Scattered off the western coast of Sumatra, the Mentawai Islands are home to some of the best waves the world has to offer. Year-round swells up to 15 feet, perfect left and right handers, together with pristine island landscapes, have turned this paradise into one of the ultimate surf meccas.
It's warm waters are home to both reefs and point breaks, with plenty of secluded bays and unchartered territory where you can search for waves far from the crowds. Whether you’re basing yourself at one of its tailor-made surf camps or embarking on an epic surf charter to access its most remote corners, the Mentawai Islands won’t disappoint even the most widely travelled surfer.
Most nationalities are eligible for a 30-day visa on arrival in Indonesia which cost USD$35 and can be renewed in country for an additional month at any Indonesian Immigration Office. If you're flying from Bali, you would have already picked up a visa on arrival.
If you want to stay longer, you will either need to do visa runs every month (normally to Kuala Lumpur or Singapore), or apply for a 60-day tourist visa before arrival and renew it for an additional month once you’re in Indonesia. A few countries are classified as ‘visa-free’ and will automatically get a 30-day stamp on arrival at no charge.
When To Go
While the Mentawai Islands experience year-round swells, together with around 30 degree Celsius temperatures both above and below the water, the most consistent surf season is between March and October/November. This coincides loosely with the dry season, while the heaviest rainfall hits in January/February.
The northwesterly winds that dominate between November and February favour some of the archipelago’s lesser known waves, so surfing during the ‘off’ season is still viable and you’ll be competing with fewer crowds.
How To Get There
Padang is the gateway to the Mentawai Islands, located on the west coast of Sumatra. There are daily flights from Kuala Lumpur, Singapore or Jakarta, so if you’re coming from Bali you will need to transfer through Jakarta first.
Once you’re in Padang there are a number of different ferry ports servicing the Mentawai Islands, depending on where you are going (this applies if you are staying in a land camp, if doing a boat charter, you will be picked up from Padang)
The slow (but cheap) way - From Padang get a 45 minute taxi to the port and jump on the slow, overnight ferry ('Ambu-Ambu') which takes 10-11 hours to get to the port of Siberut. Once here, your surf camp will organise to pick you up with a speedboat. The ferry leaves at 8pm so you'll spend the night with a bed in a cabin - $110USD for a twin cabin and $195USD for a quadruple share cabin (all with your own bed)
The new fast ferry - a 45 minute taxi ride from the airport to the port will get you the new Mentawai fast ferry service which operates 6 days per week (Monday - Saturday) and costs around $22 each way per person, with an extra $17USD per board bag. The fast ferry goes to different Mentawai island ports on different days, so check the schedule here.
The super fast (and super expensive way) - If you have a group of 10+ surfers all coming at the same time, you have the option of chartering a private speedboat to take you directly to your surf camp, however this will cost around $1500+ USD each way, so only makes sense if you have people to share the fair with, and are stinging to get to the action!
Land-based accommodation - Most of the land-based surf camps in the Mentawai Islands are all-inclusive, meaning transfers from Padang, accommodation, meals and daily boat access to the surf are all covered. At between $700-$4,000 for 10-12 day packages, they’re good value and you’ll be guaranteed easy access to the waves each day without having to organise and haggle for boat prices.
If you are on a really tight budget, you can get rooms only for around $35 per night and pay just for what you eat on top of that. The good thing about this option is that you’ll be working more directly with local Mentawains, helping to get their low-budget businesses off the ground with a taste of local living at the same time. If you like to be in control of how, why and when, then this option is for you.
Boat Charters - Boat charters are all-inclusive from the outset (they’ll often even pick you up from the airport in Padang), with prices between $2,500-$6,000 for a 10-12 night trip. This really is the most convenient way to travel the archipelago and if you just want to surf legendary waves and are willing to pay a little extra for it to be hassle-free, then this is the way to do it.
