Written by Elsa Marie
Assisted by Antonius Yudi Sendjaja

What comes to mind when you think about Sumatra? The iconic Lake Toba? Samosir Island and Sipisopiso Waterfall?

Few travellers know that Sumatra is so much more than its popular natural icons.

Also read: 

The ultimate guide to Lake Toba – Getting there, where to stay, eat and visit

19 epic things to do in Bintan that will put this hidden gem straight on your bucket list

The complete guide to Belitung Island – an affordable island paradise you never knew existed

North Sumatra has an abundance of natural attractions all of which are just a few hours from the bustling capital city of Medan. It’s incredible how diverse North Sumatra is, the scenic beauty comes in many forms – mountains, volcanoes, lakes, forests, islands, waterfalls, and more.

If you’re curious about the other side of things, where the locals go – the places where the flocks of tourists don’t know, join us as we highlight some of the lesser-known, but no less remarkable, sights of North Sumatra.

When is the best time to travel?

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Medan is generally warm and rainy almost all year round, though you can generally expect the rain to last only a few hours (i.e. in the evenings). Because of this, any time is good for travelling around Medan. But if you are planning to go on adventurous hikes and treks in North Sumatra, we recommend travelling during the warmer seasons from April to October. Mid April to May is the hottest period, when the temperature can reach up to 40°C.

November to late March is the rainy season, though the temperature would generally not dip below 23°C.

Avoid travelling during public holidays unless you want to be caught in the traffic jams and crowd!

If you plan to travel to Lake Toba area, do remember to check the volcanic activity before going. Mount Sibayak has been erupting from time to time, and there have been regular earthquakes due to changes in the climate. So it’s important to check when it’s safe to go!

How do I get to Medan?

This post is made possible by Indonesia Tourism Board

From Singapore (tap here to view)From Malaysia (tap here to view)From Perth, Australia (tap here to view)From Jakarta

Take a flight to Medan (Kualanamu Airport) via Jetstar. It will take you around 1 hour 25 minutes, and starts from around SGD 105 (approximately USD 76).

Take a flight from Kuala Lumpur International Airport to Medan via AirAsia. (Return flights from RM 165) It will take you around 1 hour.

Take a flight from Perth to Medan via Jetstar. (Return flights from AUD $370, Flight duration 12~13 hours including a stopover at Singapore)

The flight to Medan city takes about 2 hours 30 minutes, and starts from Rp. 1,447,411 (approximately USD 109) via Lion Air for a return trip. You will land at Kualanamu Airport in Medan. From here, you can continue the journey by taxi, DAMRI bus or train. Train schedule here. Currently, Medan is the only city in Indonesia whose airport is connected by train.

Thanks to Indonesia Tourism Board for making this story possible! For more information, click here and head on to Medan’s official website.

1. Take a dip in nature’s picturesque sulphur bath: Sipoholon Hot Springs

These hot springs have been called the “soda water pools” as the baths supposedly taste like a dirty carbonated beverage (we don’t recommend trying it).

The waters are a vibrant blue-green due to its sulphurous content, and the surrounding limestone hills dot the area with hues of orange, yellow, and green – such a picturesque landscape!

Photo Via Roymarr_Jam

Photo Via Osnasitumorang

Make sure you bring your swimming suit if you’re keen to bathe in the sulphur-springs pool. Sulphur is known to for its healthy, healing properties so after dousing in the pools you’ll emerge with a soft radiant glow.

Photo Via Rioantiakhus,Bonapasogit_Pic

Feeling hungry after your soak? We recommend trying some delicious local cuisine at one of the North Tapanuli restaurants nearby. You’ll enjoy them!

Sipoholon Hot Springs

Entrance fees: From Rp. 5,000 (approximately USD $0.38) per person to access the pools
Address: Situmeang Hasundutan, Sipoholon, North Tapanuli Regency, North Sumatra 22452, Indonesia
Coordinates here.

2. The lesser known white crater: Dolok Tinggi Raja


CAUTION: Local sources have recently informed us that there are mafias in the area who have been known for making visitors pay exorbitant entrance fees of Rp.200,000-500,000 per person (approximately USD 14-35). If you are carrying heavy equipments such as cameras, there is a risk of robbery as well, though you can get your local guide to help contact the local police to accompany you, but you will need to fork out Rp.2 million (approximately USD 136) to the authorities. We strongly recommend travellers to skip this location.

