Lake Toba from above

12 Days in Sumatra – Your Best Itinerary & Guide to Northern Sumatra

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Sumatra, the largest of the Indonesian islands is home to active volcanoes, orangutans and gigantic waterfalls…just to name a few cool things. This island has a whole lot to offer for those wanting to travel here. Of all the places in Indonesia, Sumatra gives you the feeling that few tourists make it here. With their sights set on Bali, Sumatra is off the radar for most.

12 Days in Sumatra – Your Best Itinerary & Guide to Northern Sumatra

Sumatra was an unplanned place for us while we were on our backpacking trip. It was a last-minute decision to squeeze in and let us tell you that we are SO happy we did! We had no idea what to expect and Sumatra left us stunned.

Entering the County

In order to enter the country of Indonesia, you need the following:

  1. Staying 30 Days or Less:
    • Passport (valid for at least 6 months prior to your arrival date)
    • Proof of onward travel
    • Entry Fee: Free (qualifying countries)
      • For countries not eligible for free VOA, you’ll need to apply for your visa ahead of time.
  2. Staying 30 – 60 Days:
    • Passport (valid for at least 6 months prior to your arrival date)
    • Entry Fee: $35 USD + Visa Extension
    • Proof of onward travel

How To Get Around Northern Sumatra

For us, we used a shared taxi to get to and from everywhere in Sumatra.

The company we used is CV. Adi Guna Travel and our accommodations booked our transportations for us. The shared taxis are a comfortable SUV that fits up to 7 people and is the best way to get around Sumatra.

In terms of cost, the price varies depending on where you are going and how many people you are traveling with.

12 Day Route & Itinerary To Northern Sumatra

We only had time to focus on a part of the island, so we set our sights on the North. Why? After a little research it had the things we were interested in seeing and doing – a orangutan trek, volcanic hikes and swimming in the lake of a super volcano. Yeah, you read all that correctly. Pretty freaking awesome, are we right?!

So, get your excited pants on!! We’re here to walk you through our 12-day route through Northern Sumatra!

Sumatra Travel Itinerary
Sumatra Travel Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Medan

We caught a flight from Singapore and arrived at Medan International Airport, Kualanamu International Airport. The airport is on the outskirts of town, about 20-25 minutes from the city center of Medan. Our accommodations, Vivo Stay, provided airport pickup so we took them up on that.

Tip: See if your accommodation can arrange or includes pickup in your accommodation fees.

Day 2: Medan

For us, Medan was the jumping off point to our time in Sumatra. We passed our day by walking around, eating at the Merdeka Walk, specifically at Warung Kodi Srikandi where you HAVE to order their Soto Medan and booking our transport to Ketambe through Adi Guna Travel.

We took them up on their shared taxi option. It’s a comfortable SUV that fits 7 people. We promise, you’ll be the only tourists in the cab 🙂

Tip: If you’re having trouble booking your trip. Have your accommodation call Friendship Guesthouse (where you should stay in Ketambe) and Friendship Guesthouse will arrange your pickup for you in Medan.

Exploring Medan, Indonesia
Exploring Medan, Indonesia

Day 3 to Day 4: Ketambe

An early morning wake up call from Medan and head off to Ketambe! The lesser touristy and cheaper Orangutan trekking options are located further north in the village of Ketambe. Ketambe is the official entrance to the Gunung Leuser National Park to see wild Orangutans.

During your stay with Friendship Guesthouse, you have options to do a day trek or a several day trek into the jungle.

For us, we did a day trek and saw 4 Orangutans swinging from the trees! It seriously was an amazing sight to witness. We only had time for a one-day trek but if you have longer, consider doing a trek that would take you deeper into the jungle. Who knows what you may find 🙂

Orangutan hike in Ketambe
Orangutan hike in Ketambe

Day 5 to Day 7: Berastagi

We consider Berastagi one of the two must visit places when in Northern Sumatra. The town itself is not impressive. However, it’s what surrounds the town that will leave a mark on you.

We stayed at Nachelle Homestay and seriously can’t recommend it enough! It is a family run establishment run by the kindest two individuals, Mery and Abdy. Mery and Abdy go out of their way to ensure your stay is nothing short of memorable.

TIP: Make sure you understand the difference between B1 and B2 eating establishments. B1 restaurants serve dog (Batak word for dog is biang and has one B, so B1) and B2 means pig (Batak word for pig is babi and has two B’s…you get it).

Abdy will take you on a sunrise hike to the top of Mount Sibayak Volcano complete with a hot spring stint to rest your sore muscles at the end. Does Abdy’s services stop there? Hell No.

He’ll take you on a nighttime ride to see magma spew from the top of Mount Sinabung.  Yes, magma spewing from a Volcano. Righteous. We highly recommend both of these tour options with Abdy!

Sunrise volcano hike in Berastagi
Sunrise volcano hike in Berastagi

In addition, the town has an amazing produce market unlike any we’ve seen in Asia. It’s a huge distribution center where farmers from around Sumatra come to sell their hauls. Seriously, check it out.

