The western part of Sumatra Island is full of natural wonders- volcanoes, waterfalls, rainforests, gorges, and more. One of them looks like a paradise- a wide canyon with vertical rocky walls, and multiple waterfalls jumping from the top of these walls. This is the Harau Valley- a national park, one of the must-visit places in West Sumatra. And this is a guide to this paradise, with basic facts, and everything you should know to include it in your itinerary.
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Basic facts about the Harau Valley
The range of Barisan Mountains stretches from the north to the south end of Sumatra Island, forming the main watershed of the island. Its middle part, known as Minangkabau Highlands is located in the administrative and geographical region of West Sumatra. Due to specific geological features, there is an area where the mountains are ruptured, forming a trench with branches between the hills.
Mountain streams flow from the hills. Some of them reach the main trench, forming a small river. Other streams jump from the walls of the trench and its branches, forming spectacular waterfalls, and contributing to the main river. Then, this river merges with more and more small rivers until all of them join the Batang Kuantan River that reaches the Strait of Malacca.
This trench is the Harau Valley. It has vertical slopes but a plain and wide bottom. The canyon is short (only about 3 km), with one main sub-canyon (actually, there are more, but their slopes are not so spectacular and look more like “normal” valleys).
This spectacular beauty is located not far from Payakumbuh City, in the north-northeast direction, and only about 20 km from the Equator of the Earth. Today, the area around the valley is declared as a natural reserve. It is covered by a lush tropical rainforest, inhabited by at least two species of monkeys.
The plain bottom is mostly agricultural land, where you can see local peasants working in the rice fields with their buffalos. All of this creates incredibly beautiful and picturesque landscapes- the reason why Harau Valley has turned into a popular tourist attraction and is nicknamed “the Yosemite of Indonesia”.
Harau Valley in detail
Let’s look at the satellite map and zoom into the area north-northeast of Payakumbuh, West Sumatra, Indonesia. The city of Payakumbuh is located on a plain, and this plain is surrounded by dark green mountains from the north and east. Several valleys descend to the plain, and you can notice that one of the valleys has sharper boundaries between its bottom and the mountains around it. This is what the Harau Valley looks like from above.
You can notice that it consists of a main valley, descending from north to south, and a short side valley from the east. There is a sharp, dark green hill between them. And where they merge, the valley opens into a larger plain.
This larger plain is covered by agricultural fields and villages. And since it is part of a tourist attraction, there are a lot of new guesthouses, small hotels, and bungalows for tourists here, as well as souvenir shops and restaurants.
If you proceed to the north, you enter the main Harau Valley, surrounded by vertical rock walls on both sides. The bottom is still flat, but much narrower, with more hotels and other attractions.
About two km further, the valley opens again, and this is the end of the vertical rock walls. Here is the most picturesque landscape of Harau Valley, because this is the best place where you can see local rural life with the spectacular walls of the canyon in the background.
The short side valley is spectacular too. Again, it is mostly surrounded by rock walls, but not as majestic as the main valley. The main attractions in this place are the waterfalls.
Needless to say, these spectacular rock walls, from about 80 to 300 m tall have attracted climbers. So, one of the activities here is rock climbing, and the main starting point for this activity is on the main valley, at Akar Berayu resort. Climbing in this otherworldly place is amazing, accompanied by sounds of monkeys, birds, your own echo, and of course- the distant waterfalls.
There are many waterfalls in Harau Valley jumping from the rock walls. You can easily see 6 of them:
- The first waterfall (sometimes called “Abdi”). You can easily see it falling from the west wall of the main valley, exactly at the “gate” of the valley. It is thin but magnificent.
- Air Terjun Lembah Harau. This one falls from the east wall of the main valley, right beside the main road. Today, there is a pool established under it.
- Sarasah Pincuran Tigo. This waterfall is beyond the walls, at the eastern slope of the valley. It is more hidden but can be seen from the road falling magnificently through the jungle.
- Sarasah Bunta 1, 2, and 3. These are three waterfalls, falling from the north walls of the side valley. There are pools under each of them and established bungalows, stalls, fast food, and more tourist facilities beside the pools.
Harau Valley from above
All of these waterfalls are some of the main attractions in the Harau Valley, and when you walk on the bottom of the valley and its side sub-valley, the waterfalls are a must-visit. But how about looking at the valley from above? There are some short hiking trails, leading to the plateau-shaped terrain above the rock walls, and one of them is the most popular.
It ascends from the beginning of the side valley to the points over the northern wall of the valley. However, keep in mind that it is steep and probably not proper for everyone. On rainy days it can be even dangerous.
There is another, better way to observe the valley from above. There is a road that follows the “edge” between the plain of the side valley, surrounds it, and ascends south of this valley, to a higher point where you can enjoy a majestic panoramic view of Harau Valley. The road is paved and proper for motorcycles and cars.
Hobbit Movie Set?
