During Chinese New Year I traveled to North Sumatra for my second trip to Indonesia. Last June I traveled to Bali but avoided the popular beaches along the southern coast and instead spent my time exploring small roads. In Bali I found 14 waterfalls, visited 10 temples and climbed a volcano and loved it. This time I picked something a little more off of the beaten path although rural Bali is not at all like the touristy parts. In Sumatra I only visited 6 waterfalls but they were some of the best ones in all of Indonesia.
Sipisopiso Waterfall was of course the first thing that I knew about North Sumatra but as I researched the area I found a lot of other great waterfalls. I found travel logistics difficult and a lot of the roads are in terrible shape but North Sumatra is full of cool places (if you can get to them). The food was good, the people were really nice, I felt safe (didn’t stay in Medan) and the natural beauty was incredible. My biggest complaint is a complete and total lack of garbage/recycling programs. There were a few collection areas in Berastagi but throughout the countryside people either pitched their garbage in road ditches or burned it on the side of the road. A few of the top sights were well developed for tourism but many sights required a lot of effort from tourists to get to. I have many places on my to do list that either would have taken too long to get to or the roads were in questionable shape. This area has a lot of potential though and I look forward to returning in a few years.
Here are a few basic travel observations for North Sumatra. Buses travel all over North Sumatra but are slow. Private cars and drivers are available for hire and can be arranged through your guesthouse. The driest season to travel to Sumatra is Dec to April but they still average 100+ mm’s of rain every month. It rained almost every day during my trip in February. Most guesthouses are private rooms with shared or private bathrooms. I saw a few large palm oil plantations in North Sumatra but I saw mostly vegetable and fruit farms. According to a local the big palm oil plantations are in the southern part of Sumatra. The National Parks have been a success but there are still problems with poaching and illegal logging but things seem to be improving.
I am hoping to travel to Lombok (hike Mt Rinjani and some waterfalls) in May but I am not sure which Indonesian region to travel after that (in 2017). Yogyakarta and Borobudur? Mt Bromo and Madakaripura Waterfall? Flores and Kelimutu? Something strange like Sulawesi? I have a year to think about another destination but does anyone have any advice for a waterfall focused trip?
1. Sipisopiso Waterfall was at least 90% of the reason that I chose to travel to North Sumatra this year. Not only is it over 100 meters high but it flows out of a cave near the top of the cliff. From the main viewpoint visitors are able to turn around and also see Lake Toba. Those wanting to get closer to the waterfall can descend over 600 stairs to the base of the waterfall. Of course they will have to walk back up all of those stairs.
2. Pelaruga Waterfall was a nice waterfall but at some point a tree was washed downstream and ended up directly in the middle of the waterfall. It has been there so long that it is more commonly referred to as Tongkat (Bahasa for stick) Waterfall by everyone. It is an adventure to reach but it is definitely worth it.
3. We found Sidompak Waterfall completely by accident. We knew virtually nothing about Tongging Village other than it was right next to Sipisopiso Waterfall and Lake Toba. We found Tongging to be a stunningly beautiful village surrounded by fjord like valleys that taper off into Lake Toba. We called Tongging ‘A place that isn’t a place yet’ and expect this sleepy village to transform into a tourist town in the future. But we visited Tongging before that happened.
Just by chance we stayed at the Wisma Sibayak Guesthouse and they had photos of a nearby waterfall on their wall and it wasn’t Sipisopiso Waterfall. We asked about it and not surprisingly they offered to find us a guide to the waterfall. We discussed whether or not we actually needed a local guide and we were extremely glad that we chose to hire one. There isn’t a trail and it is really challenging to make it to the waterfall even though you know where the waterfall is. I love finding places like this where there is nearly no information available on the internet in any language.
4. Sikulikap Waterfall is a thunderous waterfall near Berastagi. The best part is that it is really easy to reach using public transportation. The downside is that most of the hike follows the valley directly below the Penatapen Restaurants and it is difficult to escape the noise and trash from the restaurants.
5. Ponot Waterfall is Indonesia’s tallest waterfall at 250 meters and it impressively plunges over a cliff wall. I am not completely convinced it is a natural waterfall though. I think Ponot Waterfall is actually a diversion tunnel for the upstream Siguragura Dam. Siguragura Waterfall is officially considered as Indonesia’s tallest waterfall but I believe that it is permanently dry just downstream of the dam.
6. Dua Warna (Two Color) Waterfall is perhaps one of the most beautiful waterfalls that I have seen. It is only about 30-40 meters tall but it falls into a brilliant opaque blue pool that I haven’t seen before. Not only that but it is an outstanding hike through a beautiful forest and there is a second waterfall falling into the valley 30 meters away.
Other waterfalls that showed up in my research and are on my list for my next trip to North Sumatra. This page (in Bahasa) is a great resource for all of the sights in North Sumatra.