Visiting The Mentawai
If you want to visit the Mentawai on Siberut Island and really meet and experience a still very traditional Mentawai community then there is probably no better place to go than to Butui, to my Mentawai family. Most Mentawai elsewhere have given up living in larger multi-family communities in their traditional large longhouses far up in the jungle. Also many other traditional aspects of their lives have changed.
Today most local guides organize relative short tours to some traditional longhouses along the main river, close to the harbor of Muara Siberut. These longhouses are nowadays actually mostly empty, as the original Mentawai families living there have already given up living the traditional Mentawai way of life. The younger generations in these areas have left the forest, seeking a more modern lifestyle elsewhere. When you stay in one of these longhouses the guides actually gather the owner and some other Mentawai people to stay in that longhouse during your visit, giving the impression that it is still a traditional community living in that longhouse… The moment you leave the longhouse the Mentawai “living” there will pack their belongings and “go home”, leaving behind the empty longhouse!
Of course a trip like this still gives you a great experience and introduction to the Mentawai people and culture, but personally I believe that if you have come all the way this far, then go the extra mile, spend a bit more money and time and go further inland. Visit a still truly traditional longhouse and community, where different families actually still live together as they have done for thousands of years. That’s my Mentawai family! Little has changed in the almost 35 years I’ve visited and stayed with them. Go meet them!
In any case, I always highly recommend to go with a knowledgable and proper professional guide. This will assure you the most authentic experience, while respecting the Mentawai people and culture. It’s also only when accompanied by a proper guide that you will learn much more about Mentawai daily life, culture and believes, and perhaps witness some ancient rituals or ceremonies. Guides will also charter canoes to go up and down river and organize food supplies. Of course you can organize this all by yourself when you arrive on Siberut, but this will take time and it means you won’t make it very far inland on the day you arrive. You’ll most likely also be overcharged and not necessarily end up where you would like to go…
Your Mentawai Hosts
Your hosts are Teteu and her family. Teteu has 2 sons and 4 daughters and a dozen grand children. Her 2 sons Aman Manja and Aman Sasali are two of the youngest traditional Mentawai Shamans on Siberut. The entire family will look after you and make sure you really get to know Mentawai daily life and culture.
If you really want to visit my Mentawai family on your own I am happy to help arrange this for you. Following below are the practical details.
Note that this trip is without an official guide, but you will be taken care of direct by the family, from the moment you arrive on the island, until you leave. They are your guides! They are used to have visitors at their longhouse and know how to guarantee an experience of a lifetime!
If you want to visit my Mentawai family together with me, check out my upcoming trips here:
Visiting the Mentawai – Alone
Flying to Padang
You fly to the Minangkabau International Airport in Padang, West Sumatra. There are international flights from Singapore and Kuala Lumpur and domestic flights from Jakarta and Medan.
On the day you arrive you have to go to the Muara Padang harbor and buy a Mentawai Fast ferry ticket, as sometimes the ferries are full.
Ferry to Siberut Island
You take the Mentawai Fast ferry to Muara Siberut, in the south of the island.
The ferry normally leaves at 7am in the morning on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, from the small Muara Padang harbor. On some days the ferry makes a stop in Sikabaluan, in the north of the island, before continuing to (Muara) Siberut.
Note that sometimes ferries do not go, due to bad weather or on some public holidays. So always check in advance with Mentawai Fast, through their Facebook Page or Facebook Messenger.
Here is the current official time schedule. “Siberut” means Muara Siberut, your destination. Cost is IDR 350,000 / person one way (IDR 400,000 for VIP, with AC)
Meet my Mentawai Family
Some of the family members will pick you up at the Mentawai Fast ferry harbor in Maileppet, and will then take you to their Uma (longhouse) in Butui.
Traveling Upriver to Muara Butui
Depending on what day you arrive, there are 2 options.
From the Mentawai Fast ferry harbor in Maileppet you take a pick-up car or motorbike taxi to the small village of Muntei, a 10-15 minute drive.
From Muntei you then take a motorized canoe upriver, to Muara Butui. The trip will take about 5-6 hours, depending on water levels. This is the most affordable option if you take the ferry on a Thursday. If you take the ferry on a Tuesday or Saturday you can still choose this option, but note that you will most likely end up traveling and hiking the last part of your journey in the dark…
The second option, for instance if you are short of time, is to take a pick-up car direct from the harbor and drive to Rogdok village. This drive takes about 45-60 minutes, depending on (muddy…) road conditions. You then take a motorized canoe from Rogdok, to Muara Butui. This takes about 1.5-2 hours, depending on water levels. This is a faster but more expensive option, and only recommended if you take the ferry from Padang on a Tuesday or Saturday. The ferry on Thursday arrives later in the day and you will end up traveling and hiking in the dark, which is not very nice…
Hiking from Muara Butui to Butui
From Muara Siberut you hike along a small river to the longhouse of my Mentawai family, in Butui. This hike takes about an hour, depending on weather and your physical condition. The hike is through and along the river, and some stretches of usually very muddy swamp forest. It’s not an easy walk for everybody, but determination and a good mood are more important than physical fitness! Family members can help you carry your luggage and food supplies.
