The Mentawai Guide

The Mentawai Guide

Table of Contents


This post was written in September 2019, so schedules, prices etc are subject to change. Terms and conditions apply.

    About the Mentawais

    The Mentawai islands are a group of islands in Indonesia that can only be described as paradise. Gin-clear warm water, pristine beaches, palm trees, fewer people, and waves that were designed by a perfectionist combine to form an idyllic getaway. Enough superlatives, just look at the pictures.

    Where is it?

    The Mentawai Islands are a chain of about 70 islands approximately 150 kilometres (93 miles) off the western coast of Sumatra in Indonesia. You can get a closer look here.

    About the waves!

    The Mentawai islands are home to some of the best waves in the world. With easy access to over 20 breaks, waves can be found for all levels. There are certainly some gnarly waves for experienced surfers only, but there are also challenging waves for intermediate surfers, and fun waves for beginners. You can read an overview of the different waves here.

    Siberut is the biggest island in the Mentawais. For the purpose of this blog, the group of islands that consist of E-Bay, Hideaways and Kandui is the Northern Mentawais. Everything below is Southern Mentawais.

     How to get to the Northern Mentawais?

    We layed out a detail discription here.


    How to get to Southern Mentawais?

    The first two steps will be the same as mentioned above for Northern Mentawai (1. Flight to Padang, 2. Stay the night in Padang). Step 3 will also include catching the Mentawai Fast ferry, but on a different schedule:

    The ferry departs to Tuapejat at 6 am on Mondays & 7am on Wednesdays & Fridays. It departs to Sioban at 7am on Sundays.
    Once you’ve arrived in Tuapejat or Sioban, the resort you’re staying at should arrange a transfer for you.

    Returning to Padang: on Mondays, Wednesdays & Fridays, 3pm from Tuapejat. On Sundays, 11am from Sioban.


    Padang - what to do, where to eat and shop.

    Padang is a pleasant place, but nothing super special. Here are some tips: 

    Shopping & entertainment

    • Plaza Andalas, a shopping mall close to most of the guesthouses, has a wide selection of shopping for local & western goods, clothing, food courts etc. On the top floor you can even find an arcade and movie theatre playing some western movies. 

    • Transmart Padang, an even bigger shopping mall, is a 10 minute motorbike drive from the harbour. Anything from home decoration to motorbikes is available. On the top floor they have a movie theatre and an EVEN BIGGER arcade, with an actual working rollercoaster inside. 

    Surf shops

    • subsTANCE is the only real retail surf shop in town. They store most of your surfing goods and are perfect for last minute shopping. 

    • Bat & Arrow functions as a bar/hostel but also has a little boutique surf shop in the front supporting some local brands and selling used surfboards

    • Bonsai Surf House stocks a fairly decent selection of used and new boards to rent or buy.

    Things to do

    Check out TripAdvisor’s suggestions. 

    • Lake Maninjau is a beautiful lake hidden in the hills of Sumatra, about a 2hr drive from Padang. It can be done in a day trip but we recommend staying for a night if you have the time.

    • Pantai Air Manis is a local beach a couple minutes out of town. The murky water isn't much compared to the beauty of the Mentawais but if you want to go for a quick dip it's ok. Tends to get rather busy with locals driving quads.

    • Get lost in the local market that sells local goods, fruits, textiles, and pretty much anything you can think of. Wander around and get lost in the authentic oriental style market. They even have tailors upstairs to whip you up some fresh swag from the textiles you can find downstairs. Go crazy! You’ll find the market along the street that Ampera Mega is on.

    Places to eat

    • The Weekend Cafe, a local owned restaurant in Padang close to the harbour, does a mix of western/Indonesian style food and is Padang’s best attempt at being hipster.

    • KiosK has a couple of restaurants, including a grill/steakhouse and a gelato place outside. One of our personal favourites!

    • Lamun Ombak, a famous local style restaurant selling authentic Padang food, tends to get very busy, and that’s probably a good sign!

    • Safari Garden offers higher quality Indo and western style food, with a higher price tag (which is still pretty cheap for western standards).


    What visa do I need? 

