Escape the heat
Nestled in the Karo Highands, surrounding by sprawling vegetable farms and lying under the shadow of Gunung Sibayak and with the stunning Gunung Sinabung in the distance, Berastagi tempts travellers in North Sumatra with its cooler climate and beautiful agricultural scenery.
Browse hotels in Berastagi on Agoda
Located roughly midway along the more circuitous route between Medan and Lake Toba, Berastagi has long been an occasional traveller pitstop, popular with those who would like a relatively easy to climb volcano (Gunung Sibayuk) or to see the spectacular Gunung Sinabung, or who have simply had enough of the steaming lowlands of North Sumatra.
While the accommodation, particularly at the budget end of the stick, is no great shakes, the good food, easy to explore town, and friendly locals more than compensate. Aside from the two volcanoes, the town has an excellent museum focussed on the Karo people, some hot springs, and, while we didn’t try it, jungle trekking. We’d say one or two nights should be sufficient unless you are planning on some extensive wandering in the woods.
Aided by the weather and very fertile soil, the town is surrounded by vegetable farms (the giant cabbage monument on the main road for one honours them) Berastagi is far more farmer market than tourist town—if you’ve travelled much in Bali don’t be surprised if you find yourself casting your mind to Bali’s highland town, Bedugul. Famous for its fresh produce, you’ll see plenty for sale by the side of the road (OMG so many mandarins), much of it is dispatched across the archipelago or exported overseas.
The town enjoys a cooler climate year round, but otherwise shares the same weather system as the rest of this part of Sumatra—wet roughly between November and March and less wet the rest of the year. Visiting in April, we had heavy rain each afternoon we were there, but the mornings enjoyed plentiful sunshine and bright blue skies. Evenings can get cool (by Indonesian standards) and while you’ll see locals getting around garbed up for a nuclear winter, a long-sleeved top is generally sufficient. Regardless of when you visit, a poncho or umbrella will be a good idea.
Over the weekend seemingly half the population of Medan decamps for the cooler climates and a raucous Saturday night out in Berastagi—avoid weekends if that doesn’t sound much like your scene. This is also the only time you are likely to need a reservation—if even then.
Jalan Veteran is the primary north-south running road along which Berastagi clusters. The area of most interest to travellers is between the northern roundabout and the southern cabbage monument. Both sides of the road are lined with local restaurants, cafes and a few cheap hotels. The market is towards the cabbage monument down a side road to the east. At the northern end, by the roundabout you’ll find the post office, and, just around the corner to the west from there, the Museum Pasaka Karo and, beyond that, the police station. The tourist office is opposite the museum though we didn’t find much in the way of useful assistance there.
Most of the better more affordable accommodation is to the west of Jalan Veteran, up the road that runs by the Museum Pasaka Karo, while more midmarket places are further north, on the road out of town heading towards Medan.
There is a hospital to the south of town on the road to Kabanjahe, but for anything serious we’d recommend heading to Medan.
Despite the regular weekend influx of visitors, the accommodation scene in Berastagi leaves a bit to be desired. The best affordable options we found were a ten minute walk from the main road scattered on the hill on the western side of the main road (follow the road up from the museum). There are more central hotels lining the main road, but they are noisier and while in some cases cheaper, generally they lean towards the dire. If you want something more midrange, look to the smarter digs to the north of town, but these are a longer walk into town and you would benefit from having your own transport.
While earsplittingly close to a mosque, Wisma Sunrise View was our pick of the bunch in Berastagi, with at least three standards of rooms running from 150,000 to 250,000 rupiah per night.
We went with the latter and got a comfy bed and a scaldingly hot shower—oddly no towels though. The very clean room was otherwise of a good size, with a tiled floor, comfortable bed, a table setting within and a couple of chairs on the terrace. The views from the shared terrace, out and across town, are excellent and ask for an upstairs room to enjoy the absolute best of the views. Facilities include free WiFi and the English speaking owner can arrange all manner of tours and activities—many of which are detailed on the wall on the way to the rooms. If full, try Kaesa Homestay which sits right nextdoor.
# Jl Sekolah, Berastagi.
T: (0813) 7645 5825
Run by the affable Smiley and his wife Cecilia, Smiley’s Homestay overflows with authentic charm and hospitality.
