Pulau Banyak - Indonesian 'many islands' are a group of islands off the west coast of Sumatra.
The islands are largely untouched by progress, as though they are located to the west of North Sumatra, they fall by administrative quirk into the province of Aceh, in the district of Aceh Singkil. Aceh boasts that it is governed by Shariah law, and priorities do not seem to include creating transport infrastructure to reach the islands.
Reaching the ferry port for the island is, the town of Singkil, is quite easy, taking eight hours from Medan, or ten hours from Bukit Lawang by car. The route goes via Berastagi, and is also not too far from Lake Toba being around six hours from each.
Getting across to the islands, is a different matter, as though there may be daily departures by various boats, none are particularly seaworthy so boats will not go during stormy seas. Weather can be calm at any time of year, but the peak season of July and August carries the biggest risk of delay, and tourists can be stuck for several days trying either to access or return from the island. The months of November to March have less risk of bad weather but nothing here is guaranteed. There is a twice-weekly Indonesian ferry (ASDP) , but repairs and changes to schedules are common, so travellers cannot count on anything.
The islands have little in the way of accommodation, equipment, etc. The main appeal is picture-perfect tropical islands with beautiful white sandy beaches and coconut palms. The snorkelling and diving is not very impressive, due to damage from the tsunami. There are also a few surf resorts.
Overland travellers with a long time to spend in Sumatra can consider a visit if looking to relax on a tropical beach with basic facilities. Those looking for world-class diving, snorkelling or high-grade hotels should fly from Medan to another part of Indonesia, such as to Komodo, Bunaken or Raja Ampat for diving/snorkelling, or Bali or Lombok for high-grade beach accommodation. Sumatran travellers can also consider Pulau Weh, which is much easier to get to as it has reliable ferry services from Banda Aceh, as well as its own airport.