A mere 1 hour flight from KL, Indonesia’s fourth largest city might not strike you as a destination for adventure lovers, but with some careful planning and travel, Medan makes an excellent base for these stunning natural attractions.
Bursting from beneath the fertile Karo plain, the updraft from Sipiso-piso’s 120 meter plunge is enough to knock you side ways. Little wonder it’s named “the knives” in Bahasa Indonesia for the the cold sharp stabbing pain you experience when its waters hits your skin. For the full experience, and surprise views of Lake Toba, make your way 30 minutes down the stairs to its base. Just be sure to bring a rain jacket and waterproof your camera and phone. 2 hours from Medan.
Since 2013, its been impossible to climb the active Gunung Sinabung in North Sumatra. Closed to hikers due to heightened volcanic activity, when it was open this arduous hike to the 2640 meter peak would take around 5 hours. Starting at Danau Lau Kawar, a scenic crater lake, the trail leads through the jungle, up steep rocky terrain towards the peaks (there are two) where you can view multiple craters and fumaroles spewing volcanic gases. 2 1/2 hours from Medan.
Located a mere 15 kilometres from Sinabung, Gunung Sibayak has a lot going for it. It’s incredibly accessible, quick and easy to hike up (depending on your route) and once you’re at the top the payoff is phenomenal. Although Sibayak’s last eruption was a century ago, there are plenty of signs of geothermal activity and once at its peak you’ll be treated to an otherworldly view of Sibayak’s crater, and nearby Gunung Sinabung. 3 hours from Medan.
It’s hard to imagine such beauty emerging from an event so cataclysmic. Formed after a devastatingly violent supervolcano erupted approximately 700,000 years ago, Danau Toba is the massive water-filled caldera that formed in its wake. Grand in scale and deceivingly placid, the world’s largest volcanic lake spans 100 kilometres, sinks to depth of 500 meters and is surrounded by fertile farmlands and scenic pine forests. Breathtaking doesn’t even cover it. 2 hours from Medan to the northern tip of the lake.
Hidden within the tiny hamlet of Desa Namu Ukur just outside of Binjai, Kolam Abadi is a beguiling crystal clear river secreted in a fern-covered canyon paradise. Getting there involves hiking through small rubber (or karet, as locals call it) plantations and crossing bamboo bridges. After testing the refreshingly cool waters in a calm sandy-bottomed pool expect 2 hours of body rafting as you float downstream on your back over small cascades. 1 1/2 hours from Medan.
Air Terjun Tongkat and Air Terjun Teroh-Teroh
Located in the same vicinity as Kolam Abadi, a visit to Air Terjun Tongkat and Teroh-Teroh bookends a day of body rafting down Abadi River. Not a journey for those with a fear of heights, getting to Air Terjun Tongkat (Walking Stick Falls) involves climbing down a series of bamboo ladders 4 storeys high, but once there the relentless power of this single thunderous falls is all yours to enjoy.
After checking yourself for bruises and scrapes, the final watery wonder at the end of an exhilarating ride down Abadi’s meandering river Air Terjun Teroh-Teroh. Accessible via a short series of stairs carved into the hill, streams of bracingly cold water pour from every which way into an astonishingly clear pool. Whether you choose to brave the chill or sit it out perched on one of the fallen logs conveniently wedged there, the experience will be unforgettable. 1 1/2 hours from Medan.
Air Terjun Sibolangit
Also known as Air Terjun Dua Warna for its twin combo of cool blue and warm milky grey waters, Air Terjun Sibolangit is pure tropical fantasy. The high phosphorus and sulphur content in the water is what gives its pool its amazing day glow hue. Tumbling from lush verges up to 75 meters high, that because its source can be traced to the volcanic Gunung Sibayak. A 2 to 3 hours trek through the forest (with stream crossings) will get you there. Despite this, the falls are busy on weekends, so come on a weekday and check the weather as flash floods can occur. 1 to 2 hours from Medan.
Kawah Putih Tinggi Rajah
Unlike the magical snowy white travertines of Pamukkale Turkey, which Kawah Putih Tinggi Rajah is often compared to, North Sumatra’s limestone fascination remains an undiscovered gem. Much of this is due to its lack of infrastructure and its over-enthusiastic local entrepreneurs. Nevertheless pain and patience is duly rewarded, and after a bone-jarring 4 wheel ride, you’ll be assailed with visions of shimmering terraces, vivid aquamarine pools, and where the cool river and thermal springs collide, a well deserved dip. 3 to 4 hours from Medan.
If you love durians then consider this natural wonder a mouthwatering bonus. Rightly labelled the durian capital of Indonesia, Medan serves up these opinion dividing fruits to adventurous gourmands all year round. That might seem a bitter pill to swallow for Malaysians, as our durians are seasonal, but seeing is believing. And given Sumatra’s size, varied topography and the presence of numerous microclimates, it really isn’t that far fetched to imagine these luscious creamy fruits coming into season somewhere on the island.