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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.

Today weekending Medan folk and foreign visitors alike sigh a crisp, clear breath of relief when they arrive in this quaint agricultural escape situated high among Sumatra’s steaming volcanoes. The town itself, a concrete jungle set amid beautiful surrounds, is not overly pretty, but it’s an agricultural trade centre and its markets are always humming with activity. On Sundays, the largely Christian community takes the babies and Bibles out for worship.

Beyond the town are the green fields of the Karo Highlands, dominated by two volcanoes: Gunung Sinabung to the west and the smoking Gunung Sibayak to the north. You won’t find lava in either Sibayak or Sinabung, but each still has the feel of everything you hoped to experience from an active volcano, with steamy gases gushing from the fumaroles like a mad scientist’s laboratory. 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 here.

Berastagi is at an altitude of 1300m, and the climate is deliciously cool, sometimes even cold.

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