If you research Google Maps, not far from the main center of the Harau Valley, you can see a spot named “Hobbit Movie Set”. But don’t expect anything special- the movie “Hobbit” has nothing to do with the Harau Valley (it was set in New Zealand, after all). The only thing you can see in this spot is a weird sign “Welcome to the Hobbit Movie Set”, hidden in the thick jungle of bush, and that’s all. Even the locals here can’t explain clearly who made it and why- obviously, it is an unsuccessful attempt to create another “point of interest”, so you don’t need to waste your time here.
This is shortly what the Harau Valley looks like. So, how to arrange your trip to this beautiful gem?
How to visit the Harau Valley
The nearest big town is Payakumbuh. However, most travelers base their trips on Bukittinggi, a much more famous city, with more points of interest.
How to reach the Harau Valley
You have basically three ways to visit and explore Harau Valley- by public transport, by private transport, or by joining a tour.
By public transport
This is the cheapest, but not so convenient option. You have to go to Aur Kuning Bus Terminal in Bukittinggi and ask for a bus (actually, a minibus) to Harau Valley. It will pass through Payakumbuh (and if you are based there, you can catch it from there) and will drop you in the village of Sarilamak, at a point with a noticeable gate to Harau Valley.
But from there, you still have to find another transport to explore the valley- it is too large to be walked on foot. You can find a local opelet (something like a motorcycle with a sidecar) or rent a scooter. The opelet can take you about 5 km further, to the real beginning of the valley.
Returning to Bukittinggi is the same but in reverse. You just have to wait for a passing minibus in Sarilamak to Bukittinggi. For the whole transport, you can expect something about 50,000 to 60,000 IDR (in two directions).
By private transport
This is much more convenient. But if you want to do it by taxi or by private car, it can be quite expensive. A rental car with a driver can be about 800,000 to 1,000,000 IDR for one day. You can find a car without a driver for about 400,000 to 500,000 IDR per day, but you have to leave a deposit of about 2,000,000 IDR.
The best way is by renting a scooter/motorcycle from Bukittinggi. That’s what we did- it was only 130,000 IDR (plus about 40,000 IDR for fuel “Pertamine”), and we had the freedom to explore almost everything in Harau Valley for one day.
You can ask your accommodation in Bukittinggi to help you arrange a scooter. But if they can’t help (because not every property can do it), you have an option (as in our case)- go to Sewa Bus Pariwisata, a small vehicle rental company (See its location here!), and rent a scooter (better do it in advance, in case that they may not have an available scooter at the moment). You only have to leave your passport as a deposit.
However- it is proper only if you go to Harau Valley for one day, otherwise you may need your passport to check in a hotel there.
Keep in mind that in Indonesia the traffic is on the left side (like in the UK), and you may have some difficulties until you get used to it. Beware of the traffic mess, especially when you leave Bukittinggi- cars, motorcycles, trucks, and other vehicles are everywhere! Once out of the city, it is much better.
The distance from Bukittinggi to the Harau Valley is 48 km and you can reach it by scooter for an hour and a half. When you approach the canyon, you have to stop at a small checkpoint to pay an entrance fee of 10,000 IDR.
By joining a tour
Some tours guide you around the Minangkabau Highlands- not only to the Harau Valley, but also to the other popular attractions in the area- the city of Bukittinggi, Pagaruyung Palace, and more. Here are two tours:
- Private Multiday Tour in Minangkabau with accommodation 4 days
This trip starts and ends at Minangkabau Airport in Padang. It guides you to Padang Panjang Minangkabau Cultural Center, then explore Harau Valley, Pagaruyung Palace, Bukittinggi, and back to Padang.
- West Sumatra Cultural Tour With Accommodation 4 Days 3 Nights
This one is like the first trip, however, its main focus is Haray Valley, and it includes a whole day of trekking around the valley. Again, its starting and ending point is Padang.
Where to stay in Harau Valley
This is for those who travel to Harau Valley privately and want to spend more time in this picturesque place. There are a lot of places to stay, and new properties are still in construction. Most of them are just homestays or small resorts with bungalows, but there are hotels too.
You can find some of these properties on Booking or Agoda, but most of them are not present there. You can see them on Google Maps, some of them have websites, others- only a phone number (and usually, they don’t speak English), and many of them don’t share their contact. For those who like glamping, you can try The Edge Harau Glamping.
Most of these properties are not just for spending the night, but to live at least a few days in a paradise-like environment. So, they are located in different points of the Harau Valley- some in the main valley, some in the side valley, some a bit further, but in a spot with spectacular views.
We explored the Harau Valley for one day starting from Bukittinggi. We spent a few hours and saw the most essential of the area- this duration is perfectly enough for exploration by scooter, but it was not enough for relaxation and enjoyment- it is just too beautiful to be scurried so fast. But even if you haven’t enough time, this amazing paradise is always worth visiting.
Check some travel books about Sumatra:
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Hi, we are Krasen and Ying Ying. Krasen is from Bulgaria, and Ying Ying is from China. We are passionate about geography and history, and we believe that the best way to experience it is by exploring the Earth in reality, not in a school, and not virtually.
So, we created this blog Journey Beyond the Horizon, where we share geographical knowledge, travel guides and tips how to experience it when you explore our planet, and a lot of inspiration.
And we wish you a happy journey, not just virtually, but most of all- in reality.