Pulau Weh Island: a complete travel guide on what to do, where to eat, and resorts
If you put Pulau Weh Island in Indonesia on your bucket list, be sure to read this guide on what to do once you’re there! Weh Island is a destination that you could enjoy and explore for weeks. I stayed on the island for more than one month even if I had planned to spend there only a few days… I just couldn’t have enough of this spectacular place. The locals are Muslim as in other parts of the Aceh province, but measured. The size of the island suits perfectly a solo traveler, a couple, and families, as it is nor immense nor little. This is the kind of place that you want to discover day by day. You’ll probably end up, like many others, daydreaming about moving or retiring here.
More reasons to visit Weh Island
Have a look at Weh Island on the map. It’s located between India, Malaysia, and Indonesia. This is what makes the culture, and the minds of the locals, so special. You will feel it when you are there. Pulau Weh belongs to the Province of Banda Aceh, which is a Muslim region. But you will perceive a wide rainbow of colors during your trip. And you’ll understand why Pulah Weh is so attractive that many travelers who visited decided to settle there. The international flights in the airport of Banda Aceh, only a ferry ride from Sabang, will allow you to enter and leave the country as needed. If you make a stop in Penang Malaysia before going back to Europe, make sure to read about all the things to do in Penang. You can even fly and spend the weekend in Kuala Lumpur and be back to Sumatra in only two and a half hours. What could be the only reason not to put Weh Island at the top of your Indonesia bucket list? Well, maybe because it’s too far from all the business you’ve planned in other parts of Indonesia. But believe me… you wouldn’t regret it if you ended spending all of your time in Indonesia on this island only!
HOW TO GET TO WEH ISLAND
Pulau Weh is accessible with a ferry from the city of Banda Aceh in Sumatra, which holds an international airport. From Banda Aceh, just a ferry ride to Sabang’s (local name for Weh Island) port, and from there ask a driver to send you to your accommodation, or to the main point of interest, which is Iboih Beach (and you’ll quickly find a place to stay there, if you haven’t booked anything yet).
Now let’s go ahead and know about the most enthralling activities you can perform on Pulau Weh.
GUIDE TO THE BEST THINGS TO DO IN PULAU WEH
1 Explore Weh Island’s Coast And Beaches On A Motorbike.
It’s iportant that you rent a motorbike (you can do this in Ibih Beach or ask your landlord and he/she will be able to help). I know that you’ve heard this suggestion from most of the travel articles about tropical island in Southeast Asia but… this is even more recommended on Weh Island, because the things to see and do are a bit distant from each other…and you also need the motorbike to enjoy the spectacular landscape from different viewpoints.
If you don’t know how to ride one, try and hitchhike from beach to beach. Locals are very friendly and there are always a number of people going up and down the island. There are three main beaches you can check out for a stroll: Gapang Beach, Iboih Beach, and Long Beach. Each of them has a different vibe and different activities but you’ll find accommodation on all of them, and places where you can eat. Long Beach is the most relaxed and distant from downtown Sabang. Iboih Beach is the place where everything happens, it’s especially dynamic in the evening and at night. Gapang Beach is quite relaxed. The beaches are all a 5 or 10 minutes’ motorbike ride from each other.
2 Reach Pulau Weh’s Viewpoint and the secluded lagoon
Here lies is my favorite view on Weh Island.
Directions there: going from Gapang Beach in the direction of Iboih Beach, past the three main beaches, then the road gets steeper and you will see it to your right! It’s impossible to miss it. That’s where I took the photo. From there, you can hike down a slightly steep trail to the sea and then take a left: keep walking among the rocks until you reach a crystal clear lagoon perfect for snorkeling and for pretending you’re on your own private paradise.
3 Enjoy Snorkeling on Pulau Weh Island
Pulau Weh’s snorkeling is second only to Pulau Weh’s diving. Take your mask and fins to Iboih Beach and get in the water. If you feel brave and athletic enough, snorkel your way through the 20-some-minutes cross from Iboih Beach to Iboih Island. You can snorkel all around the tranquil Iboih Island (I even spotted an octopus there!). Other great snorkeling spots are the rocky bays right below the island’s viewpoint (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.
