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7 reasons why North Sumatra should be your next eco-travel destination

Updated: Aug 28, 2019

Sumatra, Indonesia's largest but least visited island. Previously, this island was known in Sanskrit as Swarnadwīpa, "Island of Gold", famous for their vast gold and mineral deposits in the highlands. With the equator crossing through the centre of the island, weather here is tropical, and humid all year round. Creating the perfect environment for vast, lush, rainforest brimming with life.

As more and more travelers are looking to get off the beaten track, and embrace local culture, we have complied 7 reasons why North Sumatra should be your next eco-travel destination.

Sumatran Tiger

Number 1- Wildlife

Number one on our list has to be the Sumatra's diverse wildlife. There are few places that can compare to the diverse ecosystem found in these rainforests. It is the only place on Earth where orangutans, elephants, tigers and rhinos live together.

However, due to deforestation Sumatra has lost almost 50% of its tropical rainforest in the last 35 years, leaving many species to be listed as critically endangered.

The best that travellers can do is to support local practices that protect the environment and raise awareness about environmental issues through social media and other means.

So, if you are looking to see orangutans in their natural habitat be sure to chose a responsible company that aims to protect the environement, and that only uses certified guides.

At Sumatra Orangutan Discovery our moto is "take nothing but photographs, leave nothing but footprints, keep nothing but memories". We hope you too can find inspiration in this.

With an estimated 7,500 Sumatran orangutans left in wild, it is vitally important to be a responsible trekker and follow the guidelines to avoid harm to the environment. Read our blog Top Tips for Responsible Jungle Trekking to learn more.

Sumatra is covered with 2.5 million hectares of tropical rainforest. Comprising of three national parks: Gunung Leuser National Park, Kerinci Seblat National Park and Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park

However, the best place for trekking to see orangutans must be Bukit Lawang, a small town located at the gateway to the Gunung Leuser national park. Due to the rehabilitaion project in the 1970's, there are now a number of semi-wild Sumatran Orangutans living in the surrounding area, which provides a high chance to sight one of these beautiful creatures. Learn more about Bukit Lawang and the rehabilitation project.

If you want to know more about the Gunung Leuser National Park, and explore the jungle with us, our different trekking options are listed here.

Sumatran Orangutan

Number 2- Sumatra's legendary coffee

North Sumatra is ideally suited for growing coffee. With the rich fertile volcanic soil and tropical weather producing a rich flavoured bean. Sumatran coffee is the foundation of some of Starbuck's most treasured blends. Coffee production on the island of Sumatra is thought to have started in 1884, near Lake Toba, which is the largest volcanic lake in the world.

To empower and support local farmers, we have partnering with local guides and coffee plantations. Take part in a coffee tours near Lake Toba. From bean to barista, you can spend one or two days learning how to farm, process, roast and finally taste the coffee!

Sumatran Coffee, Lake Toba

Number 3- Gunung Sibayak

The geography of Sumara is dominated by volcanes due to being situated on the Pacific Ocean's “ring of fire”. We have chosen Gunung Sibayak due to the fact it is classified as dormant and is the easiest and safest volcano in the area to climb. As opposed to Gunung Sinabung, which you will often see steaming in the distance.

A popular way to enjoy Gunung Sibayak is to head to the summit for sunrise. Although it is not essential you take a guide, we recommend it if you plan to trek alone as the weather conditions can change quickly.

Gunung Sibayak in located near the town of Berastagi. The name of the town origiates from the meaning "rice store". The surrounding area is abundant with farmers growing their crops from the fertile volcanic ground. See our North Sumatra Tour Package if you are interested to visit these areas, or travel directly to Berastagi to explore by yourself.

Gunung Sibayak Volcano, Berastagi

Number 5- The biggest flowers on Earth

Rafflesia is a genus of parasitic flowering plants. It contains approximately 28 species, many of which are endemic to Sumatra. The photo below shows the Rafflesia micropylora, one of the largest individual flowers on Earth. Although there are some plants which appear to have larger flowers, such as the titan arum (Amorphophallus titanum), this is actually considered to be a flower cluster as opposed to an individual flower.

These plants lay unseen for the most part, with 12-18 months of no activity, then they bloom unexpectedly, which makes it difficult to predict when and where to find the Rafflesia. We were lucky enough to see this flower not far from Bukit Lawang during a trek. Normally, the flower only blooms for a few days, so you have to be quick.

Get in touch if you are interested to trek to find the flower, we have various contacts with guides in rurual areas who specialise with these flowers.

The biggest flower in the world, Rafflesia. Photographed near Bukit Lawang, North Sumatra
Rafflesia Flower

Number 6- Sumatran Food

Indonesian food is world famous. The unique mix of spices and herbs give each region of Indonesia their own special type of food. North Sumatra has many diverse dishes you might have heard of:

· Nasi Goreng (chicken, vegetarian or vegan)

· Indonesian curry (chicken, vegetarian or vegan)

· Gado-gado (Vegan)

· Sambal (chicken, vegetarian or vegan)

· Rendang (chicken or beef)

· Chicken satay

Typical Sumatran food is a blend of; chili, turmeric, lemon grass, ginger, garlic, coriander, shallot onions and more. Traditionally these spices would ground up using a round stone and flat base, to create maximum flavor. These days, many house-holds now use a blender to mix their spices. Enjoy taking part in a cooking class and visit the local market to learn more about these unique ingredience.

Sumatran food

Number 7- Lake Toba

Located in Northern Sumatra, 8 hours drive away from Bukit Lawang. This huge, ancient lake was formed by a caldera produced by the largest volcanic eruption known to Earth! It is calculated that around 2 million years ago, Toba super-volcano erupted, wiping out much of life on Earth and plummeted much of asia into darkness.

In the centre of the lake, lies Samosir island, the heart of the Toba Batak culture. This island, roughly the size of Singapore, offers tourists the complete package. Stunning scenery, unique Batak culture, and an intriguing history.

Samosir island, Lake Toba

We hope you have enjoyed learning more about Sumatra! Please take your time to make informed choice when traveling to ensure you are promoting sustainable tourism.

About the writer

Ellie lives full-time in Bukit Lawang, Sumatra. She works at Sumatra Orangutan Discovery, a sustainable trekking and tour company, as their writer and travel expert. Before moving to live in Indonesia, Ellie worked for over 7 years as a primary and secondary school teacher. She has worked and lived in Vietnam, Laos, Haiti, Nepal, Morocco and Indonesia. She is incredibly passionate about sustainable travel and human and animal rights. For the last 6 months she has been living in a small traditional wooden house with her Indonesian partner, learning and writing about rural and traditional life in Sumatra.

Spend the night in a traditional Batak style house, over-looking Lake Toba
Lake Toba, traditional Batak house

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