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Published: 20-Jan-2018

Written by: Carly Day

Pulau Weh - A quick guide

Pulau Weh, also known as Weh Island or Sabang, is a small island just off the northwest coast of Sumatra. It can be reached by flying direct from Medan (flights only operate twice a week and take about 70 minutes) or by ferry from the main port in Banda Aceh.
Most famous for the diving and snorkelling around the protected coral reefs, Pulau Weh manages to walk the fine line between popular tourist destination and undiscovered paradise, making it an ideal place for people who want an Indonesian tropical island getaway without the hordes of tourists in places like Bali.

 

Snorkelling and Diving

Pulau Weh’s main claim to fame is the incredible diving and snorkelling. There are many dive centres to choose from, the majority of them located in Iboih beach and Gapang beach. If snorkelling is more your style, the choice is yours! Take your pick from any of the gorgeous beaches encircling the island - you’ll find a huge array of incredible sea life only a few metres off shore. Snorkelling gear can be hired from accommodations or shops lining most major beaches for around 40,000 IDR per day (including mask, snorkels and flippers.)
 

Volcanos

Rent a motorbike (can be hired from most places for 100,000 IDR per day) and explore the island. It’s easy to complete the entire island circuit in a day, even half a day if you’re in a hurry. Snorkel the underwater volcano just beyond Gapang beach, where fissures in the sea bed release warm bubbles as you explore the corals overhead - the water is warmer here, but not scalding and perfectly safe! On land, check out the small volcano, Gunung Api, in the centre of the island. This is not a “mountain” type volcano, but an area of volcanic activity. Take a walk around the sulphury-smelling mineral deposits, boiling water pools and steaming cracks in the rock. A note of warning, smoking is prohibited in this area due to the large amounts of methane gas!

 

Explore Rubiah Island

A short five-minute boat ride across from Iboih Beach is Rubiah Island. This small island is extremely popular for snorkelling, particularly with locals, and can be rather crowded during busy times. Snorkel the main area here, learn to dive, or venture out for a rainforest trek following the slightly unkempt path that circles the island. You can find ruins and points of interest from the Japanese occupancy of this area during the war. If the crowds at the main beach of Rubiah are too daunting, follow the path up and over to the other side, to a “secret” white sand beach, rock pools, and a glorious coral garden to explore.

 

Waterfall

Grab your scooter and head to the local waterfall. About 15 minutes from Gapang beach, it is easy to find, just follow the signs. Park your bike, and walk along the paved path for around 500m through a semi-rain forested area. If you’re lucky, you’ll spot the large flock of fruit bats that roost in the trees on the way to the cave, and maybe a few long-tailed macaques. The waterfall has a beautiful swimming hole underneath to cool off in, but remember to respect local customs and swim in your t-shirt and shorts.

 

Kilometre Nol

No visit to Pulau Weh can be complete without paying a visit to Kilometer Nol, the most northwest point of Indonesia and considered to be the start of the country. An easy 15-20 minute drive from Iboih, only one road goes to the monument, which in December 2017 was near completion. If possible, time your visit for a week day, as it can get very busy with tourists on the weekends. There are a few souvenir shops and food stands here, but most people come to get a selfie in front of the “Kilometer Nol” sign. Just beyond the monument lies a boardwalk where you can wander through a forested area to look out across the ocean.

 

Where to stay

The majority of the accommodations are at Iboih, which is about 45 minutes from the port and main town of Sabang. There are many to choose from, from higher end private beach bungalows at Yulia’s and Iboih Inn, to budget rooms at Olala, O’ong and Mama Mia’s. All are within hollering distance of the beach and set in beautiful treed areas.
Local legend Mama (at Mama Mia’s) is well worth a visit; her food is fresh cooked, amazing value and delicious, and she will give you the warmest welcome you’ll find in Pulau Weh!

 

Gapang beach has a selection of guesthouses and several dive centres, and is slightly less crowded than Iboih.
Across the other side of the island at Santai Sumur Tiga are the fabulous Casa Nemo and Freddie’s. Both slightly higher end but still great value for money, located on the white sand beach of Sumur Tiga. There is less to do in the area, and not much selection of eateries outside the resorts, but with Freddie’s cooking and the food on offer, you won’t want to leave!

 

Culture and religion

A part of the Aceh province, Sabang is under Sharia Law, an Islamic religious framework. Be aware of cultural niceties and regulations surrounding behaviour. Because alcohol is generally not allowed, Sabang is not a party island. A handful of guesthouses sell cold beer, but it is not widely available and not to be consumed in public.
Bikinis are prohibited in all but a few areas, be sure to check with your guesthouse about what is appropriate bathing attire where you are staying - if you’re not sure, stick with t-shirt and shorts for swimming, and if heading out of the main tourist areas or away from the grounds of your accommodation, choose to dress more discreetly when out exploring. Public displays of affection are also frowned upon, so use your common sense and respect the culture of the beautiful place you are visiting.

 

Special notes

The shops in the main town, and often tourist areas, close at 12 pm and don’t open again until 5pm, so time your shopping around those!
Also, be aware of Muslim call to prayer - this occurs five times a day and during that time, shop owners or some accommodations may not be in operation for the duration of the prayers. During prayer time, avoid playing loud music or disturbing anyone, and avoid swimming at that time in many areas.
Be aware that you might need to pack a pair of earplugs, call to prayers starts at 5 am and most guesthouses are close to a mosque.

 

 


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