    A: Staying for 30 days or less

    In the airport in Indonesia, when you go through passport control, you will get a free Visa On Arrival. This is valid for 30 days. Thus you don’t need to apply for a visa before travelling to Indonesia, as long as the country of your passport is on the VOA country list

    B: Staying for more than 30 days

    You have two options: 
    1. Do a visa run.
      This means you must fly out of Indonesia before your 30 days expire. When you fly back into Indonesia, you’ll receive another free 30 days Visa On Arrival. A quick flight to Singapore or Kuala Lumpur are the usual choices, and can be done within a day.

    2. Extend your Visa On Arrival.

    This allows you to stay for 60 days, after which you will need to do a visa run to stay longer. It’s quite a process: 

      • When you arrive at the airport, you must purchase a 30 day VOA (that’s extendable to 60 days) for $37 USD. This must be paid in cash (USD, EUR, AUD or IDR) at a special counter in the airport.

      • You need to go to an immigration office to extend your visa to 60 days. It’s possible to do this yourself, but will be a lot easier (and take a lot less time) to get an agent to do all the work for you. For example, Bali Business Consulting offers a fantastic service. They’ll take your passport. After a few days you’ll need to go to an immigration office to get your photos taken. A few days later you’ll pick your passport up from your agent. The whole process takes between 7 and 12 business days. Cost: Rp 800 000 IDR.


      Is there a Malaria risk?

      The risk while on the islands is very small because there are usually very few people. This means that there are very few potential carriers for the mosquitoes to bite.  In order for the Malaria parasite to be transferred, a mosquito must bite a person who is already infected.

      The now infected Mosquito must stay alive for a week while the parasite undergoes a life cycle change. Then it must bite another person for them to get infected. If there is nobody infected to bite, there is no malaria, period. The risk in Padang is greater due to the dense population, so be extra careful when you’re in Padang.

      The best strategy is to use preventative measures and try not to get bitten in the first place. It is recommended that you bring light cotton pants, socks and long sleeve shirts. After the shower before dusk, covering up with this apparel is the best protection against being bitten from mosquitoes.  Shirts and pants should be loose-fitting, as mosquitoes can bite through tight-fitting clothing. Lighting mosquito coils at night is useful.

      Having fans in your bedroom also make it difficult for the mosquitoes to land.  You should apply insect repellent when the sun starts setting. Staying in a bed with mosquito nets is important, preferably nets that are dipped in pyrethrum insecticide. Mosquitoes are repelled and eventually die on contact with the nets, but it is safe for humans.

      We recommend that you do NOT ingest anti-malarial drugs (Lariam/Doxycycline/Malarone/ACT) while on the island.  For trips longer than 10 days, we recommend that you bring Larium or Malarone with you in case symptoms do appear.  Anti-malarial drugs have been known to cause such side effects as hyper-sensitivity to sunlight and even psychotic episodes, as well as increasing risk of the area developing a drug-resistant strain of the parasite.

      It is of course up to you whether or not you want to take the preventative malaria medication, and you are encouraged to seek medical advice before your trip.

      The symptoms of malaria include: high temperature (fever), sweats and chills, headaches, vomiting, muscle pains, diarrhoea. Symptoms usually appear between 7 and 18 days after becoming infected, but in some cases the symptoms may not appear for up to a year, or occasionally even longer. If symptoms appear while on the islands, you should be taken to a doctor for a blood test. Results should be received within a day. If you have malaria, you’ll be transported to a hospital in Padang. If malaria is diagnosed and treated promptly, virtually everyone will make a full recovery.


      What’s the best time to visit the Mentawai? 

      If you’re heading out to the Mentawai Islands for waves, the main Mentawai surf season runs during the dry season from March to October (much like the rest of Indonesia, although the Mentawais receives less rain than Bali during the wet season).

      That being said there is surf all year round, but not quite as consistent or world class. The shoulder season is from October to March, during which you can expect smaller surf that’s more manageable for beginners, with smaller crowds and better deals. If you want to avoid the wet season, January and February have the highest rainfall.

      More detailed info about the surf can be found here.


      What can I do other than surfing?

      A lot! Firstly, you’ll be situated on some of the most beautiful islands in the world. Just being there and doing nothing should be on your bucket list. But if you’re up for activities, you can immerse yourself in several: 
      • Snorkelling - with crystal clear water, colourful reefs and an abundance of fish, you’ll have tons of fun.
      • (Spear)Fishing - the most popular activity after surfing. You can catch trevally, dog-tooth tuna, wahoo, spanish mackerel, barracuda, coral trout, yellowfin tuna, mahi mahi, rainbow runner, sharks and sailfish. Spear fishing is also a popular pastime.

