With over 120 active volcanoes fuming around Indonesia, Gunung Sibayak in Northern Sumatra is perhaps one of of most popular to climb. The summit of Gunung Sibayak rises to 6,870 feet, providing excellent views of Berastagi and the surrounding countryside. Gunung Sibayak has been attracting adventurous travelers since Dutch traders first settled the area in the early 1900s.
Although Gunung Sibayak has been quiet for the last century, new steam vents and seismic activity indicate that the volcano is merely taking a break between eruptions.
Trekking Gunung Sibayak
Guides are available around Berastagi for between $15 - $20, however climbing Gunung Sibayak can be done independently. Always team up with other trekkers, never hike alone. Unexpected weather changes and loose shale have caused falls - and fatalities - in the past.
The easiest and most popular trail for trekking up Gunung Sibayak starts about 10 minutes northwest of Berastagi just past the Sibayak Multinational Guesthouse; anyone in the vicinity can give directions. Reaching Gunung Sibayak's summit via the easiest trail takes around three hours; the one-way hike is around four and a half miles.
Another option for summiting Gunung Sibayak is to take a bemo minibus to the hot springs at Semangat Gunung. The trail from the hot springs starts a little closer to the volcano. Although only a two-hour walk, the trail is extremely steep and has its share of leg-burning stairs. Many people choose to make a circuit of the trip, beginning in Berastagi and finishing with a dip in the hot springs before catching a ride back to town.
Trekking from Air Terjun Panorama
Travelers wanting to intensify the relatively easy trek to Gunung Sibayak can begin at Air Terjun Panorama - a waterfall around three miles outside of Berastagi. Starting the trek here requires at least five hours to the summit, including a sweltering hike through the dense jungle. The trail is not easy to follow; a local guide is required.
Although relatively straightforward, trekkers have actually perished while climbing Gunung Sibayak. The weather, affected by volcanoes in the area, can turn cool and misty with very little notice. Proper trekking shoes are definitely required rather than the usual flip-flops. Start early, carry additional water, and always hike with a friend; volcano treks can produce dire outcomes when Murphy's Law hits!
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The small, touristy town of Berastagi is a popular retreat for local day-trippers on weekends and also for tourists wanting to get out of Medan. Berastagi's natural attractions make the town popular with backpackers on their way to Lake Toba, where there are many things to do. Comprised of only two main streets, Berastagi serves as the usual base for climbing both Gunung Sibayak and Gunung Sinabung.
Aside from tourism, Berastagi is famous for locally grown fruit, particularly the passion fruit.
Climbing Gunung Sinabung
Visiting Berastagi provides a great two-for-one deal for trekkers serious about their volcano itinerary. Although often hidden by clouds, nearby Gunung Sinabung rises to 8,038 feet and provides more of a challenge than Gunung Sibayak. Getting to the summit of Gunung Sinabung requires a guide and at least a 10-hour return trek.
- Read about other volcanoes in Indonesia that can be climbed.
Getting to Gunung Sibayak
Gunung Sibayak is located just north of Berastagi, around two and a half hours outside of Medan in Sumatra. Begin by taking a bus from the Pinang Baris bus terminal - located six miles west of Medan - to Berastagi. Buses leave approximately every 30 minutes between 5:30 a.m. and 6 p.m. A one-way ticket cost $1.75; the journey takes two and a half hours.
Despite the frequency, public buses between Medan and Berastagi can be hot, crowded affairs - sometimes with people even riding on the roof! Alternatively, tourists minibusses which are slightly more comfortable - and expensive - can be booked through travel agencies or your accommodation.
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When to Go
Gunung Sibayak is best enjoyed during Sumatra's dry season between June and August. If possible, plan your volcano climb for a weekday; Berastagi becomes particularly busy on weekends during the peak season.