Food - If you’re doing an all-inclusive surf camp or charter then you’ll be served up big, hearty meals three times a day. They know you are there to surf and have an appetite to match. If you are staying at a local camp then things will be more basic and you’ll get what you pay for in terms of food and portion sizes. Expect plenty of rice and noodles, fresh coconuts and other tropical fruits, and budget for at least $10 per day.
Getting Around - If you’re not travelling with an all-inclusive camp or surf charter then keep in mind you’ll need to pay your ferry transfer from Padang out to the islands (around $40), plus an additional charge for surfboards and porters, as well as speedboat transfers from the Mentawai harbour to your accommodation if road access is not available (around $80-150). In addition, if you want to access offshore breaks, you’ll need to charter a boat each day, which is in the range of $150, split between up to four surfers.
Daily Budget - If you’re planning at the budget end of the spectrum then expect at least $70 per day plus ferry transfers and flight costs, anywhere up to $600 per night if you want to indulge in the height of surf chartering luxury.
Quick Money Saving Tips
- Surf in the ‘off season’ - Most of Mentawai’s surf camps offer heavily reduced packages for the ‘off’ season, with prices cut by up to around 45%. While you might not get to surf the big waves the region is famed for, you’re still pretty much guaranteed surf.
- Take the slow ferry - Most land-based camps offer fast speedboat transfers in their all-inclusive prices, but for those that don’t, opt for the slow overnight ferry and you’ll save yourself a bit of cash (without missing out on a days surfing).
How To Surf The Mentawais
If you’re planning to head to the Mentawai Islands then you have two choices - stay at a land-based camp (either all-inclusive or pay-as-you go) or take to the open seas on a surf charter, offering greater ease of getting between the islands and access to a far wider range of breaks.
For those who need wifi or perhaps don’t have the best sea legs, then a land-based surf camp might be best, offering most of the creature comforts of home, together with space to come and go as you please (and escape from other surfers who might push all the wrong buttons at the end of the session).
All-inclusive camps still offer relatively fast access to local breaks, as well as guides experienced in the region who know all the best spots, and are a good option for those bringing their other halves. But if you are in the archipelago to explore unchartered territory and surf as many breaks as possible, then a surf charter venturing far and wide is the way to go.
Surf Camps In the Mentawais
While surf charter boats dominate the industry in the Mentawai’s, a scattering of land-based surf camps have sprung up in recent years, offering all-inclusive packages that include transfers from Padang, boat access to local breaks, hearty meals and a private bungalow with all your creature comforts to escape to at night.
At the budget end of the range, prices start from around $700 for a 10 night package, all the way up to around $4,000.
- Plenty of space and creature comforts to relax in at the end of the day
- Activities to keep non-surfing partners and family entertained
- Easy access to land-based treks and villages if you want to explore away from the water
- Limited access to waves (unless you are willing to pay for the extra mileage)
- Breaks clustered around the camps are often more crowded
If you’re not sure where to start, here are five popular Mentawai land-based surf camps
Kandui Resort - Located at ‘Playgrounds’, Kandui Resort is close to more than a dozen breaks, with plenty of activities for non-surfing partners and family. Surfers wanting to surf the infamous 'Nokanduis' wave will love this resort.
Macaroni’s - Macaroni’s sits right on top of the Mentawai’s fun left-hander of the same name, and prides itself on its community projects - injecting funds into local villages, employing local workers, and sourcing produce from the surrounding rural farms.
Gordo surf camp - One of the more affordable surf camps in the region, but do not worry; you'll still be doing as much surfing as you would if you stayed at a different camp. A basic camp - but that's all you need when the waves are firing. Check them out here.
Mentawai Surfing Retreat - Being the first surf camp in the area means the Mentawai Surfing Retreat has got the islands dialled, and there packages are 100% inclusive, meaning if you want to go and surf waves at the other end of the archipelago at the drop off a hat, you can. A great option for surfers who want to surf as many waves as possible
To see a comparison of ALL of the surf camps in the Mentawais, visit this page
Mentawai Boat Charters
As one of surfing’s premier destinations, there is no shortage of surf charters on offer in the Mentawai archipelago. Everything from basic shared cabins to full-appointed luxury vessels ply these waters, catering specifically to surfers and getting them to and from the best breaks the islands have to offer.