The accommodation comes in the form of a single dorm with three double mattresses on the floor—ideal perhaps for families, but individual travellers will certainly get to know their room mates very well. There is also an outdoor terrace which offers terrific views over town and Cecilia cooks up a mean meal. The rate of 200,000 rupiah for one or two people including breakfast is not the best value in town, but here it is more about the hospitality than the room standards.
Smiley is an excellent, extremely talkative and very experienced guide (he worked with Intrepid Travel as a local guide for years and still does to some capacity). We engaged him for a couple of days guiding around Berastagi with no complaints at all.
Losmen Sibayak Guest House
# Jl Veteran 119, Berastagi
T: (0628) 91 122
If you must, for whatever reason, stay on the main road in Berastagi, than Losmen Sibayak Guest House will do at a pinch.
The rooms are in a building back off the street so are quieter than you would expect given the location, but the room we were shown was really pretty ordinary—we’d recommend spending the extra money and going for Sunrise View up on the rise. The street front building is home to an affiliated travel agency, which can look after all manner of onwards travel and flight ticketing should you need it and the restaurant and bar next door is a civil spot for a juice, icy beer or meal. Rooms do not have WiFi but it is available in the lobby and in the restaurant next door (which would be a more comfortable place to check email anyway). Rooms with cold water go for 100,000 rupiah, 120,000 rupiah with hot water.
Click on the hotel name to open its position in Apple or Google maps.
Simply put, you will not go hungry in Berastagi—the English menus may be few and far between, but there is still plenty of good eating to be had.
Unlike the accommodation, the town is well regarded for its food. Berastagi is known for a Karo speciality, Babi Panggang Karo (look for signs reading BPK), a traditionally roasted pork dish that is served accompanied by a sauce made from pig blood. Don’t confuse it with restaurants bearing signs for B1—that refers to dog—another popular Karo dish.
If your guesthouse doesn’t include breakfast, head to Lavenia Coffee. You’ll find it on the main road, on the east side of the road, a little down from the main roundabout. Start your day with their charcoal toasted bread and a steaming coffee.
Both for breakfast and lunch we did well on the soto front in Berastagi with two excellent bowls along the main road. To the north, a little to the north of Losmen Sibayak, look for Rumah Makan Citra, while on the other side of the road and a little further to the south, Warung Sarapan Muslim was also very good. Both did bowls for 15,000 rupiah. Chinese fare can be enjoyed at Rumah Makan Terang, again, near Losmen Sibayak.
Further north, kitty corner to the post office and museum, Rumah Makan Islam Iyo 24 was another good option and the owner speaks a little English—good coffee too. Another spot for a coffee, run by a friendly English-speaking woman is Warkop Malala, blink and you’ll miss it on your left as you walk down to the market from the main road.
If you’re staying on the hill and could not be asked to walk into town, Warung FB (Family Baru—not Facebook!) is a popular stop for an affordable lunch time or evening meal. The ayam penyet is good, they have an English menu and some staff speak a little English.
Aside from these the downtown street is lined with a solid range of hole in the wall eateries plenty more coffee shops, and, come the evening, a street night market. You will not go hungry in Berastagi.
Click on the restaurant name to open its position in Apple or Google maps.
Lavenia Coffee Jl Veteran, Berastagi
Rumah Makan Citra Jl Veteran, Berastagi. T: (0812) 6339 3386
Rumah Makan Islam Iyo 24 Jl Veteran, by the monument, Berastagi.
Rumah Makan Terang 129 Jl Veteran, Berastagi.
Warkop Malala Laneway to the market, running off Jl Veteran, Berastagi.
Warung FB Jl Perwira Atas, Berastagi
Warung Sarapan Muslim Jl Veteran, Berastagi.
Entry 3km north of Berastagi
Billed as one of Indonesia’s most accessible volcanoes, Gunung Sibayak is a 2,056-metre high volcano which lords it over Berastagi—the town backs right onto its base and you can see it steaming away from many vantage points across the town.
While the peak last erupted in 1881, it remains very active—as you’ll be able to see from the many steaming vents on the climb—and while, by Indonesian standards this is an easy one to climb, people have and continue to die on the peak (there is a list of a dozen fatalities on a yellow signboard at the trailhead), so please take it seriously and exercise care when climbing.
