Home to a diverse array of cultures and a fascinating kaleidescope of Indonesian life, the region of North Sumatra has many wonders to explore. North Sumatra’s specacular natural beauty spreads from the magnificent Lake Toba, the biggest lake in Southeast Asia, to the jungle of Bukit Lawang which organgutans make their home. The natural and cultural wonders here make this is a region to come and have a true adventure.
The landscape here has been shaped by thousands of years of volcanic activity. From the incredible Lake Toba which was formed around 75,000 years ago in one of the most fierce volcanic eruptions ever known to the still smouldering Mt Sibayak, volcanoes dominate the landscape everywhere.
North Sumatra is home to rare and exotic wildlife. Discover exceptional and unique species like the orangutans, the white-handed gibbon, and 17 types of bird. For nature lovers, the extraordinary ecosystems which exist here are well worth a visit.
The largest city in this region, Medan, is a thriving metropolis, and one of the biggest cities in Indonesia. The population of the city is diverse, representing virtually every ethnicity in Indonesia. As one of the most important economic hubs in the country, Medan is also a place to do business with a number of oil and plantation export companies operating here and in the surrounding region.
Whether you’re after a jungle adventure, a relaxing holiday in pristine natural surrounds or an authentic experience of native Batak culture, this is a region which has it all.
North Sumatra is a treasure chest of culture and tradition waiting to be explored, with ancient graves of Batak kings, unique dances and ceremonies plus beautiful arts and crafts.
The main airport in this region is Polonia Airport, Medan. There are daily flights between Medan and most major cities in Indonesia.
Airlines that fly to Medan are:
International flights also go directly to Medan.
Air Asia has flights from Thailand and Malaysia to Medan.
Lion Air has flights from Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam to Medan.
Garuda has flights from Thailand to Medan.
Regular buses which run to destinations throughout North Sumatra are available via Trans Sumatra. Bus station Jl. Sisingamangaraja Medan.
Belawan seaport is the sea link to Penang, Malaysia.
Jl. Krakatau 17A Phone. (061) 6622526
Train station PERUMKA
Jl. Stasiun 1 Medan Phone. (061) 514114
People & Culture
With a population of around 12 million people, the people of this region can be divided into five main ethnic groups and languages: The coastal Malays, living along the Malaka Straits, the Bataks, the Angkola or Mandailing of the southern Tapanuli, and the Nias Islanders off the western coast of the province. These groups each have their own dialects, religious beliefs, arts, custom and cultures. Several other ethnic groups also live in Medan and other towns of North Sumatra, the largest of these being Chinese and Indian.
In the capital city of Medan there are ethnic tribes from all over Sumatra and Indonesia who’ve come to the city to do business. The city is also home to a sizeable Chinese and Indian population.
Living in a spectacularly beautiful part of North Sumatra around Lake Toba, the Batak people are divided into six cultures, each with their own language, ceremonies and traditions. Although geographically isolated, the Bataks have a history of regular contact with the outside world. Trade between the highlands and other regions saw the exchange of goods such as salt, cloth and iron which were imported into the region for gold, rice and cassia (a type of cinnamon).
The first Europeans to venture into Batak territory were missionaries, who began to explore the remote inland region in the late 18th century. Missionaries would send reports home of a fierce and defiant local society with frequent mentions of cannibalism. As early as the 9th century, an Arab text mentions that Sumatra’s inhabitants eat human flesh. Today anthropologists believe this was a rare form of capital punishment that may have seemed more common than it actually was as many Batak kept the bones of their tribal ancestors which may have been mistaken by outsiders as grisly trophies.
Traditional Batak beliefs center on a spiritual understanding that the universe is divided into three, the upper world where the God’s reside, the middle world which belongs to humans and the lower world which is home to ghosts and demons.
Medical care in Batak culture focuses on the condition of the soul. It’s believed that sickness is caused when the soul flees the body in which case a shaman (traditional healer) is needed to come and help call the wandering soul back to the patient.
In the Batak highlands you will see traditional houses with distinctive high pointy roofs line the landscape. These houses are on stilts so that the family’s animals such as pig and buffalo can live underneath.
In North Sumatra you’ll find a treasure chest of cultural and heritage attractions waiting to be explored. Soak up the culture here with a visit to the ancient graves of Batak kings, a performance of traditional dance or look at the locally produced beautiful arts and crafts.
Sumatra food is famous for being spicy and cuisine from North Sumatra is no different.
When you’re in town, try local dishes like Chicken Rice, Medan Kweetiaow and others. Most of the dishes here are influenced by Malay, Chinese and Indian culture.
For those who want to embrace exotic cuisine, North Sumatra offers unusual dishes including with ingredients like dog, congealed blood and pig. You can easily find those in certain restaurants, just ask around.
While in Berastagi, make sure to visit traditional markets and sample the exotic fruits. A glass of marquisa syrup will quench your thirst, and it can be consumed hot or cold. This is also a perfect souvenir for your loved ones.