While Bali and Jakarta are high on most people’s must-see lists in Indonesia, the culture, mountains and waterfalls of North Sumatra were calling my name more than the beaches and cities crowded with heaps of tourists.
You might have to pinch yourself upon arriving in Berastagi: the town is busy with daily life to pounce on tourists. What a blissful relief from the guide overload you will find elsewhere in Sumatra.
Berastagi has a healthy economy based on something other than tourism. As an agricultural trade centre, the town’s markets are always humming with activity, and modern-day snake oil hawkers fill the sidewalks with ‘big-city’ amusements for isolated country folk. On sale are jungle miracle cures, second-hand shoes, and 20-years-behind pop music. On Sunday, the largely Christian community takes the babies and bibles out for worship.
Berastagi is at an altitude of 1300m, and the climate is deliciously cool, sometimes even cold. The comfortable cool hill town of Berastagi was once a popular destination for the colonial Dutch, and is still a refreshing break in your trip through northern Sumatra. Because of its altitude at 1400m the climate is almost European. You don’t really come here for the busy town Berastagi, but rather for the beautiful countryside. The town is surrounded by the lush green fields of the Karo highlands, with two volcanoes dominating the skyline. This Indonesian trip is actually a stopover on the way to Medan but if you’re feeling adventurous and want to climb to the summit of Sibaya volcano.
Most travellers travel via Bukit Lawang, Samosir and Berastagi back to Medan, as this route covers all the major highlights of the island. Berastagi has a famous fruit market but besides fruit you’ll also find fish, vegetables and other odds and ends, all filling the market with exotic and often very strong smells. The market is popular with tourists, but the market further down the main street is more authentic. Your comfortable hotel has lovely views across the green farmland and 100 yards away there’s a viewpoint from which you can see the mountains Sibayak and Sinabung.
The town developed in the 1920’s as Dutch hill station and today has become a popular weekend destination for Medan residents. The landscape here is dominated by distant views of the smoking volcanoes Mt. Sinabung and Mt.Sibayak. On the western edge of the town, Gunaling Hill rises above the surrounding plateau to provide some spectacular views of these two towering volcanoes.
Berastagi is famous for its flowers, vegetables and fruits and its markets constantly hum with activity. The most famous produce probably Marquisa or passion fruit. Sweet oranges are another delicious specialty. Berastagi’s produce also exported to Singapore and Malaysia are: cabbage, carrots, tomatoes, potatoes, red chili, and eggplant. The local markets swarm with people doing business and selling their wares. Here you will see scenes from traditional Karo life as well as everything from jungle miracle cures and second hand shoes on sale.
Beyond the town are the lush green fields of the Karo Highlands, dominated by two volcanoes: Gunung Sinabung to the west and the smoking Gunung Sibayak to the north. These volcanoes are a day hike apiece, making them two of Sumatra’s most accessible volcanoes, and the primary reason why tourists get off the bus in the first place.
How to get there:
Domestic flight is available from Jakarta and Bali. Berastagi is located about 66 km from Medan and the journey will take around two hours.
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