Nestled in the highlands north of Padang in the Agam valley, the town of Bukittinggi or ‘high hill’ is West Sumatra’s cultural center. While Padang may be the modern commercial and administrative hub, Bukittinggi is a bustling market town.
Although it is less than a degree south of the equator, Bukittinggi has a refreshingly cool climate due to its elevation – over 900 meters above sea level. While it rains here often, this is not enough to deter travelers who come to enjoy what many claim is the most hospitable city in Sumatra.
The town also has an alternative name, Tri Arga, which refers to the three majestic mountains that shape the regions fortunes.
Many visitors come to Bukittinggi to visit the remarkable Ngarai Sianok Canyon where giant rock cliff faces, rugged trees which grow on top and the dramatic surrounding mountains make this canyon a spellbinding view.
This is an ideal place to go if you want to get beyond the average tourist trail. Compared to other spots in Sumatra, Bukittinggi only receives a handful of visitors that use the town as a base for nearby hikes or to take cultural tours to the Minangkabau highland.
Simpang Raya, Jl. Muka Jam Gadang. This large, popular restaurant has good-quality Padang food plus a basic Indonesian menu with soup, rice or noodle dishes. Bear in mind that most of the dishes are spicy, so it is always best to check with the waiter before you try.
West Sumatra is famous for its handicrafts, from beautiful hand woven Minang fabrics to intricate wood carvings. For a collection of the regions best silver shops housed in old Dutch houses try Kota Gadang. Or for traditional songket weavings and wood carvings, the village of Pandai Sikat is worth a visit.
For those who enjoy shopping or just want to soak up the local bustling market atmosphere, the lively Pasar Atas (Upper Market), just south of the clock tower, is lined with stalls and shops selling everyday goods and souvenirs. This colorful market is crammed with stalls selling everything.
If you’re still hunting for souvenirs after your trip to Pasar Atas, try the collection of shops that line Jl Ahmad Yani.
The market shops in Bukittinggi are crammed with beautifully embroidered Minangkabau garments in rich reds and golds. Wedding sashes, head pieces and pillow cases all make great easy to carry souvenirs.
There are various Inns and Hotels in Bukittinggi. If you are looking for a star hotel, the Novotel Coralia Bukittinggi offers a grand view of the beautiful Anai valley, while Lima’s Hotel, Hotel Asia and Hotel Denai are classified locally as ‘superior hotels’.
Located on the southwestern edge of Bukittinggi, the spectacular Ngarai Sianok Canyon is a unique geographic wonder. For a truly haunting spectacle, visit the canyon in the early morning. As dawn creeps across the peak of Mt Singgalang, blankets of mist drift around the canyon’s 100 metre cliffs. A river meanders through the rice fields below dissapearing in the hazy distance beyond. This canyon is a part of a tectonic rift valley which runs the entire length of the island. The canyon has sheer walls and a flat bottom.
Photographers won’t be able to put away their cameras as they try to capture the spectacular view of this majestic gorge. The best look out over the canyon is from Panorama Park which is also a popular spot with locals who come here to stroll in the afternoon air.
Within the town of Bukittinggi the main landmark is the clock tower, dubbed by the local people as Jam Gadang (Big Clock). It overlooks the market square, a beehive of activity and the best place to do some souvenir shopping.
Get an insight into Minang culture by attending a dance performance at the museum’s open stage conducted every Sunday and on public holidays. Night dance performances are at Sliguri. You might also want to check out the bullfights at Padang Lawas (6 km south of Bukittinggi) every Tuesday at 5.00 p.m.
Take in remnants of the towns colonial past with a walk to ruins of Fort de Kock, a Dutch fortification built in 1825. While not much of the fort remains today, there is a lookout tower which is an excellent spot to watch the sunset and take in a view of Mt Marapi (Fire Mountain) which occasionally lets out plumes of smoke.
For the energetic, why not make the one hour hike to Kota Gadang, a small village of silversmiths a few kilometers from Bukittinggi. Here you’ll find all kinds of silverwares for sale, from delicate silver filigree to pins in the form of ornate flowers. If you don’t feel like walking, the village can be reached by opelet (local bus) from Aur Kunung bus terminal. A number of tour operators in Bukittinggi also run tours to Kota Gadang.
It you’ve got time, it’s worth visiting the Rumah Gadang Museum, a traditional extended family house built in the 19th century.