Although Sumatra does not have Java's historical and archaeological sights, it does offer magnificent natural landscapes. Perhaps most spectacular of all is the upland crater lake of Danau Toba. The forests, mountains, rivers and coasts all provide great trekking and rafting opportunities, some of the finest national parks in the country and pristine beaches.
There are also over a dozen ethnic groups on the island, who speak some 20 different dialects, including the peripatetic Minangkabau of West Sumatra, the Christian Bataks of North Sumatra, the Ferrant Muslims of Aceh and the tribal peoples of Nias and Mentawi.
As the world's fourth-largest island (nearly 475,000 sq km), Sumatra also acts as a 'safety valve' for Java's 'excess' population. About 60% of Indonesia's transmigrants - four million people - have been resettled on Sumatra, mostly in the south. Population densities here are less than one tenth of those on neighbouring Java, although some areas - such as Lampung province - are beginning to suffer the effects of overcrowding.
Sumatra is also crucial to the Indonesian economy. It was in North Sumatra that Indonesia's first commercial oil well was sunk in 1871, and over 60% of the country's total petroleum and gas production comes from the island and the seas that surround it.
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