Prices range from around $2,500 to $6,000 for a 10-12 day trip, and while this may seem a little steep compared to other destinations, most surfers would claim it’s worth every penny.
- Easy access to multiple breaks and unchartered surf spots
- Highly experienced boatmen and surfers who know the Mentawai Islands inside out
- Fishing gear included to kill time between sessions
- Flexibility to tailor trips to surfer’s desires
- Not for those prone to seasickness
- Difficult to escape from fellow passengers who drive you crazy
- Often compromising on some creature comforts and mod-cons
- Will only operate with minimum numbers making it difficult to guarantee your trip well ahead of schedule
The choice of surf charters is extensive, but here are five of the most popular to get you inspired:
Navistar charters - Operated by an Englishman with 12 years experience in West Sumatra, surfing every break from the Mentawais to Aceh, the Navistar is in good hands. This 65 foot sloop operates small group surf charters throughout the archipelago, offering extensive access in the mid-range market.
Ratu Motu - For a luxury surf charter then you really can’t go past the Ratu Motu, designed not only for surfers but also their partners. It comes complete with plasma screen TVs, internet, and deluxe Staterooms with ensuite bathrooms, but it has a hefty price tag to match. Melaleuca Charters - Melaleuca couples traditional Indonesian design with modern western amenities and safety features, headed by an Aussie with years of experience working and surfing in the archipelago. At 80 feet it’s one of the more spacious vessels cruising these waters and individual cabins allow plenty of privacy.
Santa Lusia - One of the best budget surf charter options in the Mentawai Islands is the Santa Lusia, with enough room for 10 surfers within air-conditioned quarters. They have two smaller speedboats to get you out to the surf quickly, which also allow for fishing, diving or exploring the surrounding tropical islands.
Star Koat - having built a reputation as one of the Mentawai’s best value operators, Star Koat is benefited by its highly knowledgable owners at the helm. Their trips offer plenty of insider info on the breaks, reef conditions and best fishing spots, combined with personalised attention and cabin comforts on board.
...But there are many, many more. Check out this epic list of Mentawai surf boat charters.
Surfing In The Mentawais: The Waves
While this is far from an exhaustive list, here are some of the Mentawai’s breaks heading north to south - consider this a tasting plate of what you're in for during a trip here.
Burgerworld - The point break at Burgerworld off Siberut has a reputation for being a last ditch option when everywhere else is flat. But with there always being something to ride here and shore access, you can’t go wrong if you’re look for a fun right-hander with plenty of cutback sections.
E-Bay - The fast, left-hander barrel known as ‘E-Bay’ works with a westerly swell, peaking at around head high or bigger. It’s difficult to get it at its best (so count your lucky stars if you do), but its quintessential tropical paradise panorama is worth the visit.
Pit Stops - A few hundred metres from ‘E-Bay’ lies ‘Pitstops’, one of the archipelago’s most high performance waves. The take-off can be challenging but the wave itself fun, running over a combination of sand and reef and ending on a stunning tropical beach.
Bank Vaults - One of the Mentawai’s trickiest waves, ‘Bank Vaults’ is a thick right-hander barrel that is easy to get caught inside during any swell size. The sets here are unpredictable and somewhat dangerous, but if you manage to get in the right zone the it’s legendary.
Nipussi - Just down the point from ‘Bank Vaults’ within a reef-bottomed cove is the mellow wave of ‘Nipussi’. It’s a short right-hander that’s at its best when there’s not much swell and can be relied upon when the rest of the islands are flat.
No Kanduis - ‘No Kanduis' is known as one of the fastest left-hand barrels in the world, wrapping around a small island. It doesn’t allow you to do much but go ridiculously fast and hold on. It’s best when it’s big and don’t even try when it small because the reef below will cut you to shreds.
