Savoring Sumatra

Dramatic geology, orangutans, distinctive culture, and an unparalleled experience
Overview

overview

Sumatra, the largest island of Indonesia, is worth a complete trip in itself. This JOURNEYS trip concentrates on the actively volcanic northeast part of the island and takes in some of the best-preserved natural areas, distinctive cultural regions and wonderfully aesthetic and appealing landscapes. The environment you explore is shaped both by dramatic geology and long traditions of former kingdoms and the era of colonialism. Your Sumatran Batok guide, Jeksin, brings knowledge of all of these factors to an insightful and personalized interpretation of a little-known land of beauty, rich nature, and extraordinary geographical variety. 

In 2015  we can offer this exploration on an independent and custom basis, as well as on our group dates. Accommodations range from a simple jungle lodge to comfortable resort hotels but we suggest that travelers looking for consistently high accommodation standards, fine dining or precise timing of events and distances probably should consider one of our other Indonesia trips. This trip is best suited for active, fit travelers who find virtue in unexpected encounters and delight in negotiating events that challenge less adaptive visitors. It is more physically engaging, especially with regard to the hiking, tubing, swimming, and elephant trek options than any other Indonesia trip with which we are familiar.

Based upon our first group trip in 2014, we are especially pleased to offer one of the best elephant riding, bathing, feeding and education encounters anywhere in Asia.  You will enjoy Lake Toba and it's colorful culture.  Not only orangutans, but other primates abound in Gunung Leuser National Park.

itinerary

itinerary

  • Day 1: Arrive Medan / Tangkahan

    Upon an early morning arrival from Singapore or Jakarta meet your guide and group for a brief tour of Medan, a cosmopolitan city of over two million people and a booming commercial center for Sumatra's thriving oil and agribusiness industries. The pre-independence population of Chinese, Indians, Javanese, and Europeans merges with indigenous Sumatrans - predominantly Bataks, but also Acehnese, Malays and Minangkabau. Visit the Great Mosque with its imposing tiled archway and royal burial ground. Nearby, view the ceremonial palace of the Sultans of Deli with its yellow trim and typical east coast Malay architecture. After lunch, drive for about 3.5 hours to Binjai, passing through a landscape of rubber and oil palm plantations dotted by low-roofed local houses on high posts. Your destination, Tangkahan, is sometimes referred to as the "Hidden Paradise" on the border of Gunung Leuser National Park. Here, local people are trying to build an ecotourism community which treasures and preserves the natural environment and wildlife as a viable economic alternative to forest destruction. While in this beautiful area you will enjoy casual hikes, an elephant trek, and tubing on the Bamboo or Buluh Rivers. Or, just enjoying the natural environs of our simple jungle lodge. Bring your own toiletries and towel for this part of the trip.

    Lodging
    Jungle Lodge
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  • Day 2: Explore Tangkahan

    You awaken to the sounds of the Sumatran jungle and a natural simplicity that is timeless. You will spend a day and a half exploring this area. Your visit will include elephant riding and trekking into the vast Leuser National Park which covers an area of 5,592 square miles and is the heart of the Sumatran rainforests. The area represents one of the most endangered ecosystems in the world. The oil palm and rubber plantation you observe threaten to engulf all of the remaining unprotected natural areas throughout Indonesia. You will visit a small elephant sanctuary just outside the national park and meet the elephants and their mahouts. You may accept an invitation to help wash one of these huge beasts before climbing on board for an hour-long trek through the jungle.

    While on the trek, cross deep rivers, climb up and down steep jungle routes and possibly have a chance to drive the elephant yourself, taking position on top of its head and using your feet to tap its ears and steer through the undergrowth. An experienced mahout will be with you at all times and the close relationship they have with the elephant is evident and reassuring. After the elephant trek, enjoy a refreshing hour-long float on inner tubes along the edge of the crystal clear mountain stream. This is a most relaxing way to appreciate the spectacular rainforest, mountainous scenery and hidden caves along the river system. It's also a great opportunity for bird spotting. You will be surrounded by the sounds of the jungle, from gibbons to frogs! The tubing pauses at a trail leading to a secluded waterfall which plummets into a natural pool. Enjoy a swim and a resfreshing shower while your guide prepares a picnic lunch overlooking the waterfall.