If you’ve travelled to West Java, you’ve probably heard of Kawah Putih, the white crater lake, but did you know that there’s another hidden Kawah Putih located in the middle of a forest in North Sumatra too?

Photo Via Sri_Hendarto-2

The 90°C water flows down limestone steps, causing the rocks to turn as white as snow. Nearby, this hot snow spectacle is blended with mossy carpets that lie on the imbued rock as well as a large pond that bubbles from beneath the surface.

Photo Via Harlimmaulanaazz

You can actually bathe in a second access point in the reserve due to the cool river water and waterfall that rushes from the hilltop into a pool. Isn’t it a wonderful place to stop by and relax at after exploring the beauty of the hot springs?

Photo Via Hangdhamin

Dolok Tinggi Raja White Crater

Entrance fees: Rp. 5,000 (approximately USD $0.38) for parking
Address: Dolok Marawa, Silau Kahean, Simalungun Regency, North Sumatra 21157, Indonesia
Coordinates here.

3. Step onto Sumatra’s Snow Beach: Pantai Salju

Don’t let the name fool you. Though this remarkable natural destination is called “Snow Beach”, there isn’t any snow, and it actually isn’t a beach! But this doesn’t make the place any less beautiful.

Photo Via Zulfie_Herwinsyah

Pantai Salju is a river that rushes over a collection of rocks, with swaying palm trees as the backdrop. As the water breaks on the rock bed, it appears white, and this resembles snow. The water flows from a mountain, so it is clean and cool.

Photo Via Ahmat_Iyan

Spend a peaceful day here!

Photo Via Bhellamoritahutagalung

Pantai Salju

Entrance fee: Rp. 15,000 (approximately USD $1.13) for parking
Address: Mabar, Bangun Purba, Deli Serdang Regency, North Sumatra 20984, Indonesia
Getting there: There are two alternative routes you can take from Medan, with a travel time of about 3-4 hours.
1) Medan – Lubuk Pakam – Tebing Tinggi – Dolok Tinggi Raja,
2) Medan – Lubuk Pakam – Galang – Dolok Masihul – Dolok Tinggi Raja.
Do note that this route can only be taken by motorcyclists due to the narrow roads.
Coordinates here.

4. It’s playtime with the elephants in a quiet village: Tangkahan

A small village tucked discreetly in the dense forests of Gunung Leuser National Park, Tangkahan is a wonderful, natural space where you can trek through the jungle and bathe happy elephants.

Upon entering the village, the world appears to change before you as you travel from the Medan metropolis to calm, serene nature.

Photo Via Tangkahaninn

Photo Via Ernimahdalena007

In the park, you’ll find some gorgeous waterfalls where you can swim (or simply laze about) in the clear, clean waters with one of the resident elephants.

Photo Via Rifkysetyathelocalpackagenl

Photo Via Lizawijgersespressocyclist

Photo Via Shelvinrioprasetio

And guess what, these delightful giants are actually on a job!

The elephants of Tangkahan have been trained and are now members of the patrol crew for the National Park to spot illegal activities. In fact, they are seen as protectors of other wild elephants and of the local villages, saving them from poachers and illegal loggers.


Entrance fees: Rp 3,000 per person (approximately USD $0.23), Rp 10,000 for parking a car (approximately USD $0.75), Rp 5,000 for parking a motorbike (approximately USD $0.38)
Address: Namu Sialang, Batang Serangan, Langkat Regency, North Sumatra 20852, Indonesia
Getting there: From Medan, head to Stabat City, before proceeding to Seberit Seberang, Batang Serangan, and finally head to Tangkahan.
Coordinates here.

5. Island Paradise: Pulau Pandang & Salah Nama

Did you know that there are pristine islands with lush greenery, white sand beaches and clear waters just hours away from Medan?

Subtly located off the coast of North Sumatra, just a boat ride away from the Tanjung Tiram port, are the little-known islands of Pandang and Salah Nama.

Photo Via Revalen

Photo Via Ariani1532,Anishafatiah

When you arrive at Salah Nama, you’ll notice a footpath that runs along the waterfront with tall, artfully painted ceramic vases. These unexpected artifacts may appear out of place, but they make for a great photo opportunity with the turquoise sea in the background.

The coastline here is rugged with beautiful, brick-red rocks and crystal clear waters swimming with diverse schools of fish.

Photo Via Irenelim0218

Photo Via Travel4pulau

After exploring Salah Nama, head on to Pulau Pandang, where you’ll find white sand beaches and a large castle-like lookout spot from which you can gaze across the island to the sea.

