A volcanic island in northern Sumatra, Pulau Weh is a paradise for travellers. Lush green hills give spectacular views across white sand and sparkling water. The beaches are clean, the sea is clear and the small villages are laidback and friendly. It’s a perfect destination for backpackers and those wanting a bit more comfort. And, of course, the diving and snorkelling is among the best in the country.
If you’re after parties and nightlife, Pulau Weh isn’t for you. The island is located in Aceh, a conservative, Islamic province and the only place in Indonesia where alcohol is prohibited. Instead it’s a place to relax, recharge and escape from the world. Pulau Weh offers enough to keep you entertained for weeks – and it may tempt you to stay for longer than you planned.
I ended up stayed on the island for over a month, even though I’d intended to be there only a few days. There is something about Pulau Weh which makes you want to reach under the surface and discover more of the island, day by day.
Pulau Weh is accessible by ferry from the Ulue-lue port in Banda Aceh, Sumatra. Banda Aceh has an international airport and it takes about 40 minutes to get from the airport to the port. There are two choices of ferry – the fast one takes around an hour, while the slow one takes around 2.5 hours.
All boats arrive at Balohan Port. From here, you can take a motorbike taxi or tuk tuk (Becak) to your destination on the island. Most people choose to stay on one of the three main beaches of Weh Island.
To get around Weh Island, it is essential to have a scooter. You can rent it either as soon as you arrive at the port (and return it when you take the ferry back to Banda Aceh) or at Iboih Beach. Always bargain for the daily rental price. I was able to get it for slightly less than the daily price of my bungalow ($12).
Once you have a scooter and a supply of gasoline you can explore the island with more freedom. If you don’t know how to ride a scooter, hitch a ride from beach to beach. Locals are very friendly and there are always a number of people going up and down the island. It won't take you too long to make friends who will take you around on their scooters.
My favourite route was along the road from the Parallel 0 viewpoint to the Sabang food market, via the three beaches of Long Beach, Iboih Beach and Gapang Beach. Getting from one end of this route to the other takes about 50 minutes. On the route are all the points of interest that I will describe in this guide to Weh Island.
Among the highlights are the breathtaking views of the island's bays, surrounded by lush jungle and washed by emerald waters.
There are many beaches around the island, however these three are the most accessible ones on the western part of the island. They are all 5-10 minutes' ride from each other by scooter.
Each of them has a different vibe and different activities along with good quality accommodation and places to eat. Long Beach is the most relaxed and secluded. Gapang Beach is also quite laidback with some buzz related to the diving centres. Iboih Beach is the place where everything happens - and it’s especially dynamic in the late afternoon and evening.
Kilometer Zero is the point where the imaginary equatorial line passes and has some stunning views of the island. There is a platform where you can climb up to take pictures of the 360-degree panorama.
As you ride your scooter down the road from the aforementioned beaches to the Kilometer Zero viewpoint, you will enjoy some of the most breathtaking views on the island.
Along the way, if you see scooters parked on the edge of the forest stretching out to the sea and there is a path, walk along it, in 10 minutes you will arrive at Sunset Beach, a secret beach from where you can enjoy a stunning sunset. You will also find paths leading to coves to explore with mask and snorkel.
Pulau Weh’s snorkelling is second only to Pulau Weh’s diving. Take your mask and fins to Iboih Beach and get in the water. If you feel adventurous, snorkel your way Iboih Beach to the tiny Rubiah Island (more on that below). You can snorkel all around the tranquil Rubiah Island and I even spotted an octopus there! Other great snorkelling spots are the rocky bays right below the island’s viewpoint (see the previous paragraph), and the bay of the Stone Park cabins, on the way from Iboih Beach to Long Beach. You can also snorkel in front of Long Beach and Gapang Beach of course.
Just remember that there might be some dangerous fish in the water, including the stonefish and the lionfish. For your own safety, use your water shoes or fins. It’s good practice to avoid touching the reef and the rocks underwater.
If you love diving, Pulau Weh is the perfect place to stay. The cost of single dives here is budget-friendly compared to many other places in Asia, and there are so many exceptional dive sites.
