5 Reasons to Visit Berastagi in North Sumatra
Berastagi is a cool, lush, fertile highland area located in the province of North Sumatra. With stunning farmlands nestled at the foot of towering volcanoes, this area is as refreshing for the spirit as it is for the body, with a temperate climate providing a pleasant change from the suffocating heat of the nearby city of Medan.
Rich in Karonese culture and history, Berastagi is part of the Karonese regency and heart of Batak Karo culture. Batak Karo is one of the six different Batak ‘tribes’ found throughout Sumatra, and has its own unique architecture, music, food and language, all of which can be explored in this gorgeous town.
The economy in Berastagi revolves around agriculture and tourism. With a rich and fertile volcanic soil, the Karonese say that anything and everything planted here will grow. Famous for its passionfruit, the main crops grown include oranges, avocados and cabbages, but you can buy almost any variety of fruit and veg imaginable.
The drive to Berastagi, winding up into the hills through the farms and orchards of the area truly is a sight for sore eyes, particularly after the concrete style jungle and chaos of Medan!
Berastagi is home to two active volcanoes: Mount Sibayak and Mount Sinabung.
Dormant for four centuries, the bigger of the two, Sinabung, spontaneously came to life again in 2010, with regular eruptions every year since. This volcanic activity has caused major disruption for the local people living close to the mountain, with more than 10,000 people having to evacuate and relocate. As of today, there are still many people who have lost their homes and income and are living in temporary evacuation shelters built by the government.
In spite of the ongoing volcanic activity, there is no immediate danger to travellers and Sinabung remains one of the most popular hikes in Sumatra. The activity is closely monitored, and if anything is amiss, the local authorities won’t allow visitor access.
The climb to the summit is around 4-5 hours and we recommend securing the services of a local guide to accompany you and keep you on the right track. Exploring the crater is fascinating with its fumaroles and steaming gashes. Early morning is the best time to go trekking here, so you can witness a stunning sunrise before the clouds roll in later in the day.
Take a warm sweater and sturdy shoes, as it gets cold during the ascent, particularly if you are trekking at dawn.
Mount Sibayak is smaller than neighbouring Sinabung, and an easier hike. For the shortest version of this trek, we suggest driving to the hot springs at Semangat Gunung and starting your trek from there. The walk to the top should take you no more than an hour or two in good conditions. The terrain is diverse; at the base, you are surrounded by lush forests and limestone, then as you climb, the flora becomes more barren as you pass sulphurous pools and smelly fumaroles belching steam.
After an early morning ascent to witness the sunrise over the surrounding hills and mountains, what’s better than a soak in a hot spring? Bake those aching leg muscles in the pools that have been created by locals to make use of the natural hot water. Open 24 hours a day, these hot springs are a popular attraction. There’s nothing like soaking away the grime while gazing out at the stunning scenery.
Make sure you are aware of respecting local culture when you visit the hot springs - it is considered polite to bathe in a t-shirt and shorts rather than bikini or swimming costume here.
If trekking up volcanoes is not quite your speed, take a short drive to Gundaling Hill for some spectacular panoramas. From the lookout atop the hill there are spectacular panoramas and landscapes looking out across Berastagi to those imposing mountains. Although it can get a wee bit busy at times, particularly on weekends, it is a popular spot to take a picnic and relax. There is a garden, picnic area, and stalls along the way selling refreshments and souvenirs.
If you’ve got children along for the trip, it’s worth checking out Funland. Located on the side of a hill, in the grounds of Mikie Hotel and Resort, this is an amusement park with a surprising amount of attractions. With 35 different rides, ranging from roller coasters to bumper cars, ferris wheels to spinning cups, there’s plenty to keep the kids going for a whole day!
Lumbini Natural Park and Buddhist Temple (Taman Alam Lumbini)
Based on the famous Shwedagon Pagoda in Myanmar, this beautifully ornate temple was completed and opened to the public in 2010. At 46.8 m high, 68 meters long and 68 meters wide, it is one of the most stunning temples in all of Indonesia. Painted golden, this pagoda gleams amongst the rich greens of the surrounding fields. Entrance is free, but it is recommended to wear long pants or skirts when visiting. On the road heading to the temple be sure to stop off and pick your own mouth-wateringly fresh strawberries from the neighbouring fields.
Fruit market (Pasar Buah)
This market is a tourist attraction in itself. Surrounded by a bustling marketplace selling souvenirs, clothing, knick-knacks and mouth-watering local food, this large market is invigorating for all the senses! Stock up on fresh fruit and vegetables or try a new variety of fruit you may never have encountered before. Berastagi is also famous for its horse-riding; the market is full of horses adorned in beautiful traditional costume; some pulling wagons, and some available for rides.
Traditional Karonese House at Lingga Village
Here in Desa Lingga, the local Karonese community are hard at work preserving, restoring and building traditional Karonese structures. Get a look inside a 250-year-old traditional Karonese long house, (Rumah Adat) which is still home to several families.
The local guide here speaks excellent English and will entertain you with his traditional flute playing and fascinating stories about Karonese history and culture. There are very few places in Sumatra left where you can see genuine historic buildings such as this. In fact, Desa Lingga has been added to the World Monument Watch list, which contains 100 of the most endangered historic or cultural sites in the world.
There is also a Karonese museum located in Lingga Village; worth a visit to investigate some of the artefacts from a culture that the locals are struggling to preserve.
Located one and a half hour’s drive South of Medan, on the main route to Lake Toba, Berastagi is a gorgeous place to go exploring. Whether you just stop
in for lunch, take a day trip from Medan, or spend a couple of days really diving into the culture, there is plenty to see and do here.
Getting to Berastagi is easy. RAW can help organise a driver and/or guide to show you the highlights and teach you about the rich history of the Karonese culture in this region.
Ready to uncover more of North Sumatra for yourself? Check out our range of small group adventures!
Carly Day is a Raw Wildlife Encounters - Wildlife Leader and travel writer now based in Indonesia. With 12 years of experience working with primates, she is now exploring South East Asia and working with a variety of organisations on conservation and animal welfare. Follow her travel adventures on her blog at Carly Day .
Image Credit: Flickr - Sinabung:SK Ding/Buddhist temple:Deep Goswami/Gundaling Hill:ababhastopograher/BerastagiSunset volcanoes:swifant/All others: Carly Day