Important snorkeling precaution
Remember that there might be dangerous fishes in the water, of course, like the stonefish and the lionfish that abound in Pulau Weh… For your own safety, use your water shoes or fins. It’s good practice to avoid touching the reef and the rocks underwater.
4 Have One Of The Best Dives In The World
If you love diving, Pulau Weh will make you happy. I wrote a specific post about diving and the best dive centers in Pulau Weh. Diving in Pulau Weh is convenient compared to many other places in Asia, and there are so many dive sites! You’ll also dive in currents, consider diving with a local divemaster if you’re not an expert diver. I probably had my best dive ever in Weh Island’s waters… can only compare that to the dives I had in Apo Reef in the Philippines.
5 Wait for the Sunset and do bat-watching at Pulau Weh’s “Secret Beach”
It takes 10 minutes to hike down from the main road to “Secret Beach”.
Directions to Secret beach or Sunset Beach:
Leave your motorbike along the street at the point highlighted on the map. You will 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 colors of the landscape. You will spot huge bats in the sky over your head, totally uninterested in you, but beautiful and graceful, playing with the breeze. Secret Beach in Weh Island is a stretch of white sand with a few trees for shade, and it’s surrounded by rocks. There is no shop or house down there, it’s all wilderness. All the white rocks of different shapes you see all around the beach are thousands of fossils and corals brought onshore by the Tsunami of 2004.
The locals remember. This is one more reason to visit and support Pulau Weh.
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.
6 Visit Pulau Weh‘s Downtown and market
Taking the road that goes from Iboih Beach to downtown Sabang is a little adventure by itself. A 30-minutes ride with stunning views of the sea and the coast. The road crosses jungles with majestic trees, and at one big turn, you’ll meet the local monkeys. They are waiting for fruit to snack on or… to steal! I would never stop there, they come too close and are aggressive! 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 Pulau Weh‘s center, the locals sell fruit, run small restaurants that you might want to stop and check out, and there are a few mosques. Downtown there is a nice 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. Or maybe just because you want to try the local sugary street-food dessert, “martabak”.
7 Hike To Pulau Weh Island’s Secluded Pool And Waterfall
You’ll spot the sign for the waterfall at about halfway from Iboih beach to downtown. It was hand-written when I visited, but it was big. The path to the waterfall is on the right side of the road, exactly where it crosses a creek. The path is clear and you can make it wearing sandals, roughly a 20-minute hike. The small and beautiful waterfall creates a private lagoon 😉
Kindly tip: Pulau Weh has plenty of wildlife, included different kinds of big monitor lizards. It’s always wise to be out of the jungle before sunset…
8 Swim to Rubia Island
“Do you fancy a swim to the little island in front of us?”
“It looks really close indeed… not too far at least… Well…”
My buddy and were having breakfat time sitting on his tiny porch at Norma’s bungalows and sampling a fantastic 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 swim 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 to snorkel a bit more around the rocks at the back of the island, and we spotted an octopus! We were the only two travelers on the little island. It felt really special. This is only for fit swimmers that don’t mind to swim for half an hour. But you can actually hire a boat and reach Rubia with technology… and maybe take it easy over there. It must be incredible at sunset and night!
9 Spend The Evening At Iboih Beach
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 reveal my favorite places on Iboih Beach in a bit.
10 Connect And Make New Friends On Pulau Weh
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 here, it’s really something to base your trip on. If you need a hack on where/how to make friends on Pulau Weh here is few:
-take a snorkeling trip with a dive shop,
-eat dinner at Norma’s,
-visit Monster Divers in Gapang Beach and say Hi!
-spend the afternoon at the Olala in Iboih Beach.
WHERE TO EAT ON PULAU WEH
We Island is the place where I treated myself daily with some of the most delicious Southeast Asian food. As I still used to eat meat, I tasted everything I could, from fresh fish to Indonesian rice cooked with pork or chicken, but the greatest satisfaction, I admit, was to riding the motorbike to the market in downtown Sabang and be back to my hut in front of the sea with my booty of a giant, green, extremely sweet and juicy papaya… and it it all by myself. I have a few places to recommend for food on Weh Island.
