Explore lush landscapes, meet amazing wildlife, and encounter fascinating cultures on this week-long whirlwind tour of North Sumatra. You'll go from the city to the rainforest, where you'll play with elephants and observe orangutans in their natural environment. Spend the second half of your trip on the volcanic Lake Toba and Samosir Island, where you'll learn about ethnic Batak history and traditions.

Highlights

  • Play with elephants and go for a ride
  • Seek out orangutans in their natural habitat
  • Explore the magnificent Lake Toba
  • Immerse yourself in tribal culture on Samosir Island

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Kuala Namu Airport – Medan Medan, Sumatra
Day 2 Medan – Elephant Encounter – Tangkahan Tangkahan, Sumatra
Day 3 Tangkahan – Jeep to Bukit Lawang  Bukit Lawang, Sumatra
Day 4 Bukit Lawang – Orangutan Trekking – Berastagi Berastagi, Sumatra
Day 5 Berastagi – Ferry to Samosir Island Samosir Island
Day 6 Samosir Island Samosir Island
Day 7 Samosir Island – Depart Medan  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Kuala Namu Airport – Medan

Great Mosque
The ornate Great Mosque dates back to 1906

Welcome to Sumatra! Meet your English-speaking guide at the airport and drive an hour and 15 minutes to the center of North Sumatra’s capital city, Medan. This metropolis is a melting pot of Chinese, Malay, Indian, and Batak cultures, dotted with reminders of its Dutch colonial past.

Start with a walking tour of the city, from the central Merdeka Square to the colonial-era buildings lining Kesawan Street, to the old post office and city hall. Break for lunch at a historic 1930s restaurant, where you’ll enjoy a delicious meal.

Check in to your hotel and relax until the mid-afternoon, when you’ll resume your tour of the city. The first stop is the Maimoon Palace, the seat of the Sultanate of Deli. This vast, colorful building is still home to the sultan, who acts as a figurehead of the Malay community. Continue on to the Great Mosque — one of the most beautiful in the country — and end your tour with a stop the impressive Vihara Gunung Timur Chinese temple.

You’ll have the evening free to explore at your own pace. Perhaps take a stroll through Chinatown to find some the island's best street food. If you’re feeling adventurous, try some of the more exotic options on offer, like snake, frog, or lizard. Otherwise, indulge in a dinner prepared at your hotel.

Day 2: Medan – Elephant Encounter – Tangkahan

Elephants
Help rehabilitated elephants take a bath

Wake up early for breakfast before a long drive west to the village of Tangkahan — the gateway to the rainforests of Gunung Leuser National Park. After registering at the visitors’ center, cross the river to your rustic lodge by raft if the water isn’t too high, or by suspension bridge.

You’ll have lunch at the lodge before setting out on an elephant ride through the jungle. Your pachyderm will bring you to the rehabilitation center, where you’ll meet more elephants and help them bathe in the river. After playing with these gentle giants, make your way back to the lodge on foot with an easy half-hour walk.

Take the rest of the day to explore on your own. Wander the paths around the lodge, where you can spot Thomas’s leaf monkeys in their natural habitat, or opt for a refreshing dip in the river and its hot spring. Enjoy dinner at the lodge.

Transfer time: 4.5 hours, including 1.5 hours on unpaved road

Day 3: Tangkahan – Bukit Lawang  

Traditional Batak architecture on the banks of the Bohorok River
Traditional Batak architecture on the banks of the Bohorok River

After breakfast at the lodge, a Jeep will take you off-road to the village of Bukit Lawang on the eastern edge of Gunung Leuser. Along the way, you'll see rubber plantations, lush jungle vegetation, and you'll stop for a refreshing tropical drink at a coconut farm.

To reach your eco-lodge, you'll need to walk across a suspension bridge over the Bohorok River. Settle into your accommodations and break for lunch before traveling by motorized rickshaw, or becak, to an eco-farm in the nearby village of Timbang Lawan. On your tour of the farm and village, you'll see how the locals make brown sugar and tap rubber.

Spend the night back in Bukit Lawang, where you'll have the evening to relax as you like.

