Map of Sumatra

Sumatra (also Sumatera) is a region of Indonesia and the 6th largest island in the world. Wild and rugged, it has a great natural wealth.


Sumatra is divided into ten provinces.


Other destinations


An endemic Sumatran Orangutan at Bukit Lawang


People who spoke Austronesian languages first arrived in Sumatra around 500 BC, as part of the Austronesian expansion from Taiwan to Southeast Asia. With its location in the India-China sea trade route, several trading towns flourished, especially in the eastern coast, and were influenced by Indian religions and the Srivijaya Buddhist monarchy in particular. The Srivijayan influence waned in the 11th century and Sumatra was then subject to conquests from Javanese kingdoms. At the same time Islam made its way to Sumatra through Arabs and Indian traders in the 6th and 7th centuries. Marco Polo visited the island in 1292. The powerful Aceh Sultanate ruled from this time into the 20th century. With the coming of the Dutch, the many Sumatran princely states gradually fell under their control. Aceh, in the north, was the major obstacle, as the Dutch were involved in the long and costly Aceh War (1873–1903).

Sumatra came under the control of the Dutch East Indies and became a major producer of pepper, rubber, and oil. In the early and mid-twentieth century, Sumatran academics and leaders were important figures in Indonesia's independence movements before full independence was gained in 1945.

The 2004 Tsunami

The Great Sumatran fault runs the entire length of the island along its west coast. On 26 December 2004, the western coast and islands of Sumatra, particularly Aceh province, were struck by a tsunami following the Indian Ocean earthquake. More than 170,000 Indonesians were killed, primarily in Aceh. Other recent major earthquakes struck Sumatra in 2005 and 2010.

Get in

By plane

Medan, as the largest city on the island, has the most flights including many international services to Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and India. Palembang, Pekanbaru, and Padang and Banda Aceh also have domestic and some international services.

The new Kualanamu International Airport opened in July 2013. It is the second largest airport in Indonesia after Soekarno-Hatta International Airport in Jakarta, and it is set to be an international hub, with new routes slated for later implementation.

By boat

There are numerous ferry services connecting Sumatra to Malaysia as well as other Indonesian islands. The main port is Dumai in Riau, which is a visa on arrival point and has direct links to Port Klang (3 hrs), Port Dickson and Malacca (2 hrs) in Malaysia, as well as to the Indonesian island of Batam near Singapore.

Get around

By car

The Trans-Sumatran Highway, a 2,508.5km road, connects the entire island of Sumatra from north to south. It passes through most major cities like Banda Aceh, Medan, Pekanbaru and goes all the way to Bandar Lampung.

By train

The only useful railway service runs from Bandar Lampung in the very south of Sumatra to Palembang (400 km) and to Lubuklinggau. From Medan there a few trains a day to Pematangsiantar, Tanjung Balai and Rantauparapat.


Nature is the primary attraction of Sumatra. There are jungles, volcanoes and lakes. The rain-forest of this island is so important that in 2006 no less than 25,000 square km was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site and named The Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatra. This area comprises three distinct national parks.

Perhaps the most notable specific attraction is the endemic Sumatran Orangutan (smaller and rarer than the only other species of orangutan which is endemic to Borneo). These are restricted to the northern parts of the island and perhaps the easiest place to see them is at Bukit Lawang in the Gunung Leuser National Park.

Rarer still are the tiny populations of critically endangered Sumatran Tiger and Sumatran Rhinoceros. The chances of casual visitor glimpsing one of these are slim, but you never know.

Lake Toba, or rather a very small part of it

Also in the north, Lake Toba is the world's largest volcanic lake and a popular stop off on the backpacker trail.

In a nation of active volcanoes, Mount Kerinci in Kerinci Seblat National Park, is the highest of them all at some 3,805 metres.


Trekking is an obvious attraction, with countless peaks to scale and real opportunities to get right away from it all.

Offshore, Sumatra has some of the best surfing anywhere on earth with the Mentawai Islands and Nias being especially notable.


Sumatra's most famous contribution to Indonesian cuisine is nasi padang white steamed rice served with numerous curries and other toppings. This is originally from Padang but has been assimilated throughout Indonesia.

As well as being a popular and delicious option in nasi padang, rendang is a dry beef curry-type dish. It is prepared by slowly cooking the beef in coconut milk and spices for several hours until almost all the liquid is gone, allowing the meat to absorb the spicy condiments. It is typically served with steamed white rice.

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