours and what she liked most about Indonesia. Without hesitation, she replied: “I like to teach nice people like you how to cook fish here”.

Tilapia fish at Traditional meal, Lake Toba, Medan, Sumatra, Indonesia

Tilapia fish at Traditional meal, Lake Toba, Sumatra

We continued to chat as a gentle lake shore breeze wafted across the restaurant. I looked out over the lake and couldn’t help but get caught in the infinite aquatic beauty that extended around me. As I admired the crystalline waters and the lush arbours mountain-scape, I realized the landscape wasn’t the only besieging allure at Lake Toba. There was also a kind, welcoming beauty in the new friendships that were forming.

Despite coming from upbringings half a world apart, I was able to create honest connections with Abdy and Lina. Since my visit, I’ve kept in contact with both of them and have come to see that it only take a few days to lay the foundation for a lasting friendship.

I had come to Sumatra to hike volcanoes in the middle of the night and visit waterfalls. While I accomplished both these feats, neither was the highlight of my journey. Instead, the new friendships I made took centre stage and opened my eyes to a whole new aspect of travel.

Guest Post by Judi Zienchuk
Nachelle Homestay
Address: Jalan Kenanga No. 82, Berastagi, Indonesia
Phone: +62 821-6275-7658
Website: https://www.facebook.com/NachelleHomeStay

Related articles:
Lake Toba Travel Guide

2 weeks or 15 days Itinerary in Sumatra

Planning to take a trip to Sumatra for about 2 weeks (15 days)? Don’t worry as we are here to help you sort it out. As Sumatra is not a well-trodden tourist trail in Indonesia, in opposed to Java or Bali, it may be a little difficult to plan out your days here.

In this itinerary you will cover some of the top 10 must-visit places in Sumatra in the northern part of Sumatra. The attractions are such as the buzzing city of Medan, the Karo highlands of rice fields at Berastagi, the largest volcanic lake in the world Lake Toba, the conservation area with treks to seek out the Sumatra Orang-Utan at Bukit Lawang, the less congested Sumatran city Banda Aceh and diving off the volcanic island Pulau Weh.

The plan is to fly into Medan and then leave flying out of Banda Aceh to save on the land travel in Sumatra, which may take a while due to road conditions.

Sumatra Travel Map

Sumatra Travel Map

Sumatra Travel Map

Week 1 Itinerary

First fly into Medan, one of the major city in Sumatra and known to the locals as a culinary hub. You will spend your first week here and its surrounding.

Day 1 and 2 – Medan

May not be the favourite of many tourists but Medan does hold some charm with its colonial Tjong A Fie Mansion, grand Mosque and old palace. It also packs a punch in the food department, like its famous Soto Kesawan.

Tjong A Fie Mansion in Medan, Sumatra, Indonesia

Tjong A Fie Mansion in Medan, Sumatra. Photo by Pratyeka, via Wikimedia Commons

Day 3 and 4 – Berastagi

Heading here with 2 hours ride up to the Karo highlands, you will find yourself relaxing to the cooling atmosphere. There is the Gunung Sibayak mountain to hike and the Sipiso-sipiso waterfall to marvel at.

Gunung Sipiso-piso Waterfall at Berastagi, Sumatra, Indonesia

Sipiso-piso Waterfall at Berastagi. Photo by Ronald Tagra

Day 5 and 6 – Lake Toba

This famous lake of Sumatra beckons us to come and just sit down and idle our time away. It is the largest volcanic lake in the world and a wonder to reckon with. Besides chilling by the lake, the Tuk-tuk village is also worth to check out for its rich Batak culture.

Lake Toba, Sumatra, Indonesia

Lake Toba, Sumatra, Indonesia. Photo by Holmes Nainggolan

For a detailed itinerary on this first week, check out our 1 week / 7 days in Sumatra itinerary.

Week 2 Itinerary

On the second week, we proceed onwards to the north of Sumatra.

Day 7 and 8 – Bukit Lawang

Head on to Bukit Lawang from Medan, you may hire a car or taxi to get here for the quickest option or there are several buses plying this route. The ride will take about 3 hours. Many come here specifically for Orangutan trekking, which is quite an experience itself.

Mother and Baby Orangutan @ Bukit Lawang

Mother and Baby Orangutan. Photo by Arian Zweger

Day 9 and 10 – Banda Aceh

Buses also run from Bukit Lawang to Banda Aceh, so head onwards here to northern Sumatra trip. At this fairly less chaotic city of Sumatra in comparison to Medan, one can find many things to do in Banda Aceh, such as the beautiful mosque, historical sites, musuems and coffee shops for the famous Aceh’s coffee beans.

Masjid Mosque Banda Aceh, Indonesia

Aceh great mosque. Photo by Vidi Agiorno

Day 11, 12 and 13 – Pulau Weh

Take a ferry out of Banda Aceh to Sabang, to get to Pulau Weh, with fast ferry with only 45 minutes and slow ferry/boat for 2 hours. As one of the best diving site in Indonesia with 20 diving spots, Pulau Weh is worth to take a trip out to. Off the beaten track from Sumatra and one of Indonesia’s beautiful islands, this jungle island house many rare species from the land to the sea.

Sabang, Pulau Weh, Sumatra, Indonesia

Sabang, Pulau Weh. Photo by Franc López

Day 14 – Banda Aceh

Get back on land to Banda Aceh and fly out at the airport here onwards to other places in Indonesia or elsewhere. There are frequent flights to Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur from Banda Aceh.

If you have some more time, do consider adding more days in Pulau Weh or Lake Toba for relaxation, as they are one of the favourite gems of travelers in Sumatra. As you can see, there are more than Sumatra that meets the eye, with 2 weeks we are only barely scratching the surface of northern part of it. But with that, we have covered a lot of the best of what Sumatra can offer and it’s good enough as a tasting tour of Sumatra.

Related articles:
Sumatra 7 days (1 week) Itinerary
Sumatra Travel Guide

Author: Pearl

Living in Jakarta for more than 20 years now, she still have not manage to cover the tip of Indonesia’s diverse destinations, people and even food! Pearl loves shopping as much as enjoying luxury but she knows all these have to be done sensibly and on a budget. Therefore you may find the best scoop and offers in Jakarta and beyond with her.