Transfer time: 2.5 hours by Jeep

Day 4: Bukit Lawang – Orangutan Trekking – Berastagi

Orangutans
Orangutans in Gurung Leuser National Park

Bukit Lawang is also a sanctuary for Sumatran orangutans, and today you'll meet some of the apes in one of their last remaining natural habitats. Rise early to trek into the jungle with an English-speaking local guide. You'll start behind the lodge with an easy 30-to-40-minute climb into the forest. An expert tracker will walk ahead of the group to scout out the orangutans. 

Continue to the feeding platform deeper in the jungle, where you'll observe the primates for about half an hour. The trail becomes more challenging as you get further into the jungle, and the up-and-down path can be slippery at times, so make sure to bring sturdy shoes. After watching the orangutans, you'll walk down to the banks of the river, where you can relax as you drift back to the lodge on an inner tube.

Back at the lodge, relax and enjoy lunch before heading to your next stop in the town of Berastagi in the Karo highlands. You'll travel south along a scenic route via the Sembahe and Sibolangit Rivers. Check into your hotel and spend your evening at leisure.

Trekking time: 3.5 to 4 hrs

Transfer time: 4.5 hrs

Day 5: Berastagi – Ferry to Samosir Island on Lake Toba

Lake Toba
Lake Toba is the largest volcanic lake in the world

After breakfast, start your day with a laid-back tour of Berastagi. Visit St. Francis Catholic Church, which features unique Batak architecture set against a backdrop of Mt. Sibayak. Then continue on to the bustling local fruit market for some fresh fruit and people watching.

Next, drive to Lake Toba, the largest volcanic lake in the world. Along the way, you'll stop to take photos of Mt. Sinabung and to visit the village of Dokan. Here, the ethnic Batak Karo people still practice their unique and ancient customs. You'll meet a family living in a traditional longhouse shared by several other families.

When you arrive at the lake, you'll pause to view the majestic Sipiso-piso Waterfall in the Batak highlands. It's formed by an underground river that plunges from a cave into the stunning blue Lake Toba.  Then you'll visit the village of Pematang Purba to see Rumah Bolon, a 200-year-old wooden house that was once home to Batak Simalungun tribal chiefs. Break for a late lunch at a local restaurant.

In the afternoon, drive along the lake's eastern shore to Parapat, where you'll board a ferry along to reach Samosir Island, located in the middle of the lake. Take the rest of the evening to relax.

Transfer time: 4.5 hours

Ferry time: 1 hour

Day 6: Samosir Island

An outpost of Samosir Island
An outpost of Samosir Island

Spend a full day exploring Samosir Island, which offers rich insight into ethnic Batak Toba culture and wonderful views of the lake. Your guide will first take you to the Batak Toba village of Ambrarita, where you'll discover a tribunal made of unique stone chairs organized in a circle around a stone table. Hundreds of years ago, the once-cannibalistic tribe would execute and eat enemies and criminals.

Then drive to Simanindo to watch a traditional Tor-Tor dance performance, followed by a tour of the village and its small Batak museum. Next, head along the eastern coast of the island to its capital, Pangururan, for lunch at a local restaurant.

In the afternoon you'll make the quick trip to Tele, a remote area back on the mainland on the southern shore of Lake Toba, and the only place with ground access from Samosir. To get there, you'll cross a small bridge and drive 30 minutes up the mountain to the observatory tower. Here you'll find one of the best views of the lake and of Samosir. After taking in panoramic vistas to your heart's content, you'll have the option to unwind in some nearby hot springs.

Then make the two-hour drive back to Tuk-Tuk on the island in the late afternoon. On your way, you'll stop to learn about traditional weaving techniques and watch the experts at work. The rest of the evening is yours to explore at your leisure.

Day 7: Samosir – Depart Medan

Say farewell to beautiful North Sumatra
Say farewell to beautiful North Sumatra

Dig into an early breakfast before checking out of your hotel this morning. You'll take the ferry back to Parapat with your vehicle, and then drive back to Medan. Along the way, take in the lush rural scenery of farms and mountain views. Enjoy one last North Sumatran lunch before ending your journey back at Medan's international airport.

Transfer time: 1 hour by ferry, 5 hours by car

Map

Map of North Sumatra Adventure - 7 Days
Map of North Sumatra Adventure - 7 Days