      • Hiking & exploring - with plenty of islands to explore, walking on the remote beaches and through tropical gardens will make you feel like you’re in island heaven.

      • Yoga - there’s a yoga platform on Nyang Nyang island, and more than enough beautiful spots to get your zen on.

      • Stargazing - without any light pollution, the stars really show off at night. Lie on the beach, listen to some music, and get lost in the wonders of the universe.

      • Fires on the beach - have a romantic night on the beach with a fire. If you’re single (by choice obviously), it’s just as mesmerising.

      • Watch the gorgeous sunsets. Have a few beers if you like.

      • Take some epic photos - there are so many spots to capture photos that you’ll keep for a lifetime.

      • The most important activity of all: Slow down. Unwind, chill, read, listen to music, listen to the waves, be at peace. You’ll return home feeling rejuvenated.

      Cost of Mentawais

      In general, the Mentawais is more expensive than other parts of Indonesia, but for good reason. For surf charters, expect roughly $1500 - $4000 for 10-14 nights. If you’re paying less than $1500 for a 10 night stay, be suspicious.

      Land camps and resorts vary hugely. You could find local homestays as cheap as $35 for a room & 3 meals, but you’ll pay at least $150 extra for a daytrip on a speedboat if your closest break isn’t working. Luxurious resorts can cost up to $4000 for 10 days.


      Surf charters vs land camps

      You’ll be stoked with either option. It’s up to your personal preference, but here are some pros and cons to consider: 

      Surf resort Pros: 

      • Generally cheaper than surf charters 

      • With a lot of non-surfing activities, this is more suitable for non-surfers and families. Activities on offer usually include swimming, snorkelling, fishing, SUPing, kayaking, hiking, jungle treks, restaurants, spa… 

      • You’ll probably be more comfortable and have more privacy on land than in a boat (although the super fancy boats may disagree). 

      Surf resort Cons:

      • Less spots to surf as you’ll likely stay within one regionYou’ll stay within one region of the Mentawais.

      • Crowd factor: If there are 20 people staying at your resort, with a couple surf charters parked outside, your nearest break might get really crowded. 

      Surf charter Pros:

      • If the point of your trip is to surf and only surf, this might be ideal for you. Due to ease of mobility, charters can travel overnight to be at the right spot at the right time. You’ll also get to see a lot more waves and regions. 

      • If a spot is too crowded, you can simply move to another break. 

      Surf charter Cons

      • If you’re a non-surfer, there won’t be much for you to do!

      • Try and join a group of surfers who are at a similar level as you. It’ll be annoying if you’re a pro and your friends all want beginner waves, or vice versa. 

      • Generally the charters run on 10-day schedules, so if you only have a week, this won’t work for you.

      • Sorry to be Captain Obvious, but charters aren’t ideal if you get seasick. Or if you don’t like boats.

      What should I bring? 

      • At least 2 surfboards (We also have rentals available upon request)

      • Cash:

        • Rp 1 000 000 for Mentawai Surfer Tax, payable at your surf camp.

        • Rp 590 000 for Mentawai Fast ferry trip (Rp 295k one way)

        • Rp 200 000 - Rp 600 000 to buy souvenirs, the wooden Mentawai craftsmanship is pretty impressive (they also trade their goods for clothes if you want to clear your travel closet)

        • Everything elsa is payable via credit card or transfer.

      • Credit cards (Visa or Mastercard)

      • Ding repair kit

      • Charger for phone/device and adapter

      • Long sleeve t-shirt (1-2)

      • Pants (1-2)

      • Passport + 2 photocopies

      • Travel insurance information

      • Prescription medicine

      • Sandals

      • Sealable ziploc bags

      • Personal toiletries

      • Shoes

      • Socks

      • Sunglasses

      • Flashlight/headlamp

      • T-shirts (3-4)

      • Shorts (2)

      • Travel backpack (1)

      • Waterproof windbreaker jacket

      • Big wave leash

      • Extra leashes (2)

      • Boardshorts (3)

      • Extra fins

      • Fin key

      • Long sleeve rash vest (easier to wear this than covering your body in sunblock) 

