Barus Port, The Historical City in Sumatra

The small port of Barus, located on the north west coast of the province of North Sumatra facing the wide Indian Ocean, was once the main exporter of the world’s camphor and camphorwood. So much so that even until today the word camphor in bahasa Indonesia is known as Kapur Barus, meaning the chalk from Barus.

Today, though Barus is a sleepy inter-island port serving traditional boats carrying goods and merchandise, plying the seas to Nias in the Indian Ocean, Aceh to its north and West Sumatra and Minangkabau to its south. Gone are its heydays when ships from India, Arabia, Persia and China used to sail in droves to anchor here in search of its precious high quality camphor and other spices that were so sought after all across India and the Middle East.

Since the early centuries AD to around the 17th. Century, Barus was renowned for its camphor and camphorwood, which, unfortunately today, has all but disappeared. Its name was mentioned in many languages from Greek, Armenian, Arabic, Indian, Tamil, Chinese, Malay to Javanese. After the Arabs came the Srilankans, Yemeni, and then the Spaniards, the British and the Dutch.

It is no wonder, therefore, that you will find Barus a cosmopolitan port, where the original Batak population live in harmony with later settlers from Java, Minangkabau, China, India and Arabia.

Barus port (Source :

Natural camphor comes from the camphor tree (cinnamonum camphora), which by the 13th century was used across India and the entire Muslim world. In Arabia it  was used to flavor tea, as a spice in main dishes to desserts. Camphor was also used as medicine against swelling and inflammation, it was and still is used in essential oils for aromatherapy. In India it is used for incense, culinary spice, medicine, and insect repellent.

Camphor is a whitish, translucent, crystaline dry extracted ooze from the camphor tree. Camphor is an evergreen tree that grows to 20m or 30 m tall. Its leaves are glossy and waxy, and have a distinct smell of camphor.

Ancient stories mentioned that between  627-643 AD, merchants from Middle Eastern countries were wont to sail to Barus .

It comes as no surprise, therefore, that Barus was the first entry gate from where Islam was spread across the Indonesian islands.

Other historic writings mention that the Sailendra Dynasty of Thailand once conquered Barus.  Marco Polo and the legendrary Muslim historian, Ibnu Batutah, were known to have also set foot on Barus.

As evidence of that golden age are the many old Islamic graves, such as the Mahligai tomb, the ancient site of Tuanku Pinago and the tomb of Tuanku Kinali, which are just a few of silent witnesses from those heydays long gone by. There is also an ancient site on Karang Island by the Barus coast, but one must wade through mangrove forests to reach it.

Among all these, the most visited is the tomb of Papan Tenggi. Located some 153 meters above sea level, this is a beautiful tomb on a hill with panoramic backdrop on the Indian Ocean. The tomb here  is special which has a length of 9 meters long with a tombstone of 1.5 meters high (ws).


Hatupet or Katupe is a specialty of Barus. This is similar to the ketupat found on Java, the difference being that if on Java the suqare pandan leaves containers are filled with white rice, here it is filled with red sticky rice. Other choices for cakes and tid-bits are the typical Batak desserts of pohul-pohul, Lapek Bainti or Putu Mayang. Try the typical Barus coffee while enjoying the glorious sunset at Barus Beach. Although today Barus Coffee is not as wellknown as Sidikalang coffee or  Mandailing coffee, yet for centuries  Barus coffee  was the most sought after coffee.

There are not many accommodation facilities available at Barus. Recommended is Hotel Fansyuri at Jalan Jenderal Ahmad Yani. The hotel has a restaurant that serves local dishes.

When you are a history buff, and interested in the entry of Islam into the Indonesian islands, this is a rich, as yet little explored archaeological site. The soil here is fertile and the people friendly to make your stay here most fruitful and memorable.

Barus has a beautiful beach fringed with palm trees by the village of  Desa Lobu Tua, in the sub-district of Andam Dewi. Here are also found ancient artifacts from the Lobu Tua civilization.


The province of Tapanuli Tengah  (Central Tapanuli) is accessible both by air or overland. There are daily flights on Wings Air and three times weekly flights on Garuda Indonesia from  Medan’s Kuala Namu airport to the Pinangsori Airport at Sibolga The flight takes around 30 minutes.This Garuda flight also comes in directly from Jakarta, so that you can now also reach Sibolga from Jakarta.

From Sibolga, it takes 2 hours by car  to Barus, using your own car, rented car of public bus.  There are regular shuttle buses – known as “travel” – between Medan, capital of North Sumatra, located on the east coast of Sumatra, and Barus, located on the west coast.  The route takes you pass Kabanjahe, Doloksanggul, Pakkar. The journey takes around 8 hours.

To use such a “travel” minibus, call its Agents among which is

CV. Putra Barus Travel


When you are searching for information including info on archaeological sites around Barus, go to a house by the market of Pasar Barus that was made into a storehouse for artifacts that were dug by researchers from EFEO and the Arkenas Research Center.

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