The province of north Sumatera is home to many of Sumatra’s most popular attractions, including the magnificent Danau Toba, the enchanting Orangutan Rehabilitation Center or the culturally enriching Karo Batak Highlands around Brastagi. It has a population of more than 11 million, with Medan as the main city. Below are some of the destination highlights of the region, asking to be explored further!
1. City of Medan
The capital of North Sumatera and the third largest city in Indonesia, most travelers treat the city as an entry and exit point. Indonesians in general love the city for the amount of authentic food scene this city offers; from Chinese-influenced food such as the bakmi and seafood places and some Indian-influenced street food and restaurants. Must visit places are Jalan Semarang, the city’s closest definition of Chinatown that is an automotive part retail street by day cum food market by night. Here you can find great Chinese food and some pork dishes. Also don’t miss Kesawan square, an 800 m long street food surrounded old colonial buildings, selling an array of local favorites.
If you’re staying for a few days, some recommended attractions include Istana Maimoon, Mesjid Raya, and the two-story mansion of Tjong A Fie (1860-1921), a Hakka merchant who came to own much of the land in Medan through his plantations and became the richest person in Medan.
2. Lake Toba & Samosir Island
Danau Toba is one of Sumatra’s, and Indonesia’s, most spectacular sights. It occupies the caldera of a giant volcano that collapsed in on itself after an eruption about 100,000 years. Not only that it is the largest lake in Indonesia, but it is also the largest volcanic lake in the world. Out of this huge expanse of deep blue water rises Pulau Samosir, an island almost the size of Singapore. This is home to the Batak Toba people (notice the previously mentioned Batak Karo from the North) the air is cool and relaxing; just try to avoid going here on weekends and long holidays, where busloads of tourists from all over the place would flock all crevices.
Day trips from Medan are available, but staying a night or two is highly recommended. There are numerous hotels and guest houses, mainly in Tuk Tuk but with a few scattered in other small towns around the island.
3. Bukit Lawang
Located 96 km north-west of Medan, Bukit Lawang is a popular tourist destination known for the largest animal sanctuary of Sumatran orangutan and is home to the Bohorok Orangutan Rehabilitation center, with around 5,000 orangutans occupying the area. It is also the main access point to the massive Gunung Leuser National Park from the east side. In Bukit Lawang, you can do short walks or trekking to even camping in the jungle, with tour operators and hostels offering packages for one day or multiple day treks. It is the best way to see the local birds, reptiles, a range of tropical plants, and of course, primates. Apart from visits to the jungle, Bukit Lawang offers a relaxed atmosphere alongside the banks of the Bohorok River, with many guests staying for weeks or months on end.
Berastagi or Brastagi is a picturesque hill town in the Karo highlands, about 70 km from Medan. Situated around 1300 meter above sea levels, this is where you need to be if you’re looking for a cooler and more refreshing climate. It is particularly popular as an entry point and set up the base for ascending to Gunung Sinabung and Gunung Sibayak or even treks to the Gunung Leuser National Park.