Gunung Leuser National Park
As Bukit Lawang is near Medan, it can get crowded during the week-end, especially during the public holiday period (June-beginning of July). Try to avoid the week-ends (full guesthouses, crowded feeding platform, large and numerous trekking groups).
Ketambe village is another option — quiet, not crowded, wild.
The park is named after one of its highest points, the 3,381m Mount Leuser (Gunung Leuser). The highest point in the park is "Puncak Tak Punya Nama" ("The peak with no name").
Along with the two other National Parks (Kerinci Seblat and Bukit Barisan Selatan) on the island, it comprises the UNESCO World Heritage site of 'The Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatra' (status since 2004).
There is a research station at Ketembe. It is not open to the public.
Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre
In 1973 a Swiss organization set up an orangutan rehabilitation centre in Bukit Lawang. The purpose of the centre was to rehabilitate orangutans released from captivity. The rangers at the centre teach the orangutan all the necessary skills to survive in the wild. After an intense period of quarantine, readjustment to the natural habitat and reintegration into the (semi-)wild population, the orangutan is released back into the jungle. All orangutans released are still monitored by the rangers and they still provide them with supplementary food at the feeding platform until they become fully self reliant.
Part of the Barisan mountain range lies within the park. The highest peak, and the park's namesake, Gunung Leuser can be climbed. Much of the park is steep and inaccessible.
Flora and fauna
Seeing the orangutans is a magical experience. About 10,000 live in this area. In Bukit Lawang, you can usually see them near the rehabilitation centre and at the feeding platform during the morning and afternoon feeding sessions. In Ketambe, you can go to 1-7 days treks into the jungle.
The best experience is an encounter in the jungle where there are many semi-wild and wild animals. The wild orangutan can be difficult to spot unless you go deep into the jungle. There are also white and black gibbons that make an amazing noise calling out to each other, and Thomas Leaf monkeys. If you are lucky, you may be able to see hornbills, toucans, moon snakes, monitor lizards.
Since there are very few (hundreds) still alive, it is very improbable that either the Sumatran Tiger or the Sumatran Rhinoceros will be encountered, although footprints and droppings have been reported. If you really want to see a tiger, you have to go deep, and be patient (waiting for weeks).
For elephants, go to Tangkahan or near Ketambe, where you can trek further into the jungle to try and spot wild elephants.
During the wet season, October to March, expect rain at least daily, towards the late afternoon and early evening. Intensity varies, but invariably the monsoonal rains always arrive. Climate is always very humid, so pack a lot of drinking water if you are trekking.
Medan holds the nearest big airport for accessing the region.
First of all, consider the huge ecological footprint of taking a plane! Going by bus may be a better choice if you want to save the forests.
Note the flights fill very quickly so make sure you book as soon as you can. Note also that the airline flying is on a contract basis and from time to time when the contract finishes there are times when there are no flights until a new contract is signed.
From Kutacane you'll need to continue by road (with labi-labi).
- To/fro Bukit Lawang - Medan - a one-way bus fare on large, non air-conditioned buses from Medan (Pinang Baris Bus Terminal) to Bukit Lawang, 86 km by road to the north-west, was Rp 10,000 per person (in October 2008), 3-4 hours. There should be buses every 30 minutes, but sometimes some are skipped. Back to Medan, you can take a minibus (Rp 12,000 per person (October 2008)) or a large bus (Rp 10,000, but they might ask for more). They alternate every 15 minutes from Bukit Lawang Bus Terminal.
- To/fro Kutacane - Medan - the companies BTN and Karsima run several public minibuses a day (and one overnight) between the two (7 hours, Rp 50,000, January 2011). They leave from their ticket offices. They usually go via Berastagi where you can flag them down or hop off if you wish to make the detour.
- To/from Ketambe - Banda Aceh - there is a company that runs public minibuses directly, through the mountains (16 hours, Rp 220,000, 2014).
- To/from Kutacane - Lake Toba - there is one company that runs public minibuses to Sidikalang (6 hours, Rp 100,000, in 2014), there you will change bus to Pangururan (2 hours, Rp 20,000, in 2014), finally to TukTuk (2 hours, Rp 15,000, in 2014).
- To Ketambe from Kutacane - take a local mobil from the station by the market in Kutacane (about 1 hour, Rp 15,000, 2014).
- To/fro Bukit Lawang - Medan - If you prefer the convenience of an air-conditioned transfer - a private car can be arranged for Polonia Airport or your Medan hotel pick-up. Many Bukit Lawang hotels will arrange this service for you in conjunction with an accommodation booking. See website  for one reliable example.
If you are a little more adventurous car rentals are also readily available in Medan for approximately Rp 350,000 a day
The villages consist of little more than the guesthouses, a few local residences and the odd shop or cafe. You can walk around but there's not much to see or do!
- To Tangkahan from Bukit Lawang - it is about 2 hours by motorbike over dirt roads. Rates for arranging guides to drive you by motorbike to Tangkahan from Bukit Lawang were Rp 220,000 for 3 motorbikes and 3 guides to drive the bikes there and take them back. The rainy season can make sections of this route impassable. In Bukit Lawang as of July 2007 there are two guides namely Romi and Wanda who do jeep trips down to Tangkahan.
- To get to Kedah from Ketembe you must go via Blangkejeren. It takes about 3 hours.
Permits need to be arranged at a PHPA office before entering the park. The fee is Rp 20,000 per person.
