- Elevation: 2,212 m (7,257 ft)
- Prominence: 762 m
- Ribu category Spesial
- Province: Sumatera Utara (North Sumatra)
- Google Earth: kml
- Other names: none
- Eruptions: 1881
In terms of effort to enjoyment ratio, Sibayak is easily one of the top volcanoes in Indonesia. Situated above the friendly hill town of Berastagi which is just 2 hours from Medan, the volcano’s crater lies just over an hour’s walk from the nearest road and can therefore be explored by anyone in reasonably good shape. It is one of the most visited mountains in Sumatra and can be climbed from three directions. The most popular route is from the road at Jaranguda just 3km from the town of Berastagi but some people even just allow an extra hour or so (three hours in total) and walk from Berastagi such is the volcano’s proximity to the town itself. The second route is from Semangat Gunung (‘spirit mountain’, also known as Raja Berneh) where there are hot springs (a two-hour hike). This is also a short hike but it’s better to descend this way to make the most of the hot springs after hiking. The third and least popular route starts at Tongkoh on the main Berastagi-Medan road near Air Terjun Panorama. This route is the longest as it involves a trek through jungle to reach the mountain. Allow 4 or 5 hours from the road to the crater. Whichever route you take, it can easily be accomplished in a single day but the earlier you start the better, not least because in good conditions the views are at their best just after sunrise.
Unless you’ve climed this volcano before and fancy trying the longer Tongkoh route, we recommend arranging a guide to meet you at your hotel in Berastagi at 4am, charter an angkot to Jaranguda (approximately Rp100,000 which isn’t bad considering the driver has to get out of bed at 3.30am) and hike to the crater rim by 6am. After enjoying the spectacular post-dawn views, you can descend a different way to Semangat Gunung and enjoy the hot springs before chartering another angkot back to Berastagi (approximately Rp 70,000) in time for a late breakfast /early lunch. For a full exploration, allow about 7 hours altogether, which includes transport time and 20 minutes in the hot springs.
At your guesthouse in Berastagi, you will probably be told about how dangerous hiking Sibayak can be. The volcano hasn’t erupted for nearly 400 years, but over the years a number of hikers who went without a guide never made it down again. This is more to do with the sheer number of tourists who visit it rather than it being more dangerous than other peaks. However, whilst the crater area is very accessible, certain parts of the mountain range are very, very remote and wild – moreso even than neighbouring Sinabung. The terrain is straightforward for the most part, but if you got lost in bad weather or went off alone you could easily end up on the remote wrong side of the crater. Two professors from a New York university went up Sibayak in 1983 and never returned. Whether they got lost or were the victims of a very rare robbery or wild animal attack remains unknown. Sadly, a German tourist went hiking alone in 2017 and was later found dead in a remote area. So, although there are likely to be lots of other hikers on the volcano, it really is worth paying for a guide rather than going alone.
The main crater areas are very popular at weekends with local campers, many of whom have little interest in hiking and bring guitars up with them to play all night! If you want to camp and actually get some sleep, best choose a weekday night when it will be less busy. Otherwise, set off from your hotel in Berastagi before sunrise as detailed above.
Assuming you charter an angkot from Berastagi, you will be dropped off on the road that snakes up the side of the volcano near Jaranguda. Follow the road beyond Simpang Tiga (a small warung on the right, 1,625m) to an area of huts where motorbikes can be left (1,785m) and take a left turn cutting up through vegetation and up over the lower sections of the outer rim. Once over the outer rim, the very well-trodden trail leads up through the crater which has the appearance of a rocky, volcanic valley. Ahead of you, the outer rim climbs on your right to reach a narrow impressive little rocky peak known as Puncak Antene (antenna peak). On your left, above a crater lake and vertical cliffs, is the highest point of the actual volcano area (Puncak Tapal Kuda – horseshoe peak). There are many fumaroles down near the crater lake, with one particularly powerful one, and the sound they make as jets of hot gas and steam shoot out is tremendously eerie – especially before dawn breaks.
Most regular hikers climb back up onto the outer rim for sunrise. This is indeed a superb viewpoint, looking down towards Berastagi town and the geothermal plant near Semangat Gunung. You can be here in about 90 minutes from Jaranguda or 3 hours from Brastagi. Do take care here as the drop down the side of the volcano is sheer and there are often lots of gas clouds which blow over the outer rim from craters on the actual side of the volcano. As soon as it’s light you will be able to admire the strange beauty of Sibayak and in good weather conditions you should see Sinabung in the distance, which is has been very active recently.
After enjoying sunrise on the outer rim, do continue along the outer rim to the steep, narrow little top which marks its highest point. This is Puncak Antene (2,057m) and – whilst cluttered with a few small but unnecessary cement constructions – offers stunning views over the whole volcano area. There used to be an antenna here but apparently a local madman dismantled it to sell it for scrap value! Puncak Antene is the second highest peak of the actual volcano area. The highest peak in this area is Tapal Kuda (2,101m) which is above the sheer cliffs above the crater lake.
However, the actual highest point of the whole Sibayak mountain area is called Gunung Pintau. It’s a very remote, forested peak (2,212m) hiding behind Tapal Kuda. From Puncak Antene you should be able to see its wild jungle-clad cliffs. The terrain is much more difficult and dangerous than the regular Sibayak trails, but it has been reached on a handful of occasions by student hiking teams on expeditions and there is a trig pillar at the top which was constructed most likely by teams of local men in the Dutch colonial era. But it’s not an easy place to reach – one local hiker died on such an expedition a few years ago – and no regular guide from Berastagi would be able to take you there.
For those intent on reaching the true peak of the range, see the comments below for recent contact numbers of the very few locals who know the way. Be aware that there is a section near the top that is exposed, potentially slippery in rain, and is best done safely with a 20-metre long (or more) rope tied to a tree beyond.
