Just came back from a couple of days travel in Berastagi, a two hour trip from Medan, Sumatra.
Berastagi is famous for its two volcanoes Gunung Sibayak and Gunung Sinabung. Transport to Berastagi from Medan is limited to either a very cheap and crowded public bus or an expensive chartered taxi. I asked around at several places for taxi prices and the best deal I got was 300,000 rupiah. Everyone I spoke to about the bus to Berastagi let out a long moan while they shook their heads, so I opted for the taxi.
I have traveled on public buses a couple of times in the past few weeks and I could usually handle the cramped conditions and lack of AC, but I cannot stand someone chain smoking Indonesian clove cigarettes the whole way.
Spending more time drinking beer than exercising the past few months (years), when I a guidebook says an “easy 3 hour trek”, I translate this to four hours of pain and knowing that I won’t be able to climb any stairs for the next few days.
The road up to Sibayak is paved for most of the way, so you could get a bus up most of the way, if you are really feeling lazy. I did manage to see a monkey in the tree tops, so I would say the walk up is worth it. The road then turns to steps, which have been washed away in many places, but it is still fairly easy going.
The trees eventually give away to volcanic rock and after one final ascent you can see the crater of Mount Sibayak. If you climb just a bit more, you will get spectacular views of the town below. While I sat admiring the view, a mist came in over the crater, making it impossible to see the path I had taken up. Fortunately there was another path that took me around the crater and back to track I had taken up the volcano.
Gunung Sinabung is a more challenging climb and from all of the stories I heard should not be taken lightly. Hiring an experienced guide is strongly advisable.
Gundaling Hill has great views of Sinabung especially at sunset. A shop selling “Mexican spicy chicken” had free wifi in the center of town. There are few losmen in the center of town, but are probably noisy places to stay. There are plenty of nicer hotels with good views and gardens outside of the center.