Oh and if you want to feel like a movie star, be sure not to miss the produce market. Be it the lack of tourists that visit Berastagi or just the kindness of the Batak people, we couldn’t walk a few minutes without someone wanting a picture with us!

Hanging with the locals at the town market
Hanging with the locals at the town market

Day 8 to Day 10: Sipisopiso Waterfall & Lake Toba

The second must see place in Northern Sumatra is without a doubt Lake Toba. Lake Toba is a massive naturally made lake that sits in the caldera of a super volcano. Yes, a super volcano!

However, before you get to Lake Toba you have a pitstop you need to make. From Berastagi to Lake Toba, make sure you stop at Sipisopiso Waterfall, which is the highest waterfall in Indonesia! Well worth the stop.

Sipisopiso Waterfall in Sumatra
Sipisopiso Waterfall in Sumatra

Once in Lake Toba, make sure you stay on the island in the middle of the lake, Pulau Samosir. We stayed at a wonderful spot called, Judita Cottage. Great location, a beautiful balcony overlooking the lake and it was clean. Perfect in our book.

Lake Toba is all about taking it easy. What did we do? We explored by land and by water. Rent a speed boat for the day and have a driver take you around the lake. You can jump in the lake for a dip or leap from a waterfall. It’s a blast to say the least and an incredible lake to explore.

Lake Toba waterfall
Lake Toba waterfall

Also, we rented scooters and headed up into the outer rim and got amazing aerial views of the lake below. I mean look at these views!

Lake Toba from above
Lake Toba from above

Day 11: Medan

Plan to arrive back into Medan early evening from Lake Toba. Grab a meal and called it an early night. After several whirl wind days, you will be happy for a chill night. For us, we packed our bags, ate at Warung Kodi Srikandi (again) and prepared for our departure the next day.

Day 12: Depart (Medan)

Sad day. Sad, sad, day. You have to leave beautiful Northern Sumatra. 

About Our Route in Northern Sumatra:

We were told that Sumatra was a big backpacking destination in the 70’s/80’s but now, it is missed by so many tourists heading to Indonesia, which is such a shame! The beauty this island has to offer is something so incredibly special that everyone at some point in their life should experience.

For us, we were only able to experience a taste of what Sumatra has to offer but a taste is better than no taste! We loved our route and honestly wouldn’t change a thing. Everything was perfect and we left with smiles on our faces that didn’t go away for weeks 🙂

Where To Stay On Sumatra 

From Medan to Berastagi to Lake Toba and all the other amazing cities, towns and islands there are to experience in Sumatra, check out the latest places and prices below to secure an unforgettable Sumatran accommodation.


Indonesia Visa Extension 

How To Get To Mount Bromo & Ijen

Your 2 Week Itinerary To Bali


12 day Sumatra Itinerary Pin

For more travel tips, guides and awesome travel shots, be sure to poke around our site, follow us on Instagram @wanderingstus, Pinterest and Facebook. Oh and if you have any questions, let us know in the comment section. We’re happy to answer. Or, just leave us a positive note!

Happy Travels,

– Lauren & Jesse Stuart (The Stüs)

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  1. Hey, thanks for sharing this report! I am planning a similar trip to Northern Sumatra and wondering about the logistics of the “Shared Taxi” service. Did the same car and driver stay with you the entire time? If so, what is the cost like? Is it daily + gas? I am looking to spend four or five days around Ketambe, so I’m not sure how feasible private transport is. Shoot me an e-mail reply if you get a chance.

    1. Hi Brad – the shared cabs are just your ride there. They don’t stay and wait. During our time there, we had different drivers every time. Your accommodation coordinates it for you and you just pay your accommodation. That was our experience at least.

      In addition, from our experience, and at the time we were there, a shared taxi was the only direct way to get to Ketambe. We did read about a potential bus option but it 1) didn’t sound reliable and 2) no one could really give us more information on it.

      We can’t recall exact numbers of what we paid but we know it wasn’t major fees. We were on a pretty tight budget so we definitely wouldn’t have paid a lot for the ride.

  2. Hi, do you know how much the sunrise your of the volcano/ hot springs in Betastagi costs. We’ve heard so many different prices from 400 to 800. It seems no blogs have any prices. Makes it hard to know if you’re being ripped off a little or a lot

    1. Hi Dave!

      We paid $15USD for the sunrise hike to Gunung Sibayak / hot springs. We booked and went with the family we stayed with while we were in Berastagi – Nachelle’s Homestay.

      Thanks and good luck!
      – Lauren & Jesse

  3. Hey, this was all really helpful. I am planning my trip to Northern Sumatra for next summer. Did you book anything in advance or do it all on arrival?

    1. Hey Laura!

      Happy to hear it’s helpful! Thanks for reading 🙂

      The only things we booked in advance were our accommodations. And when we say advanced, we mean a few days a head of our arrival.

      All transportation we booked with our accommodations once we arrived and had no issues securing rides.

      Have a blast in Sumatra!
      Lauren & Jesse

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