Sumatra overland tour: Orangutans and Tribes

The best of Sumatra, visiting unspoiled Gunung Leuser National Park, a paradise of meandering rivers, dense forest and virgin trekking trails inhabited by tigers, elephants and, most famously, orangutans. Explore Lake Toba by local boat, visit colourful Toba Batak villages and learn about Minangkabau culture.

Best time to visit: The driest months of March, April, June, July, August.

Sumatra overland tour: Orangutans and Tribes at a glance
  • Day 1: Arrival into Medan and city tour
  • Day 2: Medan to Tangkahan
  • Day 3: Tangkahan to Bukit Lawang by jeep
  • Day 4: Bukit Lawang - Orangutan trekking - Berastagi
  • Day 5: Berastagi - Pematang Purba - Parapat - Samosir Island
  • Day 6: Lake Toba cruising and Samosir Island
  • Day 7: Parapat – Jangga Dolok – Lintong –Padang Sidempuan
  • Day 8: Bonjol - Palupuh Rafflesia Sanctuary - Bukittinggi
  • Day 9: Harau Valley - Traditional Minang villages - Pagaruyung - Bukittinggi
  • Day 10: Bukittinggi
  • Day 11 - Bukittinggi - Anai Valley - Padang
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Day 1: Arrival into Medan and city tour

Upon arrival, your driver will meet you at the airport and transfer you to your hotel. In the afternoon, proceed for a city tour, beginning with Merdeka Square, Medan City Hall, and Kesawan Street. Visit Masjid Raya or the Great Mosque, Maimoon Sultan Palace and an impressive Chinese temple, the Vihara Gunung Timur.

Overnight in Medan.

Distance and journey time:

Kuala Namu Airport – Medan city centre (30 km): 1 hour 15 minutes.

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Day 2: Medan to Tangkahan

Depart for Tangkahan via Binjai and Stabat. Upon arrival in Tangkahan, complete registration formalities at the “Gunung Leuser National Park” visitor centre and check into your lodge. This afternoon, you may choose to relax in the National Park, walk or take an elephant ride from the lodge through the Jungle to the Rehabilitation Centre. Time to watch the elephants and help bathe them.

Overnight in Tangkahan.

Distance and journey time:

Medan to Tangkahan: approx 5 hours

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Day 3: Tangkahan to Bukit Lawang by jeep

Take a local jeep to Bukit Lawang passing through rubber plantations and beautiful jungle and mountain scenery. Upon arrival at Bukit Lawang, walk across the wooden suspension bridge over the Bohorok River to your Eco Lodge.

Overnight in Bukit Lawang.

Distance and journey time:

Tangkahan - Jeep to Bukit Lawang: 2 and a half hours

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Day 4: Bukit Lawang orangutan trekking - Berastagi

Orangutans can possibly be seen at the station’s feeding platform and the trek involves traversing from one ridge to another and often involves steep descents/ascents.
After an early breakfast, take an easy walk for 35 - 45 minutes from the hotel on a rocky path passing stalls & lodges leading to a bend in the river. Cross by a cable and pulley driven dugout canoe to reach the station of Orangutan Care Centre. A steep trail through the forest leads to a feeding platform where the orangutan are fed their twice daily ration of bananas and milk. It generally takes ± 20 – 30 minutes to reach the feeding platform through the thick jungle with well-trodden paths to follow.
Proceed for a short trek into the woods, which affords rewarding views back across the National Park against a backdrop of a primary forest with possible sightings of the Park’s primates; Long-tailed Macaque, Thomas’s Leaf Monkey, White-handed Gibbon & semi-wild Orangutan.
In the afternoon, leave Bukit Lawang to the cool mountain resort of Berastagi in the Karo Highlands. Drive along a scenic route to visit Sibolangit Botanical Nature Reserve and the traditional Batak Karo village of Peceren.

Overnight in Berastagi

Distance and journey time:

Bukit Lawang - Berastagi: 4 and a half hours

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Day 5: Berastagi - Pematang Purba - Parapat - Samosir Island

Take a short walk to the local fruit market and visit St. Franciscus Catholic Church, with its unique Batak architecture framed against a perfect view of Mount Sibayak before setting off for Lake Toba. On the way, stop at Tongging Hill to view the Northern part of Lake Toba, Sipisopiso Waterfall, and Lingga Village to see a glimpse of the way of life of the Karo Batak Tribe and their typical houses. Drive to Pematang Purba to see Ruma Bolon (The Long House) a 200-year-old wooden house which used to be the home of the royal families of the Simalungun Batak Tribe.