    After another 45 minutes of peaceful meandering downstream, leave the river on foot for a 40 minute walk back to your lodge including stops in local villages along the way. These villages contain a range of different housing, showing how the traditional lifestyle of people has evolved over recent decades.

    Meals
    Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
    Lodging
    Jungle Lodge
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  • Day 3: Tangkahan / Bukit Lawang

    After breakfast proceed for about two hours of moderate walking on a good trail system radiating out into the forest around the park. This rainforest holds spectacular biodiversity. About 175 species of mammals, 320 species of birds, and 190 reptiles and amphibians have been recorded here. Variations in altitude, rainfall and soil contribute to an enormous wealth of plants, including the spectacular Rafflesia Arnold and Amorphophallus Titanum, the biggest and the highest flowers in the world. Tigers, leopards and the Sumatran rhinoceros find their last Indonesian strongholds here, but are not likely to be seen. You will look for wildlife like the long-tailed macaque and birds like hornbills, barbets, laughing thrushes, leaf birds, cuckoos and malkohas following along the edge of a crystal clear mountain stream known as Butterfly Beach. Return on foot to the Jungle Lodge for lunch. Then depart for a drive along the Bukit Barisan Mountain Range. Weather permitting, you will observe Sumatra's two highest peaks: Mt. Leuser, 11,100 ft in the north, and Mt. Kerinci, 12,500 ft in the west. You will have a somewhat bumpy three-hour ride past farms and houses on stilts. Your destination is Bukit Lawang and the Orangutan Care Center. Upon arrival in Bukit Lawang, cross the river on a hanging cable plank bridge to the hotel for accommodation and dinner. The care center was established in 1973 to assist captive orangutans in readjusting to life in the wild and preserving their decreasing population.

    Meals
    Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
    Lodging
    Rindu Alam Hotel
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  • Day 4: Bukit Lawang

    After an early breakfast at the lodge, you begin your exploration of this area of Gunung Leusser National Park. You will seek opportunities to see orangutans and other park's primates in their natural jungle habitat. The hike may involve steep descents and ascents, but it's a good trail system. Picnic lunch is provided en route. Be on the lookout for long tailed macaque, Thomas's leaf monkey, white-handed gibbon and orangutans. Afterwards, visit the location where the orangutans are fed their twice daily ration of bananas and milk. Watch the orangutans at the feeding site. Then head down through the forest down to the Orangutan Care Center and back to your hotel for overnight and dinner.

    Meals
    Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
    Lodging
    Rindu Alam Hotel
    Show on a map
  • Day 5: Bukit Lawang / Beristagi

    After breakfast, depart and retrace your route through the oil palm and rubber plantation county to Medan. Then follow another road that leads back into the Bukit Barisan Mountains. You will gain altitude though the Sibolangit Nature Reserve. En route to Berstagi situated on a rich green plateau, you will enjoy stops at the Church of Mary Annai Velangkanni illustrating Indo-Mogul architecture brought from Tamil Nadu, India. Visit the very impressive and chaotic food market in town. Drive to Gundaling Hill (4,900 ft), situated well above the surrounding plateau for great views of volcanoes, including smoking Mt. Sibayak (6,900 ft) to the north and further to the west, Mt. Sinabung (8,000 ft). Transfer to the hotel for accommodation.

    Meals
    Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
    Lodging
    Sibayak Hotel
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  • Day 6: Climb Mt. Sibayak

