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.
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?
How do I get to Medan?
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!
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
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
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.
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.
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?
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
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?
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.