What could be more exciting than summiting one of Sumatra's meanest and most challenging volcanoes? Gunung Sinabung juts to 8,071 feet above the green Karo Highlands of Sumatra; the views from the peak are amazing.
Getting to the top of Gunung Sinabung requires hiking through dense forest, negotiating the steep trail, then a final scramble up a jagged lava field.
After 400 years of dormancy, Gunung Sinabung surprised geologists with an eruption in 2010. Serious hikers can still tackle this famous, news-worthy volcano for beautiful rewards.
Climbing Gunung Sinabung
Unlike neighboring Gunung Sibayak, climbing Gunung Sinabung requires a knowledgeable guide. Although there is only one regular route up the volcano, unexpected weather and thick clouds have caused hikers to become hopelessly lost -- some have even perished.
- Read these hiking safety tips before you go.
You will undoubtedly be approached by guides at some point while in Berastagi. Guides typically cost around $20 per hiker; team up with a group to negotiate a better price. A permit to climb Gunung Sinabung costs only 30 cents.
An early start is essential; plan on around 10 hours to reach the peak of Gunung Sinabung and return back to Berastagi. The views are better in the morning before afternoon clouds move in.
- Read more about trekking active volcanoes in Indonesia.
- Mosquitoes are a major nuisance in the dense forest around the volcano -- read about how to protect yourself from mosquitoes.
- Gunung Sinabung is scorchingly close to the equator -- read about sun protection in Southeast Asia.
- Summiting the volcano requires some scrambling on sharp, volcanic rocks. Do your feet a favor: wear proper shoes!
- Plan on the unexpected; carry additional water, bring a flashlight and pack wet-weather gear in case the sunshine disappears.
Berastagi and Gunung Sibayak
Gunung Sinabung is accessed through the traveler's town of Berastagi. While the town is slightly ramshackle, it does serve as a good base for climbing the two volcanoes and organizing hikes through the Gunung Leuser National Park.
- Read this travel guide for Berastagi.
Although not nearly as menacing, nearby Gunung Sibayak can be utilized as a nice trekking warm-up a day or two before you climb Gunung Sinabung. Hiking Gunung Sibayak takes around three hours and does not require a guide.
- Read more about trekking Gunung Sibayak.
The 2010 Eruptions
After remaining dormant for more than 400 years, Gunung Sinabung unexpectedly erupted on August 29, 2010. Nearly 30,000 people were evacuated from surrounding villages, but many were allowed to return home only two days later. Geologists were barely paying attention to Gunung Sinabung until the eruption.
Gunung Sinabung erupted again on September 3, 2010, this time much more violently. Despite massive amounts of ash spewed into the air, and multiple earthquakes, the eruption did not claim any lives. The volcano has been upgraded in status and is now closely monitored by geologists.
Getting to Gunung Sinabung
Gunung Sinabung is located in the Karo Highlands of North Sumatra, around two and a half hours from Medan -- Indonesia's third-largest city. The small town of Berastagi serves as the usual base for trekking both Gunung Sinabung and Gunung Sibayak.
Public buses depart every 30 minutes until 6 p.m. from the Pinang Baris bus terminal, six miles west of Medan. Alternatively, you can hire a private car or book a tourist minivan to Berastagi; make arrangements through your accommodation.