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From the air, Sumatra Barat (West Sumatra) looks as though a giant has plunged their hands into the equator, thrown it high into the air, and let it rain back down to earth. Fertile uplands ring jungle-clad volcanoes, waterfalls cascade into deep ravines and nature takes a breath in deep, silent lakes. Rainforest still clings to the steepest slopes, while rice, tapioca, cinnamon and coffee bring in the wealth.
This is the heartland of the matriarchal Minangkabau, an intelligent, culturally rich and politically savvy people who have successfully exported their culture, language, cuisine and beliefs throughout Indonesia. Their unique buffalo-horned architecture dominates the cities and villages.
Hot, bustling Padang on the Indian Ocean is the gateway and provincial capital, though most tourists head straight for scenic Bukittinggi in the highlands. Surfers and trekkers flock to the perfect breaks and tribal culture of the Mentawai Islands, while nature lovers explore Sumatra’s largest national park in Kerinci, just across the border in Jambi province. Danau Maninjau remains the stunning, forgotten jewel in the crown, and the beautiful Harau Valley is definitely worth a Sumatran detour.