Indonesia: what to see in Sumatra, the island of volcanoes and orangutans

September 25, 2019

Sumatra, a wild and little known island of Indonesia, is the kingdom of a rare species of endangered orangutans. But it is also an island of jungles and volcanoes, all to be explored with a backpack.

Sumatra orangutan in Indonesia

A large island with a typically tropical habitat, Sumatra, Indonesia, lies west of Java (from which the Sonda islands separate it) and is famous for its volcanoes, jungles and orangutans.

Crossed by the chain of the Barisan mountains, it is frequently affected by volcanic eruptions that make the landscape spectacular. A must-see landmark during a trip to Sumatra is the picturesque Lake Toba, the largest caldera in the world. The nature of Sumatra is rich and varied: in addition to the orangutans (in danger of extinction), there are Sumatran tigers, tapirs and incredible plant species such as rafflesia.

If Sumatra is included in your travel itinerary in Indonesia, here are the attractions that you shouldn't miss.

Must-see attractions in Sumatra

If Sumatra is included in your travel itinerary in Indonesia, here are the must-see attractions.

1. Lake Toba

Lake Toba is a large volcanic lake located north of Sumatra. It is thought that it originated from a large volcanic eruption that occurred almost 80,000 years ago, which left a huge crater that was filled with water. Inside the lake a mountain was formed and today it constitutes the island of Samosir. Lake Toba is also fascinating for the populations that live on its shores: the Batak Toba, often referred to simply as Batak. This community, in addition to speaking its own language, has its own architectural style. If you visit Lake Toba, you will notice the Batak Toba houses, with their characteristic pointed roof.

Lake Toba, Sumatra, Indonesia
Panorama of Lake Toba.

2. Medan

Medan is the capital of the North Sumatra province. It became an important center of the region from the middle of the seventeenth century, when the Dutch settlers began to plant tobacco in the area. Originally inhabited by Batik ethnic populations, it now also hosts residents from other countries and localities of Indonesia, a feature that makes it an extremely cosmopolitan city. The largest community is the Javanese one, to which Chinese and Tamil are added.

Medan Mosque, Sumatra, Indonesia
Medan Mosque.

3. Samosir Island

Samosir Island lies within Lake Toba, in the north of Sumatra. Like the lake, it was formed by an imposing volcanic eruption. It also contains other small lakes, Lake Sidhoni and Aek Natonang. Tourism in Samosir is very developed, due to the beauty of its landscapes and the vast presence of traditional Batak Toba houses. The main center of Samosir is the city of Tuktuk, connected by ferries to the city of Parapat on the shores of Lake Toba.

Samosir island, Lake Toba, Sumatra, Indonesia
Samosir Island lies on the waters of Lake Toba.

4. The orangutans of Sumatra

The orangutan of Sumatra is one of the two existing species of orangutan, and between the two it is the rarest, and also endangered. It lives in the rainforest of North Sumatra, but fossils testify to the presence once also on the island of Java. These particular species of orangutans, which you can usually meet between 200 and 1000 meters of altitude, can weigh up to 90 kg, with an opening of the arms that reaches about two meters: it is the largest arboreal ape in the world. They are a great attraction for tourists who come to visit Sumatra; unfortunately, only a few specimens remain.

Orangutan in the jungle, Sumatra, Indonesia
Sumatra is famous for its orangutans.

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