In Bukit Lawang this can also be paid at the orangutan feeding ground. The permit should be included in all treks and jungle activities, but check with the guide to be sure.
In Ketembe your guesthouse may ask for your passport to register you with the authorities. If you have copies of your passport (including the visa page) you can give them those instead.
- Orangutan Feeding Station in Bukit Lawang. Feedings are daily at 8.00AM and 3.00PM. Attending the feeding costs Rp 20,000. The proceeds are used to keep the project running. The rangers are highly qualified and can tell you a lot about orangutans and the project.
- Wild monkeys: gibbons, orangutans in the rainforest near Ketambe
- Bat Cave near Bukit Lawang
- Elephant Camp at Tangkahan
- Various waterfalls in the jungle
The number one reason to go to Gunung Leuser National Park is for a trek, whether that's mountain trekking or trekking to spot wildlife.
A wide range of treks into the jungle looking for wildlife are available in Bukit Lawang, Ketembe and Tangkahan. There are many tours from 1 to 3 days (sleeping in the jungle) but more or less can probably be arranged too.
- Bukit Lawang - it's highly recommended to do a trek with one of the official rangers from the Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre as there can be problems with guides feeding the orangutans to ensure tourists get a sighting. For more details see Bukit Lawang.
- Ketembe - you will see real wild living orangutans (not like in Bukit Lawang, were you can even feed them), monkeys and many kind of birds. On a 2 to 3 day trip you can go to a hot spring beside the Alas river and camp over there. The treks are not very strenuous as the emphasis is on finding wildlife not hiking. On a longer trip (7-10 days) you can go deeper into the jungle and look for some shy tigers. (Prices: Rp 350,000 per person per day, 2014)
- Kedah - there is jungle trekking around Pucuk Angkasan. Guides: Mr Jally and Pak Umar.
- Tangkahan has about 7 elephants and very few tourists. Guides there charge Rp.180,000 for guided jungle treks, though just seeing the elephants is very cheap and rides on the elephants are negotiable.
- Elephant trekking through the jungle in Tangkahan
These are all multi-day treks.
- Gunung Leuser - the best starting points are the villages near Blangkejeren. The trek from Kedah to the Gunung Leuser peak and back takes 10 days in total. Guides charge Rp 350.000,-/day/person. Since the trek is about 70% in alpine regions, you will not see too much wildlife, but exciting flora. For wildlife you better choose a trek to Gunung Angkosan (2 days) or to upper Alas valley (4 days).
- Gunung Kemiri - the best starting point is Ketembe.
- Tubing in Bukit Lawang
- Rafting along the Alas River, Ketembe
- Bathe in hot springs in the jungle near Ketembe
For souvenirs see Bukit Lawang: Buy.
There are only very small shops in Ketembe selling not much more than packets of biscuits and bottles of water. Buy everything you need in Kutacane or elsewhere.
All of the guesthouses have restaurants, usually with both Indonesian and Western food available. When trekking, your guide should provide all your food.
Guesthouses sell a range of drinks and when trekking your guide should bring enough water but you may wish to check this.
Arranged by your guide when wildlife trekking.
Arranged by your guide when wildlife trekking.
Your guide should cover all your requirements for accommodation in the jungle, even right down to leech socks if required. Just make sure you take enough dry clothes as it's so humid nothing will dry once wet.
In the Kutacane region the electricity supply can be a bit variable so don't leave charging your camera until the morning you head out to the jungle!
- For Bukit Lawang accommodation options see Bukit Lawang: Sleep.
- Bamboo River. Owned by an English woman Jane and her Indonesian husband Wayan Rp 50,000-70,000.
- Jungle Lodge. Owned by a German woman Sylvia and her Indonesian husband Alex Rp 50,000-70,000.
- Mega Inn. A third smaller, cheaper, backpacker place owned by one of the English speaking guides Mega. Mega's 3 rooms are next door to Bamboo River.
- All the guesthouses are very similar, have restaurants and can arrange tours. They are all along the main road and offer accommodation in wooden bungalows with bathroom from about Rp 50,000.
- Friendship Guesthouse.
- Gurah Bungalows.
- Pak Mus Homestay.
- Pondok Wisata.
- Sadar Wisata.
- Wisma Cinta Alam, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Guide: Johan
- Rainforest Lodge.
- Kutacane - if you arrive too late for onward travel, there are a handful of options in the town.
- Hotel Maroon, Jalan Ahmad Yani, No. 15-17 (signposted from the main road), ☎ (0629) 21078. Has four different quality rooms from basic rooms with a shared bathroom to much nicer rooms. Ekonomi: Rp 60,000; Standard: Rp 90,000/95,000.
Some guides can get quite flirtatious/annoying with the girls during trekking trips esp in Bukit Lawang so team up with a larger group during a hike if travelling as a single female or pair.
Any woman who experiences sexual harassment in any form in Bukit Lawang should report the incident immediately to the Guides Association at +62-813-70730151 (Bahrum the leader). Also make sure you get a photo of the guide as well.
- From Bukit Lawang, Tangkahan could be an interesting delve further into the National Park. Otherwise head back to Medan for connections elsewhere.
- From Ketambe, you could go on to Kedah to switch from wildlife trekking to mountain climbing.
- There are regular buses from Kutacane to Medan which pass through mountain town Berastagi (home to Sibayak and Sinabung volcanoes). Or change direction and head up to Banda Aceh.