Tropical islands, covered by wild, lush rainforest, and coconut palms. Strong ocean waves crush beside their shores. Endless empty beaches with pre-historic vibes stretch to the horizon. Ancient culture is still hiding in the jungle. This paradise is called Mentawai Islands, a small archipelago, located at the edge of the Indian Ocean, in the western part of Indonesia, beside the big island of Sumatra. Let’s go there and discover this hidden paradise! This is a guide to the Mentawai Islands, with basic info, activities (what to do there), how to get there, and more tips.
Table of Contents
Basic info about the Mentawai Island: some geography
Let’s look at the map of Sumatra. This big island stretches from the northwest to the southeast, somehow at the edge of the whole region of Southeast Asia. Beyond this edge, at the southwest of Sumatra is the vast Indian Ocean- there is almost no land from here to Antarctica.
But Sumatra is not directly exposed to the Indian Ocean. You can see a long chain of small islands, grouped in several archipelagos, lined like sentinels, again from northeast to the southwest. Among them, you can recognize the islands of Simeulue, Tuangku, Nias, Batu Islands, Siberut, Sipora, Pagai, and finally- Enggano.
The Mentawai Islands are one of these groups. They consist of Siberut (the largest island), Sipora, North Pagai, South Pagai, and many other smaller islands, islets, reefs, and sandbars.
The Mentawai Islands, along with the whole chain of archipelagos and other islands, and the western coast of Sumatra lie on the Great Sumatran Fault and Sunda Megathrust- a crack on the Earth’s crust related to some of the strongest earthquakes ever recorded, including the infamous earthquake with tsunami from 26 December 2004. Here the Indo-Australian and the Eurasian plates meet and converge under a specific angle.
This may sound scary and apocalyptic, but in reality, strong earthquakes are rare- the zone is not more seismic than Japan or California.
Instead, look at the nature of the Mentawai. The islands are located very near the Earth’s equator. So, you can expect a tropical paradise, with equatorial rainforest and coconut palms. The climate is equatorial too, there is almost no dry season, and it is quite wet, but there are still a lot of sunny days, or days with frequent change between rainy and sunny moments.
But that’s not all. Look at the satellite map on the Mentawai! You can see crystal clear waters and a lot of coral reefs and sandbars. And indeed, this is a perfect place for diving and snorkeling.
Finally- the waves. The Mentawai Islands are directly exposed to the open vastness of the Indian Ocean. There is nothing to stop the currents from Antarctica to here. As a result, the ocean currents produce excellent tubular waves for surfers. These waves don’t get too tall like in Hawaii or Nazare (Portugal), but they are still enough attractive. As a result, surfing is what the Mentawai Islands are mostly known for.
People have lived in this fantastic tropical paradise for millennia. The main ethnic group is also called Mentawai. Nobody knows for sure when did they come here, but it is known that they started to interact with other people like the nearby Minangkabau from Sumatra, and the Europeans just recently.
As a result, they preserved their culture and lifestyle even until modern times. Yes, many of them now live just a normal modern life, but there are still hidden villages in the jungle of Siberut Island where you can see Mentawai people living like in pre-history, although even for them, life also started changing. Anyway, it is always exciting to meet the Mentawais and their culture as a part of your journey to these islands.
Activities: what to do in Mentawai
As you can see, the Mentawai Islands have a lot to offer. They are still an undiscovered, off-the-beaten paradise, far from the popularity of destinations like Bali, Thailand, or the Maldives. So, you can expect that you can do various activities here, and you can often do them alone, far from tourist crowds (at least for now).
This is what the Mentawai Islands are mostly popular for. Most of the travelers that visit these islands come here for surfing.
Until recently, the Mentawai Islands were unknown to the world, far from civilization. Then, in 1980, three pioneers (Chris Goodnow, Scott Wakefield, and Tony Fitzpatrick) went on an expedition to this hidden paradise. They first discovered a perfect wave break, now known as Macaronis (a surfing spot), but kept it in secret until the 90s of the last century.
Then, new pioneers came and discovered more surfing spots. From that time, the hidden surfing glory from this remote spot on the Earth started to draw attention to the surfers.
The waves here are perfect and beautiful, up to 4,5 m high. Besides, they are almost constant throughout the year, although in the Antarctic winter (from April to October) they are a bit higher. Soon, the Mentawai Islands were recognized as one of the best surfing destinations in the world.
Snorkeling and diving
So, what if you are not a surfer? What else can you do on the Mentawai Islands? As already mentioned above, you can easily spot fantastic shallow waters on the satellite map surrounding the islands. In fact, I didn’t know that too, because this activity is still “in the shadow” of the much more popular activity here- surfing.
But when I saw these turquoise colors, I was sure that this place would be great for snorkeling and diving. Now, this activity is still in a very early stage here- you can’t see PADI centers or diving clubs, but you can only hire a local “boat taxi” to some snorkeling spots.
