Sumatra with Kids: Bukit Lawang and Berastagi

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Indonesia with kids. getting around Sumatra with Kids

The largest of Indonesia’s islands, Sumatra could be considered its own country, and the small northern corner that we visit doesn’t begin to cover all of what visiting Sumatra with kids would have in store. Traveling to Sumatra with kids was so much fun that we had to go back for a second helping.

Sumatra with Kids - Indonesia Family Travel

Visit Sumatra with Kids

Sumatra is part of the same country as Gili Islands, Lombok and Bali — the infamous home of exotic family vacations and middle-aged women discovering themselves — and we like Ubud. That said, Sumatra has its own exquisite beauty, and you can see it in its culture, food, nature, and people.

We’re just going to cover North Sumatra here because that’s where we know best, and we can recommend traveling families visit Sumatra with kids without hesitation. It’s highly recommended especially for those family travelers passing through Penang, Malaysia. It’s only a 45-minute flight to Northern Sumatra which is cheaper than almost anywhere else. Below I break down our Sumatra travel into its distinct parts.

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MEDAN

Indonesia with children. Sumatra with kids.
This is one of the biggest cities in Indonesia and likely to be your entry point into Sumatra if you’re interested in orangutans and volcanoes. I’ll be honest and say that we didn’t spend much time here. Medan doesn’t have a great reputation with travelers, and as far as sites and attractions, it is not Bali, nor Lombok. At all.

Besides, we don’t come to Sumatra for city life. Medan’s airport, however, is a hub for flights to and from Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur and of course Penang, which is less than an hour away. It was our entryway into the jungle. I’ll share our quick-and-easy Medan routine later in this post, but suffice it to say that we fly into Medan basically so that we can get to a town called Bukit Lawang. Read on.

Things to do in Bukit Lawang: Sumatra with Kids

Sumatra with Kids, Indonesia Family Travel

Sumatra with kids is all about the rainforest: that’s what we’re here for. Once a tiny village with no power or running water, the village of Bukit Lawang is positioned across from the Gunung Leuser National Park. Its resident orangutans made the village a small hub for environmental tourism.

The place is growing fast — we’ve seen changes in just the six months between visits — but it’s is still a great place to relax and experience the rainforest. We saw wild peacocks, huge monitor lizards, and monkeys of many species. And of course a number of orangutans as well, just hanging out in trees — sometimes only a few meters away.

Indonesia with kids. Sumatra with children. Jungle trekking in Bukit Lawang with kids. Orangutans.

The flora and fauna here are unique, fascinating, and soon to be gone, if the deforestation rate doesn’t change dramatically. I don’t mean to be all doom and gloom when I say this, but the chances of this place — and these animals — existing by the time your children are adults themselves are very close to zero.

If you want to see orangutans in the wild, this is the time to do it. There are responsible guides and irresponsible ones. Do your research, or ask around once you arrive.

Jungle Trekking

Sumatra with Kids, Indonesia Family Travel

Gunung Leuser National Park is home to one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world. Hire a guide in town — any guesthouse can arrange it, or just ask around if someone doesn’t approach you directly. Make sure he understands your children’s ages and if they have any limitations.

The trekking we’ve done wasn’t above the capabilities of an active eight-year-old who likes to run and climb, but it’s a long and hot day, and there were times when the trail was very steep and quite slippery.

Indonesia with Children. Sumatra with kids. Jungle Trekking in Bukit Lawang with Kids

If you do a full-day trek like we did, make sure to check on what food will be provided. The guides often bring fruit for a snack, as well as nasi goreng (Indonesian-style fried rice) wrapped in leaves for lunch. If your family can’t handle spicy sauces, tell them before you leave.

Indonesia with Children, Sumatra with kids, Jungle Trekking in Bukit lawang with kids -- leaf crown

Many guides will offer varying prices for a one-day trek, one of them being a hike in/hike out, and another option will be to hike in and then raft back to town on the river.

Choose the river.

It costs a bit more, but it’s super fun, and extremely refreshing after you’ve just spent 4+ hours climbing through the hot & humid jungle.

Tubing

Indonesia with kids, Sumatra with children. Jungle trekking and tubing in Bukit Lawang

As mentioned above, I suggest adding tubing to the end of a jungle trek, but we also did this as a separate activity and it’s loads of fun. Once you hike to the starting point, the guides will tie the huge inner tubes together into a makeshift raft and bring you back to the starting point.

The Bat Cave

Indonesia with children. Sumatra with Kids: Bukit Lawang and Berastagi - jungle trek cave nest

Nope, this bat cave has no Robin, but there are swallows and other nesting birds, as well as hundreds of bats and other creepy-crawlies skittering around.