On arrival at Parapat on the eastern shore of Lake Toba, board a local ferry with your private car, driver, and guide for a one-hour boat trip between Parapat and Tomok on Samosir Island. Samosir is located in the middle of Lake Toba, the largest volcanic lake in the world.

Overnight in Samosir.

Distance and journey time:

Berastagi – Parapat – (130 km): 4 hours 30 minutes
Parapat –Samosir Island by local Ferry: 1 hour

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Day 6: Lake Toba cruising and Samosir Island touring

A full day exploring Lake Toba and Samosir Island. Depart by car to visit Ambarita Village, famed for its stone chairs and execution stones, remnants of the megalithic culture of the cannibalistic Toba Batak Tribe.

Next, visit Simanindo Village to see the longhouses of the Toba Batak King that is now a museum and watch a traditional folk dance performed by the villagers. Take a short rest at Tao Island before proceeding by boat to Tomok Village where carved statues stand in an ancient graveyard as a memorial to the old kings.

Overnight in Samosir.

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Day 7: Parapat – Jangga Dolok – Lintong –Padang Sidempuan

Transfer to Tomok to board the local ferry to Parapat. Continue your overland journey to Sipirok.
En route, stop at Jangga Dolok a typical Toba Batak village surrounded by rice fields to see the traditional houses of the local people. Visit a coffee plantation at Lintong before arriving at Padang Sidempuan, the capital of the Batak Mandheling Regency.

Overnight in Padang Sidempuan.

Distance and journey time:

Parapat – Jangga Dolok – Lintong –Padang Sidempuan (6 hours)

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Day 8: Padang Sidempuan - Bonjol - Palupuh Rafflesia Sanctuary - Bukittinggi

Leave on a scenic journey through winding roads and traditional villages for Bukittinggi, the cultural capital and centre of the extraordinary Minangkabau tribe. Stops will be made at Sihepeng, a small spice botanical garden, and the Rimba Panti Nature Reserve.
Cross the Equator line at Bonjol where legend says that crossing the line backwards will bring good luck, so give it a try. Continue through dense jungles and deep valleys to the Palupuh Rafflesia sanctuary for a trek into the rainforest.
The blooming of a Rafflesia is a rare and unpredicted event and depends on many specific factors. The flower usually blossoms during the wet season from mid to end of the year (July and December).There is no guarantee that you will see the Rafflesia but if you do, it is a once in a lifetime experience.
Continue on your journey to Bukittinggi.
Overnight at the hotel in Bukittinggi

Distance and journey time:

Padang Sidempuan to Bukittinggi approximately 8 hours

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Day 9: Bukittinggi - Harau Valley - Traditional Minang villages - Pagaruyung - Bukittinggi

A full day touring the Minangkabau Highlands. Depart for the beautiful Harau Valley where green rice fields nestled between granite cliffs. Take a walk through the rice fields to visit a local family, and observe the daily life and activities of the villagers. From Harau Valley drive to Tabek Patah for lunch at a local restaurant.
Continue to the nearby local village of Rao Rao known for its beautiful traditional Minangkabau houses, locally known as Rumah Gadang. The Rumah Gadang are large elegant houses built with solid wood and beautifully carved.
Continue to Tanjung Emas village to see the Pagaruyung Palace, once the seat of an ancient Minangkabau kingdom. The palace is a replica of the original Pagaruyung royal palace which was set on fire by the Dutch colonists in 1804 and is the best example of Traditional Minangkabau Architecture.
Return to Bukittinggi along the northern shores of the picturesque Lake Singkarak.

Overnight at the hotel in Bukittinggi

Distance and journey time:
Bukittinggi to Harau Valley (45km): 1 hour 30 minutes)
Harau Valley to Tabek Patah (40 km): 1 hour 20 minutes.
Tabek Patah to Rao Rao – Batusangkar – Pagaryung Palace (35 km): 1 hour 15 minutes.
Pagaruyung Palace – Bukittinggi (65 km): 2 hours.

