When you travel to Sumatra, you’ll witness exquisite rainforests packed with fabulous animals, explore pristine beaches, coral reefs, surf breaks, and volcanoes, and be welcomed by the smiliest, friendliest people on the planet.
Spoiler alert: we kind of like Sumatra. Just a little. Okay, okay, so more than just a little. This is more than just a crush. We love it so much that 50 percent of the We are Sumatra team ditched a great career and pretty sweet life in little old NZ to run away to this oversized tropical island. (The other 50% already lived here, so didn’t have to jump ship to appreciate it!)
Need we say more? Well, we will anyway. Read on to discover our top 10 reasons why you should include a trip to Sumatra on your Southeast Asia itinerary – in no particular order.
This post was originally published in 2018 and has been updated and refreshed July 2023 for accuracy.
1. Sumatra is Affordable
I’m betting that travelling to Sumatra will be the first time in your life that you get to be a millionaire. Unless you’re already a millionaire, then you will become an instant billionaire!
It’s easy to travel on a tight budget here. Backpacking around Sumatra is totally doable with very little money.
Even if you aren’t on a backpacker’s budget and can splash out, you will find the fancy hotels and luxury bits and pieces come at a fraction of the price that you’d expect.
Accommodation, food, petrol — almost everything is super affordable for travellers.
Although living here on an Indo wage is an entirely different story, as a tourist, your money will go the distance.
2. Sumatra is Authentic
Sumatra is relatively undiscovered. It’s not on the popular southeast Asia tourist trail and very few travellers have heard of it; even fewer bother to visit.
Often overlooked in favour of the ever-popular (crowded and westernized) island of Bali, or the oft-visited island of Java, Sumatra remains pure.
It hasn’t been overrun with tourist infrastructure and the local cultures have been relatively unchanged by tourism, even in the more well-visited areas.
When you visit Sumatra, you are getting authentic experiences, untainted by hordes of tourists. This makes it a pretty special place, where the warm welcome (see number 7) is 100% genuine.
Having said that, it’s not a completely intrepid, chaotic place (although you can definitely find areas like that in Sumatra without trying too hard). Many people speak passable English, most places have electricity, wifi, and other mod cons, and you’ll find it comfortable
3. The Musical Talent Will Blow Your Mind
One of the things I missed most when I returned home from holidays spent in Sumatra was the music culture in Sumatra.
It seems like every guy you meet plays the guitar like a pro, and men and women alike are almost without exception born with exceptional singing voices.
Music is a huge part of the lifestyle here. Wherever you go,there’ll be music; from groups of young guys crooning love songs over a guitar in the local warungs to dangdut (Indonesian techno pop) blasting from the brightly coloured buses.
Our absolute favorite (and a favorite of many locals throughout Sumatra) is the musical talent originating from the Batak Toba culture. It’s passionate, full of emotion, and will give you goosebumps.
Don’t be shy to make a request when you’re in the company of some of these talented people; you’d be surprised at how many western songs they have mastered!
4. Sumatra is a Nature-Lover's Paradise
There’s no end to the mind-blowing natural beauty on offer in Sumatra. Rainforests, unspoiled rivers, deserted waterfalls, smoking volcanoes, immense sparkling lakes, gorgeous coral reefs teeming with marine life, untouched beaches… it’s got everything but snow, really, and who likes the cold anyway!
Sumatra is the place to be for lovers of mother nature and her endless bounties. From the perfect surf breaks at Nias Island and the powerful serenity of Lake Toba to the exciting, magical jungle of the Gunung Lesuer National Park — there’s enough to see and do here to keep you busy for years.
Let’s not forget the wildlife: orangutans, tigers, elephants, rhinoceros, hornbills, pangolin, sun bears, clouded leopards, otters, macaques, leaf monkeys, porcupines, snakes, lizards, birds, butterflies… seriously… just get your butt over here and see it all.
Jungle trekking is likely to be top of your must-do list, so check out our blog on how to choose a responsible guide for more info!
5. You'll Feel Like a Movie Star
Ever wondered what it feels like to be famous? Sumatra can give you a taste of that life. As we mentioned earlier, in comparison to many other places in southeast Asia, Sumatra gets only a smattering of tourists.
