West Sumatra Itinerary- planning a trip in one of the most exotic areas in Southeast Asia

West Sumatra Itinerary- planning a trip in one of the most exotic areas in Southeast Asia

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West Sumatra is an incredibly beautiful area in Indonesia, with a high diversity of nature and culture. It includes the western part of Sumatra Island, as well as the archipelago of Mentawai Islands. These two parts of the area offer a lot of places and experiences to try and explore. To do it better, you have to plan well your West Sumatra itinerary.

West Sumatra overview

When we talk about West Sumatra, normally we mean the Indonesian province of West Sumatra– an administrative unit with clearly defined borders. But from a traveler’s point of view, “West Sumatra” looks a bit different on the map. It doesn’t have clear borders and includes a bit more.

A good example is Mount Kerinci, the highest volcano in Indonesia and the highest point on Sumatra Island. The border between the provinces of West Sumatra and Jambi goes exactly through the top, but the main trail to the top is from the Jambi’s side. Also, the neighboring Gunung Tujuh Lake lies entirely within Jambi, but if you go to climb Mount Kerinci, why would skip Gunung Tujuh only because it is “not in the province of West Sumatra”?

So, the geographical West Sumatra includes the middle of the western part of Sumatra Island, and the neighboring Mentawai Islands. And if you want to explore and taste the essentials of it, you have to choose and plan the best places to visit and activities to do there that can give you the best impression of this area.

Tropical paradise of Mentawai Islands
Tropical paradise of Mentawai Islands

West Sumatra physical geography

West Sumatra is located around and slightly south of the Earth’s Equator. It has an equatorial climate, a kind of “forever summer“, and it is one of the wettest places in the whole of Southeast Asia, with a rainy season and a slightly-less-rainy season. As a result, you can expect lush equatorial rainforests, constant warm weather, and warm ocean waters.

But let’s see the terrain. The mainland Sumatra part of the area consists mostly of mountains. They belong to the Barisan Mountain range- a mountain chain that stretches along the whole length of the island. And this range is volcanically active- there are several volcanoes in West Sumatra only, some of them active, and one of them is the highest volcano in the whole of Southeast Asia- another representative geographical feature of West Sumatra.

The other part of West Sumatra is the Mentawai Islands. They are located literally “at the edge of the world”- on the boundary between the continent of Asia and the vast Indian Ocean. You can only imagine what would they look like- a tropical paradise with wild beaches, deep rainforests, coconut palms, and crystal clear waters. But there is something more- being exposed directly to the currents of the ocean, they present some of the more perfect surfing waves in the world!

Finally, let’s see the human part. West Sumatra is inhabited by two main ethnic groups. Minangkabau people live on the mainland of Sumatra Island. They have a rich history and culture, presenting some of the most exotic architectural forms in the world. And Mentawai people live on the Mentawai Islands. Today, most of them live a modern life, but some still live deep in the jungles of Siberut Island in a lifestyle that remained unchanged for thousands of years.

The pristine Lake Gunung Tujuh
The pristine Lake Gunung Tujuh

Best places and activities

So, where are the best places and what are the best activities you can try to get the best taste and impressions of all that is described above? They can be grouped into four areas- Padang, Bukittinggi (Minangkabau Plateau), Kerinci, and Mentawai Islands.

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Padang is the capital of West Sumatra, its largest city and main cultural center. Also, Padang is the starting point for exploring the whole area (unless you don’t come by land or sea transportation directly from a neighboring province). So, if you want to get a good impression of West Sumatra, don’t skip Padang, plan at least 1-2 days to see and try its best.

