Getting to Nias by air

Today the vast majority of visitors to Nias arrive by air. It is the most convenient way to get here, and there are an increasing number of flights to both Nias and Medan. The Gateway to Nias is Medan, the capital of North Sumatra and Indonesia’s fourth largest city. Its newly constructed international airport has direct flights to many Southeast Asian capital cities. Medan Airport is also known as Kuala Namu International Airport (KNO) and is located 32 kilometers east of the city.

There are 5-6 daily flights from Medan to Gunung Sitoli on Nias Island. Gunung Sitoli is the largest town on the Island. Gunung Sitoli airport is also known as Binaka Airport (GNS) and is located 20 kilometers south of the city.

  • Getting to Medan

Medan (Kuala Namu International Airport) is served by direct flies from many capital cities in the region. Below is a table of the most important air links to Medan.

  • From Medan to Nias Island

Gunung Sitoli (Binaka Airport) is currently served by 5 daily direct flights from Medan. The flights are operated by Wings Air which is a subsidiary of Lion Air. The flight takes just under one hour. Typically flights depart at 6: 30, 8: 15, 9:00, 11:30 and 14:00. Check the Lion Air website for exact departure times as they may vary.

There are also less frequent flights between Binaka Airport and Sibolga, as well as Silangit Airport near Lake Toba. This is a good alternative if you are combining your visit to Nias with a tour of Sumatra. Contact Susi Air directly for flight details as they may not be available on their website.

Getting to Nias by boat

For a long time the only way to get to Nias Island was by boat. These days the great majority of visitors arrive by air, and there is a reason for that; Indonesian ferries can be very crowded and uncomfortable! If the boat is not too full and you manage to get a cabin you may have an enjoyable crossing. If the sea is rough and the boat is crowded this trip can be a very memorable experience, but not in a good way.

Who travels by ferry? Many locals have family around Sibolga, and traders bringing lots of goods back and forth to the mainland also favour the ferry. If you are bringing a car or a motorbike to Nias, the ferry is the way to go. Adventurous budget backpackers travelling to or from Nias via Lake Toba or Aceh might also consider the ferry.

Speedboats have been running on and off over the years but this option is currently not available. It is not known when this service will be offered again. If it does, it offers a very good alternative to the slow ferry. In good weather the trip takes only 3 hours and the seats are comfortable.

The main ferry terminal on Nias is in Gunung Sitoli, the largest city on the island. From here there are ferries to and from Sibolga in North Sumatra province and Singkil in Aceh province. Both of these ferries travel overnight and tickets are bought at the dock the same day of departure. The ferry departs around 8 pm, but is often delayed. Be at the docks several hours before departure to make sure getting a ticket. Going from Nias to the mainland is often very crowded, while travelling in the other direction less so. Try to get a cabin ticket or at least a bunk in a cabin otherwise you will be sitting on the floor all night which is usually very crowded. The boat option is only recommended for experienced and hardy travellers.

Local Transport

North Nias Regency is located in the northern part of Nias Island. It is easy to travel to North Nias by road from Gunung Sitoli, as the main road is very good. Here are some estimated driving times for popular destinations in North Nias:

If you are going straight to North Nias you can take a taxi directly from the airport. Taxis on Nias are often unmarked minivans or SUV’s and drivers will wait for passengers at the airport and ferry terminal. Hotels in Gunung Sitoli can also arrange taxis for you. The private taxis are usually very comfortable modern cars equipped with air-conditioning.

Most visitors want to explore North Nias, and for this you need a vehicle. A car can easily be arranged in Gunung Sitoli. Rental cars usually come with a driver, and there are several advantages to this. Local drivers know the area, speak the language and can safely navigate the local back country roads. If there is a problem, they will deal with it; you are not responsible for the vehicle in the same way as if you drive by yourself. It is not a problem to rent a car with a driver for several days, the additional cost of food and accommodation for the driver will be factored into the price.

car 3It is also possible to rent a car and drive by yourself. The main coastal roads can easily be navigated by anyone with a driving licence. But if you plan to explore the more remote areas, you should have experience in driving in rural Indonesia and speak a bit of the language. Many smaller roads are only suitable for four wheel drive vehicles.

Most Hotels in Gunung Sitoli can arrange cars with drivers. Look at the Where to Stay in Gunung Sitoli page for more information.

Public Transport

Patience is a virtue when making your way around Nias on public transport as it can be slow and difficult to access. There is no organised public transport to North Nias, but many private mini buses, called Angkots ply the roads between the larger villages and towns. Private Angkots generally don’t have fixed departure points or times. Typically they can be seen driving around the main market and downtown Gunung Sitoli, collecting passengers until full. The unofficial Angkot station for Lahewa bound minibuses is at the beginning of Jalan Sirao, a shopping street in the center of town, 50 meters from Hotel Gomo. Here there are usually a few minibuses waiting for goods and passengers heading for North Nias.

Angkots, private minibuses travel back and forth from Gunung Sitoli to various parts of North Nias.
Angkots (private minibuses) travel back and forth from Gunung Sitoli to various parts of North Nias
Going back to Gunung Sitoli from North Nias by Angkot is easier, as you can ask your guest house to help you find out where and when they leave for Gunung Sitoli. Travelling by Angkot is a great way to meet local people, but it requires the right mindset and lots of patience.

Getting to Afulu (for surfers);

For Afulu bound surfers arriving to the airport, it is best to charter a taxi (minivan) at the airport. Most drivers are usually going south, but they also know the way to Afulu in the north. Currently the only way to get there is to drive north from Gunung Sitoli to Lahewa, the main town in the north of the Island. After Lahewa the road turns south and eventually reaches Afulu. The trip takes 2.5-3 hours.

Sometimes surfers staying in the south of Nias, comes to Afulu for a few day when the surf is good. The drive from Sorake Beach to Afulu via Gunung Sitoli and Lahewa takes between 5-6 hours. It is currently not possible to drive to directly to Afulu from Sorake along the west coast, as there is a gap in the west coast road in the middle of the Island.