Staying in Butui
You normally sleep in the longhouse, together with the entire family. You’ll sleep on a thin mattress under a large mosquito net.
My family has also just built 2 small traditional wooden huts for guests, right in front of their longhouse. These huts have proper mattresses, pillows, linen, blankets and mosquito nets and provide a more comfortable stay, with quite a bit of privacy.
We have also recently built a proper western-style toilet, which makes a stay a lot more comfortable for most visitors. Washing you do in the usually crystal clear river, right in front of the house. An absolute great and serene experience!
The family will share with you their traditional food and also cook some basic but decent meals.
During your stay my family will show you around and you’ll see and experience truly authentic Mentawai daily life! You can take photos as you like, no problem. If you’re lucky you will be able to witness some ancient rituals or attend traditional ceremonies, or for instance learn about traditional hunting with bow and (poisonous!) arrows, or nighttime fishing for shrimp and fish…
It is also possible to go on a traditional hunt, and for instance spend a night in the jungle, either in a make-shift traditional shelter or Sapou, a small traditional hut further up in the rainforest that the Mentawai use to look after crops planted further away from the longhouse, or to overnight while on a hunt.
Another great activity is to visit a nearby waterfall, which has a spectacular jungle-surrounded location and natural whirlpool at its base. The hike to go there leads through spectacular rain forest, straight from the movies…
Back to Muara Siberut
You will go back the same way as you came. Family members will bring you to Muara Butui and take you in their motorized canoe to either Rogdok or Muntei, and from there to the harbor in Maileppet, to catch the Mentawai Fast ferry back to Padang.
The cost will depend on the number of people and number of days. The biggest cost is transport (canoes and pick-up cars), so the longer you go the relative lower the (daily) cost. To give you a rough idea, a 6 day / 5 night trip for 1 or 2 people will cost around USD 750 in total (Including all transport on the island, meals in Butui and a donation to the family for staying with them. Excluding the ferry from / to Padang and private meals / consumptions).
If you prefer a guide to accompany you we can arrange this. Cost is usually about IDR 1,500,000 / day.
Traveling to this remote part of the world is an adventurous journey and you may need to adjust along the way, but this is a common itinerary. I recommend to take the ferry on a Thursday, and take the ferry back the next Tuesday. This will give you 5 nights and 4 full days with the Mentawai.
Arrive in Padang, West Sumatra.
Go to the Mentawai Fast office in the harbor Muara Padang, to buy your ferry ticket.
Stay overnight somewhere close to the harbor.
Take a taxi to the Muara Padang harbor, to catch the 7am boat to Siberut Island.
You travel to Muara Siberut, in the south of the island, where you will arrive either around 10.40 am (on Thursdays) or 13.45 pm (on Tuesdays and Saturdays).
At the harbor you will meet some my Mentawai family members. They will take and guide you from there.
To save travel time by canoe and if road conditions allow you will drive by open pick-up car to the small village of Rogdok, which lies further up-river. This drive takes about an hour.
From Rogdok you take a motorized canoe and continue your journey upriver, to Muara Butui. This canoe trip will take about 1.5-2 hours, depending on water levels.
From Muara Butui you hike to the traditional village of Butui, which consists of a handful of traditional Uma spread out in the Butui river valley. Your 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 your 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 2 until 5:
Time to experience and explore (and photograph!) Mentawai daily life and culture: traditional hunting, fishing, food preparation, etc. If you’re lucky, there may be a traditional ceremony!
Overnight at the Uma in Butui.
After early breakfast you pack your belongings and hike back to Muara Butui. From there you take the canoe to either Muntei or Rogdok.
If you go to Rogdok you then go by pick-up car to the harbor. Saves travel time, but costs a bit more.
From Muntei you take a pick-up car or motorbike taxi to the harbor to catch the fast-boat back to Padang, either at 12.00 noon (on Thursdays) or 14.30 pm (on Tuesdays and Saturdays).
You will arrive in Padang around 6.30 pm. If you are lucky you will see some dolphins accompanying the boat and can enjoy a nice sunset from the roof-deck of the boat!
From the harbor Muara Padang you take a taxi to your accommodation in Padang. There are usually no flights anymore in the evening.