After my jungle adventure in Bukit Lawang, I headed to Berastagi next, a town in the highlands further south in Sumatra. Berastagi is known as a stop-over town on the way to Lake Toba (a more popular site in Sumatra). It’s often skipped over by tourists, but since I had the time, I figured I would break up the drive and spend a few days there. What I found was a deep appreciation for the unique local culture and the scenery of the highlands.
Day 7: travel day + settling into Berastagi
I left for Berastagi in the morning on a tourist bus, which took 5.5 hours from Bukit Lawang. As we drove up the mountain, the cool mountain air set in, and the scenery changed to fertile farmland mixed with remnants of the jungle we came from. It reminded me of Big Island, Hawaii.
We saw the huge volcanoes surrounding this area as well as the one I would climb later on.
Finally, I made it to my guesthouse – Nachelle Homestay, run by a husband and wife duo. I later found out they made it on Lonely Planet! I absolutely loved staying here: very clean rooms and the hospitality from was on another level.
After settling in, I took a walk around the city center to get acquainted. I was surprised how Berastagi shifted quickly from quiet farmland to the busy city. I checked out the local market – lots of vendors selling everything under the sun at local prices.
Then, I walked over to the daily farmer’s market, which was not like the quaint, hipster farmer’s markets you find in San Francisco. 😛 Every day at 4pm, farmers from all over the region bring their harvest here, and locals come to buy fresh produce. It was chaos! I was the only tourist at this market and got lots of “what are you doing here” stares. 😛
Need to buy chicken? They kill them right in front of you!
Not gonna lie, by the end of day 1, I wasn’t impressed with Berastagi. I knew I had only seen a select portion of the city, so I decided to give it time and hoped I would change my mind (spoiler alert, I did). 🙂
Day 8: Sightseeing around Berastagi
The next morning, I went on my usual morning hunt for coffee, and I found a local’s place right next to my guesthouse. As I was sipping my coffee, an Indonesian girl about my age turned to me and said, “just so you know, you’re the first tourist to ever visit this place. Everyone here is talking about you; they are so excited!”
From there, we chatted away. Her name was Rima, and we clicked instantly! She offered to take me around Berastagi. I was thrilled as I definitely loved to have company, especially a local who knew all the spots.
Rima and I headed to our first stop: Lingga Village (~40-minute drive from town). The Lingga village was a small cultural village where they still maintain old traditions, particularly the traditional longhouses. We walked around and caught a glimpse of people’s lives here.
The main attraction was the traditional longhouses with Karo Batak design (the ethnic group of Berastagi is called Karo people). I loved the decorative architecture as I saw similar designs all over Berastagi. It was nice to have Rima explain everything to me as well as communicate with the villagers.
These longhouses had 4-5 families living in them. Each had their own corner of the house and they share a kitchen as well as a bathroom outside. This picture was of the kitchen.
After our village walk, we drove to Gundaling Farmstead. I was eager to check out a farm because Berastagi is known for being farm central. The volcanos nearby made incredibly fertile soil, and all over town you can see small family farms growing carrots, cabbage, strawberries, onions…the list goes on! The drive was gorgeous and provided relaxing vibes away from the city.
When we got there, we realized it was more of a tourist restaurant. They had a working farm, but it was nicely curated and felt like a fake farm to be honest. 😛
Rima and I admitted it was not the farming experience I was looking for, but we laughed it off and moved on. Next was lunch!
I told Rima I wanted to try local Karo food, so she brought me to a spot known for having the best in town. She ordered us the classic dish – roast pork with a sauce made of pigs’ blood. It was a little weird knowing what I was eating, but once I got over it, I happily stuffed my face. The pork was divine! I loved the simplicity of the dish but it was cooked so well. I was grateful for Rima’s local tip.
After lunch, we headed to Taman Alam Lumbini, a Buddhist temple that is a replica of the most sacred temple in Myanmar. The temple was absolutely beautiful – huge golden structure with calming music in the background. I have seen SO many temples during my gap year, but since this was my first one in Indonesia, there was still some excitement. 🙂
The best part of the temple was the surrounding nature park. Plenty of space to walk, meditate, and enjoy the scenery. It reminded me of a Japanese zen garden.
