Pulau Karang (Coral Island) is a hidden gem in North Sumatra with perfect white sand and photogenic palm trees that hang over the turquoise water like a postcard.
Sumatra locals like to visit Pulau Karang on shared group trips from Medan, and it’s cheaper like that, but if you start and end in Medan it’s way too much travel time (20+ hours!) to be worth it for just one small island.
In my opinion, the best way to see this island is on a day trip from Singkil or Sibolga, or you can do like we did and add it to your Sumatra road trip as a stop between those two towns after visiting the scenic Banyak Islands.
This travel guide will explain how to get to Pulau Karang, and everything you need to know before you go!
Where Is It?
Pulau Karang is a small island located by the west coast of North Sumatra. It’s 4 kilometers (2 miles) from the coast.
The nearest town is Barus, which is roughly halfway between Singkil and Sibolga (you might already know Singkil as the port that goes to the Banyak Islands).
Barus is a 3.5 hour drive from Singkil, or a 2 hour drive from Sibolga.
How To Get To Pulau Karang
Drive to the port in Barus or hire a private driver with a car to take you there (see below for our Singkil driver recommendation).
Once you arrive at the port, you’ll need to hire a boat driver to take you to Pulau Karang and back. The boats are available every day, and it’s a short drive, so you don’t need to make any kind of booking beforehand.
We paid 700k Rupiah (~$50 USD) for the boat driver to drop us at the island, wait for us, and then bring us back to Barus when we were done. I’m sure if you bargain hard or go with a group, you could get it cheaper.
The boat journey to Pulau Karang is a breeze, and only takes about 30-40 minutes each way.
Pulau Karang – What To Expect
Pulau Karang is an uninhabited island (no hotels) but there are drink stands and local tourists on the island every day.
The local women wear hijabs on the beach. Keep in mind this is a very conservative Muslim area of Sumatra, so keep the swimwear modest unless you’re in private.
As soon as you land, you’ll want to start exploring the nature. Turn right and follow the beach for 30 minutes, walking past the pier and going until you reach the lighthouse.
You can circle the whole island in 1 hour walking, but the absolute best scenery is on the beaches leading to the lighthouse. There are lots of bent palm trees that are perfect for photo ops (and climbable), and the sand is incredibly soft and white!
Sadly the lighthouse is not open to visitors, since they had trouble with people breaking and stealing the lights at the top. It’s still a great spot for drone photos, and there are wooden benches to relax on.
For most of the time we spent exploring this island, we didn’t see any other people and had the beaches all to ourselves.
Where To Stay
- MB Camp Singkil – This is a hotel run by the same people as Palambak Island Resort (in the Banyak Islands), and it’s currently the only decent accommodation in Singkil. They can help with transportation and other needs.
- OYO 1500 Mh Residence – If you’re continuing on to Sibolga, this is probably your best option there.
Our Singkil Driver
Adi Chaniago is a private driver based in Singkil (the gateway port to the Banyak Islands) and he did most of the driving for our epic Sumatra road trip.
His daily rates are fair and he has a lot of experience driving to tourist sites all over North Sumatra and Aceh Province. Send him the itinerary you have in mind for Sumatra, and he will get back to you with a price quote.
He’s friendly but doesn’t speak the greatest English, so if you happen to stay at MB Camp Singkil or Palambak Island Resort in the Banyak Islands (which you should!) then Claudine the owner may be able to help with translating and explaining your itinerary to him.
You can contact Adi via WhatsApp at ☎ +62 812-6247-0584. Happy travels!
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