First, Padang is where you get an initial glimpse of what West Sumatra looks like- just by wandering around its streets, eating in its restaurants, relaxing in its parks, and enjoying its street scenes. Also, there are several points of interest worth visiting:

  • Adityawarman Museum. This is the largest cultural-historic museum in West Sumatra. It takes you to the history of the region, the culture of Minangkabau and Mentawai people, and even some natural features. It has a good educational value, and it is established in a splendid Rumah Gadang (traditional Minangkabau house) in a serene park.
  • Chinatown and Batang Arau Street. This area presents the influence of the Dutch and Chinese cultures throughout the recent history of West Sumatra. Here you can see their traditional architecture. Batang Arau Street follows the river with the same name, offering beautiful views. Finally, here is Mentawai Fast Harbour- you can visit it in advance to be better prepared for your trip to the Mentawai Islands.
  • Imam Bonjol and Pasar Raya area. This is the central and busiest area. Here is the best place to dive into the daily lifestyle of the local people. Imam Bonjol is a nice small park with a gorgeous traditional Minangkabau house.
  • Grand Mosque of Sumatra. This is a new project, presenting one of the largest mosques in Indonesia. Its most interesting side is its architecture- a square-shaped building with a four-horned roof, presenting the typical Minangkabau style.
  • Seaside and Аl Hakim Mosque. Padang is established on a long and flat seacoast with sandy beaches. Yes, they are not so clean, but the view of the coast and the ocean is impressive. It is enriched by the beautiful white architecture of the Al Hakim Mosque and by the green hills behind it.
  • The Southern Hills and Air Manis Beach. Finally, you can go to the greener part of Padang, the hills behind Batang Arau River. Its most beautiful point (although a bit crowded and polluted) is Air Manis Beach.
Imam Bonjol Square, Padang
Imam Bonjol Square, Padang

Bukittinggi area (Minangkabau Plateau)

Here is the best area to dive into the cultural side of West Sumatra- the culture and history of the Minangkabau people. Its main center is the city of Bukittinggi, and it can be your “base camp” for exploring the area. Bukittinggi itself also presents several points of interest:

  • Jam Gadang and the center. The tower of Jam Gadang is one of the most important landmarks in West Sumatra, presenting the recent history of the region in a unique architectural story. It is surrounded by the busiest area of Bukittinggi.
  • Fort de Kock and The Zoo. These two points are united in one tourist site, established on two hills, combining a Dutch outpost, a beautiful park, a Zoo presenting the local fauna, and another historic museum.
  • Sianok Valley and the Japanese Tunnels. Only a 10-minute walk from the center is the impressive canyon of Sianok. And deep underground is the maze of Japanese tunnels, a historical place from WW2, again united in one tourist site.
Jam Gadang, Bukittinggi
Jam Gadang, Bukittinggi

There are more relatively small but interesting points in Bukittinggi, and all of them are worth spending at least 2 days in this city. Then, you can use it as a starting point for the surrounding area, to the following points of interest:

  • Pagaruyung Palace. This is the most gorgeous Minangkabau traditional house, a replica of the King’s Palace from Pagaruyung Kingdom.
  • Balimbing Village. Here you can see the oldest authentic Minangkabau traditional house.
  • Pariangan Village. This is the oldest original Minangkabau village, presenting a lot of Rumah Gadang.
  • Pandai Sikek Village. This is another traditional Minangkabau village with old houses, more popular for its local crafts.
  • Mount Marapi and the other volcanoes. Five volcanoes are located in the Minangkabau Plateau, surrounding the other points of interest. Mount Marapi, an active volcano is the most popular one. There is a trail that leads to its top.
  • Lake Singkarak. This is the largest lake in West Sumatra, a nice place for relaxation.
  • Lake Maninjau. This is another large lake, offering breathtaking views.
  • Harau Valley. This is an amazing canyon, called “Yosemite of Indonesia”, famous for its vertical rock walls, numerous waterfalls, and local rural life on its bottom.
  • The Equator. The Equator of the Earth crosses the island of Sumatra and particularly, the northernmost areas of West Sumatra. Physically, you can’t see anything special and different on its line, but for geography lovers, it is an important GPS coordinate. Several roads in West Sumatra cross it and you can choose at least one of them- there are markers exactly (or almost exactly) at the point of crossing.
Pagaruyung Palace
Pagaruyung Palace

The central part of Kerinci-Seblat National Park

Kerinci-Seblat National Park is one of the largest national parks in Indonesia and in the world. And its central area, located in the southernmost boundaries of West Sumatra is its most impressive part. There is a small town (or a big village) called Kersik Tuo that is usually used as a “base camp” for exploring three main places.