In most places you visit, you will be a novelty. People will watch you, follow you (not in a creepy way) and you’ll pose in endless photos with a variety of local people — young and old — who are so excited to meet you and practice their English.
Although this can feel odd to many of us, bear in mind that their curiosity and excitement is (usually) 100% genuine and harmless. Play along, take some snaps too and enjoy the rare opportunity to feel a little bit special.
6. Sumatra Will Change Your Worldview
Visiting Sumatra 100% changed my life, obviously (you can read about that here). Although you may not find yourself giving up all your worldly belongings and never going home, spending time in this beautiful place will change you in some way.
I’m broadly generalizing here, but the vast majority ofpeople get caught up in their own lives, their own dramas and forget to be grateful for what they have.
It’s easy to fall into the “first world problems” trap and complain about not being able to find your favorite moisturizer or matching throw pillows for your couch, but when you visit a country where most people have so little and yet are so happy, it will change you.
Spending time here reminds you truly how very little you need in life to be happy.
7. Sumatran People are Warm and Welcoming
With everything Sumatra has to offer (see above!), it’s the people that make it special.
My first trips to Sumatra were for work, so I was surrounded by people that took care of me and my agenda was sorted. I felt safe and welcomed.
Once I started coming here on my own (a newbie traveler who hadn’t been anywhere outside of Australia and NZ), that feeling was only amplified.
Sumatran people are among the friendliest, funniest, most generous and welcoming that you’ll ever meet. From old men and women struggling along the side of the road burdened with sacks of produce to hospitality workers and everyone in between — all will offer huge smiles and a friendly hello.
Even those with so little will invite you to share what they have, whether it’s a cup of tea or a meal. I have learned so much from the people of Sumatra about appreciating the simple things in life and being happy and grateful for what I have.
They have taught me the joy of being eternally youthful on the inside and remind me to smile and laugh on a daily basis.
8. Sumatra Is Warm!
If you’re looking for somewhere warm and tropical to escape to for a holiday, come travelling in Sumatra.
With an average temperature of 28 degrees, you can leave your winter woolies at home (unless you’re like me and start to freeze if the temperature drops below 25!)
Even in wet season, there are sunny, blue sky days to enjoy regularly. If you’re in search of an endless summer, Sumatra will suit you to a T.
For more info on the weather and climate in Sumatra, check out Best Time to Visit Sumatra.
9. Sumatra is About Adventure!
One of the favorite local sayings is “Never try, never know.” Believe me, that ethos rubs off.
Sumatra is the perfect place to go if you’re looking for an adventure. There’s something freeing about jumping on a motorbike and travelling for hours through bumpy trails in search of a waterfall or an isolated village.
You can hike active volcanoes, trek deep into some truly wild and untamed jungles to walk in the footprints of wild tigers and elephants, snorkel or scuba dive with incredible marine life, or dive off remote waterfalls into crystal clear pools below….. your only limit is your courage and sense of adventure
Looking for an off-the-beaten-path village to explore from? Check out Batu Katak, a tiny jungle paradise in North Sumatra.
10. Sumatra is Easy to Get to
Although Sumatra is still relatively untouched and totally underrated, it’s a breeze to get here if you’re in the area.
Only a one hour flight from major international hubs like Singapore or Kuala Lumpur, flights in the region are cheap and fast, making it easy to add into your travel plans.
It’s only a matter of time before the secret is out and the paradise that is Sumatra starts to draw in epic numbers of tourists. So, what are you waiting for? Get planning your trip to Sumatra today.
For more in-depth info on how to plan a trip to Sumatra, check out our Ultimate Guide to Travelling Sumatra.
Your Essential Sumatra Travel Toolkit
TRAVEL INSURANCE: An absolute necessity whether you’re travelling for a week, a month or a year. For flexibility and affordability, we highly recommend SafetyWing.
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MONEY MANAGEMENT: Grab a free Wise account to easily store and switch currencies, send money all over the world, and withdraw from ATMs throughout Indonesia. We would be LOST without this amazing tool.
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FLIGHT FINDER: Nothing beats Skyscanner for sourcing the best flights to, from, and around Sumatra. Filter your search according to the cheapest or fastest options. We use this every time we fly.
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BOOKING ACCOMMODATION: We always use Booking.com when we travel throughout Sumatra and beyond. Easily find your ideal guesthouse, hotel or resort.
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