Many diving enthusiasts come here to obtain their diving certifications or to complete the divemaster course. This is the ideal destination to learn how to dive in a variety of currents. Due to the currents, you may want to consider diving with a local divemaster if you’re not a very experienced diver.
Once you're underwater, be ready to spot fan corals, reef sharks, turtles, rays, red lionfishes, dolphins, mantas, stone fishes, and much more. Diving in Pulau Weh remains one of my top underwater experiences, together with the dive in Apo Reef in the Philippines.
Secret Beach in Weh Island is a stretch of white sand with a few trees for shade, and it’s surrounded by rocks. There are no shops or houses down there; it’s all wilderness. The beach is scattered with white rocks of various shapes - thousands of fossils and corals brought onshore by the tsunami of 2004.
Secret Beach is magnificent at night too, when you can gaze at the starry sky and observe hundreds of big hermit crabs crawling on the sand in search of the perfect rock to rest upon. You can also spot huge bats in the sky over your head, totally uninterested in you, but beautiful and graceful, playing in the breeze.
To reach the Secret Beach (also known as Sunset Beach), you need to find a path between the bushes, on the right side of the road going from Long Beach to the island’s viewpoint. It’s easy to spot the beginning of the trail: as sunset approaches, locals leave their motorbikes on the side of the road and go down to enjoy the mystical colours of the landscape. It takes 10 minutes to hike down from the main road to Secret Beach.
A 30-minute ride with stunning views of the sea and the coast, the road connecting Iboih Beach to downtown Sabang is a little adventure by itself. The road crosses jungles with majestic trees, and at one big turn, you’ll meet the local monkeys waiting for the fruit to snack on - or to steal! (I would never stop there, they come too close and are aggressive! In fact, Weh Island’s monkeys are more aggressive than the ones you meet in other places in Indonesia, like the Monkey Forest in Ubud).
On the way to downtown Sabang, you'll find locals selling fruit, several small restaurants that you might want to stop and check out, and a few mosques. In Sabang itself, you'll find a fruit market with all the papaya and the fish that you’ll ever need to be happy.
The town/market vibe will please you for sure, after a few days spent on the beach. It's also a great opportunity to try the local sugary street-food dessert, “martabak”.
Indonesia is famous for the production of colourful textiles painted with the batik technique. In the small shops of Iboih Beach and Gapang Beach one can find beautiful beach towels and cotton clothes brightly coloured with this technique.
It is also easy to find jewellery such as bracelets and necklaces made from carved and painted wood, fabrics, shells, stones, and beads.
You’ll spot the sign for the waterfall (large and handwritten) about halfway between Iboih beach and Sabang downtown. The path to the waterfall is on the right side of the road, exactly where it crosses a creek. It's about a 20-minute hike and easy enough that you can do it wearing sandals. When you reach the end of the path, the small and beautiful waterfall creates a private lagoon.
Kindly tip: Pulau Weh has plenty of wildlife, including different kinds of big monitor lizards. It’s always wise to be out of the jungle before sunset...
Another solo traveler and I were having breakfast time sitting on the porch at Norma's bungalows and enjoying juicy papaya. We were curious about the tiny, picturesque island just in front of us, opposite the Iboih Beach. I'm not the bravest when it comes to swimming in deep water... unless I'm diving! But that morning I challenged myself and had the most satisfying swim of my life so far!
It took us 20 minutes with fins and mask to get to Rubia, crossing the channel that separates the two shores, at regular speed, not too fast, not too slow. It was the best morning exercise. Once we had gotten to Rubia, we explored the islet and said hi to the people at the only restaurant. They recommended snorkelling around the rocks at the back of the island, and we spotted an octopus!
We were the only two travellers on the little island. It felt really special. This is only for fit swimmers that don't mind swimming for half an hour, otherwise you can also hire a boat. It must be incredible at sunset and night!
Iboih beach is the hub of the local nightlife (hey, nothing too loud or crazy here on this tranquil Muslim island!!). Cafes and restaurants and a few souvenir shops. It’s easy to connect with the locals and other visitors here. There are also dive shops and small markets, ATMs, and all you need to feel “social”. I’ll share what my favourite places on Iboih Beach are in a bit.
