Few isles tempt the imagination with the lure of adventure quite like the fierce land of Sumatra. An island of extraordinary beauty, it bubbles with life and vibrates under the power of nature Eruptions, earthquakes and tsunamis are Sumatran headline grabbers. Steaming volcanoes brew and bluster while standing guard over lakes that sleepily lap the edges of craters. Orangutan-filled jungles host not only our red-haired cousins, but also tigers, rhinos and elephants. And down at sea level, idyllic deserted beaches are bombarded by clear barrels of surf.
As varied as the land, the people of Sumatra are a spicy broth of mixed cultures, from the devout Muslims in Aceh to the hedonistic Batak Christians around Danau Toba and the matrilineal Minangkabau of Padang. All are unified by a fear, respect and love of the wild and wondrous land of Sumatra.
If you've ever dreamt about having a tropical island entirely to yourself, complete with palm trees, powdery white beaches and gin-clear waters, the Banyak Islands are a great place to fulfil your Robinson Crusoe fantasy. A cluster of 99 mostly uninhabited islands, the Banyak (Many) Islands are situated about 30km west of Singkil.
Heading east from Bukittinggi takes you through the tapioca-growing area of Piladang, famous for keropok (tapioca crackers), and the sprawling agricultural centre of Payakumbuh. Of Minangkabau’s three clans, this is the territory of the 50 Kota (50 Villages) yellow branch. Paddies and daydreaming buffalos flank the narrow road that leads to the tiny village of Harau.
A tiny tropical rock off the tip of Sumatra, Pulau Weh is a small slice of peaceful living that rewards travellers who've journeyed up through the turbulent greater mainland below. After you've hiked around the mainland's jungles, volcanoes and lakes, it's time to jump into the languid waters of the Indian Ocean.
To escape from the infernal heat of sea-level Medan, the colonial Dutch traders climbed high into the lush, cool, volcanic hills. They took one look at the stunningly verdant, undulating landscape and decided to build a rural retreat where Berastagi (also called Brastagi) now stands.