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Day 10: Bukittinggi tour

Full day exploring Bukittinggi and its surroundings. Visit the spectacular Ngarai Sianok Canyon with its network of underground bunkers and tunnels built by the Japanese during World War II. Climb the two-story observation tower (Panorama Park) that overlooks the Sianok Canyon, for the best views.
Take a walk to the ruins of Fort de Kock, built by the Dutch in 1825. Little of the original fortifications remains today but you can take in the views of the town from a lookout tower.
The town’s landmark is the large clock tower ‘Jam Gadang’ which overlooks the market square which is the best place to do some souvenir shopping.
This evening, enjoy a traditional Minangkabau dance performance.

Overnight in Bukittinggi

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Day 11 - Bukittinggi - Anai Valley - Padang

Depart to Padang via the Anai Valley with its dense and tropical rainforest and the picturesque 30m high Anai Valley Waterfall.
Arrive in Padang for a short sightseeing around the city. Walk along the banks of the Muaro River with its row of Old Dutch colonial buildings to the historical harbour of Padang.
From here, either a departure transfer to the airport or extend your Sumatra adventure with a beach stay at the Cubadak Paradiso Village Resort off the coast south of Padang.

Distance and journey time:

Bukittinggi – Padang: 3 hours

Highlights

Berastagi: cool mountain retreat

Set in the stunning Karo highlands of Sumatra, between Medan and Lake Toba, Berastagi was established in the 1920’s by the colonial Dutch as a hill station, a cool mountain retreat from the heat and humidity of the jungle.

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Bukit Lawang: jungle treks and orangutan

Located in the north of the island of Sumatra, the jungle village of Bukit Lawang, meaning door to the hills, is set within the primary rain forest of Mt Leuseur National Park.

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Bukittinggi: In the heart of the Sumatra Highlands

A colourful, vibrant market town, Bukittinggi, meaning High Hill, is set idyllically in a valley in West Sumatra’s highlands.
Enjoy the refreshingly cool climate of the town, 900 metres above sea level. Rise early to view the sun rise over the spectacular, mist-shrouded walls of Ngarai Sianok Canyon

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Lake Toba: Sumatra's awesome natural lake

Covering an area of more than 1100sq kilometres, and with an island at its centre, Toba is the largest lake in South East Asia, and one of the deepest in the world.
For spectacular distant views of the crater-lake approach Parapat, set upon a rocky peninsula, from the hill town of Berastagi

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Padang: Home of the Minangkabau people

Located on Sumatra’s west coast, Padang boasts pristine, white sand beaches, and a cosmopolitan architecture. It is also culturally rich, not least because of its distinct local cuisine, the spicy Makanan Padang.

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Sumatra: wild and rugged

Sumatra is a fascinating and exotic combination of nature and culture.
Discover orang-utan in the wild at Bukit Lawang, on the edge of the Gunung Leuser National Park. Gaze into the dark, volcanic crater of Lake Toba, the largest and deepest in the world

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Accommodation

Bukittinggi, Superior Class
Novotel Bukittinggi

Located centrally in the town, this chic, modern hotel is a short walk from Pasar Atas, Fort de Kock, Jambatan Limpapeh, and the iconic landmark of Jam Gadang.

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Bukit Lawang, Eco Lodge
EcoLodge Bukit Lawang Cottages

Located at the entrance to Sumatra’s green heart – the Leuser Ecosystem – and overlooking the stunning Sungai Bohorak river, the lodge is set within the tranquil jungle village of Bukit Lawang.

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Cubadak, Padang, Rustic
Cubadak Paradiso Village

This is an intimate resort of 12 traditional thatched bungalows, set idyllically on a small island 15 minutes across the water from the mainland.

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Gunung Leuser National Park, Basic
Jungle Lodge

Set within the jungle of Sumatra in Gunung Leuser National Park, the Lodge enjoys a fabulous position above the Bamboo River, and offers a genuine flavour of life in the rain forest.

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Lake toba, Sumatra, Superior Class
Samosir Villa Resort

Located on an island in the middle of the world’s largest volcanic lake – Lake Toba – the resort is set idyllically at the water’s edge.

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Medan, Deluxe Class
JW Marriott Hotel Medan

This 5-star international luxury hotel is located centrally in the city, with fine views over the surrounding roofscape.

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Padang Sidempuan, Standard Class
Mega Permata Hotel

This friendly, contemporary hotel is located close to the city’s attractions.
Guestrooms are comfortable, and available with Wi-Fi, air-conditioning, and balcony or terrace.

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