Mentawai Culture & Photography Tour

An immersive Journey to the Souls & Spirits of the Forest

With Toine IJsseldijk
Siberut is the largest of the Mentawai Islands and lays about 150 kilometers west of Sumatra, in the Indian Ocean. Large parts of the island are still covered in rainforest, home to one of the oldest Indonesian tribes, the indigenous Mentawai. The Mentawai have been living isolated for centuries and today still practice a semi-nomadic hunter-gatherer lifestyle. They are animistic and live in complete unison and peace with their natural and spiritual surroundings. The Mentawai belief links the supernatural powers of ancestral spirits to the ecology of the rainforest and they believe that all things in nature have some kind of spiritual essence, and balance is key to a peaceful coexistence. When spirits are not treated well they might bring bad luck such as illnesses or even death, and they’ll haunt those who forgot them.

Come with Us

On a once-in-a-lifetime Siberut Island Mentawai culture and photography tour. Visit the Mentawai tribe on Siberut, to immerse in their traditional culture, believes and rituals. It will be an unforgettable trip, to the heart and soul of the island.
We will travel by canoe upriver deep into the interior of Siberut, to stay with the still traditional indigenous Mentawai people. Some of the Mentawai still live in large traditional long-houses, called Uma, which are spread out in river valleys deep in Siberut’s protected rainforest. We will stay in an Uma and experience Mentawai daily life, culture, believe and sacred rituals up-close.

Upcoming Dates

September 2024; dates TBA
Siberut Island: 8 or 11 days.
October 2024; dates TBA
Siberut Island: 8 days. Optional: Bukittinggi & Pacu Jawi
Tentative Dates.


For some of the tours there is the possibility to visit Bukittinggi and the famous Pacu Jawi, traditional bull races in the highlands of West Sumatra (a 2.5 hour drive from Padang). An event not to be missed!
See some amazing images of this event further below.
If you are interested to join but dates do not suite you please contact me and let me know what month or dates you are able to go. We are planning more tours and may be able to plan around your availability. We have others interested who look for alternative dates as well, for instance during school holidays. As it’s a great experience for kids as well!

If you have a small group of minimum 3 confirmed people and you have dates we can guarantee the tour for you as well, either private or shared with a few others.

Our Mentawai Hosts

Our main hosts are Teteu and her family. She has 2 sons and 4 daughters and a dozen grand children. Her 2 sons Aman Manja and Aman Sasali are two of the youngest still traditional Mentawai Shamans on Siberut. The entire family will look after us and make sure we really get to know Mentawai daily life and customs.
Aman Sasali
Aman Manja

Cost & Inclusions

USD 1,250 per person (minimum 3 participants)
For a private trip please contact me.
  • Fast-boat to and from Siberut.
  • Transport by pick-up and motorized canoe up- and down-river.
  • All meals on Siberut Island.
  • Overnight at traditional Uma (or huts) on day 2 until 6.
  • Porters to help carry luggage when and where necessary.
  • Local tips and gifts for the Mentawai.
  • An authentic traditional ceremony with music and dance by the shamans.
  • Donation of a pig for the ceremony.
  • All activities.
  • Flights to and from Padang. We can help you make (domestic) flight arrangements if you want.
  • Transport and hotel in Padang. We usually sleep near the harbor; cost for a basic but decent room is about IDR 300,000 / night. We can also organize more luxury accommodation.
  • Other personal expenses.

Photos & Video from recent trips

Over the years…

February 2023

August 2023

August 2023


Traveling to this remote part of the world is an adventurous journey and we may need to adjust along the way, but this is the planned itinerary:
Day 1:
  • Arrive in Padang, West Sumatra and transfer to our hotel.
  • Afternoon: Time for last minute shopping, followed by a traditional Padang food dinner.
  • Evening: program briefing.
  • Overnight at a hotel in Padang.
Day 2:
  • Early morning check-out from our hotel and transfer to the harbor, to catch the 7am fast-boat to Siberut Island.
  • We travel to Muara Siberut, in the south of the island, where we will arrive either around 10.40 am (on Thursdays) or 13.45 pm (on Tuesdays and Saturdays).
  • To safe travel time by canoe and if road conditions allow we will drive by open pick-up car to the small village of Rogdok, which lies further up-river. This drive is a bit less than an hour.
  • From Rogdok we take motorized canoe and continue our journey upriver, to Muara Butui. This canoe trip will take about 2 hours, depending on water levels.
  • From Muara Butui we hike to the traditional village of Butui, which consists of a handful of traditional Uma spread out in the Butui river valley. Our destination is the last Uma upstream, which belongs to Aman Manja and Aman Sasali, two of the youngest remaining traditional Mentawai Shamans on the island. This will be our base for the next few days. The hike is about 1 hour, following the Butui river.
  • Late afternoon & evening: time to relax and get to know the family.
  •  Overnight at the Uma in Butui.
Day 3:
  • Full day time for exploration and photography: the house and surroundings, traditional food gathering and preparation, etc.
  • Evening: traditional songs by Mentawai shamans.
  • Overnight at the Uma in Butui.
Day 4:
  • Full day time for exploration and photography.
  • Preparations for a traditional ceremony, including a pig sacrifice.
  • Evening: traditional ceremony with music and dance, a night you will not forget!
  • Overnight at the Uma in Butui.
Day 5:
  • Full day time for exploration and photography: preparation for traditional hunting, fishing, etc.
  • Evening: traditional songs by Mentawai shamans.
  • Overnight at the Uma in Butui, or a make-shift traditional hunting camp.
Day 6:
  • Full day time for exploration and photography.
  • Visit to a nearby waterfall, together with the shamans.
  • Evening: packing bags, for an early start the next day.
  • Overnight at the Uma in Butui.
Day 7:
  • After (early) breakfast we hike to Muara Butui and take the canoe back to Rogdok.
  • We then drive back to the harbour by pick-up, to catch the fast-boat back to Padang, either at 12.00 noon (on Thursdays) or 14.30 pm (on Tuesdays and Saturdays). We will arrive in Padang around 6.30 pm.  If we are lucky we will see some dolphins accompanying the boat and enjoy a nice sunset from the roof-deck of the boat!
  • Upon arrival we transfer direct to our hotel.
  • Dinner and overnight at our hotel in Padang.
Day 8:
  • Transfer to the airport.
  • Optional: extension to Bukittinggi and the Minangkabau highlands, to see the famous Pacu Jawi!

