South Sumatra is a land of natural beauty, cultural richness, and historical significance. Located in the southern part of Sumatra Island, it boasts a diverse range of landscapes, from lush rainforests to sandy beaches, and a multicultural society that celebrates its traditions and heritage.
In this travel guide, we will take you through the must-see destinations and experiences in this fascinating province, so pack your bags and get ready for a journey of a lifetime.
Discovering South Sumatra: An Overview
Geography and Climate
South Sumatra is bordered by Lampung province to the east, the Java Sea to the north, and the Indian Ocean to the south and the west. It covers an area of 91,592 square kilometres, making it the seventh-largest province in Indonesia. The province is mostly flat, with low hills and valleys, except for the Bukit Barisan mountain range that stretches from north to south. The climate is tropical, with two distinct seasons: the dry season from June to September and the rainy season from October to May.
History and Culture
South Sumatra has a long and fascinating history that dates back to the Srivijaya empire in the 7th century. The province has been a melting pot of various ethnic groups and religions, including the Malay, Chinese, Javanese, and Indian, resulting in a unique blend of cultures and traditions.
One of the most significant events in South Sumatra’s history is the Battle of Musi, which took place in 1818 and marked the beginning of the Dutch colonisation of the region. Today, the people of South Sumatra continue to honour their heritage through traditional dances, music, handicrafts, and cuisines.
Food lovers will be in for a treat in South Sumatra, where the local cuisine is a fusion of flavours and techniques from different regions. One of the most famous dishes is pempek, a type of fishcake that is typically served with vinegar sauce and noodles. Other must-try dishes include tekwan soup, model fish, curry, and gado-gado, a vegetable salad with peanut sauce. As it is a predominantly Muslim province, halal food is widely available, but there are also many options for vegetarians and seafood lovers.
Must-Visit Destinations in South Sumatra
Palembang: The Capital City
Palembang is the capital city of South Sumatra and the centre of the province’s political and economic activities. It is known for its rich history and cultural heritage, as evidenced by the many historical sites and museums in the city. One of the must-see attractions is the Kuto Besak Fortress, a 17th-century fort that served as the Dutch military headquarters during their colonial rule. Other notable landmarks include the Ampera Bridge, a bridge that crosses the Musi River and offers a panoramic view of the city, and the Great Mosque of Palembang, one of the oldest mosques in Indonesia. Food enthusiasts should take the chance to taste the city’s famous pempek, which is widely available in street vendors and restaurants.
Pagar Alam: A Scenic Mountain Retreat
Pagar Alam is a small city located in the highlands of South Sumatra, known for its breathtaking natural scenery and cool, refreshing air. It is a perfect destination for nature lovers, hikers, and adventure seekers, as it offers plenty of outdoor activities such as trekking, camping, and paragliding. The most popular attraction is Mount Dempo, a volcanic mountain that offers a challenging hike and a stunning view of the surrounding landscape. There are also several waterfalls in the area, such as the Puncak Lawang waterfall and the Keban Agung waterfall, which are perfect for swimming and relaxation.
Lake Ranau: A Serene Getaway
Lake Ranau is a natural lake located on the border of South Sumatra and Lampung province, surrounded by scenic forests and hills. It is a popular destination for those seeking a quiet, peaceful retreat, away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Activities such as fishing, boating, and hiking are available, or you can simply sit by the lake and enjoy the fresh breeze. There are also several cottages and bungalows available for rent if you wish to spend the night and wake up to a serene view.
Bangka Belitung Islands: Beach Paradise
The Bangka Belitung Islands are a group of islands located off the east coast of Sumatra, known for their pristine beaches, crystal-clear waters, and fascinating cultural heritage. It is a perfect destination for beach lovers, snorkelers, and divers, as the islands offer rich marine life and stunning underwater views.
The most popular beaches are Tanjung Binga, Parai Tenggiri, and Matras Beach, where you can swim, sunbathe, or simply relax. You can also explore the islands’ cultural attractions, such as the Museum Timah, the Pice Museum, and the traditional Chinese temple.
Experiencing South Sumatra’s Natural Wonders
Mount Dempo: A Hiker’s Dream
Mount Dempo is a 3,150-meter-high volcanic mountain located near Pagar Alam, known for its challenging hiking trail and scenic view. The hike to the summit takes about five hours and offers a rewarding view of the surrounding landscape, including Pagar Alam city, the Bukit Barisan mountain range, and the Bengkulu province. The trail is well-marked and requires a moderate level of fitness, but the experience is worth it for any hiking enthusiast.
Sembilang National Park: Wildlife Haven
Sembilang National Park is a protected area located in the delta of the Musi River, covering an area of 202,928 hectares. It is home to a diverse range of flora and fauna, including the Sumatran tiger, the Malayan tapir, and the estuarine crocodile. The park offers several activities, such as wildlife watching, nature walks, and river cruises. The best time to visit is during the dry season, from June to September, when the water level is low, and the animals are more visible.
Ogan Komering Ulu Waterfall: A Hidden Gem
Ogan Komering Ulu Waterfall is a hidden gem located in the Ogan Komering Ulu regency, famous for its cascading waterfalls and natural pools. It is a perfect destination for swimming, picnicking, and relaxation, as the area is surrounded by lush greenery and a tranquil atmosphere. The waterfall is easily accessible, and there are several stalls selling local snacks and drinks nearby, making it a great place to spend the day with family and friends.
Delving into South Sumatra’s Rich Culture
Traditional Dance and Music
Traditional dances and music are an integral part of South Sumatra’s culture, reflecting the province’s diverse ethnic groups and traditions. One of the most famous dances is the tari piring, a dance performed by women while balancing a small plate on each hand. The music is typically played with traditional instruments such as the gendang, a type of drum, and the seruling, a wooden flute. Visitors can watch performances of traditional dances and music in many places, such as museums, cultural centres, and festivals.
Local Handicrafts and Textiles
South Sumatra is known for its exquisite handicrafts and textiles, which are made by skilled artisans using traditional techniques and materials. One of the most famous textiles is the Songket, a fabric woven with gold or silver threads, typically worn during special occasions such as weddings and religious ceremonies. Other handicrafts include woodcarvings, pottery, and batik fabrics. Visitors can shop for these items in many markets and souvenir shops, or even watch the artisans at work in their workshops.
Museums and Historical Sites
South Sumatra is rich in history and heritage, as evidenced by the many museums and historical sites in the province. One of the most famous museums is the Museum of Sultan Mahmud Badaruddin II, which displays a collection of artefacts related to the Palembang Sultanate. Other notable museums include the Museum Negeri Balaputra Dewa, which showcases the local culture and traditions, and the Museum Kereta Sriwijaya, which displays a collection of ancient chariots and carriages. Historical sites such as the Kuto Besak Fortress and the Ampera Bridge are also worth a visit, as they are iconic landmarks of the province’s past.
In conclusion, South Sumatra is a province full of surprises and wonders, waiting to be explored by adventurous travellers. Whether you’re into nature, history, culture, or food, there is something for everyone in this beautiful land. So pack your bags, and come discover the beauty of South Sumatra for yourself.