Top 10 Things To Do In Lake Toba

Lake Toba is the jewel in the crown of North Sumatra with many things to do besides chilling by the famous crater lake. Located around 5 hours away from the capital of North Sumatra, Medan, this is one of the premium holiday destinations in the region.

Visitors flock to Lake Toba to check out the largest crater lake in the world and to enjoy learning about the culture of the indigenous residents called the Batak Toba.

View of Lake Toba, Sumatra, Indonesia
View of Lake Toba, Sumatra, Indonesia. Photo by Bernard Gagnon via Wikimedia

Here are the recommended things to do in Lake Toba:

Watch a show at the Museum Huta Bolon Simanindo

One of the top attractions in Lake Toba is the chance to check out a show at the Museum Huta Bolon Simanindo. Performances take place twice daily from Monday to Saturday with one show on Sunday. If you make the journey to Simanindo Village for a performance, you will get to enjoy traditional Batak dancing and singing and the signature part of the show is the slaughtering of a buffalo although a live buffalo is used to recreate the mood and is fortunately not harmed during the proceedings.

A different village with performers. Samosir Island, Sumatra, Indonesia.
A different village with performers. Samosir Island, Sumatra, Indonesia. Photo by Dan Lundberg via Wikimedia

Go kayaking

If you are looking for a chance to get some exercise and you want to enjoy the waters of Lake Toba up close then consider going kayaking. One of the best things to do is walk to the shoreline and look for the old fashioned picnic spots here, as this is where you will also find vendors who will rent you a kayak. From here you can shoot out across the water and take in all the beauty of the surrounding crater for which Lake Toba is so famous.

Natural scenery of Lake Toba, North Sumatera is very charming and full of peace.
Natural scenery of Lake Toba, North Sumatera is very charming and full of peace. Photo by Wagino via Wikimedia

Bathe in the hot springs

If you fancy a long, hot soak, then head to the hot springs in Pangururan. Here you will a number of different ways to bathe and there are concrete swimming pools as well as smaller natural rock pools which provide a more rustic experience. The water is quite hot as it is fed by an underground source and this is a good place to come if you have been touring the island all morning and are looking to relax.

Visit Makam Raja Sidabutar

Another reason why people flock to Lake Toba is to take in the amazing graves of the former Batak kings that are located in Tomok. The graves are made of large slabs of carved stone and you need to wear a traditional Batak ulos when you walk around the cemetery. This is a panel of fabric like a scarf that you drape over your shoulder and is used to show respect when you visiting the final resting place of the royal family.

Lake Toba, Tombs
Lake Toba, Tombs. Photo by Arian Zwegers

Take a boat ride on the lake

There are several ways that you can enjoy the waters of Lake Toba, but if you don’t want to get your hair wet then one of the best ways is by taking a boat ride on the lake. You can rent a boat from a number of different places dotted around the lake and prices are negotiable depending on how long you want to cruise around and how well you haggle. Most boats are small speed boats and come with a driver who will whizz you around and point out some of the sights.

Boat ride in Lake Toba, Sumatra, Indonesia
Boat ride in Lake Toba, Sumatra, Indonesia. Photo by ivanatman

Enjoy the food

One of the best things to do in Lake Toba is enjoy the food. The Batak Toba who live here are mainly Christians and with that in mind you will find many more pork based dishes than in other parts of North Sumatra. Some of these include curries which are flavoured with pork blood or you can also get crispy barbecued pork. As with the rest of North Sumatra, the Nasi Padang here is excellent and includes rice which is then heaped with vegetable and curry dishes. Most of the main restaurants are located in Tomok Village and you will also find some Western food choices here if you are looking for variety.

Admire the stone chairs in Ambarita

Another one of the famous attractions in Lake Toba is the stone chairs which are situated in the village of Ambarita. The chairs date back some 300 years and would have been the seats of the king’s council in years gone by. Judgements and punishments would have been passed here such as executions and the chairs tower over you in size, giving you an idea of how a king’s council would have looked in the days of old.

