Sumatran Orangutan Trekking at Bukit Lawang

Bukit Lawang is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site in Indonesia, on the eastern side of Gunung Leuser National Park which is one of the three National Parks in the UNESCO listing for Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatra. With its name literally means “door to the hills”, Bukit Lawang is an Orangutan sanctuary, therefore, many people come for trekking in hope to have sightings of the rare Sumatran Orangutans.

Where is it

Bukit Lawang, Indonesia Sumatra Map

Indonesia Sumatra Map

Bukit Lawang is at 90km northwest from Medan, the capital city of North Sumatra and at the eastern side of Gunung Leuser National Park.

Why go

It is one of the last few places on Earth to see the Orangutans live in the wild, enough said

Mother and Baby Orangutan @ Bukit Lawang

Mother and Baby Orangutan. Photo by Arian Zweger

When is the best time to go

Most times in the year would be a decent for a visit to Bukit Lawang. You may want to take note of rainy seasons at the end of the year but the rain is mainly only in the evening or at night, so do not worry about it impeding your trip.

You may want to check out local Indonesian public holidays, which means that many local tourists will crowd the village, especially on weekends.

What to see


Orangutan drinking from a cup @ Bukit Lawang

Orangutan drinking from a cup. Photo by NYC-MetroCard

Orangutan Viewing Platform where there are twice a day feeding (8 am and 3pm), therefore you will be able to see the Orangutans for sure. Attending the feeding would cost 20,000 Rp though and there is a surcharge for camera at 50,000 Rp. This is usually a good opportunity to learn more about the Orangutans as the national park staff are well qualified and also to take great pictures as the Orangutans normally hang around while munching away the bananas.

What to do

Jungle Trekking
Bukit Lawang is one of the best place for jungle trekking as not only you get to bask in the natural jungle that is full of wild flora and fauna that will wow nature enthusiasts. You may have a chance to sight the Orangutans in their natural habitat, though not guaranteed, but possible if you follow your guides’ advises. There is also a nice waterfall on the way to relax and swim. During the trek your guides will also provide you with nice Indonesian food and fruits!

It is not permitted to go into the jungle without a guide but don’t worry as there are many good reliable guides around. Just make sure to ask questions and choose properly to get a quality guide. It would be wise also to check with your guesthouse for recommendations. The price for a jungle trek is 32 USD per day; 80 USD for a 2 days trek with extra of rafting and 3 days trek with rafting can go up is 110 USD. If going for multi-day treks, please make sure you are in a fit condition.

Community note: Please try to make sure your guides do not feed the Orangutans or other wildlife with common food as it may make them sick and in some cases die. Also please try not to get too close to the Orangutans as this would increase the risk of passing viral infections and diseases to them, which will endanger their chance of survival. Do your bit to protect the Orangutans and other wildlife!

Tubing @ Bukit Lawang

Tubing at Bukit Lawang. Photo by NYC-MetroCard

Tubing
If you have extra time to spend, one quite popular past time is tubing, where one uses an inner-tube to float down the river. Be careful as sometimes the water currents can be strong.

Other activities
You can also visit the bat cave for 5,000 Rp or kayak or just take a walk around the rice fields and rubber plantations, or visit some local projects or shop around the local market.

What and where to eat

Try the local Indonesian food which normally would not disappoint. There are a few restaurants or cafes around that serve good home cook style of Indonesian food. If you want a variety from local food, there are choices of pizza or even vegetarians.

Orangutan Sleeping, Bukit Lawang, Sumatra, Indonesia

Orangutan sleeping. Photo by idirectori

Where to stay

There are guest houses dotted along the river in Bukit Lawang that are affordable and reasonably priced, therefore choices are aplenty. Availability of accommodations here is easy to arrange except during the busy tourist season which is June – August.

-> Find the best hotel deals in Bukit Lawang at Booking.com. Free cancellation *

How to get there

Fly in to the nearest city Medan and then from there you can either take a taxi or rent a car/van to get to Bukit Lawang from the airport / hotel.

How to get around

Being a small village, you can cover all around on foot from one side to the other in just 25 minutes. There are three bridges across the river for easy access.

Orangutan @ Bukit Lawang

Orangutan at Bukit Lawang. Photo by Stefanie Weijster

Where to go nearby

On the way back to Medan, stop by the famous Lake Toba for a good chill and relax by the largest volcanic lake.

Also on the way, you can visit Berastagi which famous for locals for weekend getaways. You can hike out to the two nearby volcanoes, Sinabung and Sibayak.

For these, you can check with your transports services back to Medan for a stopover or side trip.

Tips

For solo female travelers, you may try to arrange with your guesthouse to join a group of other travelers for your safety.

Bring mosquito repellants and general sanitary needs as although available for sale here, it lacks in choices.

