The Banyak Islands in Indonesia (also known collectively as Pulau Banyak) are a group of paradise islands northwest of Sumatra.
If you’ve ever dreamed of living the Robinson Crusoe lifestyle and having a remote tropical island all to yourself, with a primitive bungalow and crystal clear water as far as the eye can see, this is your chance!
This travel blog will explain how to get to Banyak Islands, where to stay, and everything else you need to know before you go!
Where Is The Banyak Island Group?
The Banyak Islands are located off the west coast of Aceh Province in North Sumatra, Indonesia.
The population is about 8,000 people as of 2023, but most of these live in the main town on Balai Island.
The rest of the 99 outer islands in Pulau Banyak are mostly uninhabited, with a few basic bungalow accommodations scattered throughout.
How To Get To Banyak Islands
• Step 1: The Car Journey To Singkil
Getting to the Banyak Islands in Indonesia takes a bit of time and hassle. Here’s a complete explanation in two parts.
First of all, the nearest international airport is far away in the city of Medan, on the opposite coast of Sumatra. Medan airport (KNO) gets daily flights from places like Bangkok, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, and Jakarta starting at $40 USD for a one way ticket. You can shop for flights to Medan at Skyscanner.
The city of Medan is conservative and not very touristy, but it’s safe and there are some hotel options. We stayed at MB Apartments which has a breakfast option, and we also used the Grab and GoJek apps for some convenient food delivery (Pizza Hut and Indonesian food).
Once you arrive in Medan, it’s an 8-10 hour drive to the harbor town of Singkil. The price for this is about 900k Rupiah ($65 USD) per car, and the private driver can be arranged by your hotel in Banyak or you can book a driver online here (surcharges may apply).
(Tip #1: If you want to see something neat on the long drive from Medan to Singkil, check out Lae Mbilulu Waterfall near the halfway point. It’s a big twin waterfall just 30 minutes from the main road!)
(Tip #2: If you need a place to stay overnight in Singkil, check out MB Camp Singkil. This is a hotel run by the same people as Palambak Island Resort, and right now it’s the only decent accommodation in Singkil. They also own MB Apartments in Medan.)
• Step 2: The Boat Journey To Banyak Islands
You can see a map below showing the location of the Banyak island group in the sea west of Sumatra.
Once you reach the port in Singkil, you have three main options to get to the Banyak Islands: wooden boat, ferry, or speedboat. We took the ferry.
There’s a public boat called the Kapal Kayu Besar (big wooden boat) that goes to Pulau Banyak daily, or a public ferry that goes twice weekly (Sundays and Wednesdays).
These are the two cheap, slow options and they take 4 hours. Price is 50k Rupiah (~$3) per person.
If you go to the Banyak Islands with the wooden boat or public ferry, they will drop you in Balai Island, a shabby and noisy gateway town that doesn’t really offer anything except supplies.
From Balai, you’ll then need to take a second boat (a small wooden motor boat) to your island of choice where you’ll be staying, such as Tailana or Palambak. This journey takes about 1 hour and costs an extra 200k Rupiah (~$14). The scheduling is very flexible as long as you give a little bit of advance notice.
The third main option from Singkil is to charter a speedboat directly to Pulau Balai or Palambak Island, and this only takes about 1.5 hours total. It costs 1.5 million Rupiah per boat to Balai, or 1.7 million to Palambak.
Basically, a speedboat is the fastest and most flexible way to get to the Banyaks, but it’s also the most expensive. If you share a speedboat with other travelers, you can divide the costs.
Where To Stay In Banyak Islands
There’s a growing number of places to stay in Banyak Islands, with basic facilities but amazing scenery. There are also local homestays in the gateway town of Balai Island, but those are shabby and noisy, and don’t have the tropical scenery Pulau Banyak is famous for.
The following is a list of the main accommodations in the Banyak Islands:
- Palambak Island (MB Palambak Island Resort or The Palambak Dream) – Best bungalows and also one of the biggest islands in the Banyaks. This is our favorite Banyak island and it’s where we spent most of our time.
- Tailana Island (Paradise Island Tailana) – Small island that started with very basic housing, but recently added new and improved beachfront bungalows. Good snorkeling. This is one of the only islands known for not having any mosquitoes.
- Sikandang Island (Nina’s Bungalows or The Coral Sikandang) – Basic bungalows on a medium size island that you can circle in 2-3 hours walking.
- Panjang Island (Kimo Beach Resort) – Most developed island, but also the most popular with locals so it can get a bit crowded, especially on weekends.
- Tambarat Island (Ira Bungalows) – Basic bungalows on one of the most quiet islands in the Banyaks.
- Tuangku Island (Banyak Surf Resort) – A surf camp in the “Bay of Plenty” on Pulau Banyak’s biggest island. Go here if you’re a surfer who wants to catch the waves.
Where We Stayed: Palambak Island Resort
We stayed at the Palambak Island Resort for most of our time in the Banyaks. Like the other islands, the facilities here are basic, but the quality and management is a lot better. Everything was perfect for us.
They have the best bungalows in the Banyaks, and the best meals too. The rooms are still basic, but you have a hammock, fan, mirror, and trash can, and a mosquito net that covers the whole room. The shared bathrooms have a cold shower, water bucket, and toilet paper. Electricity is by generator from 5 PM to 10 PM.
