Taxis are everywhere in Sumatra (with the possible exception of small villages) and in major centres you won’t have any trouble flagging one down. In smaller centres, ask your accommodation provider to call for one. Make sure the taxi has a metre and that the driver puts it on as soon as before you hop in. If he tells you it’s broken it’s probably a scam so hop out and get yourself another cab. Bluebird taxis have good reputation all over Indonesia and even have a handy mobile app for online bookings.
Most of the airports have a taxi desk just outside the domestic and international arrivals terminals which operate on a set price per destination basis as displayed on a board at the counter. At the desk you will be issued with a voucher stating the price, then head to the taxi rank with your voucher and you pay the driver the stated value once you arrive at your destination. Be aware that taxi desks are usually closed after hours so if you’re arriving early or late it will be up to you to haggle with the driver however you can expect to have to pay more than the posted fixed fare.
Just about all Sumatra’s domestic and regional airports have regular flights between them, although services vary from several times daily to once or twice weekly depending on the route each other. Flights with major carriers such as Garuda and Air Asia can easily be booked directly on line. For smaller Indonesian carriers such as Lion Air, Wings Air, Kalstar, Sriwijaya and Citilink we recommend finding and booking flights online with tiket.com or a reputable travel agent once you’re on the ground in Indonesia. Regional carrier SusiAir also services some minor routes in Sumatra with semi-regular scheduled or charter flights. Check their website for flights and bookings.
Given that long distance travel in Sumatra can be extremely time consuming, internal flights are worth considering and can be surprisingly cheap.
Sumatra has a limited train service comprising of several unconnected networks linking Medan–Kisaran, Padang–Palembang, Palembang–Panjang and Panjang–Medan. Generally speaking the trains run on time, are reasonably clean and comfortable and ticket prices are quite reasonable. Train times and fares can be found on the Indonesia Railways website but they only accept Indonesian credit cards so you can’t actually buy tickets with them. Fortunately tiket.com has filled the void for foreign credit card holders. Otherwise, you can purchase tickets at any train station up to a few weeks in advance.
Also note there’s a train service between Medan’s International Airport and the city centre. It has a reputation for being a bit unreliable but if it’s running it is a good option during peak hour when traffic snarls can turn the same trip by road into a 2 hour nightmare.
There’s no shortage of tour companies servicing all the main attractions in Sumatra and some not so common ones. Around the main attractions it’s not uncommon to see large organised tour groups but most companies will happily arrange private and personalised tours. Even if you’re not normally an organised tour kind of traveller, you may find the competitive prices and convenience of having everything organised for you outweighs the costs and logistical issues of doing some of Sumatra’s attractions independently.
Check out some of the tour options online for ideas and to help with your planning but even in the high season there’s really no need to book anything more than a day or two in advance. In our experience, it’s best to book tours in person as the high level of competition means prices are very competitive and can often be haggled down even further, especially if you can get a small group together or are booking more than one tour.
Sumatra has a reasonably good bus network connecting just about every town and village using a combination of coaches, minibuses and bemo’s although the standard of some buses leaves a lot to be desired. In bigger centres, bus terminals are often located out in the suburbs so you may need to get a taxi from your accommodation. Having said all that, if you don’t mind waiting around for connections and have the plenty of time, you can’t beat the bus service for cheap travel.
Travelling by private car is the most convenient way to get around Sumatra but there are no set prices and what you end up paying will usually come down to how well you haggle. However, prices can vary widely from one region to another. For example, around Kerinci a car with an English speaking driver costs around 400,000Rp plus petrol per day but in Padang, you’ll pay 900.000Rp including petrol per day.
Cars can be arranged through your accommodation or a travel agent but you’ll usually get a better price approaching drivers direct as there’s no commission involved. You won’t have any trouble finding one as there are always drivers touting for business around busy tourist areas and attractions. Most private cars are actually small minivans than can comfortably seat 6-7 people so try to get a group together and split the costs if your budget is tight.
Using an ojek or riding your own scooter is risky in Sumatra’s busier centres where the traffic and drivers can be downright crazy but they’re not a bad option once you get out in to the quieter countryside. Make your own call.
Essentially private minibus operators offering a higher standard of service than the public bus services. Services link Padang and Bukittinggi with Kerinci with pick-up from your accommodation. Most tour desks and hotels can arrange tickets for you but be sure to book ahead, especially during peak season.
Traditional horse and carts called bendi or dokar a still widely used in Sumatra. Although the locals rely heavily on them they’re rarely used by tourists. In some of the busy tourist centres they have become a bit of a tourist trap with tourists being charged highly inflated prices. That’s not to say you shouldn’t use them, just haggle hard.
Trishaw pedal powered carts, known locally as becak, are also widely used throughout Sumatra. Always haggle hard and be very clear about what the price covers (one-way or return journey, per passenger or per group) before you set off.
For travel between the major centres and to popular destinations, there are quite a few companies offering shared taxi or car options. These are great way to get around as you pay per person rather than for the whole vehicle and it’s a good way to meet fellow travellers. And don’t worry; you don’t have to find the people to share with you. Simply book your seat and be ready to depart at the nominated time, usually around 9:00am. Most companies will even pick you up from your accommodation so they’re pretty convenient.
Currently, this option is available for travel to Kerinci from Padang, Jambi or Bengkulu. Prices usually start around 135.000Rp per person. You can book your seat at just about any tour desk in either of those cities.