    This is your day for the most vigorous hike of the trip, a pre-dawn ascent of Mt. Sibayak. The hike is optional. Begin with a very early morning drive to the slope of Mount Sibayak. Proceed hiking on a rocky track over a saddle on the east-west ridge and continue up through foothills blanketed by morning mist. Most people can reach the summit in three hours. It is a stunning vista watching the beautiful sunrise and the blue green sulphurous lake at the bottom of the crater bubbling menacingly. After daylight, descend gently as the trail passes though thick jungle down some very steep slopes, which may be a bit slippery in places. Reaching Lau Debuk Debuk, a hot sulphur spring, enjoy a therapeutic soak in the steaming water. These waters are widely acclaimed in Sumatra to help smooth skin, ease stomach problems, and high blood pressure. In mid-morning, return to your hotel and rejoin those who did not take the hike. Continue driving on the scenic back roads across the Karo Plateau, skirting the northeastern edge of the Toba Caldera with stops en route at Tongging Hill. This magnificent site on the northern rim of Toba Caldera basin reveals great vistas of the lake and the falls known as Sipiso Piso, which shoots out of a cave at the edge of the plateau and plunges 395 ft straight down to a small gushing stream below. Stop at Pematang Purba to see the wooden palace (Ruma Bolon) of the former Simalungun ruler. It was built in the style of a traditional adat house and is said to be more than 200 years old. The house has been restored as a museum. Visit the hill top guesthouse of Simarjarunjung offering magnificent views back across the lake. The road leads along a panoramic forested ridge overlooking the lake to the refreshingly cool town of Parapat on a small, rocky peninsula jutting into the Toba Lake. This is the gateway to traditional Toba culture and to the colorful Batak people. They inhabit a spectacularly beautiful and fertile volcanic basin at the northern end of Bukit Barisan Range. On arrival in Parapat, cruise on Lake Toba to the central isle of Samosir where your accommodations are located among colorful Toba Batak villages lining the shore. Lunch is served en route. 

    Meals
    Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
    Lodging
    Silintong Hotel
    Show on a map
  • Day 7: Hiking on Samosir Island

    You are located on a lake within an island, and the lake happens to be the biggest volcanic lake in the world which resulted from the largest volcanic eruption in the past 25 million years. It happened about 70,000 years ago and changed the global climate. You are truly at the epicenter of the most cataclysmic geological event since humans evolved on earth. Cruise on Lake Toba to Ambarita Village, which was once an archaeologically important meeting place for the King of Siallagan. Visit the remnants of a hall of justice with ancient stone walls that were once topped with a thick fence of thorny bamboo. Afterwards, proceed on a path that rises gently to give a view of irrigated rice fields terraced in semicircualr patterns passing the lovely scenery, traditional houses and elaborate graves. Enjoy contacts with the friendly Bataknese people at your own pace on the way to Tomok Village. Visit one of the island's most famous sights - the 200-year-old boat-shaped sarcophagus of King Sidabutar, surrounded by those of his descendants. Afterwards, cruise on Lake Toba back to the hotel for accommodation. Lunch is served en route.

    Meals
    Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
    Lodging
    Silintong Hotel
    Show on a map
  • Day 8: Samosir Island

    After breakfast, explore Lake Toba by boat. Visit lovely coves with white sandy beaches and picturesque villages near the northern end of the island where you will see some of the best Batak Toba traditional houses. Visit the home of King Sidauruk, which is not a museum and witness a Toba Batak folk dance performed by the villagers. Visit Tao Island for a possible swim in the tranquil water of Lake Toba. After lunch, proceed further by boat to Pangururan, the administrative center, where a bridge connects Samosir Island to the mainland. Take a short hike to the hot springs on the slopes of Mt. Pusuk Buhit (6,500 ft) - the sacred mountain of origin for all Bataknese people. It is here that the first ruler "Si Raja Batak" is said to have descended from the heavens. Afterwards, cruise on Lake Toba back to the hotel.

    Meals
    Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
    Lodging
    Silintong Hotel
    Show on a map
  • Day 9: Samosir Parapat Sidempan

    After breakfast, cross Lake Toba by public ferry boat back to Parapat and drive south on a highway that winds up, again, in the Bukit Barisan Mountain Range. Enjoy rewarding views back across the lake and beautiful landscapes of rice fields against a backdrop of a forest dotted with small villages. You will see the architecturally distinctive, superbly-decorated adat houses in clumps of bamboo all along the sinuous Silindung Valley. Continue through deep ravines and dense forest and fern covered slopes to Sipirok or Padang Sidempuan, one of the main market towns in South Tapanuli Regency. This area is known for its salak palm fruit (snake skin fruit), which is well grown on the slopes of Mt. Lubuk Raya (6,200 ft). You will sample the fruits, which some visitors find almost addictively tasty. You will also stop at the smallholder's pineapple field to sample this delicious local produce. Visit the Jangga, an example of traditional adat building with animistic, anthropomoprhic carvings and friezes painted in the traditional colors of red, black, and white. Pause at the Prosea where the Asahan River drains Toba to the east. You will see fertile plains dotted with villages bordering the lake. Also, stop at the Sipoholon, a small settlement with hot springs reputed for their medicinal properties. Accommodation will be at a hotel either in Sipirok or Padang Sidempuan. Lunch is served at Tarutung, a small town located in Silindung Valley.