The caves aren’t very deep, and sunlight is almost always visible, but there are occasional spots of tricky footing and places where you have to climb up or down — completely manageable by any able-bodied kid over seven years old, I reckon, but you have to be paying attention, and I wouldn’t recommend it for any parent carrying a child.

Indonesia with kids, Sumatra with kids. Bukit Lawang Bat Cave caving guide

This cave looks like nothing near the entrance, and you wonder if you’re getting scammed by the guy charging you to “guide” you through.

If you’re in the same cave we went to, then this guy is legit and the caves turn out to be few hours of your day. They will let you go in without guide if you insist, but we were so glad we paid for it. Unless you are perfectly clear what you are doing, I would highly recommend hiring a guide.

Things to do in Berastagi: Sumatra with Kids

Indonesia with children. Sumatra with kids. Berastagi truck
The town of Berastagi is best known for it’s seismic and geothermal activity. We hired a driver to take us on the several-hour drive from Bukit Lawang.

There’s some great fruit to be bought and eaten in the markets here, but the main reason you’re here is for the nearby volcano and lake.

This is also where we hired a local driver. One morning he took us to the drop-off point for the volcano hike, and the next day we hired him for the full day to hit a variety of nearby sites, such as Sipiso piso waterfall and Lake Toba.

Mount Sibayak

Indonesia with children. Sumatra with Kids: Bukit Lawang and Berastagi - Mount Sibayak. Volcano Hike

This is a semi-active volcano that you can hike to the top of. You won’t see any lava, but there is plenty bubbling up there, and a few steam vents blasting out sulfur-tinged air at the decibel levels of a fighter jet.

We chose the sunrise hike, which means you leave early in the morning so that you’ve made the ascent before the day’s first beams to hit you. It’s cold up there, so bring a jacket if you have one, or just hold your nose and cozy up to one of those sulphuric vents.

Indonesia with Children, Sumatra with kids, Volcano Hike with kids. Sulphur VentIndonesia with Children, Sumatra with kids, Volcano Hike with kids. Sulphur Vent

Hot Spring Breakfast

Indonesia with Kids, Sumatra with children. Hot spring breakfast

Our guide brought us here after the cold hike to the top of Mount Sibayak. The sulfurous pools were a great way to relax and enjoy the morning, and surprisingly we were able to order breakfast and coffee while sitting in the tub!

Lake Toba

Indonesia with children. Sumatra with Kids: Bukit Lawang and Berastagi - Lake Toba fish grill

Another attraction based on the areas geothermic activity. This lake is basically a crater left from an ancient volcanic explosion, and it is a beautiful place to chill for a day or two. The lake also has some excellent fish grills — ask your accommodation or your driver where to go.

Sipiso Piso Waterfall

Indonesia with Kids, Sumatra with children. Sipiso Piso Waterfall

It’s a long hike to the bottom, but from there you get the blast of mist as water drops 120 meters to crash onto stone.

Internet and Phone: Sumatra with Kids

Once you get to Bukit Lawang, most of the guesthouses provide wifi, but our connections were spotty at best. You can get a local SIM card at the airport in Medan or in Bukit Lawang as well. I would suggest getting it at the airport if you have the time.

We’ve got our SIMs from Telkomsel every time we’ve visited Bukit Lawang and Berastagi and have had no problems. We even had good connections while jungle trekking. Local guides actually used their phones to talk to each other when they spotted wild orangutans.

Getting Around in Sumatra with Kids

Indonesia with Kids. Getting around Sumatra with children. Hire a driver. Hire a Bemo in Sumatra

We usually hire our own wheels in Southeast Asia. However, I have not felt comfortable putting the kids on motorcycles in the northern part of Sumatra where we’ve traveled.

The roads were often in terrible condition, with no shoulder to pull off, and there are huge logging trucks hurtling past in unpredictable places.

Hire a driver or ride public transport

For these reasons, we’ve always ridden public transport or hired local drivers through whatever accommodation we’ve arranged.

For example, when booking our first night in Bukit Lawang, we wrote guesthouses directly and asked them if they could arrange airport pickup if we stayed with them. That way, there is a driver waiting for us at the Medan airport to take us the three or four hours into the jungle.

Indonesia with Kids. Getting around Sumatra with kids. Bemo interior

Once there, we’ve arranged drivers to take us to Berastagi, and in Berastagi, we’ve hired a bemo (minibus) driver for the day to take us to this lake or that waterfall. Almost every time, it has been the accommodation that has arranged it for us or pointed us to the right person.

In places like Berastagi and Lake Toba, we took local bemos, but not before finding out the average price from our accommodation or another local. You pay for your trip when you get off. Make sure to have small change.

Where to Stay in Sumatra with Kids

Bukit Lawang

Bukit Lawang Jungle Inn Girl

We think the best places to stay in Bukit Lawang are at the far end of the village, near the Jungle Inn and the Orangutan feeding station in the park. Stay close to the river. We were told that the further from the river, the worse the mosquitoes, and in our experience, this was absolutely correct.