      • Reef booties 

      • Sunblock (recommend zinc or other waterproof sun lotion) 

      • Tropical surf wax (2 – 3)

      • Wax comb

      • Surf hat

      • Surf bag

      • Mosquito repellent 

      • Beach towels 

      • Energy bars

      • Medical kit

        • Any personal medication along with medication for anything you’re susceptible to, for example: ear and/or sinus infection, allergies, UTIs, asthma, stomach/digestive ailments, skin ailments

        • Anti-Inflammatory Pills

        • Motion Sickness Remedy

        • Pain Killers

        • New toothbrush for scrubbing wounds

        • Antiseptic treatment (e.g. Alcohol antiseptic or 3% hydrogen peroxide)

        • Adhesive wound dressing (e.g. Primapore)  

        • Sterile cotton gauze squares 

        • Antiseptic ointment (bacitracin, Bactroban)

      Quick tip: Stock up on vitamins before you get on the plane, as planes offer the most likely chance of you getting sick during your trip.

        How gnarly are the reefs?

        The reefs in the Mentawais are infamous for blessing surfers with gnarly reef cuts. There’s even a reef that’s earned its name of “The Surgeon’s Table”. There’s no need to be overly stressed though. If you aren’t riding 10 ft barrels on shallow reef you’ll be fine. There are plenty of waves that don’t break over shallow reefs (e.g Beng Bengs, 4-Bobs). Take the following preventive measures: 

        • Wear reef booties (first prize is to wear them no matter what. But if you start getting comfortable at a spot, you can risk being barefoot). 

        • Don’t surf waves you don’t feel comfortable on. Especially if the waves are massive and breaking over shallow reef. Ask experienced surfers for their opinion of the conditions before getting in. 

        • Keep track of the tides. Lower tides present an increased chance of a reef cut. 

        That being said, most surfers won’t listen to the above advice and will charge on waves outside of their comfort zone. When you get cut, here are some tips. 


        • New toothbrush for scrubbing wounds

        • Antiseptic treatment (e.g. Alcohol antiseptic or 3% hydrogen peroxide)

        • Wound dressing (e.g. Primapore)  

        • Sterile cotton gauze squares 

        • Antiseptic ointment (bacitracin, Bactroban)

        What to do: 

        Coral contains a range of very nasty and sometimes unusual bacteria and toxins. The first major rule for coral cuts is thorough, extended cleaning. For longer than what most surfers would describe as adequate — a full 10 minutes. Don’t commit the cardinal sin: “Oh, that’s long enough and good enough.” It’s probably not. Do it all again. Yes, we know, it hurts. But you’ll be grateful later. 

        Remove all dead skin with a sharp, clean pair of scissors that have been boiled to kill bacteria. Clean it with soap and clean water and a soft, sterile brush. Scrub hard. Flush with clean water. Apply antiseptic treatment (alcohol/ hydrogen peroxide). Once dry, apply antiseptic ointment (Bactroban). Cover with wound dressing. 

        Clean and rinse the cut daily with antiseptic treatment and apply antibiotic ointment three times per day. 

        If a coral-induced laceration is severe, it should be closed with adhesive strips rather than sutures (stitches) if possible, as sutures themselves act as foreign bodies and harbour bacteria.

        Watch out for infection indicated by red spreading edges of the wounds. If you’re infected, you’ll need to take antibiotics and seek proper medical help. Don’t try be brave (stupid?), infected reef cuts can be extremely serious.   

        When can I go surfing again? 

        When the wound has fully sealed and healed. If the surf is too good for you to stay out of the water, make sure you repeat the process above each time you get out.


        Shops & ATMs in the Mentawais?

        There are no ATMs. There's a tiny local shop on Nyang Nyang island (where E-Bay and Pitstops is) selling some basic cookies & smokes. If you need any more supplies the resorts usually do a run to Siberut every week.

        Is there wifi?

        Yes, you’ll be able to find reasonably priced wifi deals on most islands.
        We have high-speed internet included in our packages!

        Are there lots of Tinder users?


        Is there another word for synonym?
        Why is it called a boxing ring if it’s actually a square?
        If cockroaches can survive nuclear explosions, what do they put in bug spray? 

        Ok that’s enough questions now, you probably need a holiday!