Sumatra is the fifth largest island in the world and the third largest in Indonesia. It borders the Indian Ocean to the west and Malaysia to the east, separated from the Malay peninsula by the Malacca strait. Area is about 425.000 square kilometers. Population is about 40 million.
A volcanic chain of mountains, Bukit Barisan, stretches from the south to the northwest part of the island so most people on the West Coast live in the highlands. Highest mountain on the island is Gunung Kerinci with altitude of 3,805 m. There are about 90 volcanoes on Sumatra, of which 15 are still active. The volcanic ash here is mostly acid, and does not help to improve the farmland, unlike on Java and Bali. There are a few exceptions, like the area around Bukittinggi where the soil is very fertile.
As the equator line crosses the center of the island, the climate is tropical. The average temperature is between 25 to 27 degrees Celsius, along the coast the day temperature almost never drops below 30 degrees. Fortunately for the traveler most of the attractions are located in the highlands, where the nights can be rather cool. The best time to visit Sumatra is during the dry season between May and September. Time of the wet season can vary a lot, usually with January as the wettest month.
FLORA AND FAUNA
Large parts of the island are still covered by rain forest, and the wildlife is rich and diverse. Some of the animals living in Sumatra are elephants, orangutans, tigers, and elephants. Unfortunately some species are highly endangered, much due to loss of habitat caused by the increased deforesting. Large areas are now made into national parks and reserves, and programs like rehabilitation of illegally captured orangutans give some results. The most popular parks are Gunung Leuser to the north and Kerinci Seblat south of Padang.
Sumatra is home to the worlds largest (and smelliest) flower: the Rafflesia. This only blooms about every 20 years and is said to smell like rotten flesh. Sumatra is one of a few places this can be found in the nature, it grows in small pockets all over the Barisan mountains, close to Bukittinggi.
PEOPLE AND RELIGION
Sumatra have a population of about 40 million. Islam first came here and to the rest of South East Asia late in the 13th century, at first to the north east coast were one of the first cities that converted to Islam was Samudra. This name was later given to the entire island, Samudra means “ocean” in Sanskrit. This part of Sumatra was from the 16th century called the Sultanate of Aceh, an area today known for its strong independence movement and maybe the region in Indonesia were Islam has the strongest position.
Much of Sumatra’s population today descends from Malay people, the largest ethnic groups are Acehnese, Batak, Minangkabau, Gayo and some other, smaller indigenous groups. In the big cities there are also large groups of Chinese, Arabs and Indians.
TOURISM IN SUMATRA
Sumatra is rapidly becoming one of Indonesia’s most popular tourist destinations, and the facilities for visitors have improved in recent years. For those who want to experience something different and unspoiled there are still possibilities on this huge and diverse island. The local population is friendly towards tourists but local customs should be respected. Women should wear clothes that cover them reasonably, especially in the Aceh province. It is advised to wear t-shit / short when swimming instead of bikinis.