Over the years, this far-flung corner of the Indonesian archipelago has grabbed headlines for all the wrong reasons. Earthquakes, tsunamis, civil war and sharia law are the main associations people have with Sumatra's most northern state. The reconstruction from the Boxing Day tsunami that put this place on television screens around the world is now virtually complete. However, the social wounds incurred by the natural disaster and previous civil war will take much longer to heal. Post-tsunami Aceh is still tender, guns have been laid down, a degree of autonomy has been granted and there is now an air of new beginnings across the province.
For the visitor, politics and disasters are somewhat of a smokescreen. Intrepid travellers to the region are unearthing one of the few remaining undiscovered gems of Southeast Asia. Rich, animal-filled jungle, misty mountain peaks and endless swaths of empty beach lick the coastline, not to mention the rainbow of pristine coral beneath the sea. The tourist infrastructure isn't great, with bungalows and guesthouses making it up as they go along. Western comforts aren't exactly the norm. But this is the 'I was there before it was discovered' destination of the moment, and a few sacrificed luxuries are worth the trade-off.
Through all the disagreements and turmoil from recent events, the locals have largely ignored the goldmine of tourism on which the state stands, and very little is being done to encourage tourists to come…leaving it ripe and ready for unbridled discovery.