  • Mount Kerinci. Being the tallest volcano in Southeast Asia, Mount Kerinci is one of the most important landmarks in West Sumatra. There is a popular hiking trail that starts from the volcano’s foot at 1550 m altitude and reaches its top at 3805 m. The trail is challenging, but if you are well-fit, you should definitely include it in your itinerary.
  • Lake Gunung Tujuh. Not far from Mount Kerinci is Lake Gunung Tujuh, one of the most beautiful lakes in Southeast Asia, and the highest caldera lake in this part of the world. Again, you should try the popular trek to its shores and enjoy the primeval landscapes around its waters.
  • Ladeh Panjang. This is the highest wetland in Southeast Asia, a wild mountain rainforest area where you may spot some of the local animals like the Sumatran tiger, Sumatran rhino, and more.
Mount Kerinci
Mount Kerinci

Mentawai Islands

The whole archipelago of Mentawai Islands is a large destination by itself. There are some points of interest, scattered here and there, but in the case of Mentawai, you should think about activities rather than points, because these activities can be tried at different points. The whole archipelago is divided into three parts- Siberut Island, Sipora Island, and North and South Pagai Islands, all of them with their smaller satellite islands.

  • Surfing. This is what the Mentawai Islands are mostly known for: it is one of the best surfing destinations in the world. There are more than 30 recognized surfing spots that can be found in all of the three parts (Siberut, Sipora, and Pagai) of the archipelago. If you are a surfer, you can enjoy one or more of them by staying in a budget accommodation, a surfing resort, by joining a surf camp, or a surfing boat charter. But even if you are not a surfer, it is still worth watching the beautiful waves and the surfers riding them.
  • Beaches and snorkeling. The Mentawai Islands are a stunning tropical paradise. The waters are warm, and crystal clear, with coral fields and rich wildlife. There are also endless narrow beaches, almost empty, far from the “civilization“, with coconut forests around them. This fairy-tale landscape can be seen almost everywhere in the archipelago.
  • Jungle trekking. The interior of the islands is hilly and mostly covered by lush equatorial rainforests. Hidden trails penetrate deep into the jungles, crossing hills and rivers, and providing a certain type of wild adventure. You can try jungle trekking everywhere, but the best place for it is Siberut Island because you can combine your adventure with visiting the authentic villages of the Mentawai people.
  • Mentawai tribe. The Mentawai people are the native population of the Mentawai Islands. Today, most of them live modern life but some of those who live on Siberut Island still follow their ancient lifestyle, living deep in the jungle in their “Uma” houses. So, you can combine jungle trekking with the Mentawai tribe cultural experience by joining a Mentawai tribe tour.
Mentawai Islands landscape
Mentawai Islands landscape

Building your West Sumatra itinerary

The next question is how to “connect the dots”- how to plan a trip that can include all of the places and activities mentioned above, depending on your time (and budget). It involves transportation, the recommended time to spend in the different spots, and other factors.

Here we present an example of an average 19-day itinerary (for non-surfers):

Day 1. Arriving in Padang.

Day 2. Exploring Padang. Two days would be enough to visit all of the important spots in the city but if your arrival is too late on Day 1, you can still visit what you would miss at the end of your trip.

Day 3. Moving from Padang to Bukittinggi (preferably in the morning). During the rest of the day, you can explore some of the points of interest in the city.

Day 4. Exploring the rest of Bukittinggi. Eventually, in the afternoon, you can visit the village of Pandai Sikek.

Day 5. You can make a circle tour that includes Pagaruyung Palace, Balimbing and Pariangan villages, and Lake Singkarak.

Day 6. You can make another tour- to Harau Valley. And if you start earlier and have more time, you can also visit the Equator.

Day 7. Returning to Padang, and in the same day evening departing to Kersik Tuo.

Day 8. Starting a trek to the top of Mount Kerinci. Spending the night at a campsite.

Day 9. Reaching the top in the morning and descending to Kersik Tuo.

Day 10. Starting a trek to Lake Gunung Tujuh. Spending the night at the lake shores.

Day 11. Returning to Kersik Tuo.

Day 12. Returning again to Padang (if you depart from Kersik Tuo in the morning).