Meals were a variety of rice, veggies, chicken, fish, fruit, pancakes and more. Everything was hot and fresh. You can customize your meals yourself, or let them do it for you. Unlimited water refills are included too.
The island of Pulau Palambak Besar is as good as any in the Banyaks, with long white sand beaches that are all yours. It’s a big island (takes 3+ hours to circle), so you’ll never feel crowded even if other guests are there. The only negative is the lack of good snorkeling, but you can do day trips to other islands for that.
Claudine, the Australian-Indonesian owner of Palambak Island Resort, was very helpful arranging transport for us and answering all of our questions about the Banyak Islands. English is one of her native languages and you can contact her via WhatsApp at ☎ +62 812-608-1916.
Best Things To Do In Pulau Banyak
- Island Hopping. You can do day tours of the nearby islands in Pulau Banyak with a wooden motorboat and driver. Our boat driver from Palambak cost 800k Rupiah for a full day tour of 5-6 islands, including the lighthouse at Pulau Rangit. This is a great way to see more of the area.
- Kayaking. The Banyaks are fantastic for kayaking, and you can rent these from Palambak or Tailana. We got a single person kayak for 100k Rupiah ($7) per day, or you can rent a double for 150k. I wouldn’t stray too far from the main islands though.
- Trekking. It’s fun to walk the perimeter of your island. Palambak takes 3+ hours to circle, but smaller islands like Tailana can be done in 20 minutes. If you want to do real trekking on hills and jungles, you’ll have to go to Tuangku Island.
- Snorkeling. The best snorkeling spots seem to be at Pulau Asok, Tailana, and Palambak Kecil, and all of these can be reached near the beaches. Sadly we saw a lot of dead coral in the Banyak Islands, unlike other places in Indonesia.
More Islands To See
- Pulau Rangit. A pair of islands near Palambak. The small island (Rangit Kecil) has a lighthouse you can climb to the top, and the big island (Rangit Besar) is still undeveloped.
- Pulau Asok. A long, thin island shaped like a cotton swab. It’s uninhabited and has some good snorkeling spots near the south end. It’s also great for drone pictures.
- Pulau Bangkaru. One of the most remote islands in the Banyaks, so it’s a bit pricey to visit. Several types of sea turtles come here to lay their eggs on the beach throughout the year.
Other Tips For Pulau Banyak
- ATMs: There is no ATM anywhere in the Banyak Islands. The last ones are in Singkil, so bring enough cash to cover your trip. We paid most of our bills by bank transfer, and some hotels like Palambak Resort also accept Paypal for payment. The only time we used cash was for the island hopping tours and boat transfers.
- Cell Service: Telkomsel has good 3G/4G reception on many of the islands like Pulau Balai, Palambak, Tailana, and Panjang. We didn’t check the others.
- Culture: The locals in Pulau Balai and Pulau Panjang are very conservative Muslims, and if you wear anything less than a hijab there you may get unkind looks and comments. My wife was scolded by a man for wearing knee length shorts instead of a full body dress. This was at the beach in Balai. I would spend as little time as possible in Balai and Panjang unless you want to dress very conservatively at all times. Thankfully, what you wear on the other Banyak Islands is not an issue since they’re mostly private islands.
- Trash: There’s a plastic problem because the locals from Balai throw their trash carelessly into the ocean. We saw them doing this repeatedly, and we also saw piles of trash that washed onto the shore at Pulau Asok. Some of this may be seasonal (rainy season), but the problem is definitely getting worse. Hopefully awareness can be spread to the locals before more damage is caused.
- Wildlife: Near some of the islands you can see dolphins, whales, sea turtles, manta rays, giant clams, and dugongs (sea cows).
- Malaria: The locals told us there isn’t Malaria in the Banyaks, and I personally wasn’t able to find any confirmed reports of it being there, although that doesn’t necessarily mean it isn’t. According to this Lancet study in 2018, it seems Malaria is generally gone from the Banyaks. We were careful about avoiding bites (used spray in the day time and a sleeping net at night), but we didn’t take prophylactics. Mosquitoes won’t bite when you’re swimming, of course, but if you’re lounging in a hammock or eating a meal at the dining room then it’s something to watch out for.
- Crocodiles: Be careful if you swim near Matahari Island or Tuangku Island (Haloban village), especially after dark. Crocodiles have been seen at both of these islands, and a local snorkeler was killed by one at Matahari. The other islands aren’t known to have any crocs. Stay away from swamps and mangroves, and you shouldn’t have any issues.
Best Time To Visit The Banyaks
The Banyak Islands in Indonesia are good to visit all year round.
North Sumatra has a tropical rainforest climate that doesn’t follow the same weather patterns as the rest of Indonesia, so every month is rainy.
I wouldn’t stress about when to visit Pulau Banyak. The driest months are February, March, June, and July, but the rainfall is still higher than places like Bali.
We went in the middle of what would normally be considered the rainy season (December), but we still had great weather most of the time!
The rain usually comes in the evenings or at night, and only lasts a few hours max.
How Long To Stay
You can see the highlights of Pulau Banyak in a few days, but you’ll probably want to stay longer because it’s just such a relaxing place to be.
Read a book, nap in the hammock, soak in the ocean, watch the sunset, and go for a morning run around the island.
We stayed 1 week and the time flew by. This is truly a hidden paradise in North Sumatra.
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