Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Above the Clouds: Visiting Berastagi and Mount Sibayak

Sumatra, is located near two semi-active volcanoes. One of them, Gunung (Mount) Sibayak, is the most accessible volcano trek in Indonesia, which makes a stop in little Berastagi a necessary part of any visit to the area.

How to Get There

Getting to Berastagi requires that you already be located in North Sumatra, and there are only two routes. You can either take the public bus or a taxi from Medan, Sumatra's largest city and main entry point; or you can take a mini-bus or taxi from Danau (Lake) Toba. Either route will take 4-6 hours, with the trip from Danau Toba running up some truly spectacular highland terrain. The bus and mini-bus options are the cheapest, with the mini-bus route from Danau Toba is just as crammed as any public bus or bemo. Taxis are much more expensive, but if you are going that route make sure the car is for you and your party, and not shared with anyone else. It is common practice to cram as many people as possible into a share-taxi, and if you are going to pay for a car, you might as well go all the way.


Berastagi is located among the Karo people (the region is named "the Karo highlands" for them). The area surrounding Berastagi is dotted with villages, complete with the long houses and their traditional horned roofs, which are distinctive of Sumatran tribes. Tours of the Lingga village will be offered wherever you stay in Berastagi (and there are only a few options in town), and you can also use bemos to get to it more cheaply, but if you are going to Danau Toba you should pass making a village visit here.

While the people who live in the Toba area are Bataks, not Karo, the feel is similar and the Toba area more enjoyable. There are few tourists visiting Berastagi now, the area is poor, and people are migrating to the cities, so the accessible villages have the feel of being ghost towns. Berastagi town itself is small, with only one main street and little to do in the town itself, but be sure to visit the local market to check out the local flowers and fruits.

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