This large island in western Indonesia is one of the world's most beautiful. Elephants, monkeys, beaches and the Palace of the Sultan of Deli are just a few of the reasons to visit Sumatra. The island's most popular attraction is Lake Toba, an enormous volcanic lake set in beautiful, almost alpine scenery. The region is very quiet and fairly undeveloped, but there are pleasant organized cruises on the 80-mi-/130-km-long lake. Nearby attractions include the orangutan reserve at Mount Leuser National Park and rafting down the Alas River.
Sumatra's second must-see is the town of Bukittinggi (also Bukit Tinggi), home to the Minangkabau people and a region known for its fiery Padang cuisine, horn-shaped homes and matrilineal society that passes wealth through female rather than male descendants. Scenic lakes, smoking volcanoes and dense rain forests make the Bukittinggi region a superb destination for adventurous travelers.
Organized tours into various parks and undeveloped jungle areas put you face-to-face with tame and semi-tame elephants, monkeys and other local wildlife, with a possibility of spotting a tiger or rhino during your journey. Most of these tours are rugged, with long treks over semideveloped paths and camping on the ground or in wildlife hides. For the intrepid, they can be an unforgettable experience. If you have mobility issues, children or seniors in your party, be sure to communicate with your guide about options for those members of your group.
In general, Sumatra is to Java what Java is to Singapore: wilder, more adventurous, less developed, and farther from western comforts and facilities. Travel insurance that includes medical evacuation is a must, and everything you've read about water and food safety precautions in Java goes double for trips to this island. Transportation infrastructure is similarly unreliable. Several separate railway networks, some pushing their 200th birthday, connect various population centers. You can also hire a car, but we recommend using a service that includes a driver. The roads are tricky and best navigated by a local.
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