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  • Overview

    Roughly the size of California, Sumatra is a beautiful island with volcanoes and hot springs, lakes and rivers, rolling green foothills, plantations and wild jungle scenery. Many reserves protect the island's wealth of indigenous wildlife, and elephants, tigers, rhinos, orangutans and tapirs can be seen on organised safaris within protected reserves.

    The majority of the population lives in the foothills, plateaus and highlands of Sumatra, working as farmers. The entire island was once covered in dense rainforest, but today most has been destroyed by the need for agricultural land, which is the country's prime earner. Key exports include palm oil, rubber, tobacco, coffee and tea.

    The island is home to numerous peoples and cultures. Among them are the Muslim Minangkabau and the great highland people, the Batak, who inhabit a fertile volcanic plateau and have a language, dress, religion, architectural style and culture all of their own. Lake Toba, the spiritual centre of the Batak, is a major tourist destination lined with resorts. The busy hill town of Bukittinggi is the hub of the Minang culture and is surrounded by spectacular scenery.

    This is island of plenty has fine scenery, wildlife, natural resources, cultural diversity and extraordinary architecture to offer visitors. Though not as popular a destination as neighbouring Bali or Jakarta, Sumatra is an increasingly fashionable eco-tourism destination, and cycling or riding a scooter through the mountains and valleys can be a great way to take in the astonishing natural beauty.

    Bukit Lawang

    The little village of Bukit Lawang is situated on the eastern banks of the pretty Bahorok River, facing one of the grandest forest areas in South East Asia, the Mount Leuser National Park. Its major attraction, the Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, helps orphaned orangutans that have been displaced because of land clearing, or rescued from captivity, and teaches them the necessary skills to survive in the wild. Visitors have an opportunity to view the apes twice daily when they come swinging through the trees to collect the bananas and milk left on feeding platforms in the forest. Jungle trekking and tubing down the river are other popular activities.

    Website: bukitlawang.com
    Orangutan Orangutan Dave59
    Bukittinggi

    Bukittinggi, or 'high place', is situated on a hill and set among majestic mountains, green plantations and rice terraces. One of the friendliest and most easy-going cities in Sumatra, it is home to the Minangkabau people and the area is steeped in the Minang culture, which is Muslim and strongly matrilineal. One of the features of the town is the characteristic architecture: wooden houses with curved roofs soaring to a point representative of buffalo horns and decorated with beautiful wooden carvings. Nearby Mount Merapi is an active volcano that can be reached on a beautiful hike.

    Bukkitinggi, Sumatra Bukkitinggi, Sumatra Judith Duk
    Nias Island

    Famed for its right-hand reef breaks, Nias is a key surfing destination for many travelling through the area, with the best known surf spots being Sorake Bay and Lagundri Bay. This fascinating island also boasts a rich cultural history, featuring prehistoric remains that are thought to date back to the megalithic Stone Age. Tourists visiting Nias Island can enjoy traditional festivities such as the war dances performed by locals, and the hauntingly beautiful local music, which is mostly sung by women. Popular activities other than surfing include scuba diving and snorkelling in the clear waters, which brim with rich marine life.

    Sorake Bay Sorake Bay Jen Joaquin
    Lake Maninjau

    Lake Maninjau is set like a burning sapphire stone in the crater of the mountain and is a spectacularly beautiful place to relax and unwind. It is a caldera lake, located in west Sumatra, and is thought to have been formed by a volcanic eruption around 52,000 years ago. The lake is set at about 1,545 feet (471m) above sea level, and the average temperature of the water in the lake is around 86°F (30°C). Visitors can enjoy cycling the 37-mile (60km) circumference of the lake, or plodding through the neighbouring rice paddies while others can swim, canoe and hike the surrounding mountains or explore the local villages.

    Lake Maninjau Lake Maninjau Ken Marshall
    Padang

    The capital of Sumatra, Padang offers a compact and enjoyable cross-section of Sumatran life and its various cultures. Many surfers stop here on their way to the Batu or Mentawi Islands, but the town itself boasts a few noteworthy attractions such as the Adityawarman Museum, which features a collection of antiques, and the cultural centre where locals perform traditional dances on Sundays or even pencak silat (martial arts). Many people come here for the markets, for which Padang is famed, but Padang Beach is also popular for its spectacular sunsets and hundreds of colourful food stalls.