Famous E stone chairs, Sumatra, Lake Toba, Sumatra, Indonesia
Famous E stone chairs in Ambarita, Lake Toba. Photo by julia Chapple

Tour the island on a motorbike

If you have a motorbike license then there is no better way to get around Lake Toba than to rent a motorbike. You can rent a set of wheels from many of the guesthouses on Samosir Island very cheaply and this allows you the freedom to enjoy the lush scenery of Lake Toba firsthand. If you don’t have a motorbike license then you can also rent a normal bike.

Motorbiking in Lake Toba, Sumatra, Indonesia
Motorbiking in Lake Toba, Sumatra. Photo by Klim Levene

Shop for textiles

Lake Toba is known for its pretty textiles so make the most of it if you want to buy a souvenir of your time here. The village of Suhi-Suhi is best known for its woven fabrics, although in reality you can get pieces all over Samosir Island. Lake Toba is particularly known for its ulos which come in different sizes and are made by weaving strips of fabric in a range of traditional patterns.

Hike up Pusuk Buhit

Pusuk Buhit is the main mountain in the Lake Toba area and it rises to a height of some 2,000 meters above sea level. The mountain is considered to be sacred in Batak culture as legend has it that Batak kings were born here in the days of old. If you want to hike up the mountain then be prepared for a rather long walk as it takes around 5 hours to get to the summit. That said, if you fancy a workout then it is more than worth it as you will get panoramic views of Lake Toba.

Pusuk Buhit, Lake Toba, Sumatra, Indonesia
Pusuk Buhit, Lake Toba, Sumatra, Indonesia. Photo by Pixabay

Best Accommodations at Lake Toba

There are many hotels, guesthouses and resorts along the lake in Tuk tuk, with some further away in smaller towns. You do not need to worry about choices of stay in Lake Toba *, in exception to Chinese New Year where it might peak with tourists thus hike in price and probably lack in space. The best rated hotels here are Horas Family Home * and Toba Village Inn *. While the best budget option in here is the Toba Cats Garden *.

Guide to Lake Toba, Sumatra – Hotels, To do and Attractions

Lake Toba, also known as Danau Toba, is one of the most popular tourist attraction in Sumatra. Tourism in Lake Toba is fairly developed, but it still holds its own quiet charm.

It is the largest volcanic lake in the world measuring at 1,707 sq ft. It is formed by a gigantic volcanic eruption some 70,000 years ago and is probably the world’s biggest caldera. As a fact, this lake was a product of a massive supervolcanic eruption about 77,000 years ago, is known as the Toba catastrophe theory that is rumoured to have killed many of the human population.

With a quiet and serene beauty, most people make a trip here just to unwind and while the time away, especially after a hardcore extended backpacking or trekking.

-> Find out Lake Toba Accomodations

Where is it

This largest volcanic lake is located in Sumatra, Indonesia. Samosir island (Pulau Samosir) within the lake is the island inside of the island of Sumatra.

Indonesia Sumatra Map

Indonesia Sumatra Map. Photo by Burmesedays

Why go

Amidst mountains with clear lake that almost reflect anything, it is definitely a relaxing place. But as a bonus, the Batak people living here is another highlight of the place, being outgoing, they will make sure your stay is well worth it. Just say “Horas” (the tradition Batak greeting) and you will definitely a dose of their hospitality and some of their local jungle juice, pipes and music!

Batak People @ Lake Toba, Sumatra, Indonesia

Batak Women. Photo by Marc Veraart

When is the best time to go

Best time to go Lake Toba is May when the weather is changing from slightly cool to warm. The heat might go up really high as it continues to summer but it is also erratic and may have sudden rain. During winter, there is a lot of rainfall here.

The place is also particularly popular during Chinese New Year, generally around January/February of the year, therefore, take note for the hike in prices and cramp in style.