There are two main approaches—one from the rear which takes you up through the jungle and takes around six hours round trip and the far more popular approach which entails walking, or as we did, riding up the road to a car park from where it is just one and half hours to the caldera. Having a guide is not mandatory and most people we saw did not have one, but we’d still lean towards engaging a guide for the climb unless you know what you are doing. We hired a guide from Berastagi for 350,000 rupiah, including all transport and a visit to the hotsprings (see below) afterwards.
From the carpark the trail takes you up through forest, which eventually drops back to rock and mud as the forest clears away. On the way up be sure to look behind you for tremendous views across to Gunung Sinabung (weather permitting). Once you reach the caldera, you’ll see the true summit to your left and a high ridge to the right. The ascent to the true peak is considered dangerous and a number of people have fallen from it we were told, but you can go safely up a fair way, at least to get close to the vents if you want to imagine what it must be like sitting right beside a jet engine.
We skipped going all the way to the summit and instead tracked around the crater to the right and ascending the lower ridge, which was still plenty high enough and offered tremendous views over Berastagi and the surrounding countryside. From here, look back down into the caldera and you’ll see where people have written their names and other mementoes in rubble—depending on the season the caldera may be dry or partly full of water (as it was when we visited). Don’t drink it!
The climb is a very popular weekend activity, both with local and foreign travellers who have popped down to Berastagi for the weekend. Most get going by 8am to have a better chance of clear skies, though people do camp by the caldera or start far earlier to enjoy sunrise. If you plan to climb for dawn we would strongly recommend using a guide.
After finishing on the peak, you can continue on to a series of hot springs where you can soothe your semi-aching limbs in artificial baths that have been built around the springs. Admission is nominal, around 10,000 rupiah. Again these can get very busy on weekends when holiday makers come just to the springs—not even bothering to earn the soak by climbing the peak first. Is you just want to go to the hotsprings, figure on 8,000 rupiah for an angkot one way from Berastagi town.
Around 15km southwest of Berastagi (as the crow flies)
Roughly 15km (as the crow flies) to the southwest of Berastagi, the spectacular Gunung Sinabung is an extremely active volcano which, while as of 2019 was totally off limits for climbing, makes for a worth while half day trip out of town to admire from a distance.
With at least ten eruptions between 2013 and 2019, some of which caused fatalities and led to thousands of people being evacuated to refugee camps, this is one active volcano—our guide in Berastagi described it as being “simply nasty”.
The peak is some 2,460m high, but what makes it truly spectacular are its classic shape and clear evidence of past flows from eruptions—look for the green tree line buttressing the grey flows. The volcano is surrounded by a series of “red zones” where villages have been evacuated and where, depending on the situation, access may be limited. These villages include abandoned churches and houses whose roofs often collapsed from ash—today they’re totally deserted, leaving an eerie ghost town like feeling to them. Surrounded by farms and particularly coffee plantations, the setting is remarkably scenic.
Sinabung is best reached under your own steam of by chartering an angkot to whisk you around. Some enterprising cafes have set up to take advantage of the outlook—a memorable spot for a coffee.
35km south of Berastagi
Located about 35 kilometres south of Berastagi on the edge of Lake Toba, the impressive 120-metre high Sipiso-piso waterfall tumbles out of the surrounding farmland straight into a short river which runs down into Lake Toba.
Extremely popular with weekend domestic travellers, the falls are well worth a stopover and make for a comfortable stop between Berastagi and Lake Toba. There are two primary viewpoints—the upper one and the lower, with the latter reached by descending a set of stairs which are well punishing on the way back up. There are also spots here from where you can enjoy solid views out and over the lake. The carpark is packed with stalls selling tourist tat, so if you’re in the market for an “I Love Sipiso-piso” T-shirt, you’re in the right place.
To reach the falls, catch an angkot from Berstagi to Kabanjahe for 5,000 rupiah. From Kabanjahe, catch either a white Tongging-bound angkot and ask to be dropped off at the waterfall (15,000 rupiah) or one to the turnoff to Sipiso-piso from where you’ll need to improvise to reach the falls.
Immediately north of the centre of Berastagi.