Jungle Inn

This is where we stayed the first time we went to Sumatra with kids. We booked in advance and arranged transportation from the Medan airport through them by phone. They are located at the far end of Bukit Lawang, about a 20-min walk upstream of the Bohorok River. When we arrived, they were waiting where the car dropped us off to carry our kids and packs on motorcycles, while Keiko and I had a pleasant walk by the river.

The room we stayed in was plenty big for the four of us. We had an extra mattress on the floor with no mosquito net, which made us feel uneasy since Keiko is a mosquito magnet, but she had no problems while we were there (mid-June).

Sumatra with Kids, Indonesia Family Travel

The toilet and shower area (above) was partially outdoors, with only half of the roof covered, but our place was high enough that so no one could peek in but the monkeys, but we were able to enjoy the moonlight and a nice breeze. The hot shower, a luxury in Bukit Lawang, was spotty due to a power outage. Jungle Inn, like any other in the area, has own cafe and serves a huge fruit salad (mostly local watermelon, pineapple and passion fruit) which we devoured on multiple occasions

Be aware of the occasional aggressive macaque. Once I was hanging out, reading in a hammock on our balcony with a bag of cookies, and a macaque leaped out of a tree, grabbed them right out of my hands and then sat on a nearby roof eating them. Don’t feed them, please. They’ll only get worse.

Read what others have to say about Jungle Inn in Bukit Lawang, Indonesia

Contact: [email protected] /reservat[email protected] /+62 853 7342 2405

Garden Inn and Restaurant

This is where we stayed the second time we were there (mid-January). We had a two-bedroom bungalow with no hot water shower. Our bungalow was located high on a hill (up some stairs, but not too bad) so that we had a great view of the river and mountain in front of us.

It rained a lot in January, so we had to spend a good portion of our time waiting for the clouds to part. Fortunately, the Garden Inn’s restaurant and covered patio was the perfect spot to just sit and play games (cards, chess, backgammon), strum on a guitar or read in the hammock with a fresh juice or coffee. We ate at least half of our meals there this trip, and by the end, the kids and the staff were joking around and playing tricks on each other.

Contact: [email protected] / Ujai ZAINAN : +62 813 9600 0571

Read what others have to say about Garden Inn and Restaurant in Bukit Lawang

Riverside Guesthouse:

This is another place we stayed in mid-Jan. Super clean for jungle standards, with a hot water shower and decent water pressure. Friendly and helpful staff.

Contact: [email protected] / +62 813 9684 3235

Berastagi

Indonesia with Children, Sumatra with kids, Berastagi with kids. Berastagi family homestay

Berastagi Nachelle Homestay

This was a homestay situation, which we recommend when visiting Sumatra with kids. We had a bedroom essentially on the roof of a family’s 3-story house (no elevator), and we went downstairs to use the bathroom or brush our teeth. It was like staying at your relative’s house.

There was no “guest” bathroom or kitchen — it was just their house with their personal belongings: their toothbrushes next to the sink and their kitchen utensils next to the stove. The owners’ father hung out in the living room. It felt awkward at first, but then we felt right at home.

We stayed here 3 nights, right when Mery, our host, gave birth to her second child. Her husband Abdy was our guide for the Sibayak volcano morning hike (as in 4:20am). Abdy speaks English and French and was really fun and personable, and great with our kids. I recommend him without reservation.

Contact: [email protected]gmail.com / +61 813 6242 9977 or +62 821 6275 7658 / WhatsApp : +62 821 6538 2957

If you prefer to stay at a hotel, there are some hotels in Berastagi, although choice might be limited.

Medan

JW Marriott Hotel Medan

This might be the cheapest 5-star hotel in the world. Before or after your jungle adventure, complete with cold showers, hard mattresses, and the occasional power outage, this hotel (fluffy beds, infinity pool, breakfast buffet) might be just what the doctor ordered. Some of our friends stayed here and loved it.

Check Availability: JW Marriott Hotel Medan at Booking.com

Compare Price: JW Marriott Hotel Medan at HotelsCombined

Read: What others say about JW Marriott Hotel Medan

Grand Aston City Hall Hotel & Serviced Residences

This Medan hotel is located across from Merdeka Walk where you can find a variety of food and entertainment. They also have a pool and breakfast buffet. Less than a 10-min walk from the train station and Center Point shopping mall.

Check Availability: Grand Aston City Hall Hotel & Serviced Residences at Booking.com

Compare Price: Grand Aston City Hall Hotel & Serviced Residences at HotelsCombined

Read: What others say about Grand Aston City Hall Hotel & Serviced Residences

d’primahotel Medan

If you’re going to Sumatra with kids and heading through Medan on a budget, this is our recommendation. By the time we return to Medan, we just want a quick feed, some sleep and then go to the airport straight away.

