The best time to go to Sumatra

You can see orangutans all year round in Sumatra, but it’s much easier if you skip the annual monsoon season.
Sumatra has a hot and humid tropical climate, with average temperatures sitting at 27-28°C throughout the year. The seasons can be broadly divided into dry and wet. Monsoons between November and March often lead to potholed and unpaved roads becoming inaccessible, while hiking can be miserable during a downpour. The best time to visit Sumatra is either between May and June, or September and October, missing the peak (and hottest) summer months when it can hit 34°C. Medan, and other parts of northern Sumatra, can get rain throughout the year. Orangutans can be seen at any time, but when the trees are in fruit in the autumn months they tend to stick to the forests and so appearances at feeding stations are less regular.

Medan Weather Chart

 
MIN °C
MAX °C
RAIN (mm)
JAN
22
31
121
FEB
22
32
107
MAR
22
32
109
APR
22
33
172
MAY
23
32
188
JUN
22
33
153
JUL
22
32
152
AUG
22
32
196
SEP
22
32
269
OCT
22
32
290
NOV
22
31
257
DEC
22
31
222

Things to do in Sumatra

Things to do in Sumatra…

If you want to see Sumatra’s wildlife close-up, you need to head into the island’s national parks, with Gunung Leuser a popular destination on most itineraries. But you need to get in shape for trekking here, as there can be some steep ascents and descents involved, as well as muddy sections. Walking poles are likely to come in very handy, as are long trousers to protect your legs. Doing some hill walking in the weeks leading up to your trip to build fitness is highly recommended. Sumatra offers superb potential for cultural exploration. On this one island there are some 52 spoken languages, and cities are incredibly diverse – Medan alone has Indian, Malay, Dutch, Chinese and Tamil populations. You can visit Batak villages around Lake Toba and Samosir Island. Meet villagers dressed in colourful handmade garments and learn about tribal law and order, including how cannibalism was once used as a form of punishment. In Berastagi longhouses you might be welcomed in for an Indonesian cookery demonstration from a Karo family. If your trip visits Bukittinggi, home of the Minangkabau people, you might see a traditional puppet dance.

Things not  to do in Sumatra…

You stand an excellent chance of seeing orangutans while trekking in Gunung Leuser National Park, but don’t expect to find Sumatran rhinos or tigers. These shy creatures sadly face extinction through a pincer of poaching and habitat loss. But there’s much more wildlife to be seen in the forests of Sumatra, and of course the big beasts are out there somewhere, so you never know. We advise that you don’t buy any handicrafts made of wood or paper, as illegal logging remains rife. Don’t underestimate the value of local guides. They’ll walk ahead of you in the rainforest to spot orangutan nests and ensure you don’t get lost on your way up Mount Sibayak. But they can also provide you with insights into Sumatran culture and ways of life – far better than anything you could hope to pull out of a book. Nor should you underestimate the unpredictability of Sumatra’s road network. Some roads are good, some are very pothole-y, and they can be big, so that long journeys have the potential to be pretty bumpy and uncomfortable. So don’t forget to bring an inflatable travel cushion – your neck will thank you in the morning.

Our top Sumatra Vacation

Indonesia wildlife vacation, primates and dragons

Indonesia wildlife vacation, primates and dragons

Orangutans, Komodo Dragons & coral reefs

From US $3749 to US $4049 14 days ex flights
Small group travel:
2020: 4 Apr, 13 Jun, 11 Jul, 5 Sep, 26 Sep, 31 Oct
2021: 27 Mar, 22 May, 12 Jun, 26 Jun, 10 Jul, 4 Sep, 25 Sep, 30 Oct
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about Sumatra or need help finding a vacation to suit you we're very happy to help.
Written by Rob Perkins
Photo credits: [Page banner: Denys Kutsevalov] [Intro: Greg Hume] [Things to do in Sumatra: Nomo]
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