This is mostly a short boat trip from one of the main islands- Siberut, Sipora, or the two Pagais, to some nearby small islands. Currently, it is offered only by some “boat taxis” from some homestays and resorts. In fact, you can actually combine snorkeling with island hopping, because the boats normally take you to some snorkeling spots besides the small islands.
Currently, the most popular island hopping is from Sipora to the three small islands of Siburu, Silabok, Pototoga, and the miniature islets Batu Tongga. The boat routes include not only snorkeling but also roaming in the Awera mangrove lagoon. This lagoon is like a fairy-tale maze, and it has its symbol- the “Three Sisters”- three young coconut palms that grow on a small “islet”, recently become an iconic symbol of the Mentawais.
Other island hopping routes include the small islands south of Siberut- Masokut, Siaim, Bocek, and Karangmajat.
Beaches wandering and swimming
The island hopping activity also allows you to wander on the beaches of these islands- almost alone, only you, the sand strip, the turquoise waters, and the lush coconut jungle. But there are even wilder places where you can wander, completely alone, like Robinson Crusoe, at “the end of the world”. Such beaches can be found on the main four islands.
Here you have to be cautious. The ocean is very attractive, and you may want to go swimming and snorkeling. But the ocean is full of various creatures, some of them dangerous. And if an accident happens, there will be nobody to help.
If you anyway want just to relax and swim on a beach, the best one (besides the beaches on the small islands) is Jatti Beach on Sipora Island, near the main town of Tuapejat. Another beautiful beach is Mapaddegat, but it is not as clean as Jatti due to two muddy rivers that flow into the beach from the swamps of the jungle.
Above is what you can do in the ocean and the shores around the Mentawai Islands. But what is in the interior?
The islands are covered by wild equatorial rainforests. If you stay on Sipora Island, which is the most developed of all, you can go to some spots in the jungle with waterfalls. Here, you can walk on hidden trails (almost always muddy) like a wild explorer and discover various secret spots.
More easily accessible waterfalls include Pajujurung Desa and Matorobibit Falls, located right beside the main road from Tuapejat to Rokot. But waterfalls like Siloggai and Simapetri are deep inside the jungle, and I would strongly advise you to find a guide to take you there.
However, the most epic jungle trekking can be tried on Siberut Island. Local companies and guides arrange trekking from the main town Muara Siberut to the hidden villages of the Mentawai people. These tours include riverboat riding and trekking with quite a high level of difficulty. And finally, you can reach the local people in the jungle and experience their culture.
Experience the Mentawai culture
Until recently, it was a serious challenge to reach the Mentawai villages in the jungle of Siberut. There were even lethal cases of solo trekkers who were lost in the jungle. But today, as mentioned above, local companies and guides organize 3 to 9 days trekking experiences in the interior of the island.
During such a trek, you will stay in the local Uma (traditional long tribe house), and they will show you various elements of their traditional lifestyle like arrow poisoning, women’s fishing, tattooing, sago worms cooking and eating, and more. They still live half-naked and like sharpening their teeth like the teeth of a shark.
Unfortunately, modern life gradually accesses even the remotest villages in Siberut. People still try to keep their original lifestyle, but it more and more turns into an artificial show, rather than a natural daily life.
On the other islands, the local Mentawais are completely modern, just like all other average Indonesians. And if you can’t go jungle trekking on Siberut (it is really difficult, muddy, and also expensive), you can still touch the local culture on Sipora Island- there is a Cultural Center at the coast of Mapaddegat, where you can attend some local performances.
To experience the best of the Mentawai Islands, you have to plan and build your itinerary. It includes getting there, planning activities during your stay, your accommodation, and other useful tips.
How to get to the Mentawai Islands
The starting point for traveling to the Mentawai Islands is Padang, the capital of West Sumatra. There are three ways to get to the islands from Padang- by fast ferry, by slow ferry, and by charter flight.
Then, you have five entry points on the Mentawais: Siberut (Siberut Island), Sikabaluan (Siberut Island), Tuapejat (Sipora Island), Sikakap (North Pagai Island), and Rokot Airport on Sipora Island. These points can be reached from three starting points in Padang: Mentawai Fast Harbor, Teluk Bayur Port, and Pariaman Airport.
The fast ferries start from Mentawai Fast Harbor and travel to Siberut, Sikabaluan, Tuapejat, and Sikakap. The slow ferries start from Teluk Bayur Port and travel only to Siberut and Tuapejat. The charter flights connect Pariaman Airport with Rokot Airport on Sipora Island.
Finally, there are Mentawai Surf Charters– liveaboard tours for surfers that start from Padang and roam around the Mentawai and the other neighboring islands.
All of these ways of transportation travel only on certain days of the week. The fast ferries are currently the most popular and most convenient transport.
Roaming around the Mentawai Islands
Once you reach one of the entry points of the Mentawai islands, you have to move to your chosen homestay or resort. Then, you would want to reach various points of interest or just to do various activities mentioned above.
