Roughly the size of California, Sumatra is a beautiful island with volcanoes and hot springs, lakes and rivers, rolling green foothills, plantations and wild jungle scenery. Many reserves protect the island's wealth of indigenous wildlife, and elephants, tigers, rhinos, orangutans and tapirs can be seen on organised safaris within protected reserves.
The majority of the population lives in the foothills, plateaus and highlands of Sumatra, working as farmers. The entire island was once covered in dense rainforest, but today most has been destroyed by the need for agricultural land, which is the country's prime earner. Key exports include palm oil, rubber, tobacco, coffee and tea.
The island is home to numerous peoples and cultures. Among them are the Muslim Minangkabau and the great highland people, the Batak, who inhabit a fertile volcanic plateau and have a language, dress, religion, architectural style and culture all of their own. Lake Toba, the spiritual centre of the Batak, is a major tourist destination lined with resorts. The busy hill town of Bukittinggi is the hub of the Minang culture and is surrounded by spectacular scenery.
This is island of plenty has fine scenery, wildlife, natural resources, cultural diversity and extraordinary architecture to offer visitors. Though not as popular a destination as neighbouring Bali or Jakarta, Sumatra is an increasingly fashionable eco-tourism destination, and cycling or riding a scooter through the mountains and valleys can be a great way to take in the astonishing natural beauty.