Day 13. Departing from Padang (early in the morning) to Tuapejat, Sipora Island.

Day 14. A boat trip to the small neighboring islands of Siburu, Silabok, and Pototoga (Awera).

Day 15. Full-day relaxation, jungle hikes, and enjoying the beaches.

Day 16. Departing to Siberut Island. Start a Mentawai tribe tour.

Day 17. Mentawai tribe tour.

Day 18. Complete the Mentawai tribe tour. Returning to Padang by the afternoon ferry.

Day 19. Leaving Padang and West Sumatra.

Mountain mossy rainforest, Mount Kerinci
Mountain mossy rainforest, Mount Kerinci

You can use this itinerary as a base for your trip planning. You can follow it as it is, but of course, you can create your own version, and the 19-day itinerary above can be just for your reference.

So, what if…

Q & A:

“What if I don’t have such a long time?”

Or, the question is: “What can I skip from the itinerary above?”

If you still want to explore all four areas of interest in West Sumatra (Padang, Bukittinggi, Kerinci-Seblat, and Mentawai), it is possible to do it just by skipping some points or activities.

For example, if you can plan only a 14-day itinerary, you can skip Day 2 or combine Days 2 and 3 into one day. Then, depending on what would you prefer more- culture and history, or tropical adventures, you can shorten your stay in the Bukittinggi area, or in the Mentawai Islands.

Then, if you prefer culture and history, you have to shorten your stay on the Mentawai Islands- skip Days 14 and 15. Also, in Bukittinggi, skip the tour to Harau Valley (Day 6). Skip Day 4 too. Bukittinggi is a place with culture, but you can see some of its points of interest in the afternoon on the previous day or after your tour to Pagaruyung Palace and the Minangkabau villages.

Version two: Don’t skip anything from Bukittinggi, but skip the Mentawai tribe tour (especially if you are a budget traveler- keep in mind that the Mentawai tribe tour is the most expensive part of the whole West Sumatra itinerary). Also, you can shorten Day 15 and relax only until the afternoon, then take the ferry back to Padang.

Finally, you can just skip Kerinci-Seblat National Park, especially if you feel that you are not enough fit for the heavy trek to the top of Mount Kerinci. And in this case, if the difficult adventures are not your dream, you can also skip the Mentawai tribe tour. Instead- just enjoy relaxing on the Mentawai Islands.

Pariangan Village
Pariangan Village

“But what if I don’t even have 14 days? Or 10 days? Or less?”

Then, you have to skip one or two travel areas. That’s what I would personally do it. You can push yourself to visit urgently as many points as possible, but does it have any meaning?

So, if you like mountain hiking, better just forget about anything else, and focus only on Kerinci-Seblat National Park. Climb Mount Kerinci and Lake Gunung Tujuh, and if you still have some time- go to Ladeh Panjang- for all of this, you would need only 7 days, and 2 more days to travel from and to Padang.

If you like culture and history, just go to Bukittinggi and enjoy the area around it. And if you like an ocean tropical paradise- stay on the Mentawai Islands.

“What if I am a surfer?”

Of course, in this case, the Mentawai Islands are a must. I am not a surfer, but if I were, I would definitely plan at least 7 days on the Mentawai, only for surfing, and would skip from everything else depending on my time, including the Mentawai tribe tour, if necessary. Or, I would join an 11-12 day surf camp (or a surf boat charter) and would skip even more from the rest.

Mentawai surfing
Mentawai surfing

“What if I have the 19 days of your itinerary but I am not enough physically fit for Mount Kerinci and other hikes?”

In this case, just travel slowly. While in Bukittinggi, add a Lake Maninjau trip (not mentioned in my 19-day itinerary). Stay one more day in Padang. And add two more days on the Mentawai Islands, just for relaxation.

Finally, “What if I have more than 19 days?”

Then again, just travel slowly. West Sumatra is worth enjoying everything for a longer time. Add Lake Maninjau from Bukittinggi. Also, add a trek to Mount Marapi. It is shorter and easier than the trek to Mount Kerinci and would be a good “warming-up” for Kerinci. And of course, I would stay a longer time on the Mentawai Islands, enjoying the same activities but maybe trying them in different spots.