Related Articles
Lake Toba, Sumatra
Diving Pulau Weh, Sumatra
Top 10 Must Visit Places in Sumatra

Author: Rachel

Fascinated by Indonesia, Rachel hopes to bring the best Indonesia Travel Guide to independent travelers so that they can enjoy what Indonesia has best to offer. Being an independent wanderer herself, Rachel knows what it takes to make a good, fun-filled yet responsible independent traveling. So let’s join her to discover wonderful Indonesia together. Google+

5 thoughts on “Sumatran Orangutan Trekking at Bukit Lawang”

  1. Rachel,
    Thank you for this wonderful information. We used it to book our trek into Gunung Leuser NP in May of 2013. We currently have a series portraying the challenges and wonders of the trek on our blog (asiasketches.wordpress.com). The detail of the realities of jungle trekking will hopefully inspire and prepare others to make the same journey. Thanks again. -Matt

  2. Hello Rachel, I just stayed for a week in Bukit Lawang. My experience unfortunatly was not good, and I would like to share it so that if other people go there know what they can expect and I hope they can say something to their guide. During the trekking the jungle was really crowdy!! You can meet many others group of people. When there was an orangutan the guide of a group call the other ones and all arrive with their group: 25 people in front of the orangutan, speaking loudly and taking pictures with the flash. Guides were sitting and smoking close to the animals, leaving rubbish there. My guide was wonderful and he explained to me what to do and what do not. He also told me that most of the guides feed the orangutan with bananas because “tourists want to see orangutan in only one day of trekking and if they do not see them they will not come anymore”.
    You know and you wrote about all the risks that orangutan have if human behave like this!
    Most of the guides was feeding the orangutan with bananas, that’s why with a simple one day trekking you will see many of them (that’s not normal, it should be wildlfe).
    I have done many trekking in the jungle in my life, and if you want to see wild animals you should wait and take more time in the jungle. Bukit Lawang seems like a zoo. My guide and other people working in the gusthouse they confirmed it’s unfortunatly like this. So if you go there please say to guides and other tourists to respect this animal (no feed, no picture with the flash, no smoking, no speaking loudly).
    Sorry for my english… it’s really bad!!

    1. Hi Valentina.
      Sounds like you had a great guide. Could you pass me the place where you staid and the name or how to contact your guide?
      I am going with 4 friends in march 2015, I know it’s not the best season but it’s when we can go.
      I think it would be better to get there by ourself instead of booking a tour. Unless you or Reachel recomend otherwise.

      Any advice?

      Thank you

  3. Re the above comment from Valentina. I largely agree that what you are seeing are not 100% wild orangutan because of the near constant interaction with humans. There is definitely some feeding going on from off the trails in the immediate ridge above bukit lawang where you do the day and short overnight hikes. That must be why you see so many near the trails. I think I saw 4 separate groups/pairs on my first day, encountering the first within 20 minutes of hiking. Unsure if this is normal. Another day I just saw one pair and another hiking group came from another pair up trail. You definitely will encounter other people. Anyone visiting should dispel themselves of the notion that you will see a rhino, tiger or other rare creatures while enjoying wild solitude, but you will see monkeys of different varieties and probably orangutan of course. I didn’t go to the feeding station but it’s existence should be a signal of the type of semi wild orangutan you will encounter.

    Re the hikes, the 1 and 2 night hikes largely follow the ups and downs of the ridge above the river that goes through bukit lawang and camp at set camps with lean-to’s made of bamboo and tarp roofs. The food the guides prepare is great. Coffee, tea, local fruits, veggie curry, pan fried chicken, potatoes cakes, small fish and chilli. I never knew camping could be this easy. Though the hiking was actually hard with many steep ups and downs (I had the feeling it wasn’t the easiest way so “artificially” challenging in a sense) and the weather was humid. The sleeping bags (full zip to make a blanket) and pads (some kind of blow up) are beat up but functional (you have to improvise the pillow). The rafting back home was cool on these jerry rigged tire tubes but fairly quick–maybe 45 minutes or less. I sort of wish I did the 3 night trek which apparently takes you directly into the jungle instead of trekking parallel to the local river (but you can’t raft back). On the ridge I heard a motorbike and even some music. But the longer trek is unnecessary to see orangutans (day hikes are all you really need for that) — but I heard of a 6 day trek that encountered a wild elephant. The bukit lawang guides themselves have never seen a tiger.

    The first camp site had a small waterfall pool for swimming/bathing that was refreshing as hell. And many many monkeys and a pair of giant monitor lizards.

    I saw people discarding fruit leftovers but never any trash. The fruit definitely attracts the orangutans and monkeys. I saw one westerner feed a banana to an orangutan with the tacit permission of the guides and also saw a guide feeding one orangutan known to be aggressive (named Mina) in order to placate her, which apparently is standard practice with any aggressive orangutans (which are well known to the guides who take them very seriously — except in the local song about the jungle trek that explicitly warns to run from Mina).

    On the whole the human interaction is with a pretty small set of orangutan in a pretty large national park. I believe in general that the existence of the eco tourism industry is a net positive, as the encroaching Palm oil plantations make apparent that the alternative could be an ecological crime of perfectly spaced Palm oil trees instread of jungle.

    The road to bukit lawang is bumpy but well worth the visit in my opinion. I wish there was a way to get really deep into the jungle more easily but then again, I dont.

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