    Meals
    Breakfast, Lunch
    Lodging
    Natama Hotel (or similar)
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  • Day 10: Padang Sidempuan / Bukit Tinggi

    After breakfast, drive south along the same mountain range up to Bukit Tinggi, the cultural capital of the Minang realm and home to Minangkabau people. This area is well-known for the distinctive architecture, spicy hot cuisine, wonderfully friendly people and matriarchal traditions. You will again relish in the soothingly beautiful landscapes of rice fields dotted with neat little huts and bridges over the rivers. Visit the Sihepeng's local mini Botanical Garden and learn about herbs and spices of the monsoon tropics. You may witness the use of pig-tailed macaques trained to harvest coconuts. You will see Purba Village, the center of a huge Islamic Koranic School with hundreds of tiny huts. The volcanic nature of this whole area is echoed at Rimba Panti, a forest reserve with bubbling sulfurous hot springs. Celebrate crossing the equator at Bonjol Village where zero degrees latitude is marked by a monument called Tugu Khatulistiwa. Lunch is en route.

    Meals
    Breakfast, Lunch
    Lodging
    Pusako Hotel
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  • Day 11: Bukittinggi Exploration

    Visit Fort de Kock built by the Dutch at the edge of a steep sided ridge as a hilltop outpost. The site affords an excellent spot to take in a view of Sumatra's Mt. Merapi, which occasionally vents puffs of ash. Nearby you can visit an excellent small museum of Minangkabau culture, housed in a traditional rumah gadang and complete with thatched roof and granaries. Walk to Jam Gadang, a clock tower that serves as the principal landmark of the city. Continue driving to the lovely Sianok Canyon. This is part of a tectonic rift valley, which has sheer walls and a flat bottom. You may have great views of the peak of Mt. Singgalang though the blankets of mist which haunt the canyon's 328 foot cliffs. Paths lead down into World War II era Japanese-built tunnels. Drive to Batusangkar, a lively and scenic town surrounded by majestic rice terraces where the local countryside is dotted with Rumah Adat houses. Visit Fort Van der Capellen built in 1821 and is now the town's police station. Also stop at the Palace of Pagaruyung. Then, drive up over the low crater wall and down to Singkarak Lake passing through the charming hilltop village of Balimbing as you return back to Bukit Tinggi. If you have time and interest, stop en route at Pandai Silkat, a small village famous for its woodcarving, weaving of the traditional gold and silk songket and embroidery. This is a great final spot to purchase crafts directly from the artisans before you leave Sumatra.

    Meals
    Breakfast, Lunch
    Lodging
    Pusako Hotel
    Show on a map
  • Day 12: Onward

    Transfer to Padang's BIM Airport. Your photogenic route is through deep ravines and dense forest across steep fern covered slopes that afford fantastic views of the lush tropical vegetation of Anai Valley. View waterfalls and cascades. Admire the magnificent rack-pinion railway with arched truss bridges alongside the highway. It is a final magnificent visual experience of scenic Sumatra. 

    Meals
    Breakfast
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Price and Date Details

Price and Date Details

Aug 10-21, 2015
Or Privately on Request
Land Cost:
$3,295
The cost quoted is the Land Cost and is subject to change. This covers accommodations, transfers, activities, touring, guide services and meals as described in JOURNEYS' Trip Notes. The quoted Land Cost will apply when group size falls in the specified range and when travel is on the indicated dates.
Single Supplement:
$625
The single supplement is applicable if a roommate is not available or if single accommodation is specifically requested. While single accommodation is not available on all trips, we will try and honor this request whenever possible.
Need to Know

Need to Know

Duration:
12 days
The number of days, or duration, in a destination corresponds with the itinerary as published. This is the time period covered by the land cost. The total number of days includes the time required to travel between the USA and the destination country.
Comfort Level:
1
Group Size:
7-12
The stated range indicates minimum required for guaranteed departure and maximum accepted on the scheduled dates. Exceptions can often be made for private departures.
Activity Level:
4

Resources

Trip Extensions

Trip Extensions

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