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Published: 21-Mar-2017

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When most people think about a trip to Indonesia, Bali is the first (and often only) destination that comes to mind. In fact, a high number of travellers don’t even know that Bali is merely an island in the greater region of Indonesia, and not a country in itself!

Indonesia is full of incredible places to visit. Among these, Sumatra is one of the most magical and captivating destinations in the country.

This island is the second largest in Indonesia, and due to its deliciously tropical climate, it is lush and green, bursting with life and home to some of the most awe-inspiring rainforest ecosystems on the planet. There are countless reasons why you should put a trip to Sumatra on your bucket list; read on for our top four!

1) Natural wonders

Top of the list has to be the natural wonders that Sumatra has to offer. From incredible coral reefs that provide mind-blowing snorkelling and diving, to volcanoes belching smoke that you should trek up before dawn to capture that incredible sunrise. From giant volcanic lakes to vibrant jungles, there is so much natural beauty to discover.

RAW tours are designed to introduce you to these incredible landscapes in an authentic and sustainable way. We have worked in and around the rainforest with local communities for the last decade and our local guides are the best, most knowledgeable and passionate guides you are ever likely to meet.

It is no secret that the natural environments of Sumatra are under threat, along with the rest of the planet. 70% of Indonesia’s wealth comes from this island: from oil and coal fields; gold and silver mining; logging; rubber and paper production, and the biggest and most impactful: palm oil.

The Gunung Leuser National Park in North Sumatra is one of these areas under threat. It is the last place on earth that is home to Sumatran orangutans, tigers, rhinos and elephants all in the same area, and is under pressure from both big industry and local issues such as poaching and illegal logging.

Coming on a tour with RAW takes you into the heart of this jungle and provides an opportunity to witness the incredible wildlife that live here. Not only will you be seeing these critically endangered animals while there is still a chance to see them in the wild, you are actively contributing to their conservation and protection by travelling with us. Our tours give directly back to local communities; giving them alternative incomes, funding ranger patrols to protect habitats, and providing education and support to help sustainably grow small villages to be self-sufficient.

Friendly people

One of the things that draws me to Sumatra above all else, is the people that I meet here. Unlike places like Bali or Thailand, Sumatra is still relatively new to the tourism industry, although there are some areas like Bukit Lawang and Lake Toba that have had a lot of practice in this area. Because of this you will meet genuinely warm, friendly and welcoming people everywhere you go. At times in Bali I felt like I was perceived as an ATM with legs, rather than an actual person! That doesn’t happen in Sumatra. People here are genuinely interested in you and happy to have foreigners visiting their villages and towns. No matter how little they have, the culture is all about sharing, and they won’t hesitate to invite you into their humble home to share a meal or pass the time of day. From the day I first visited Sumatra eight years ago, I made close friends who I still consider to be extended family. Particularly in smaller communities, people are always more than willing to help and I’ve never been to a place where I’ve been so unconditionally welcomed and cared for so quickly. Their hospitality is outstanding, and you’ll find this in every aspect of a RAW tour - all our local staff, from drivers and cooks to porters and guides, will make you feel like part of the family.

Culture and history

Indonesia is a cultural melting pot, with many different religions and cultures living together harmoniously. Don’t let the media and news reports fool you, most of the people are accepting of other cultures and beliefs. I was fortunate to spend Christmas in North Sumatra, and witnessed practically an entire village attend a Christian church service together even though many of them practice other religions.

The history and culture of Sumatra is fascinating and there is so much to learn. In particular, there is a rich history surrounding the Batak people, of which there are five distinctly different groups. North Sumatra is home to the Batak Karo and Batak Toba ‘tribes’, and you can visit traditional houses in Berastagi or Lake Toba, learn about the culture, how to prepare the traditional food, and listen to some incredibly beautiful traditional music courtesy of the friendly locals.

Affordability

If you come from a Western country, Indonesia will be incredibly affordable to travel around and remain in. Unless you are staying in a 5-star hotel, your meals won’t cost more than $2 or $3 (AUD), and you can buy a large beer for $4. Let me just throw in a shout out to the food here: not only is it cheap, it’s also delicious. Fresh fruit and vegetables with every meal, freshly prepared jungle food or a nasi goreng (fried rice) from the local warung (small restaurant). There’s a wide variety of dishes and something to suit everyone, with plenty of options for vegetarians and vegans to boot.

Accommodation is also extremely cheap. Even at ‘touristy’ areas like Bukit Lawang or Lake Toba, you can find a fabulous room, usually with gorgeous views and breakfast included for around $20, or even $10 in some areas. If you’d like to live like royalty and stay in a 5-star hotel, you’ll still pay less than a quarter of the price you would back home for an equivalent place.

Sumatra is where RAW began. When founder Jess Mckelson first came here over 10 years ago, she fell in love with this incredible place and was inspired to set up RAW to support local communities, protect the rainforest and its inhabitants, and let other people discover and fall in love with the unbeatable beauty of this area. If you have been considering a trip to Indonesia, be sure to include a week or two in Sumatra on your itinerary. I have yet to meet someone who didn’t fall head over heels with this incredible place, and you will too!


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