What to see

Batak Kids @ Lake Toba, Sumatra, Indonesia

Kids by the Lake. Photo by Marc Veraart

There are considered a lot of tourist attractions here for you as it is a fairly popular tourist place. If you care keen, you may easily find a tour, including to Pulau Samosir, an island in this lake itself.
Tuk tuk
You may go to Tuk tuk, a popular place for the tourists, with a great view of Lake Toba. Here you can do your shopping and buy some books from the second-hand bookshop.

Tomok
Tomok is a quieter place but with better food options and delicious Indonesian food. You may also bask in its rich culture as there is burial place for the King Sidabutur, which is significant to the local people.

Traditional Dance
There are traditional dances around, one at Batak Museum and another in Restaurant Bagus Bay.

Waterfall
Just above Tuk tuk, you may reach there just by walking and take a nice swim in it.

Hot Spring
About 40kms from Tuk tuk – the water is really hot, therefore, might not be able to swim in, but you may enjoy a light dip.

Things to do and Attractions

As mentioned it is a place to relax, it is mostly not to do much things. Just kick back and relax, chill by the lakeside. If you must do somethings, swim in the volcanic lake, or take a boat out the lake either in the day or in an overnight party, with the volcano as a backdrop. Book lovers can have some reading up here with where there is a second hand bookshop for you to choose from.

For some active things to do, you can go for kayaking on the Lake Toba. You may also just take a boat ride on the lake. Or take a bath in the hot springs. Not to forget, enjoy the many delicious foods at nearby villages at Tomok. Another tip is to rent a motorbike and tour around the Samosir island yourself.

But if you want to visit some attractions around Lake Toba, you can visit:
Museum Huta Bolon Simanindo, which has performances twice daily
Makam Raja Sidabutar – graves of the former Batak Kings
Stone chairs in Ambarita – dated back to 300 years ago and serve as a judgement seat
Hike Pusuk Buhit – the main mountain in Lake Toba area, it would take 5 hours to the summit
Shop for textiles – get your souvenir at Suhi-Suhi village

Lake Toba, Sumatra, Indonesia

Lake Toba, Sumatra, Indonesia. Photo by Holmes Nainggolan

Where to stay

There are many hotels, guesthouses and resorts along the lake in Tuk tuk, with some further away in smaller towns. You do not need to worry about choices of stay in Lake Toba *, in exception to Chinese New Year where it might peak with tourists thus hike in price and probably lack in space. The best rated hotels here are Horas Family Home * and Toba Village Inn *. While the best budget option in here is the Toba Cats Garden *.



Booking.com


Paddy Fields Lake Toba @ Sumatra, Indonesia

Paddy Fields. Photo by kenner116

What and where to eat

There are no shortage of local Indonesian food here from restaurants at Tuk tuk (the main road) varying in both prices and quality respectively. Here to add on to the atmosphere, magic mushrooms and various happy herb pizza can be found as well. Drinks are also no shortage here, with several bars dotted around, but best to just get it from your guesthouse.

How to get there

Fly in to Medan and then travel by land to Parapat, a town next to Lake Toba. It is 4 hours trip away from Medan by bus. Or you can take a taxi or scheduled a car from Medan airport to Parapat.

Else you can fly from Medan Polonia airport to Silangit with Susi Air daily, for just 30 minutes and safer than the road trip. But the flight costs would be around 38USD one way.

How to get around

Local public transports is the boat at the lake. Public Boats from Parapat and surrounding areas like Tuk tuk or Tomok at Samosir Island is around 7,000 Rp per trip.

You can also hire a motorcycle if you prefer to have some flexibility and control, though roads can be bumpy. Else if only going nearby, a bicycle can be rented as well for a nominal fee.

Where to go nearby

Go for Orangutan Trekking to catch a glimpse of the rare Sumatran Orangutan at Bukit Lawang, just 90km northwest of Medan.

Head off for a dive at beautiful Pulau Weh (Island) just off the coast of Sumatra.

Tips

Bring a raincoat or equivalent as rain is prevalent here and can be random. Also bring mosquitoes repellent.

Fishing boat Lake Toba @ Sumatra, Indonesia

Fishing Boat. Photo by Indo_girl2010

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Sumatra Travel Guide

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:
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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.

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