For this, d’primahotel delivered both times we stayed with them. This is a good, clean budget hotel that’s connected to the train station by a glassed-in walkway, and only a short walk to Center Point Mall where there are heaps of restaurants. Hotel breakfast vouchers are for a coffee and croissant at the Starbucks right next to the train ticketing counter.

We had a nice comfortable rest here, but we’ve heard some talk about loud train noise overnight (remember that it’s literally attached to the station). Ask for rooms facing the city side. That’s where our rooms were facing, and there was some faint traffic noise, but not too bad.

Check Availability: d’primahotel Medan at Booking.com

Check Availability: d’primahotel Medan at Agoda

Compare Price: d’primahotel Medan at HotelsCombined

Read: What others say about d’primahotel Medan

CONCLUSION: Sumatra with Kids

We found traveling in Sumatra with kids to be immensely rewarding. This is one place that I really want to return to, as well as spending more time in Indonesia with the kids in general. Sumatra and the other islands that make up Indonesia offer so much for traveling families. Have you been to Sumatra with kids? What was your children’s favorite? Tell me about your experience in the comments below or contact me if I have missed anything. We would love to hear from you.

Further Reading

Indonesia with Children, Sumatra with kids,

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. This means, at no extra cost to you, we might receive a small commission if you make a purchase or book using those links. My opinions are my own and I only recommend places & services that I believe will genuinely help your travel.

Photo credits: #3

Comments

  1. There are lots of great activities for kids in western/central Sumatra as well! Besides the area around Bukittinggi and the Harau Valley, south of Padang there are some beautiful beaches and islands around the Bungus/Mandeh region. If you’re looking for more jungle trekking, wildlife spotting, and cultural-immersion activities in a high-elevation area with much cooler temperatures than Bukit Lawang, consider the Kerinci valley. Temperatures in the forest are usually around 25°C during the day, and down to 18°C at night, give or take.

  2. Hi guys.. you are rocking. I love your travelling post its very amazing. I love outdoors hiking and nature thank you for sharing your blog it really nice.

  3. Kathryn Johnson says:

    Hi

    We are planning a Sumatra trip next year. Are you able to give me a rough estimate of travel/accommodation costs for the places you have been
    Thanks

    • Hi Kathryn,
      Travel/Accommodation costs change all the time. It’s best for you to contact directly to several hotels or guides in the area to compare on-going prices. Hope you have as much fun as we had in Sumatra. We had a great experience with Jungle Inn, but they might be on the pricey side of their area. Use them as a gauge.

  4. Morten Jon Andersen says:

    Hey Jason. Thanks for your guide. We’re taking our two kids age 4 and 1 around the world from april 2018. Our first stop is Malaysia and probably Sumatra. Would you have any reservations doing a tour like the one here with a 1 yr old (we have a baby carrier that she goes in all the time) and our eldest is aldready doing 2 mile hikes at the age of 3. Thanks in advance. Morten, Denmark.

    • H Morten! I think a lot of our recommendations could be done with a baby carrier and a 4-year-old who is used to hiking. That said, I would not recommend the jungle trekking we did, nor the bat cave. Both are great experiences, but the terrain is very tricky for little kids. There are places where you can lose your balance, and other places where we were really climbing instead of hiking: holding onto vines and roots, etc. I would not have taken my kids on those hikes at 1 and 4. However, I think that many other things are completely doable: Mt. Sibayak, Supiso Piso falls, the hot spring breakfast, and of course just spending time in Bukit Lawang. There may be lighter trekking available, but I would consider the one we did to be occasionally too treacherous for little ones. Let us know how it goes!

  5. Thanks Jason, but it looks like Sumatra will have to wait for our next trip. This summer we’re heading up into the highlands of southwestern China to volunteer and maybe go on some treks at the Khampa Nomad Ecolodge. It’s at 12K’+, so should be cool enough for DW.

  6. Looking for something to do with our eight year old daughter in July and August. Trekking in Sumatra sounds like fun to me. Do you think late summer would be a good time to go, weather wise? My wife kind of wants to go somewhere higher elevation, maybe cooler than Hoi An, where we are now. Any suggestions?

    • We loved trekking in Sumatra but I wouldn’t say that it was cooler than Hoi An. It’s pretty hot and muggy, but with a nice river & waterfalls to cool off in. The only cooler place we went in Sumatra was to the top of the volcano, and it was downright cold there. It rained a lot when we went to Bukit Lawang in January, but not as much in early-mid summer. As for other locations in SEA that are cooler, I would suggest Dalat (VN) the Cameron Highlands (MY)

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