Indonesia, Sumatra: Palau Weh Island – An undiscovered gem!

by Kelly

Weh Island was a complete surprise. Mike was looking for somewhere that he could get back into diving and as we were in Sumatra for a jungle trek he thought we should make the trip up to Palau Weh and give it a go. It ended up being a complete undiscovered gem or as we called it ‘poor mans Tahiti’!

Getting to Palau Weh (Weh Island):

We were in Bukit Lawang and we had planned on flying from the Medan airport to Banda Aceh airport, however we left booking tickets way too late and the flights we wanted were all sold out. Instead we ended up flying back to KL with Air Asia and then on to Banda Aceh with Air Asia also.


Flights to Banda Aceh are pretty limited to Lion Air, Citilink, Guaruda and Air Asia. There is not a lot of flexibility in the flight times and from Medan Citilink is the only airline with a morning flight. The others you would need to catch an afternoon flight and stay in Banda Aceh overnight then catch the ferry in the morning as they all land after the last ferry has already departed. Garuda is expensive and Air Asia only flies from KL to Banda Aceh, we wanted a morning flight and so decided to do the KL run again.

Sultan Iskandar Muda International Airport

The Banda Aceh airport is one of the prettiest I have seen, it is really beautifully designed.

You can catch a bus from Medan or other locations in Sumatra to Banda Aceh, it is about a 12 hour ride. You can go to Lake Toba on the way if you want to break it up and from all accounts it is worth it.


Once you arrive in Banda Ache you will be heading to the ferry terminal. If you are like us and are heading to the ferry from the airport you will greeted by many tour and taxi companies as soon as you leave the airport. We went with a very nice man who was very proud of his car. He had decked it out in racing style ornaments and was playing loud house music while driving. He was lovely and tried to teach us phrases so we could speak to others more easily. The rides to the ferry terminal are all pretty much set at 100,000 IDR with whoever you chose to go with.

Bartering isn’t very common and the drivers will generally just want what they charge, however at times we were able to get 10K off here and there. Choose a taxi and they will take you to the ferry which is about a half hour drive from the airport.

Ferry to Sabang:

When you are at the ferry terminal you will need to buy a ticket, we arrived around 9am and could easily buy a fast ferry ticket for the next boat. This was no the case when we were leaving however. We arrived at the ferry terminal in Sabang (on Palau Weh) about 40 minutes before the first fast ferry was leaving and were told it had just sold out. We had a flight at 11am and really needed to get on that first ferry. After a few minutes of stressing out Mike found some local guys who said if we head to the ferry and show them our flight details they might let us on.

The desperate plea:

This turned into us standing in a huge group of locals all trying to be the last few to get on the ferry. Mike begged the customs and army men there who very kindly took pity on us and let us through. They didn’t charge us extra, just exactly the 80,000 IDR each that the tickets cost and took a photo of our passports. We felt like Jack on the Titanic as we were ushered up to the top luggage area like stowaways to where the ‘no ticket’ people were! I have never been so relieved as when that boat left the terminal and knew we would make the plane. Moral of this story is this, when you arrive at the Sabang ferry terminal purchase your tickets to return then so you know you have them!

Bekap Ride!

Once you are in Sabang you will again be welcomed by taxi and motorbike drivers all trying for your business. You can take a motorbike with a sidecar called a bekap for 80,000IDR or a taxi car for 150,000 IDR. We chose to go with the motorbike and it was a lovely drive. Very scenic views across the island and the side car has a little roof to keep rain or sun off you as it is about a 40 minute drive to Ibioh. They will drop you off in the town and you will walk the rest of the way to the area where most of the accommodations are. Check out our quick video on cruising in our bekap to Iboih at our YouTube channel it shows our bekap ride, getting to Ibioh and our bungalow over the water.

Safety warnings.

I must admit that when looking at the information on Palau Weh there were a few concerning factors that kept cropping up. There were warnings about going to Banda Aceh, a necessary step as this is where the ferry leaves from. The area of Aceh is under sharia law there were warnings that travelling as a couple would be dangerous if you are not married and that Palau Weh was a little less strict but still very modest. This honestly made me pretty nervous and I google way to far down the rabbit hole of what had happened there in the past. It made us change our plans to arrive late at night, sleep in Banda Ache and then go to the island in the morning, I felt it was safer to arrive in the day and move on to the island immediately. Mike thought it wouldn’t be a problem if you weren’t being disrespectful.. but you never know. We didn’t have a problem when in the area, I did cover my head with a scarf and made sure not to wear tight clothes.

What to wear:

I can only speak to my own experience but I found the people in Banda Aceh and Palau Weh to be very welcoming and friendly. We were not questioned as to our martial status and we received smiles from everyone we passed. I have never had such trepidation about visiting a place before and was so happy to find out that it was not needed. I did dress respectfully and had a scarf ready to cover my head if needed so that I didn’t offend anyone. This wasn’t needed on the island although I did do this in the airport.

In Banda Aceh I wore baggy ‘Thailand’ or ‘happy’ pants and a loose top that covered from my neck to my elbows and I had a scarf around my shoulders in case I was requested to put it on. Anther traveller we met that lives in Malaysia told me that if you wear tight leggings just make sure to wear a longer top or to tie a jumper around your waist. This was not necessary in Palau Weh and wearing shorts and t-shirts etc was fine. Swimwear is only for the beach however, don’t go wandering through town with it on.

sign in Weh asking for modesty in the town

Where to stay on Palau Weh (Weh Island):

I have two favourite places to stay on Palau Weh and it depends on what you would prefer to do while there. In a perfect world I would spend half my time at one and half at the other:

Iboih Accommodation

We chose to stay at Olalas Cafe and Bungalows in Ibioh Beach. There is a great little backpacker vibe to the area. The accommodation is super simple and I really recommend booking a deluxe double room with balcony and sea view. This will give you a waterfront bungalow which is actually built so that the bed and balcony are over some great snorkelling.

