Observing the last remaining orangutans in their natural habitat has long been a dream of mine. If this once-in-a-lifetime experience is on your bucket list too, I’m here to help you make your dream come true. In this blog post, I share the ultimate guide on how to observe the last orangutans in Bukit Lawang, Sumatra in Indonesia. After reading this guide, you’ll have all the information you need to plan this amazing adventure!
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Where to see orangutans in Indonesia?
The island of Sumatra in Indonesia is one of the few places in the world (along with the island of Borneo in Malaysia) where there are still wild orangutans. Located on the edge of the village of Bukit Lawang, Gunung Leuser National Park is home to one of Indonesia’s largest rainforests, which is the habitat of Sumatra’s last remaining wild orangutans. Note, that this National Park has also been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1981. Having said that, staying in the village of Bukit Lawang gives you easy access to Gunung Leuser National Park. On top of that, you’ll also have the opportunity to meet a variety of monkeys in the village, including the famous Thomas Leaf monkey.
Important note: to enter Gunung Leuser National Park, you need a special permit and must be accompanied by an authorized guide.
How to get to Bukit Lawang?
The easiest way to get to Bukit Lawang village is to fly to Kululamu Airport (Medan Airport) located on the island of Sumatra. From there, it’s only a 4-hour drive to the village. There are several ways to reach Bukit Lawang depending on your budget:
- by private or shared car (organized in advance by your trekking tour operator) – count about $50 US for a private car (one way)
- by public bus – count approximately $5 US per person (one way)
When to visit bukit lawang?
As Gunung Leuser National Park has several ecosystems, including one of the densest rainforests in the world, it is strongly recommended to avoid jungle trekking during the rainy season (from October to May). In other words, I recommend that you organize a jungle trek to observe orangutans between June and September. As a result, less rainfall will make outdoor activities such as multiple days of jungle trekking more accessible.
How long to stay in Bukit Lawang?
The time you spend in Bukit Lawang depends mainly on the number of days you wish to spend trekking through the jungle. In fact, you can opt for a one-day or multi-day jungle trek. It all depends on your physical condition and your desire to live a unique experience by sleeping in the jungle with the bare minimum.
As per my own experience, if you want to enjoy the unique experience of spending time in the wilderness, I 100% recommend a 2-day trek with an overnight stay in the middle of the jungle. For the record, we only saw the orangutans on our first day of trekking. Every experience is different of course, but just to tell you that if you don’t feel comfortable sleeping in the jungle, you’ll still have a chance to see orangutans if the conditions are reunited.
Having said that, in case you decide to live the jungle experience to the fullest, you will need to spend a minimum stay of 3 nights in the Bukit Lawang area. In other words, since all the jungle treks (even the 1-day trek) start at 9:00 am, it is, therefore, essential to arrive in Bukit Lawang village the day before. This will also give you the opportunity to enjoy the pleasant village atmosphere and adjust to the rather high humidity. Then it’s up to you to decide how many days you want to trek in the jungle. Once the jungle trek is over, you will be back in the Bukit Lawang village in the middle of the day (around 3:00 pm). That’s why I strongly advise you to spend an extra night in the village after your trek, to relax before continuing your itinerary or going back to Medan Airport.
Where to stay in Bukit Lawang?
Most tour operators offer, at additional cost, accommodation (and transport) in addition to jungle trekking tours, which are super convenient. Guesthouses vary from company to company, of course. However, expect to pay between $5 US and $35 US a night (for a private bungalow for instance).
Regarding your night in the jungle, you will stay in a basic camp along the river. Usually, most of the tours offer a small mat, pillow and mosquito net. Jungle vibes on!
A 2-day jungle trek inside Gunung Leuser National Park
- 9:00 am: departure for the trek from Bukit Lawang village
- 9:00 am – around 3:00/4:00 pm: hike with a lunch break into the jungle. Please note that hike duration varies according to weather conditions, animal encounters, and the guide.
- 3:00/4:00 pm – around 6:00 pm: free time (you can enjoy a river bath, eat biscuits and drink tea or coffee)
- 6:00 pm to late night: traditional candlelight dinner and games
- 9:00 am: breakfast at the camp
- 9:30 am: departure for the trek
- 9:30 am – around 2:00 pm: hike with a lunch break by the river. Please note that hike duration varies according to weather conditions, animal encounters, and the guide.
- Around 3:00 pm: return to Bukit Lawang Village by Rafting
Important things to know before visiting Bukit Lawang
- Gunung Leuser National Park is a famous tourist destination. Indeed, its ease of access (only 4 hours from Medan Airport) makes it very popular. So you won’t be the only tourist on the lookout for orangutans!
- Never forget that you are in the home of the orangutans (and other wildlife). You must respect them and keep your distance not to disturb them. A friendly reminder, just because a person comes a little closer to the animal to get a better photo doesn’t mean you should do the same and even outbid them. Please hike in the National Park with a clear conscience, with respect for all the animals, and with ethical judgment.
- There are many tour operators in Bukit Lawang, all offering a jungle trek adventure. The important thing when booking your jungle trek tour is to make sure that the company you choose is ethical and has certified guides. Do your research!
- You’ll be hiking through one of the most intense rainforests in the world. Dress appropriately with long pants and long sleeves (if possible) to protect you from mosquitoes/lychee and so on.
- Bring a change of clothes if you spend the night in the jungle. The humidity level is very high and you’ll get all wet. For your own comfort, I recommend that you avoid all cotton clothing.
- You’ll have the opportunity to eat local food and plenty of fresh fruit during your trek. Don’t worry, you won’t starve (so don’t bring food with you) and if you have a special diet, don’t hesitate to let your tour operator know.
- Although you can refill your water tank once you arrive at the camp (the water provided is not from a sealed bottle of water but from boiled river water), I recommend that you bring at least 3 liters per person.
- The terrain can be very slippery in some parts of the trek, with significant positive and negative gradients. It is therefore essential to wear suitable hiking boots. And if you have knee problems, I suggest you bring your own hiking poles.
- Most companies offer to store your luggage for the duration of your jungle trek. Therefore, take with you only the bare essentials, such as mosquito repellent, sun cream, water, and a change of clothes.
- In principle, campsites are equipped with a small mattress, pillows, and a mosquito net. You’ll also have toilets (some more precarious than others – for instance, ours was a Turkish toilet with no wall).
- Prices for jungle trekking adventure varies from company to company, from a few dollars to the most.
- The return to Bukit Lawang village is normally by rafting on the river (at additional costs). Your belongings will be put into waterproof bags by them (so don’t need to worry about that!). Only take a swimsuit in order to enjoy the river and this rafting experience to the full.
Sending you lots of Love,