Gundaling is the name of the small hill you can see from many parts of Berastagi where locals go to picnic and canoodle. From the top of the hill there are solid views across the centre of town across to distant mountains, market gardens and towards the recently eruptive Gunung Sinabung.
Many foreign visitors choose to walk to the top of Gundaling from the northern monument in town, though public transport will also happily whisk you up there. To the summit it is about an hour walking—take the road to the left at the northern monument and follow it towards the hill and you’ll get there. If you are walking up for sunset take a torch as it is a long walk back in the dark.
Jl Perwira, Berastagi
Tu–Sa: 09:00-12:30 & 13:30–17:00 Su: 11:00-12:30 & 13:30–17:00
Aside from the views, the main in-town attraction is the Museum Pasaka Karo, located within what used to be a local Catholic church. Well presented, with English captions throughout, this is an excellent spot to get a comprehensive wrap on traditional tools and customs of the Karo people.
You’ll see cooking utensils, knives, baskets, bowls, some traditional clothes and a bunch of interesting photos dating from the early 20th century—keep an eye out for the early Sinabung pics. If you’re planning on visiting either Dokan or Lingga villages to see traditional Karo houses, this is a good primer to give you a better understanding of what you’ll see (though if you are going to either village, we recommend using a guide to get more still out of the visit).
25km south of Berastagi
Far closer to sea level, on the way to Sipiso-piso waterfall, the traditional village of Dokan is worth a visit if you are wanting a little bit more than what you can see at the Museum Pasaka Karo.
The village was once all longhouses but many were razed by the Dutch during the colonial period. Despite the Dutch vandalism, this village still retains a handful of traditional Karo longhouses, each of which houses eight families, and, if you visit with a guide you should be able to have a look inside to see a way of living probably quite different to what you are used to in your home country.
The houses are rich in symbolism, look for the buffalo heads on the roof spires and the gecko motifs along the side. The supporting pillars rest on wooden foundations, women’s hair placed between the supports and the foundations to protect from earthquakes. At the main entrance you’ll see a flat board sticking out about a foot and on the flank of each door ornate wooden handles—when Karo women give birth they sit on the wooden plank, using the two handles for support when in labour. Inside you’ll see each family has their own section, with a simple wood-fired stove, a sleeping area (a mat on the floor) and storage above. Note all the lumber stored above—the smoke from the stoves help dry it out.
As these houses are still lived in, you really need a guide to be able to look inside and a small donation (betel nut will please the old ladies more than money) is appropriate.
Dokan is around 25km south of Berastagi on the road to Sipiso-piso waterfall and the turnoff is signposted—the village is perhaps two kilometres from the turn off. A second village, Lingga can also be visited from Berastagi, but it isn’t on the road to Sipiso-piso, so we’d stick with this one. If you have neither a guide nor your own transport, to get here with public transport catch an angkot from the Berastagi main road to Kabanjahe for 5,000 rupiah, then from Kabanjahe, catch a Merek or Tongging-bound angkot and ask the driver to let you off at the Desa Dokan turnoff. To return to Berastagi repeat the same in reverse.
Getting away from Berastagi is a fairly simple affair with buses and angkots zooming along the main road at all times of day taking passengers to Medan (20,000 rupiah, two to three hours depending on traffic) and south to Kabanjahe (5,000 rupiah, 20 minutes).
If you're heading to Lake Toba from Berastagi, the journey takes about five hours and requires three buses—Berastagi to Kabanjahe (5,000 rupiah), Kabanjahe to Siantar (25,000 rupiah) and Siantar to Parapat (20,000 rupiah). From Parapat the ferry to Tuk Tuk on Pulau Samosir, the main tourist area of Lake Toba, costs 15,000 rupiah and leave roughly hourly. The last passenger ferry from Parapat is at 19:30. If you miss the last ferry there is plenty of accommodation in Parapat to tide you over till the morning.
A direct tourist bus to Lake Toba (which is coming from Bukit Lawang) should pass through Berastagi at around 13:00—ask your guesthouse to call ahead to get you a seat and to get a firmer idea on when it will be passing through town.
To Ketambe, a seat in a share taxi runs to 200,000 rupiah and the local bus 100,000 rupiah.
Raymond Coffee Shop, at the southern end of town, near the cabbage monument, rents scooters for 100,000 rupiah per day.
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