From the Sibayak crater lip separating the trail up Tapal Kuda and Antene, the Pintau path heads straight north-west and drops down a little between unusual-shaped rocks, before twisting round the back of Tapal Kuda to a small, usually dry, rocky river valley with fumaroles on it. Follow this area up (left) to Pabrik Belerang (‘sulphur factory’, 1,940m) which should be reached within about 40 minutes from Sibayak’s popular crater paths and camping areas. Just 2 minutes from Pabrik Belerang is a swampy lake known as Kuala Putri (‘princess estuary’) which usually has enough water in it for bottles to be filled and then boiled before using for cooking.
From Pabrik Belerang, which is effectively the col between Tapal Kuda and Pintau, the path leads up to the right up the side of Pintau, on a slippery but well-defined trail. Views to Kuala Putri and Gunung Sinabung are pleasant in good weather. At an altitude of around 2,050m, the trail enters forest and there are some tricky sections where you need to crawl under spiny pandan trunks and over slippery logs. Landslides are common in this area and, whilst very damaging to local communities, offer some decent panoramas of the surrounding hills. At 2,140m, you reach Lonsor Dua Warna (‘two coloured landlslide’) which was the original source of a deadly leandlisde in 2016 which killed at least 17 people down in the villages near Sibolangit.
This is also the spot where a local hiker died several years before after falling. It is an exposed, and slippery, 20 metres or so, but anyone with rock climbing experience and a local guide with a rope should not have any problems here at all, if sufficient care is taken. Views to the right are of Tapal Kuda, Puncak Antene and part of the main Sibayak crater areas. All in all, a lovely viewpoint that very few hikers see. Indeed, it is unlikely that you will meet any other groups up here as Pintau is only visited a handful of times a year.
Beyond the tricky section, there are a couple of other minor sections of forest trail which require care and are over slippery rocks (look out for the pitcher plant species Nepenthes spectabilis here – thanks to Alastair Robinson as usual for ID), but just another 10 or 15 minutes and you will find yourself at the forested summit which is crowned with a very well-preserved triangulation pillar, possibly from 1911. It should have taken you around 2 and a half hours to reach here from the main Sibayak crater areas. Allow 5 hours or so for the return trip, including a bit of time for photos and a bit of time for your guide to set up the rope.
Essentially, you can summit Pintau after watching the sun rise from Sibayak crater, and be back down in Berastagi by late afternoon. If trying to summit Pintau in a weekend from Jakarta, it may be better to fly to Medan and do Pintau on the Saturday, camp at the crater (try to find a place far from the many other tents) before enjoying the dawn on Sunday and heading back to Medan and flying home.
Whilst most people don’t truly bag the highest point of Sibayak (Pintau), we do at least recommend climbing up to Tapal Kuda above the crater lake. Other than on weekends, you will probably have this peak to yourself and it is here that you will be able to appreciate the wild areas on the Pintau side of the mountain. To get to Tapal Kuda from Puncak Antene, drop back down to the crater lake area and follow the trail round to the left of the crater lake and up onto the the side of the cliffs. There are lots of holes in the rocks beneath your feet so do take extra care as you peer over the edge of cliffs back down to the crater lake. The highest point of this peak is a large rock which gives the name to the peak and requires moderate rock climbing skills to reach the top of – if in doubt, don’t bother as the views are good enough from here.
After enjoying the views and solitude of the Tapal Kuda peak, it is best to head back towards the antenna peak and from the lowest point of the outer rim opposite the crater lake drop down the other side of the mountain on a trail to Semangat Gunung. It is a steep and short trail over narrow cement blocks (supposedly 2600 of them originally) which leads through forest and impressive bamboo (1,521m) then out at the Pertamina geothermal plant. From the end of the road it is just 5 minutes to the first of many hot spring baths (1,382m). The water is a wonderful temperature and it is only a few thousand rupiah to bathe. Well worth it!
Getting back to Berastagi from Semangat Gunung can be done very cheaply – but only if you’re prepared to wait up to 2 hours for the angkots to slowly fill up! It’s much better to arrange ojeks to the main road or just charter an angkot for about Rp 100,000 which will take you back to your hotel for some well-earned food.
Bagging information by Daniel Quinn (updated February 2018)
- Getting there: If you arrive at Kuala Namu airport, order a Grabcar, taxi or ojek to take you to Padang Bulan (approx Rp 50,000). From here buses run frequently to Berastagi (2 hours) and will only cost Rp 25,000 or so. You could also take a Grabcar or taxi all the way to Berstagi (Grab approx Rp350,000 in 2018).
- Accommodation: Plenty of places to stay in Berastagi. Wisma Sibayak is an excellent budget option with good food and friendly staff. It’s near the cabbage monument. The best cafe for food is Cafe Sibayak on the main street.
- Guides and GPS Tracks: Want a PDF version for your phone? Looking for a guide? Need GPS tracks and waypoints? Gunung Sibayak information pack can be downloaded here.
- Permits: Entry ticket is a very reasonable Rp10,000 per person (in 2018). Sign the register book at the entrances.
- Water sources: The water on the volcano is far too sulfurous to drink! Kuala Putri water is fine for boiling before using but very few hikers visit this area. Remember to buy drinks and snacks in Berastagi the night before and take enough bottled water with you.
- Travel insurance: We recommend World Nomads insurance, which is designed for adventurous travellers with cover for overseas medical, evacuation, baggage and a range of adventure sports and activities including mountain hiking.
Local Average Monthly Rainfall (mm):
Origins and Meaning
The mountain of rich men (Geleng, guide in Brastagi, 2011)