Located just two and a half hours from the sprawling urban chaos of Medan, Berastagi is a calmer escape from Indonesia's third-largest city. Two volcanoes worth trekking, hot springs, waterfalls, and a national park attract backpackers and travelers wishing to trade scorching concrete for cleaner air. Although not a particularly attractive town, Berastagi functions well as a base for exploring the surrounding attractions.
Dutch traders colonized Berastagi in the early 1900s. Although tourism has made Berastagi relatively wealthy, the surrounding Karo Highlands in North Sumatra still suffer from isolation-induced poverty.
Getting Oriented in Berastagi
Berastagi is small enough to navigate on foot. Jalan Veteran, the one main street, has practically everything that a traveler needs. Minibuses usually stop right on the main drag in front of the market, which doubles as the town's only bus terminal.
- Food: Berastagi is famous for fresh vegetables and the locally grown passion fruit. Ikan Bakar, baked fish, is popular around town as are the Chinese food eateries on Jalan Veteran. Nasi goreng is never hard to find. Learn more about delicious food in Indonesia.
- Internet: The internet is painfully slow in Berastagi. Some guesthouses offer access as well as an internet cafe in the north part of town.
- ATM: The BNI bank on Jalan Veteran has an ATM, however bring sufficient cash from Medan in case it is broken.
- Tourist Information: Free maps and trekking advice can be had at the tourist information center located in the north of town on Jalan Gundaling. Closed Sundays, the office is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Accommodation in Berastagi
A wide range of guesthouses exist in Berastagi ranging from those with shared bathrooms without running water to resort hotels. Most budget hotels can arrange trekking, transportation, and village tours for cheaper than the official tourist information office.
Guesthouses with better views of the volcanoes cost slightly more. Expect to pay more for hot water; evenings in the highlands can get cooler than expected. Theft has been a problem in some budget hotels - avoid leaving valuables in your room.
Read about how to avoid bedbugs in Southeast Asia.
- Sibayak Multinational Rest House: Located on Jalan Pendidikan, the same road as Gunung Sibayak, this guesthouse is popular with volcano trekkers for obvious reasons. All rooms feature Western-style bathrooms and hot water.
- Elshaddal Hotel: Despite having only shared bathrooms, the rooftop patio and great prices keep backpackers coming back to this guesthouse. Find Elshaddal Hotel north of the monument on the main road.
- Sinabung Resort Hotel: Probably the most luxurious accommodation option in Berastagi, the Sinabung Resort Hotel has a heated swimming pool, salon, health center, tennis courts, and a host of other amenities that attract higher-budget travelers.
Trekking Gunung Sibayak
Gunung Sibayak is a popular volcano climb located just outside of Berastagi. The trail begins just a 10-minute walk northwest of town and can be accomplished easily without a guide. The summit requires around three hours for fit hikers; spectacular views of the Karo Highlands await. The hot springs in Semangat Gunung - at the base of the volcano - is a relaxing way to end a hard day of trekking.
Many people spend only enough time in Berastagi to summit Gunung Sibayak and miss the rare opportunity to visit local villages outside of town. The Karo people are a shy, friendly ethnic group indigenous to North Sumatra. Their traditional, thatched longhouses have become an attraction outside of Berastagi. Although tourism has impacted the way the Karo people live, visiting one of their tiny communities is still a learning experience.
Although dotted throughout the surrounding highlands, three traditional Karo villages south of Berastagi make a pleasant afternoon trip. In the opposite direction, Peceren - the closest Karo village - is only two kilometers north of Berastagi. The larger and more touristy village of Lingga has traditional dwellings mixed with modern buildings. Tours can be arranged through your accommodation, or you can make your own way to some of the villages by using a map. Ask for the rumah adat (custom houses) when stopping for directions.
Getting to Berastagi
Berastagi is located approximately two and a half hours from Medan. Public buses leave from the Pinang Baris bus terminal - six miles west of Medan - every 30 minutes until 6 p.m. The one-way fare costs around $1.75. While frequent, the small buses between Medan and Berastagi are hot and overcrowded - some passengers often end up riding on the roof! For slightly more comfort, private cars and tourist minivans to Berastagi can be hired through travel agencies or your accommodation.
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