We watched tropical fish, an octopus, a moray eel all dart among the rocks and coral. You can see the water between the floor boards and you will drift to sleep listening to the waves lap underneath you. The hammock on the balcony is pure perfection. I can not stress enough how magical this place is.

Olalas bungalows right over the water at  Palau Weh (Weh Island)


The cafe is also suspended high off the ground with great views and the food is good! The staff are so friendly and can provide scooter hire, snorkelling gear, tour trips, pretty much anything you need! Check out the quick video we made on cruising in our bekap to Iboih and a room tour of our room at Olalas on our YouTube channel!

Ibioh beach is actually a little walk from this area and lots of local tourists stay in the first beach part (which is where you will be dropped off). Then it is a bit of a walk up a hill on a broken old path. There is great snorkelling right off the jetties that line this area and it’s very laid back in general. You will see a sign that says “Entering Ibioh village, please dress politely” make sure to cover up a bit if you are in a bikini or swimsuit.

Simur Tiga Beach Accommodation:

The other place I would recommend is the amazing Casa Nemo at Simur Tiga Beach. Located on a perfect white stretch of sand with incredible blue water and a little snorkelling from the beach.

The hotel is situated on a hill and the entry opens up in to a beautiful garden where the rooms are located. Follow a path down through some big wooden doors that open up to reveal the ocean views and path to the restaurant. It is a stunning location and the restaurant is really lovely right on the waterfront.

Personally if (when) I go back I would split my time between the two, maybe starting at Olalas and enjoying the snorkelling and rustic appeal of the area and then move to Casa Nemos for some beach time and luxury!

What to do on Palau Weh (Weh Island):

What to do on Weh Island, there’s more than I first thought! Honestly the whole place is so relaxing that I could have easily passed a week just reading books in my hammock!

Chill out –

Number one has to be chill out! It does take a fair bit of effort to get here so it makes no sense to rush around and not soak up the atmosphere. It is really rare that you can visit a place so beautiful that is yet to be overrun by tourism. Slow down and enjoy it! I could have spent a week in the hammock at Olalas reading books and eating the good food in their restaurant. The food is simple but tasty and the cook is a real character. Expect him to tell you he only cooks to the menu-no substitutions and wont cook breakfast at lunch. He will stand on the stairs and call out to you so be ready to run and collect your meal!

Snorkel –

Hire a snorkel and flipper set for 30,000 IDR and explore the little reef system that runs along the coast. It is amazing how much sea life we saw! Just from my balcony alone I saw an octopus, tropical fish, wrasse, moray eel and a sting ray! Snorkelling just brought it all closer and honestly it is the best I have ever done, so simple to hop off the jetty right near your room and go for a snorkel every day.

Scuba Dive –

Palau Weh has some strong currents so you need to go with a good company. To get back in to diving Mike chose to go with Ibioh Dive Centre. They were fantastic and really knew their stuff. Yusef was an excellent dive master and Mike was back in the swing of it quickly. They even picked him up from the jetty near Olalas so he didn’t have to walk into town. He had a great time diving with them and saw some awesome reef and sea life. Diving is incredibly cheap at roughly 30,000 IDR per dive. While we were there initially organising the dives there were many students doing their scuba courses as well.

Hire a scooter and see the island –

We hired a scooter from Olalas and drove around for a day. Ideally we would have had time to do this for 2 days because there is just so much to see. We headed into Sabang town, stopping off at viewpoints as we went. The scenery is spectacular and while there are a few crazy hairpin turns to navigate, take it slowly and use the beep your horn method when approaching all corners!

our scooter

The money exchange is done in banks, we went to Mandri Bank in Sabang and got caught up there having a chat to the teller. He was so excited to find out where we were from and to write down phrases in Indonesian for us to use. We found everyone to be friendly, welcoming and also very proud of their culture and land. They were very happy to teach and we were happy to learn!

We went to Casa Nemo for lunch and ended up spending hours there swimming in the sea. We had a delicious meal and then were able to use the sunbeds, toilets and outdoor showers to rinse off.

Casa Nemo Beach

After Casa Nemo we headed along the coastline in search of fuel for the scooter. You just purchase a bottle from the roadside sellers, 1L = 1000 IDR. Pretty cheap for a day out! We stopped off to pat some cows we found on the roadside, even the cows wanted lunch with a view!

We found a little store called City Market to stock up on snacks for Mike. Unfortunately as a coeliac there was nothing gluten free on offer so I missed out!

City Market had great snacks and icecreams!

City Market had great snacks and icecreams!

We had to have the scooter back by 4pm so headed back to Olalas. If we had more time I would have gone to Kilometre zero, the I Love Palau Weh Sign, the waterfall and the volcano. It just gives me more to come back for!

Meet the people –

So often in travelling you get in, do some activities and get out. But meeting the locals is really one of the greatest gifts of travelling. Listening to their stories and getting an insight of their life is a pleasure. The people here are so happy to talk. Stop, slow down and take the time to chat!

One of the lovely locals who would fish each afternoon. At times her grandson would come and help her and quite often sneak up on Mike to scare him or splash him with water!

One of the lovely locals who would fish each afternoon. At times her grandson would come and help her and quite often sneak up on Mike to scare him or splash him with water!

Palau Weh views

Go with an open mind! It is an undiscovered and lovely place to visit, there is nowhere quite like it and I highly rate it!

The beautiful Palau Weh waters

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