Pulau Pandang & Pulau Salah Nama

Pulau Pandang coordinates here.
Pulau Salah Nama coordinates here.

6. Strange Sightings: Abandoned fish house near Bukit Sipolha

If you’re at Lake Toba and on your way to Bukit Sipolha, you may be interested to take a curious detour to a giant fish house. Commonly knowns as “Rumah Ikan”, the building is 20 metres long and 10 metres high!

This place was formerly a restaurant, but the eatery struggled to survive due to a lack of customers, and it eventually closed. You may recognize the fish from the opening scene of the devastating film ‘The Act of Killing’ (‘Jagal’ in Bahasa Indonesia), when a group of Indonesian women danced down a red carpet through the fish mouth.

Photo Via Haryatiagustini

Photo Via Elisabeth_Rs_

The fish house is no longer maintained so it is now dilapidated. The interior is vandalised with graffiti, and the surrounding nature is starting to swallow the exterior of the fish.

Isn’t it such a strange yet quirky location for some photo-taking?

Abandoned fish house near Bukit Sipolha

Address: Juma Harangan, Environment III, Kelurahan Sipolha Horisan, District Pematang Sidamanik, Simalungun Regency.
Located around 15 metres from the main road Parapat-Simarjarunjung.
Estimated coordinates here.

7. A wild river trip: Whitewater rafting down Wampu River

Rafting down Sungai Wampu is a truly special experience.

As you traverse down the river, you will get a glimpse into the Sumatran forest, pass by wildlife, encounter challenging rapids, and witness waterfalls and the stunning river valley. Won’t that be such an exhilarating and memorable experience?

Photo Via Taki-Taki

The rafting guides can’t promise you won’t get wet, but they can ensure that you’ll have fun!

Photo Via Rapidplus_Indonesia

At the end of trip, reward yourself for your hard work by slipping into the hot springs – one of the best ways to unwind!

Photo Via Rapidplus_Indonesia

Whitewater rafting Wampu River

Price: From Rp.250,000 (approximately USD $19) per person, minimum 6 people
Address of tour company: Jalan Setia Budi No.132, Tj. Sari, Medan Selayang, Medan City, North Sumatra 20132, Indonesia
Getting there: It is recommended to start rafting from Maryke Village, which is 1.5 – 2 hours’ drive from Medan city via Binjai.
Contact: +62 618213115
Email: [email protected]


8. Discover the “beach” of Lake Toba: Bukit Paropo Silalahi

This isn’t your ordinary beach. Bukit Paropo is where the grassy green hillsides meet the many shades of sparkling blue of the waters below. Rather than salty seawater, Bukit Paropo “beach” faces the beauty of freshwater Lake Toba.

Photo Via Rahmadjaliass

Though Bukit Paropo is becoming increasingly popular among local tourists, you have around 28 kilometres of “beach” to enjoy. So find your own spot, and you’ll soon feel as though you own the place!

Photo Via Ajidmajed

Photo Via Yudhiekasatria

With such majestic natural beauty all around you, isn’t this a slice of heaven?

Bukit Paropo Silalahi

Address: Silalahi I, Silahi Sabungan, Silalahi III, Silahi Sabungan, Kabupaten Dairi, Sumatera Utara 22281, Indonesia
Getting there: From Medan, travel to Paropo Hill via Sibolangit, Berastagi, Kabanjahe, and enter Dairi County. When you arrive at Dolok Tolong area, you will find a T-junction. Turn left and continue to Tao Silalahi.
Coordinates here.

9. For the perfect Instagrammable panorama: Bukit Indah Simarjarunjung

With a couple of unique photo-friendly platforms overlooking Lake Toba, Bukit Indah has become one of the most sought-after photo destinations in the area.

Photo Via Sanysipayung

Snap your Instagrammable shots on a hot air balloon platform, or on a giant hand or heart suspended above the scenic beauty in the skies. If you’re brave enough, take the treehouse swing into the clouds!

The best times to visit Bukit Indah are in the mornings and evenings. During those times, you’ll have great lighting for photography, and a chance to watch the sunset over the lake. Keep in mind that it is cooler up there, and the weather changes quickly, so remember to bring a jacket!

Photo Via Andi_Pratama94

Photo Via Satryaazmi

Bukit Indah Simarjarunjung

Entrance fees: From Rp. 5,000 (approximately USD $0.38) for 5 minutes of photography, Rp.10,000 for parking.
Address: Jl. Simarjarunjung, Parik Sabungan, Dolok Pardamean, Kabupaten Simalungun, Sumatera Utara.
Coordinates here.

