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Published on November 29, 2017

Mount Leuser National Park. Jean-Marie Prival / Creative Commons

The rich culture of the Indonesian island of Sumatra flourishes in the midst of amazing natural wonders: the Batak, Minang and Malay ethnic groups enrich the Sumatra travel experience, providing delightful cultural encounters travelers can find at the jungle edges, coasts and lakeshores.

Tours of Sumatra begin at the main air gateway Medan, Indonesia’s fourth-largest city and its largest outside of Java. The city center still retains a good deal of historic architecture, with the Mamuin Palace and the Great Mosque occupying pride of place. Culinary enthusiasts should hit up the food scene at Selat Panjang Street.

As you make your way southeast down Sumatra, you’ll find endless opportunities to explore the island’s natural wonders. An orangutan rehabilitation center at Bukit Lawang lets you meet Southeast Asia’s only endemic primate; neighboring Mount Leuser National Park provides hiking trails through dense rainforest; and the majestic Lake Toba will simply amaze you: it’s a sea unto itself, 450 metres deep and spanning over 1,145 square kilometres.

Sumatra’s culture should also be laid open as you make your way through, from Jangga Village’s glimpse into Batak life to the Toba lifestyle practiced on the Lake Toba island of Samosir.

At last you’ll enter Padang, West Sumatra’s capital and a culinary giant, the source of the masakan Padang restaurants that you’ll find all over Indonesia. North of the city you’ll find Bukittinggi, the cultural heartland of the Minangkabau ethnic group. Beyond exploring the local culture, go for a little retail therapy at the local markets, Pasar Aur Kuning and Pasar Atas.

Cultural presentation at Samosir Island, Sumatra. Image courtesy of the Indonesia Ministry of Tourism

Great Mosque of Medan. zolmuhd / Creative Commons

Museum of Minangkabau Culture, Bukittinggi. Image courtesy of the Indonesia Ministry of Tourism

Similar Southeast Asia Experiences
If you’re interested in mountain treks and welcoming encounters with local tribes, try these other experiences: visiting the scenic Rice Terraces of the Philippines; hiking through Sarawak and Sabah in East Malaysia; visiting Laos’ mysterious Plain of Jars; and Brunei’s Tutong cultural and ethnic experience.