Berastagi, Karo Highlands, Sumatra
Gunung Sibayak (2,212m - 7,257ft)
Berastagi meaning 'rice store' is a town in the Karo Highlands of north Sumatra also known as Tanah Karo or Karo Land and is pretty much the rice bowl of the area with vast fertile lands created by the two Volcanoes of Gunung (mount) Sibayak and Gunung Sinabung many years ago.
The dominant ethnic and linguistic group is Karo Batak and the language in use along with Bahasa Indonesia is Karonese.
Berastagi Town as seen from Gundaling Hill
Situated at 1400m above sea level the climate is perfect, neither too hot or too cold. From Indonesia's third largest city Medan it is only a 2 hour journey by road to reach this beautiful hill station. Tourists are a bit thin on the ground compared with the high numbers that used to pass through in the 1990's and Berastagi has grown not only with the size of the town but also the population and the high street sees much more traffic than it used to back then. Nevertheless Berastagi is still an exceptional place to visit with the amount of attractions near by especially for the nature lover.
Sikulikap falls is a 30m high gushing torrent of a waterfall and can be found about 20mins drive back down the road that goes to Medan. It is extremely ill signed to say the least, in fact there is no sign at all. Some people are aware of it and others not. It is situated at the warungs or stores beside the road that sell Jagung or sweetcorn. There are many lined up beside the road on the incline and at the base of the incline where the last or first warung depending how you approach is a small bridge and gate, look closely and you will see signs through the foliage of some old steps, follow them through the jungle and after 15mins you will arrive at the falls. You may be able to hear the gibbons hooting amongst the trees and look out for the scavanging macaques!
Gonsol Village with great views of Gunung Sibayak
A good place to view Mount Sibayak one of the main attractions of Berastagi is behind Gundaling hill which is a stones throw away from the town centre, the first village you will come across is Gonsol a very pretty place with well maintained gardens and local houses.
Trekking to the Crater of Gunung Sibayak
The final approach to Gunung Sibayak
Gunung Sibayak a small stratovolcano (inactive at the moment) that overlooks Berastagi. It's roughly a four trip up and down depending on how long you stay at the crater but the weather can be very changeable at certain times of year so that could be a factor. Clouds storm in very suddenly but can evaporate as quickly as they came.
Looking into the crater of Sibayak from the edge
From Berastagi itself you can take a 'Kama' Angkot (minivan) to Pondok Masuk (3000 rupiah) where there is a small cafe, this is where you pay the entrance fee of 1000 rupiah and have a strong Indo coffee to get you going. From here it is a walk thru the forest on an old metalled road for a couple of km then you are off roading, the way gets steeper and you will reach a small plateau where Pertamina used to be based. At this point you have to be careful, if you are on your own without a guide as I was the steps leading you further upward and on the right track are not easily spotted and again there is no signs! I at first headed straight over the plateau and into thick jungle on a small track that looked little used with a lot of unbroken cobwebs with big spiders barring the way. I guess this was unused of late so retraced my steps before it was too late.
The Steps are to be found on your left as you first hit the plateau on the raised ground.
Sibayak sulphur at the crater
It's around two hours to walk up and then you can either walk back down the same way or take the steep route down to the thermal hot springs at the small village of Semangat Gunung. I'd suggest this route although it's a bit tough on the knees. There are steps of some description part of the way but more often than not they are broken and the way can be pretty slippy if the rains have been recently. The earth is clay and in the shade of the tight and narrow jungle path remains sodden for quite some time. The hot springs at the bottom when you get back to civilisation are a welcome treat and cost 5000 rupiah a go. There are quite a few to choose from.
The route down to the hot springs
The second Volcano worth a mention is Gunung Sinabung, it is higher at 2,460m (8,071ft) and some distance away from Berastagi, 2 - 3 hours drive away due to traffic and a dodgy road but you can also see Lake Kawar at the base. The trek takes about 9 hours up and down and a guide for this one seems to be the done thing. If you don't reach it you can have specatacular views from the top of Gundaling Hill which is a short walk from the Monument on Berestagi high street (Jalan Veteran).
Gunung Sinabung as seen in the distance at sunset from Gundaling Hill
Close up Gunung Sinabung at Sunset
Sinabung was an inactive volcano along with Sibayak until august 29th 2010 when she erupted, ash spewed into the atmosphere upto 1.5km high. 30,000 local villagers were evacuated but returned to their homes two days later. Prior to this it had not been active for around 400 years! During early september of the same year it continued to erupt sending smoke 5kms into the air. At present she is stable once more.
Gunung Santubong sits on a fertile plateau in the Karo Highlands