10. Witness the wonder of three diverse waterfalls

The Hulu River in Bukit Barisan Mountains is the mother of all waterfalls in the region. Due to the immense, steady flow of water that brings life to the Hulu River, three awe-inspiring waterfalls have formed: Simangande, Dua Warna, and Sampuren Putih. Each of these waterfalls is unique in its own right, and if you witness them personally, you will truly experience the full magnitude and beauty of these natural wonders.

A quick caution for interested travellers: It’s not uncommon for heavy rains to approach suddenly. When storms are underway, it’s best to leave the area as the strength of the river during storms could carry you away.

10-a. Find love at this two-tiered waterfall: Simangande Waterfall

It’s hard to fathom a 500-metre-high waterfall that splits into two-tiers, but Simangande Waterfall is just that. As you stand before the mighty waterfall, you might start to get the sense that love is in the air. Could it be?

Well, visitors of Simangande claim that there’s “waterfall love” here because of the heart-shaped rock that frames the waterfall. It’s quite a spectacular sight when you see it in person.

Photo Via Aisoise_

To top it off, on the eastern horizon you have an unobstructed view of Lake Toba, so if you come to see the sunrise you will be spoiled with a majestic view!

Photo Via Frans_Halozil

Take note that the waterfall only flows during the rainy season.

Simangande Waterfall

Address: Between Tuktuk Village and Tomok Village, Samosir District, North Sumatra
Getting there: Take a ferry from Parapat Harbor to Tomok Port on Samosir Island. After that, you can take a motorcycle taxi to Garoga Village and continue to this waterfall. Travellers can also see the waterfall from Bukit Beta in Tuktuk Village.
Coordinates here.

10-b. Of dual colours: Dua Warna Waterfall

This could be one of the most intriguing waterfalls in the world. The Dua Warna Waterfall is comprised of two layers of colour – the water beneath is white-gray, whereas the falling water is light blue.

Photo Via Sekitarnusantara

Not only does the color diverge, but the temperature does too! You can expect the white water to be warmer – what a phenomenon!

Standing at a height of 100 metres, the waterfall is at an altitude of 1,400 metres above sea level. As it is surrounded by a high-altitude forest, you’ll feel like you are in another world altogether.

Photo Via Azimshafee

Photo Via Sang.Pemulaozygojex

Dua Warna Waterfall

Address: Bandar Baru, Sibolangit, Deli Serdang Regency, North Sumatra 20354, Indonesia
Getting there: The waterfall is located near Jalan Raya Sidikalang in Medan. It can be reached within 2 – 3 hours’ walk from the main entrance of Sibolangit Campground.
Coordinated here.

10-c. Seven-storey waterfall with sulphur bath: Sampuren Putih

As the name implies, this is a seven-storey waterfall, with a height of 150 metres.

The waterfall is a bit of a tease because at ground level, you can only see the last of the seven storeys. To view the other six levels, you must climb up the treacherous rock and forest terrain.

Photo Via Ade.Y.H

If you’re not up for climbing up the cliffside, you can enjoy the single waterfall view from a shallow pool at the base. The pool is said to possess sulphurous properties, so as you soak and take in the beauty around you, your skin will thank you for the healthful sulphur bath.

Sampuren Putih Waterfall

Address: Negri Gugung, Sibolangit, Deli Serdang Regency, North Sumatra 20357, Indonesia
Getting there: From Medan, travel to Sibolangit area, followed by Simpang Bukum. Then, turn left and drive past Sikeben village, and subsequently drive past Martelu Village, Ketangkuhen Village, Sukamaju Village, Sanggehen Village, and you will reach Basukum Village.
Coordinates here.

11. Spend a day with orangutans: Bukit Lawang

Originally established by a Swiss organization, Bukit Lawang is known as one of the leading protected habitat for orangutans.

If you’re curious about our large, long-armed friends, Bukit Lawang is the perfect place to observe the behaviour of orangutans in their natural habitat. Just remember not to feed the animals, as human food can be poisonous for them!

Photo Via Nurrutiarmalligator92

After a day of fun with the apes, consider heading to the Restoran Kapal Bambu (Bamboo Ship Restaurant), which blends seamlessly into the natural environment.

Or are you travelling with a friend who isn’t interested in any monkey business? There’s a dazzling bat cave as well as tubing activities down the Bohorok River that you can experience!