    Padang Beach Sunset Padang Beach Sunset Fadillah Jafar
    Berastagi

    The town of Berestagi is famed not only for its passion fruit, but also for the two active volcanoes on its doorstep: Gunung Sibayak and Gunung Sinabung. Gunung Sibayak boasts fantastic hot springs whose warm waters are not only open to the public, but are also believed to have therapeutic properties. More active travellers can climb this mountain, earning breathtaking views over the island of Sumatra from the top. This is the most commonly climbed volcano in Sumatra as the hike to the top is comparatively easy, with beautiful and unusual scenery to enjoy along the way.

    Gunung Sibayak Gunung Sibayak Palma Hutabarat
    Lake Toba

    The holiday paradise of Lake Toba is embedded in the northern highlands of Sumatra and is surrounded by steep and fertile mountains. Filling in a giant volcanic crater, the lake has depths of up to 1,680 feet (525m) in places. In the middle of Lake Toba sits the jade-green island of Samosir, which is thought to be the origin of the friendly Batak people. Evidence of their culture and traditions is visible in the little Batak villages, with their characteristic curved roofs, and the traditional dance performances at Simanindo's Batak Cultural Centre. There are also several hot springs near Pangururan, which attract visitors.

    Lake Toba Lake Toba Batubara Ismail Rahmat

    Children on holiday in Sumatra should not expect water parks and arcades. Instead, this exotic island boasts plenty of fantastic outdoor activities to keep the little ones entertained and enthralled. Lake Toba is a perfect family resort town with plenty of water sports, scenic cycle rides and colourful local cultures to enjoy. Take a trip to the Orangutan Sanctuary in the Gunung Leuser National Park in northern Sumatra, or visit the Berbak Wildlife Reserve in Jambi for a great day out with the family where children will enjoy spotting hairy-nosed otters, Sumatran tigers, barking deer, crocodiles and gibbons. The King Palace in Bukittinggi is a magical experience for kids of all ages where they can learn about the Minangkabau Kingdom, while a trip to Belitung Island will reward with a day spent on one of its beautiful beaches which are safe for swimming and provide plenty of open space for kids to let off some steam. Many of the major hotels in Sumatra offer kids clubs where children can meet and play with other kids their age and it is often worth checking into a hotel with these facilities.

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    English Pronounciation

    The Indonesian climate is tropical. The warm waters of the ocean surrounding the archipelago ensure fairly constant temperatures on land and there is little seasonal variation. There is also very little difference in daylight hours from season to season.

    Sumatra's weather is typical for Indonesia, but temperatures can often be lower than expected in the highlands. This slightly cooler and less humid highland climate can be a great relief and is good for hiking and other adventurous activities. The average daytime highs in Sumatra range from 72°F - 86°F (22°C - 30°C) while the rainfall differs from region to region and humidity levels are high in the lowlands. There are two main seasons: the dry season runs from February to August; and the wet season from September to January.

    The climate of Indonesia is dominated by heavy monsoon rains, which generally occur between October and April, often causing damage and making local travel difficult (the rainy season is also the worst time for some mosquito-borne diseases). The best time of year to visit Sumatra is any time during the dry season.

    Though perhaps not the first stop on many travellers' Indonesian itineraries, Sumatra is a hugely popular destination that boasts some fantastic attractions and activities. Depending on the pace visitors want to set, a trip to one of the Mentawi islands, Batu or Nias Island is a must, as they are fantastic locations for surfing, windsurfing and scuba diving. Those wanting something a little more relaxing will love a cruise down the Siak River.

    The holiday resort of Lake Toba in the north makes the perfect location for a relaxing holiday break, while the glistening Lake Maninjau offers retreat from the frenetic outside world. A hike to the Mertua Waterfall in Pekanbaru is a must for all nature lovers, as is a visit to the Kerinci Valley and National Park, which boasts a remarkable collection of Sumatran Rhinos. For a brush with orangutans, travellers should visit the Gunung Leuser National Park in the north or, for the ultimate wildlife experience, the Burbak Wildlife Reserve near the strait of Melaka, where they can view clouded leopards, Malayan sunbears, otters and gibbons.

    Bukittinggi, which served as headquarters for the Japanese army during WWII, is worth exploring to visit the King Palace, Tuo Belimbing Mosque, or even Lake Singkarak. With all these great attractions and so much more, visitors will find there is more to this popular island than just its abundant natural beauty.

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