The Journey

Upon arrival in Muara Siberut we will travel by motorized canoe up-river, to eventually as far as we can. From there we follow a small river and hike deeper into the forest, to an Uma.
Hikes will often follow rivers and creeks and small trails through traditional forest. Some trails are an easy walk, others are muddy, and sometimes very muddy..! So it’s not always a walk in the park, but we take our time to make sure we all enjoy and get to our destinations safe and sound.
Porters will help carry your luggage.

Sleeping in an Uma

We will sleep together with the Mentawai on the floor of the Uma, on a thin mattress and under a mosquito net. So we will not be alone… It’s a bit like camping on a sometimes crowded camping ground. It’s all part of the journey and the lack of comfort is more than compensated with the overall authentic atmosphere and experience.

Sleeping in the new Huts

If sleeping in the Uma does not seem to be for you… We have recently built 2 small traditional huts, right outside the Uma. These huts come with proper mattresses, pillows, linen and mosquito nets and have a small private veranda. Each hut has place for 2 or 3 people.


Supplies to the interior of Siberut are extremely limited. There are only a few very small shops in the social villages, selling basic household necessities. No vegetables, no fruit, no meat. The Mentawai live from what the forest and their small gardens and little livestock provide.
We bring with us a supply of rice, noodles, vegetables, (canned) fish, corned beef, eggs, spices, etc. Meals in the interior are basic but sufficient, and are complemented with traditional Mentawai food and seasonal local fruit and vegetables.
Most of the time we will eat together with our hosts, as togetherness is what it’s all about.


In the interior of Siberut there are no real bathrooms, with the exception in some of the small social villages. So along the way rivers and creeks will be your natural bathtub, the bush your toilet. HOWEVER, at the Uma in Butui we have built a brand new real toilet, for your comfort!
If you really cannot do without a proper shower and do not want to bath in a crystal clear river then this trip is maybe not for you. But hey, there’s a first time for everything, isn’t it..? This trip will certainly take you out of your comfort zone, but an afternoon bath in the usual crystal clear river, surrounded by rainforest and an often spectacular sunset is something you will not forget…!


Lot’s of things to do, or simply observe!
Traditional food gathering and preparation, making poison and traditional hunting with bow and arrows, night-time fishing, visit a nearby waterfall, witness ritual house cleansing, traditional ceremonies and dance, etc.

What to Bring

  • Light clothing for hiking. Most practical are fast-drying trousers with removable legs and a light t-shirt. We will get dirty and wet, no matter what.
  • Light hiking shoes with a good grip.
  • Socks.
  • Rain poncho. Mostly for in the canoe if it happens to rain.
  • Towel.
  • A pair of change.
  • Sun glasses.
  • Hat or cap, mostly against the sun while in the canoe.
  • Sun block. Again, for in the canoe.
  • Mosquito repellent.
  • Sleeping bag or blanket.
  • Slippers.
  • Toiletries.
  • Personal necessities (medication & supplements, etc. Forget about make-up!)
  • Some cash money – no ATMs during our stay on Siberut.
  • Backpack.
  • Flashlight.
  • Your camera stuff.
  • Batteries! There is no electricity where we stay. It may sometimes be possible to recharge batteries in a nearby social village, but not guaranteed and this will take time. 
  • Two copies of your passport.
  • A passport photo – you never know.
  • Travel insurance.
  • Trekking poles. We will provide natural walking sticks though.
  • Inflatable neck-pillow. Handy on the fast-boat.
  • Aqua shoes or similar. Practical for short walks to and through the rivers and creeks. And the toilet… Avoid open sandals or shoes.

Minangkabau Highlands

Extend your stay in West Sumatra with a few days, and visit the Minangkabau Highlands! A fantastic destination offering spectacular scenery all around, as well as the unique Minangkabau culture.
We can help you with ideas and an itinerary, if you like.

Pacu Jawi – Traditional Bull Races of West Sumatra

And when you extend, note that on most Saturdays you can visit the traditional bull races, called Pacu Jawi.
Here some photos of this spectacular event. 
Photos by Rodney Ee, CC by 2.0

Your Tour Host

About Toine

I am Toine IJsseldijk, also going by my name Yusuf. I have been living and working in Indonesia for over 30 years, as biologist, nature and cultural expedition leader and as a sales and marketing professional.
I have travelled the Indonesian archipelago extensively and currently live in a small plantation in the mountains of central Bali. 
I am a serious photographer, mostly focusing on wildlife and cultural photography.
I have visited Siberut regularly since 1990, when a traditional Mentawai family adopted me as one of them. Ever since, I enjoy the privilege to spend intimate time with them and attend their most sacred of ceremonies and rituals, as family. I speak their Mentawai language enough to get along.
My Mentawai family is still not much interested in changing lifestyle and today they are some of the few remaining authentic Mentawai. Join us and visit them!

Where is Siberut?

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