The islands are still serene, far from the tourist crowds. There are only a few paved roads on the four big islands, the rest are dirt muddy roads, trails (most of which are completely wild), and thick jungles. You can cross from one big island to another by the ferries mentioned above, but moving around the interior of the big islands is highly limited, or adventurous.
There is no public transportation on the big islands (except for a local “angkot”- a minibus that connects Port Tuapejat with Rokot Airport on Sipora Island). The only way of transportation is an ojek (local motor taxi), and even the ojeks are hard to find far from the entry points. So, the only option you have is to rent a scooter (the local homestays offer such a service) and use it on the few paved roads.
If your accommodation is a surfing resort on a small island, these resorts offer private boats that pick you up from one of the main entry points (ports) to their resort.
Reaching the nearby small islands and surfing spots
The homestays offer “boat taxis”. These are actually private boats with fixed routes to the beaches of the small islands, to some snorkeling spots or mangrove lagoons. Similar “boat taxis” are used for reaching the surfing spots- the best one we tried was the boat tour of Likat Mentawai, located in Mapaddegad. However, if you stay in a surfing resort (surf camp), this service is a part of your accommodation- you normally pay for it in advance when you book your surf camp.
This is another important detail of your itinerary. There are two types of accommodation on the Mentawai Islands- local hotels/homestays, and surfing resorts (surf camps). You can easily find some of them on Booking or Agoda.
Homestays and hotels
The local homestays and hotels are cheaper (and in fact, not so luxurious), and they provide just accommodation. Yes, they also offer meals, boat taxis, and rental scooters, as well as rental surfboards, but you have to pay for that separately. In general, they are just designed for all kinds of travelers, not only surfers.
Almost all of the homestays can be found only on Sipora Island, in Tuapejat or Mapaddegat. There are almost no such places to stay in Siberut, Sikabaluan, or Pagai Islands. For this reason, the best “base camp” for travelers to the Mentawai who are not surfers is Tuapejat or Mapaddegat on Sipora.
Surf resorts (surf camps)
Surf resorts (surf camps) are a bit different. They are more luxurious and more expensive, and they offer everything the surfers need, including regular boats to the surfing spots. Most of them are located on the small islands north of Sipora or south of Siberut. Among the popular resorts, we can mention Hidden Bay, Botik, Kandui (south of Siberut), Favela, Awera, Aloita, and Nasara (north of Sipora).
Some surf resorts (surf camps) can be also found in some remote and isolated locations (far from the world) like Eden 2, Togat Nusa Retreat, Kingfisher, The Point Surf House (Sipora), North Pagai, Macaronis, Southern Mentawai Outpost, and Sibigeu (Pagai Islands).
Camping and other adventures
Can you go wild camping? There are almost no arranged campgrounds in Mentawai (actually, there are two places beside the homestays where you can camp, but they were empty when we saw them), but in theory, you can go camping in some remote spots, “far from the world”. In general, it is safe, but who knows… there is no protection from anything- just you, the nature, and eventually humans.
Finally, those who go on jungle trek to the Mentawai villages in the jungle, sleep directly in their “Uma” tribal houses. Yes, you don’t exactly sleep like the locals, they try to arrange your sleeping “bed” a little bit more comfortably, but don’t expect too much, after all, you have to be ready for adventures.
You may have some other needs on the islands.
If you get sick, there are some “puskesmas” (health centers) in every bigger village, at least for some basic procedures. But that’s all. For more serious sickness, just take the first possible ferry and go to Padang!
You have several options for food and meals:
- Meals offered by the homestays and surfing resorts. They offer most of the popular meals for this part of the world- mostly noodles or rice (like nasi goreng, mie goreng, etc.), as well as some “Western” food- sandwiches with eggs and more. They also offer coffee and drinks.
- Local “fast food restaurants”. This is the traditional Minangkabau type of restaurant, introduced on the Mentawai Islands too. There are various meals (most of them spicy) exposed, you choose what you want to eat and finally pay the owner.
- Supermarkets. Here, even the biggest supermarket is small. It offers products for daily use, biscuits, chips, and other snacks, as well as some drinks. But you can also find noodles, you can add hot water to them and you can eat them outside. Besides these, there are a lot of “super mini markets” in the villages- they just sell some snacks and drinks.
There are one or two banks only in the largest towns of the big islands- Bank BNI Mentawai in Tuapejat, Nagari Bank in Siberut, and Bank BRI UNIT Sikakap. These are the only places where you can eventually change or withdraw money. You can also use your credit/debit card in the bigger supermarkets for payment.
In general, that’s the most essential you can expect during your Mentawai trip. Whether you plan surfing, general exploring, relaxation, or jungle/tribe trekking, this is what the Mentawai Islands look like, and this is what you can expect. Keeping in mind this information, it can help you to plan an unforgettable journey to a paradise “at the edge of the world”.
Check some travel books about Mentawai:
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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.