The town of Sibolga is the main sea port on the west coast of the province of North Sumatra. Ever since the early centuries AD , Indian and Arab merchants used to sail across the Indian Ocean to Sumatra using this western gateway. The main attraction here then was the high quality camphor exported from the nearby port of Barus. Until today, the Indonesian word for camphor is kapur barus, or chalk from Barus, a region that still exists until today.
Located in the Bay of Tapian Nauli, the town of Sibolga is the main port to catch a boat or ferry to the island of Nias – famous for its rolling surf and megalithic culture – or other smaller islands directly in the Bay, like Pulau Mursala. In the Batak language, Tapian Nauli means Beautiful Beach.
The town of Sibolga, capital of the regency of Central Tapanuli, covers but a small area of only 35.36 square kilometers and lies some 350km from Medan, capital of the province of North Sumatra. Nonetheless, its central location makes this an ideal place as starting point to visit attractions in this region.
Because of its long history as a trading port, Sibolga is quite a cosmopolitan town, home to many ethnic groups who hail from Java, India, China, the Bugis from Makassar, the Minangkabau and Malays from West Sumatra and Riau and of course the Bataks from inland Tapanuli. Each ethnic group normally lives close to one another to maintain their specific characteristics.
Sibolga started as a small village that developed into a busy trading port. The English and Dutch held trading posts here in the 17th century. Today it is a major port on the west coast of Sumatra for inter-island trade.
Near Sibolga are a number of pretty islands like Pulau Pocan Gadang, Pulau Pocan Ketek, Pulau Sarudik and Pulau Panjang. These are iconic tropical islands with white beaches and rows of waving palm trees.
To its back are green hills among which the Tor Simarbarimbing, the peak of the hills as well as the TVRI tower from where one can have a panoramic view over the Bay. Nevertheless, the town of Sibolga has a hot climate with temperatures ranging between 23-32 degrees Centigrade interspersed by infrequent rainfall throughout the year.
In its history, Sibolga has seen many battles. Here is a heritage from the Dutch colonial period called the Tanggo Saratus – meaning the Hundred Steps staircase, although when meticulously counted there are, in fact, 293 steps.
Around Bukit Ketapang or Ketapang Hill are six fotresses that show how the inhabitants heroically protected their land. One fortress is found in the sub-district of Aek Manis, which locals call Benteng Sihopo-hopo (the Sihopo-hopo fortress).
There is also the Simare-Mare fortress which stands on the foot of the hill.
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