I can’t say it too many times: it’s impossible to feel lonely on Pulau Weh! The friendliness of the locals and the sense of community that can develop are really something to base your trip on. If you need some ideas on where/how to make friends on Pulau Weh here are a few:
take a snorkeling trip with a dive shop
eat dinner at Norma’s at Iboih Beach
visit Monster Divers in Gapang Beach
spend the afternoon at the Olala in Iboih Beach.
Weh Island is the place where I treated myself daily to some of the most delicious Indonesian food. I tasted everything I could, from freshly caught fish to Indonesian rice and chicken, to veggies I couldn’t name. The greatest satisfaction, was to eat a giant, juicy papaya all by myself sitting on the beach. Here are a few places I recommend eating on Weh Island.
Dinner at Norma’s Ong is served at 7 at a big, communal table, and it’s always a surprise: fish, meat, veggies, soups, a buffet where you’ll go to please your taste buds and to make friends. Soak in the sense of family and community while Norma is making all the dishes ready, and be sure to be there 10 minutes earlier to reserve your seat.
Norma also has many simple bungalows where you can stay, right on the water.
Dee Dee's Kitchen is run by two sisters that cook delicious Indonesian-fusion food. The portions are big, the recipes original, and there are really nice options for vegetarian and vegan travellers including like tempeh and huge salads. They have WIFI, and the restaurant is directly on the beach.
A French couple prepare Western-style dishes and their specialty is crepes suzettes, that you can order at any time of the day. Bonus: they have live music on Saturdays.
This is one of the most lively places on Iboih Beach. Sit at the café with the sweetest location: on the small hill rising from Iboih Beach and facing the sea. Local guitar-lovers might pass by and play something. Here you can get to know the local customs by having a chat with a local. They have accommodation too.
After hearing all these fantastic things about Pulau Weh, you might be even more confused about where exactly you should book your accommodation. The good news is, Weh Island is still an off-track destination in Indonesia, therefore you might only want to book a night or two and then look for something right when you’re there.
I hadn’t booked an accommodation when I visited, so I asked the driver to take me to see the beaches, which are a short drive away from one another. I then decided to stay at a bungalow in Long Beach.
If you don’t want to go wrong, and especially if you are a solo traveller or a couple, look for something on Iboih Beach. Iboih Beach features lots of small resorts with bungalows right on the water. You could wear fins and mask and jump from your doorway for a bit of snorkelling.
Norma’s bungalows are at the edge of Iboih Beach, which is the “tourist” centre of the island and has many small restaurants and cafes. You can make friends in a matter of minutes if you’re staying here and these bungalows are directly on the sea! You can jump from your balcony with fins and mask on and go snorkelling!
I came here for seven days after I had spent a couple of weeks in another resort, more off the beaten path. I was getting really bored and I wanted to stay on Iboih Beach, and this ended up being a great option.
This accommodation is affordable but is getting more and more popular due to the communal dinner. If these bungalows are full, try looking for similar accommodation nearby as there are a couple of more resorts with similar views.
If you’re traveling with kids, or if you’re a couple that wants to feel more secluded and private, you might not want to go resort hunting on Iboih Beach. Instead, consider one of the options below.
This is a great option for a family stay. The bungalows are spacious and well equipped. The property is surrounded by a garden and has access to a lagoon where your kids will swim safely.
It is really secluded in here and there are only a few bungalows, but the owner will help you feel right at home.
This is a more affordable option for cute wooden huts on the beach and just a few steps from the water - a motorbike’s ride away from the lively Iboih Beach.
Water/aqua shoes to protect your feet from some fish and sharp rocks
Electric torch for hiking to and from the waterfalls and secret coves.
Sunscreen as it can get hot during the day, especially in summer
Bring your favorite sunscreen as you might not like the one you find at the shops on the island.
Mask for snorkelling - either a full-face or simple mask will work. Bring your own so you don't have to waste time renting one. Don't worry, you'll use it a lot.
Your camera. The island will inspire your photography art. Be ready. And bring your Gopro to take perfect underwater photos.
There are shops selling clothes and swimming suits on Iboih Beach, so if you forget something, chances are you'll be able to buy it when you get there
Last Updated 2 December 2022