This entry should have been written and posted eons ago, but it took me until now to finally have the chance to publish it.
I did this solo trip to Berastagi, Medan about a year ago and it was a spontaneous one that took place over the course of just two days. Surprisingly, it turned out to be one of the most enjoyable trips I’ve had despite my very short stay there.
If you don’t know, Berastagi is akin to Malaysia’s Genting Highlands or Cameran Highlands, sitting at an altitude of 1,300m in the super picturesque Karo highlands of Nothern Sumatera. That also means it has cool temperatures all around the year, especially during the rainy season.
It’s about 3 hours away from the Medan Kualanamu Airport by car. But if you travel in the day, the trip may be cut short as heavy transports are prohibited from going up the highlands during daytime.
Below I put together 10 amazing things you must do when visiting Berastagi.
1. Hike the famous Mount Sibayak
Unfortunately I didn’t get to hike Mount Sibayak while I was there due to bad weather, but in return I was blessed with the opportunity to see an awesome site, which I’m going to talk about later.
I was supposed to be hiking it early next morning after my arrival in Berastagi, but it was drizzling throughout the night and Mary, the wife of Abdy who runs the guest house I was staying at – called the Nachelle Homestay – advised me against hiking it due to safety reason.
Given another chance to visit Berastagi I would so gracefully put this back on my itinerary.
The reason why Mount Sibayak remains one of the top mountains in Indonesia is because it’s an active volcano, though I read the last time it erupted was dated back to a century ago. It produces crystalline sulphur (hence the formation of yellow sulphur stones) and hot springs around the mountain, which makes it characteristically distinct and one of a kind.
On top of that, the mountain top overlooks the beautiful town of Berastagi.
These beautiful photos have to be fetched from Nachelle Homestay’s Facebook page as I didn’t get to visit this site. Abdy always takes awesome photos by the way.
2. Catch Mount Sinabung erupt
If you’re lucky, that is.
Situated not far away from Mount Sibayak, Mount Sinabung has experienced several eruptions in the recent years, including ones in August 2010, September and November 2013, January, February, and October 2014, as well as the latest one on 3 January 2015.
In the photos below, also taken from Nachelle Homestay’s FB page, you can see ash being spewed thousands of meters into the sky as the volcano erupts.
I believe Abdy took these photos from the top of his guest house (it’s a four-storey building if I remember correctly) and trust me, it has an amazing view of Mount Sinabung and its surrounding!
3. Climb Gundaling Hill
If you don’t feel like hiking a mountain, and want a relatively more relaxing “adventure”, then this hill is for you. The Gundaling Hill is situated within the vicinity of the Berastagi town and the site is accessible by angkot (mini passenger van) or foot.
It took me about an hour to reach the top. But the reason why it took me this long was because I kept stopping along the way to enjoy the view and take some photos. I also visited a few churches and viharas (Buddhist temples) at the foothill.
At the top of the Gundaling Hill is a recreational park with covered tents conveniently available for rental if you want a picnic. The downside is that there are mosquitoes and other insects, so bringing some insect repellent would help.
I texted my father from atop the Gundaling Hill and told him if I had more time, I wouldn’t mind napping there for two hours. I was feeling utmostly relaxed and at peace.
The Gundaling Hill overlooks the picturesque Mount Sinabung and its surrounding. If you manage to catch this active volcano erupt before your eyes, I’m sure the view will be a spectacular and unforgettable one.
4. Ride a horse at the foot of Gundaling Hill
I can’t remember how much this cost, but it wasn’t that expensive. It was definitely an experience for someone like me who had never ridden a horse before.
5. Visit ‘Taman Alam Lumbini’
Taman Alam Lumbini, or the Lumbnini Gardens houses what people call as the “Shwedagon Pagoda Replica” or “Burmese temple” because it is a Buddhist temple with a structure and design that resemble very much those of Yangon‘s famous Shwedagon Pagoda.
At first I thought it was a Theravada temple due to its architecture, but I was surprised that upon entering the building, it had statues and other items which I would usually see in a Mahayana temple. Yet surrounding the temple were rows of Tibetan-style prayer wheels.
Such a unique blend indeed!
If you are curious how I got there, I took an angkot from Berastagi town centre, with the journey taking less than fifteen minutes. Once the driver drops you near the site, just ask around for directions to the temple since you can’t see it directly from the outside.
There is a beautiful park/garden next to the temple where one can take a stroll. It’s definitely worth checking it out.
6. Visit Sipiso-piso Waterfall
I might not have the chance to hike Mount Sibayak, but fate brought me to this amazing waterfall about 45m away from Berastagi.
I took an angkot from Berastagi to Kabanjahe, then from Kabanjahe to Siantar and ask to get off at this waterfall called Sipiso-Piso. Being one of the tallest waterfalls in Southeast Asia, Sipiso-piso really did not disappoint one bit.
At Sipiso-piso, I was blown away by the magnificent view with the stream of water from the upper land – called the Karo Plateau – plunging some 120m down the waterfall.
Because it was drizzling and cold when I arrived, a patch of fog was formed around Sipiso-piso, thereby creating a mysterious yet phenomenal scene.
Take a look at the difference it made after the drizzle was over:
7. Visit Lake Toba
Connected to gorge downstream of Sipiso-piso is none other than the famous yet equally beautiful – if not more beautiful – Lake Toba. Unfortunately I didn’t have the luxury of time to get down to the caldera area of the lake but I heard it’s just an hour’s walk from the foot of Sipiso-piso.
8. Travel by ‘angkot’ (mini van)
Because why not? You get to interact with the locals and experience the way they live their daily lives. And the fare is also very cheap.
9. Fly a kite at Bukit Kubu
10. Visit St. Fransiskus Asisi Catholic Church
The majority of people in Berastagi are known as “Karo’s”, who are mostly Christians. On a Sunday morning while I was there, parents and kids alike were all well dressed up for and attending Sunday Masses. They were such a devoted lot!
At the side of the St. Fransiskus Asisi Church was a hut-like building. When asked what it was for, one of the boys there told me it was a dwelling for the pastor.