Isolated for thousands of years by the Mentawai Strait, a stretch of water notorious for strong winds, unpredictable currents and treacherous reefs, the remote Mentawai Island’s have found fame as a surfing mecca. The islands are widely regarded as having the biggest concentration of perfect left and right hand breaks than anywhere else in the world and since their discovery in the 1980’s, surfing tourism on the islands has exploded.
Needless to say, surfing is big business in the Mentawai’s but you’d be wrong to assume that’s all the islands have to offer. With lush tropical vegetation, endless white beaches, sheltered lagoons, coral gardens and amazing wildlife, the island are replete with natural beauty and tropical island splendour. Non surfers will have no trouble entertaining themselves with swimming, snorkelling, island hopping and even those with only a passing interest in trekking will be tempted to leave the beach and head inland in search of some of Mentawai’s unique wildlife.
Having separated from the main island of Sumatra some 500,000 years ago, the island’s have some unique flora and fauna including over 20 endemic species and ranking it right up there with Madagascar in terms of endemic primates. The Mentawai macaque, Kloss gibbon, Siberut macaque , Metawai Leaf Monkey, pig-tailed langur and the Siamang kerdil, a rare species of black-and-yellow monkey are found nowhere else in the world. Other native species include jungle fowl, the Asian palm civet and crab-eating macaque.
Some of Mentawai’s tropical rainforest areas, including roughly 60% of Siberut Island, the largest in the archipelago, have been designated a UNESCO biosphere reserve and gained protection in recognition of their rich biodiversity.
The 70 islands and islets that comprise Mentawai are located approximately 100-150km off the west coast of Sumatra. Most of the inhabitants and infrastructure are concentrated on four main islands being, from north to south, Siberut, Sipora, North Pagai and South Pagai Islands. Sipora Island is the smallest of the four but the most developed, hosting the Mentawai regency capital of Tua Pejat. The majority of the accommodation and tourist facilities are located along the west coasts of these islands or some of the smaller islands located in close proximity such as Sikakap, Sikabaluan and Simakakang Islands.
The easiest way to reach the islands surfing hotspots is by hooking up with one of the surf charters operating out of Padang Harbour. A quick internet search turned up well over twenty of them so you won’t have trouble finding one.
If you prefer land based accommodation, there are dozens of surf resorts, villas and guesthouses and surf shops spread across the islands and again, you’ll find many of them online. Many offer discounted accommodation rates for non-surfers and family members and a range of activities including trekking, kayaking, snorkelling, spa services, evening entertainment or surfing lessons if you can’t resist getting into a little action yourself.
Mentawai Fast Ferry connects Dermaga Muara harbour near Padang with Tua Pejat, Siberut, Sikakap and Sikabaluan Islands. The service operates 6 days a week and takes around 3 hours but is subject to delays and cancellations due to poor weather. Check their website for ferry schedule and prices.
Alternatively, there are several slow boats connecting Mentawai with Padang Bungus harbour. The steel ferry Ambu Ambu operates a once weekly overnight service between Padang Bungus and Sikakap or Siberut islands. With comfortable, air conditioned berths for the overnight crossing, it’s a popular option. Wooden slow boats Beriloga and Sumber also offer once weekly overnight connections without the luxury of a berth but they are the cheapest option.
Speedboat connections and transfers to other islands are generally arranged by your host accommodation. The best time to surf the Mentawai’s is between April and October when the swell from the Indian Ocean is most consistent. However, March and November still produce good waves with the advantage of lower prices.