After a fun-packed day, Rima and I said farewell, and I headed to one last stop on my own – Gundaling Hilltop. The viewpoint had gorgeous views of the town below and the volcanoes.
There were a lot of people at the viewpoint taking photos. Kind of an Instagram versus reality situation. 🙂 The top of the hill also had many vendors selling food and trinkets.
What an amazing day! This day certainly turned my view of Berastagi around. It was nice to get out of the city center and see the lush scenery the town is known for.
Day 9: hiking Sibayak Volcano + hot spring bath + visiting the market
The next morning, I had an early wake-up call for a sunrise hike up Sibayak Volcano. This volcano is the key draw for tourists coming to Berastagi. Indonesia has volcanoes all over the country, so I knew I had to tackle one during my time here.
I went with a group from my guesthouse, and we started the trek around 5am. It was about one hour of climbing to the top. My least favorite part of sunrise hikes is the initial ascent in complete darkness. It was quite eerie and we couldn’t see anything around us. I could certainly smell the pungent sulfur though. 😉
Finally, we made it to the top of the volcano. We saw the faint orange glow from the sun starting to rise. It was a gorgeous morning and a beautiful sunrise – it immediately made me feel like our efforts were worth it.
Several groups were at the peak watching the sunrise – it didn’t feel crowded as there was plenty of space for everyone.
As we watched the sun come up, the entire volcano started to illuminate, and WOW! I couldn’t believe all this beauty was around me the entire time. There was volcanic rock, greenery, trees, valleys, peaks…this was something else. From this volcano, we could see 5 others surrounding it. The best volcano views yet.
Our guide brought us to the final peak where we reached the highest point of the volcano (2,180 meters or 7,160 feet). So epic. It was one of those rare times when I felt like I was on top of the world.
After enjoying the peak views, we headed down the volcano. Along the way, we stopped by the crater and climbed the sulfur vents. We saw the bright yellow sulfur crystals and warmed up next to the sulfur steam.
We reached the bottom of the volcano, and then it was time to treat ourselves to a hot springs bath. Surrounding the volcano were several places where you could take a bath in the natural water. I’ve been to a few sulfur hot springs, and this one beat the others by far (flashback to when I took a “hot spring bath” in a janky tub in India). The water was bright blue and we were right in the middle of beautiful scenery.
Our group had the whole place to ourselves. We enjoyed the hot water and the views. It felt so refreshing, but after today, I don’t want to smell sulfur for a very long time. 😉
After our morning adventure, our guide brought us to a few more sites around town. We stopped by a fruit market and picked out some exotic fruits – I got some snake fruits and mangosteens.
Then, we stopped by a Catholic mega-church in town with traditional Batak architecture. Most of the locals in Berastagi are Christian, a contrast to the rest of Indonesia which is primarily Muslim.
Finally, we stopped by the local market – the same one I saw the first day. This time, I saw it in a whole new light. It also helped to have our guide show us around.
What a wonderful morning filled with so many things! I spent the rest of the afternoon napping and catching up on errands. In the evening, I met up with Rima for dinner. We went to an area of town where there were a bunch of food stalls – kind of like a food court on the sidewalk. We ate fried catfish with chillie sauce as we caught up on our days.
Afterward, we took a walk and stumbled upon an outdoor market where they sold secondhand clothes. It seemed like all the hipsters of Berastagi gathered together. I’ve never seen this kind of crowd in Southeast Asia before; it was quite “sceney” but I dug it. 🙂
At the market, there was a live rock band playing popular tunes. They were actually very catchy! We stayed for a bit and danced along. I’m so glad we stumbled upon this. The whole evening turned out to be so much fun!
After 3 days in Berastagi, I’m leaving feeling whole. I feel like I got to know a unique part of Sumatra and better connect with its land and people. The volcano hike was such a highlight and is something I’ll remember for a very long time. Our whole tour group agreed it was way cooler than we imagined; I would consider that a must-do in Sumatra.
Lastly, I couldn’t be more grateful for meeting Rima, whose unexpected friendship made my time here so memorable. I’m always grateful when locals take time to make me feel welcome. Our time together made Berastagi turn from a stopover town to a lasting memory.