Meeting people from the Mentawai tribe
Meeting people from the Mentawai tribe

Useful tips

If you want to follow your planned West Sumatra itinerary smoothly, without “surprises“, it would be good to keep in mind some important elements of your trip.


There are a few ways of transportation around West Sumatra. The best way to travel between Padang, Bukittinggi, and Kersik Tuo is by travel service van. It is cheap and convenient. However, keep in mind that these vans from Padang to Kersik Tuo travel only in the evening (overnight travel) and only sometimes in the morning, so plan accordingly in advance (for more information, see our article about Mount Kerinci).

Once in Bukittinggi, you can easily explore the points of interest around the Minagkabau Plateau just by renting a motorbike (scooter). Again, it is cheap and convenient. However, if you are afraid of the crazy traffic in some areas, you can hire a car with a driver. Actually, you can hire a car with a driver not only in Bukittinggi but also for the whole of the mainland of West Sumatra.

Plan your Mentawai Islands part of the itinerary! There are enough convenient ferries between Padang and the Mentawai, but they don’t travel every day to and from the various Mentawai harbors. For more information, check out our Mentawai Islands transportation article!

Mentawai Fast Harbor in Padang
Mentawai Fast Harbor in Padang


The good thing is that there are a lot of accommodation properties in Padang, Bukittinggi, Kersik Tuo, and the Mentawai Islands. Yes, on the Mentawai, most of the properties are expensive surfing resorts, but you still can find some budget options, mostly on Sipora Island. It is advisable to book them in advance on Booking or Agoda.

Concerning Mount Kerinci and Lake Gunung Tujuh, normally, you have to camp at night. Yes, the trek to Gunung Tujuh is short and you can easily do it within one day, but the trek to Mount Kerinci is much longer and much more difficult. Some physically well-fit people still can do it within one day and night without camping there, but it is definitely not for everyone.

The good thing is that some of the properties in Kersik Tuo offer camping gear for rent (I personally brought my own tent). Or, you can join a group hiking tour and use the tent that they provide.

Aloita Resort
Aloita Resort

SIM Card

You would need it, and obtaining a good one takes some time- at least 1-2 hours in the office of Telkomsel (the best mobile provider in Indonesia). So, unless you don’t obtain an e-SIM, keep in mind this time as a part of your itinerary. And better do it while you are still in Padang.

There is a mobile connection in most of the places mentioned above, and you would most probably need mobile internet for navigation, contact with properties, and other purposes.


There is no money changer in Minangkabau Airport in Padang. So, better change some money before your flight. If you come from Kuala Lumpur (like most foreign visitors of West Sumatra), you can exchange a small sum of money at Kuala Lumpur International Airport.

When you arrive in Padang, better plan a visit of a money changer. The best place with money changers is the area around Imam Bonjol Park and Adityawarman Museum. Here you can exchange more money, especially for the wild areas (Kerinci-Seblat and Mentawai).

Monkeys in Sianok Valley, Bukittinggi
Monkeys in Sianok Valley, Bukittinggi

Mount Kerinci Health Certificate

If you are an independent traveler and want to climb Mount Kerinci, you have to obtain this document too. You should do it in a Puskesmas (Health Center) in Padang. However, not every Puskasmas can do it, but only a few of them. Again, check our article about the Mount Kerinci hike for more information. Anyway, if you don’t have other ways to obtain this certificate (by joining a tour, etc.), plan another 1-2 hours for this too.

This is what a trip around West Sumatra would look like. The good thing is that there is enough space for flexibility, even “in the last moment“. You only have to be well-informed in advance and know how to make changes to your itinerary if necessary. So, if you plan it wisely (and it is not too difficult), you can enjoy a great adventurous experience in one of the most exotic tropical areas on Earth.

Check some travel books about Sumatra, Mentawai, and the west of Indonesia:


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If you want to visit and explore West Sumatra, Indonesia, read this article for a better idea how to plan your travel itinerary! If you want to visit and explore West Sumatra, Indonesia, read this article for a better idea how to plan your travel itinerary!

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