Four Bobs - ‘Four Bobs’ is a fun right-hander suitable for all experience levels. The break is over a shallow reef so it’s not always the best option at low tide, but its short barrel allows for a couple of turns before dying off into the channel. Its accessibility and consistency make it a favourite.
Rifles - ‘Rifles’ is undoubtedly one of the best waves in the Mentawais, if not the world. This long, sometimes violent, right-hander offers numerous tube sections that you can piece together if you’re fast, particular if it’s a few feet overhead. If you manage to catch ‘Rifles’ you have serious bragging rights.
Hollow Trees - Also known as ‘Lance’s Right’, ‘Hollow Trees’ is a great right-hander that peels along a reef just off Sipura. It can be difficult to read on larger swells and be careful on the shallow reef inside, affectionately known as the ‘surgeon’s table’.
Macaronis - Macaronis is one of the Mentawai’s most perfect waves and hailed by many as the world’s funnest. From barrel-riding to aerials you can do almost anything here and it boasts a viewing tower harbouring plenty of onlooking candidates. It begins with a great barrel ride over reef that curves into a deep bay and a ripple wall.
Thunders - Surfable at all tide levels, ‘Thunders’ is one of the more consistent breaks in the Mentawai’s. It’s a large left-hander that races over a shallow inside reef, and with multiple take-off points, it can handle the crowds that descend during July and August.
Beng Bengs - a fast and fun Rippable, perfect for practicing your vertical surfing, and often a great choice when the crowds are around.
Flat day activities
Venture into the jungle - The interior of the Mentawai Islands are home to lush jungle where wild boar, black spotted dear and macaques live, and guided treks will take you deep into this incredible ecosystem. Together with some of the world’s largest snakes, including reticulated pythons, king cobras and green tree vipers, as well as water dragons, the wildlife spotting opportunities are unbeatable!
Go fishing - The Mentawai waters are home to giant trevally, king mackerel, snapper, mahi mahi, and even black marlin, making them a fishing paradise. Particularly on surf charters this is a great way to wile away the hours outside of the surf (and most charters will supply equipment), while rocky beaches harbour mud crabs, octopus and sea snails were you can fossick on your own.
Visit an indigenous tribe - The Mentawai Islands are known for their highly adorned ethnic tribes who live deep within the islands and are best accessed via river waterways. You can spend a night or two with these communities, learning how to make traditional poison arrows, process bark cloth, and witness an authentic shaman ceremony.
Kayak and paddle board - Most land-based camps offer kayaks or stand-up paddle boards for guests to explore the lagoons and surrounding coastline, stopping to swim at secluded coves and venturing to nearby villages.
Packing Tips For The Mentawais
- Pack light - If you’re taking a surf charter then space is at a premium, but with the weather so warm you don’t need much except your boardies anyway.
- Bring Boards - You can hire boards in Mentawai, but they aren’t going to be at the bargain basement prices of Bali, so it’s best to bring at least one (if not multiple boards) to suit different conditions. Most of the domestic Indonesian carriers and international airlines flying to Padang accept boards, but it’s always best to check if they are going to charge you for excess baggage before you book.
- Booties - Pack booties if you don’t want to get cut-up on the reef breaks.
- Stock up on sun protection - A rashie is a good idea, as well as plenty of sun protection for while you’re in the water. All of these can be bought from surf camps in Mentawai but at a premium cost!
- First Aid/Medical Kit - Take a basic medical kit with antiseptic for reef cuts, band-aids, painkillers and a back-up supply of any prescription medicine that you can’t get easily in the islands is a must. Malaria can also be a problem in Mentawai (particularly during the wet season) so take a supply of anti-malarial and insect repellent to ward off any potential biters.
- Travel Insurance - Despite the added extra cost, travel insurance when travelling to the Mentawai Islands is a really good idea (and even mandatory before some surf charter vessels will let you on board).
For more information about surfing the Indonesian Island archipelagos, visit our our Indonesia surfing travel guide, and choose the region that tickles your fancy!