1.Bixio Italian Cafè
This deserves the first place because I’m Italian, of course! This place made me very happy with a portion of vegetarian gnocchi with an Italian authentic flavor. The owner is Italian from what we consider the region with the best food in Italy: Emilia Romagna, the home of the lasagna and the bolognese tagliatelle. They do a great job with basil and tomatoes grown in the backyard of their restaurant which is at 6 meters from the water in the intimate, romantic Long Beach. They have coffee and sober, but elegant bungalow accommodation. They will cook the most popular Italian dishes but forget the pork… we’re on a Muslim Island.
2. Communal dinner at Norma’s Ong
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. Feel 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 right on the sea.
3. Vegan and Vegetarian food at Dee Dee’s Kitchen
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 travelers, like tempeh and huge salads. They have WIFI, and that is useful. Directly on the beach.
4. Le Café Bleu
A French lady and his husband 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.
5. Olala Café
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 having a chat with a local. They have accommodation too.
Weh Island resorts: how to choose the perfect one
Ater hearing all these fantastic things about Pulah 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.
If you don’t want to be wrong, and especially if you are a solo traveler or a couple, look for something on Iboih Beach. If you are traveling with your family, I’ll give you some more options. If you’re a diver and will be diving everyday, keep reading.
Norma’s Ong Bungalows on Iboih Beach
I came here for 7 days, after I had slept for a couple of weeks in another resort, more secluded… reason is I was getting really bored and lonely. Norma is at the edge of Iboih Beach, which is the “tourist” centre of the island and has so many dining and coffee options. You can make friends in a matter of hours if you’re staying here. And furthermore, these bungalows are directly on the sea! You can jump from your balcony with fins and mask on and go snorkeling! This accommodation is affordable but the place is getting more and more popular because of the communal dinner, therefore you might need to bargain a bit, or simply look for identical accommodation nearby, as there are a couple of more resorts with similar position and view.
Resorts on Weh Islands for families
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 unting on skip Iboih Beach. Take into consideration instead:
Stone Park Bungalows
The bungalows here are way more confortable and the property is surrounded by a garden and has access to a lagoon where you can swim quietly with your kids. It is really secluded in here and there are only a few bungalows, but the couple who owns the place will help you feel at home.
Created ad run by an Italian and his team. His bungalows are still very nice and curated, and you can eat Italian food as you step out of your front-door. Right on Long Beach, which is quiet and beautiful.
Panorama Seulako Bungalows
This is a more affordable option for wooden cute wooden huts just a short walk from Bixio Cafè.
Resorts for Divers on Pulau Weh
Steffen Sea Sports
A mixture of simple but fine accommodation and quality diving. I liked it here because the atmosphere is calm, at the edge of the most relaxed beach on the island. There is a nice, shaded restaurant coffee shop with hammocks and long wooden tables and you can have get simple Indonesian meals. At the dive center, all the gear is top quality and new, and for your dive, at the same price of the other dive centers, you have somebody focused on you and your experience only. I recommend this dive center to beginner divers especially.
There are many resorts to choose from on Weh Island. Now that I’ve shared about the most suitable options for families, solo travelers, and divers you’ll be able to choose something to start off your trip-planning. Remember also that it is amusing to explore the island, and so be prepared for a few short drives.
What to bring to Pulau Weh
The first and foremost thing is your availability to stay there at least for one week… Can you make it?
These are essential because, as said previously, there are dangerous fishes in the water. And you want to relax and enjoy your stay, right?
You need this when you hike to and from the waterfalls and secret beach!
Bring your favorite sunscreen as you might not like the one you find at the shops on the island.
Full-face mask or simple mask. Bring your own so you don’t have to waste time renting one. you’ll need it a lot.
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. Therefore you don’t need to pack your backpack with everything you find around in your house. There are also wonderful batik towels, shirts, and skirts you will desire to get once you are there… so leave some room for it 😉
Let me know in the comments if you’ve found this guide about Pulau Weh Island and Weh Island resorts useful!