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

Aisyah Llewellyn

Author: Aisyah Llewellyn

Aisyah Llewellyn lives in Sumatra in beautiful Indonesia and writes widely about food and travel in Southeast Asia. Fluent in Indonesian, she also runs food tours educating travellers about Indonesian food and ingredients. She has travelled all over Indonesia but fell in love with North Sumatra when she first visited over 10 years ago. You can follow her on Twitter @BRITgrlINDOfood

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