Photo Via Viczoe_Qiqiprimate_Specialist

Photo Via Adventuresaroundasiafiredpiphill

Photo Via Ardijabar

Bukit Lawang

Entrance fees: Rp. 5,000 (approximately USD $0.38) per person, Rp. 20,000 for car parking (approximately USD $1.50), Rp. 3,000 for motorbike parking (approximately USD $0.23)
Address: Bukit Lawang, Bohorok, Kabupaten Langkat, North Sumatra 20852, Indonesia
Getting there: From Medan, you have to pass through Binjai, look for Jalan Gatot Subroto and follow the road that leads to Jalan Binjai – Kuala. Keep going and you will reach Bukit Lawang. You can also take public transit from Pinang Lines Terminal to Bukit Lawang.
Coordinates here.

12. Take a tour of King Kong’s island: Pulau Mursala, Sibolga

You may have seen this island in the Hollywood blockbuster ‘King Kong’.

Mursala Island is a unique, tropical beauty situated in the Indian Ocean. Though it earned its famed through the film, Mursala is still pretty much peaceful and untouched.

Photo Via Jelajahsumut

The marine biodiversity around Mursala is undeniably beautiful, but the greatest feature on the island is the waterfall that empties into the ocean from a 35-metre-high red granite cliff – isn’t it such a magnificent scene most people can only catch in the movies?

Photo Via Arieritonga

Photo Via Binosii

Photo Via Akhirsiregar59

Note: Do head to Mursala early and return to Sibolga in the afternoon, as there are no accommodation options available on the Island.

Mursala Island

Boat prices: Rp. 1,500,000 (approximately USD $112.75) for boat rental (entire boat), Rp. 2,500,000 (approximately USD $187.91) for speedboat rental (entire boat)
Address: Tapian Nauli, Kabupaten Tapanuli Tengah, North Sumatra.
Getting there: Find a timbre boat rental or speedboat rental at Bosur Beach or Kalangan Beach to visit Mursala Island. Traveling to this island takes about 3 hours by wooden boat or 1 hour by speedboat. Another option is to follow the minicruise from Naulicruise.
Coordinates here.

13. Breathe in the fresh mountain air: Bukit Gundaling

There are few things better than a morning in the mountains where you can breathe in the fresh mountain air, and Berastagi’s Bukit Gundaling is no exception. From the peak of Bukit Gundaling, you can set your eyes on two of Sumatra’s most stunning volcanoes – Sibayak and Sinabung.

Photo Via Mutantitan

If you’re planning a trip there in the afternoon, remember to stay for the sunset and watch the sky transform its light and colour in a spectacular display.

Feel like doing something more active? How about horseback riding around the Gundaling area?

Photo Via Merisintatrisnadayurewandika4

Photo Via Roberdmanihuruk

Bukit Gundaling

Entrance fees: Rp.3,000 (approximately USD $0.23) per person
Address: Jalan Jamin Ginting, Gundaling I, Berastagi, Kabupaten Karo, North Sumatra 22153, Indonesia
Getting there: Gundaling Hill is located about 3 km from Berastagi city. From the roundabout of Berastagi city, exit to Gundaling Street and follow the road to Gundaling Hill.
Coordinates here.

14. Get a bird’s eye view: The nests and viewpoints near Nantampukmas Hotel

With the rising popularity of Instagrammable platforms, you may have seen similar nests and viewpoints like these before. Located near Nantampukmas Hotel, these cute photo spots will delight you as you enjoy the view and snap away.

Have you ever wondered what it feels like to have a nest high up in a tree, a place where you could look out over the world? Step into one of these human-sized nests!

Photo Via Rizkykyky23

Photo Via Nuri_Aliyah

There are also platforms with hearts and sunbursts – all before the panoramic scenery of Sidangkat.

Photo Via Ayumiwant,Mona_Bintang

Near Nantampukmas Hotel (Puncak Sidiangkat, Sidikalang)

Address: Jalan Runding No.184, Sukaramai, Sidikalang, Pakpak Bar., North Sumatra 22251, Indonesia
Coordinates here.

Have we tempted your wanderlust? Do you know of any other hidden spots in North Sumatra? Do leave a comment and let us know!

This post is made possible by Indonesia Tourism Board.

PLEASE NOTE: All the above information is correct at the date of publication. If you come across any changes or updates, please let us know and we will update the information accordingly. Thank you!
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