The village of Bukit Lawang is in the park 90 km northwest of Medan. It is most famous for being one of the last places in the world where one can see orangutans in the wild. Bukit Lawang is situated at the eastern side of Gunung Leuser National Park. As Bukit Lawang is near Medan, it can get crowded during the weekend, especially during the public holiday period (June-beginning of July). Try to avoid the weekends (full guesthouses, large and numerous trekking groups).
Make your plans to go for either half a day trekking or a full day trekking as a miminimum to see the Orang Hutans and other wild animals in the forest
Ketambe village is another option — quiet, not crowded, wild. There is a research station at Ketembe. It is not open to the public.
The park is named after one of its highest points, the 3,381m Mount Leuser (Gunung Leuser). The Gunung Leuser National Park was originally created as a wildlife reserve.
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).
Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre
In 1973 a Swiss organization set up an orangutan rehabilitation centre in Bukit Lawang (Bukit Lawang literally means "door to the hills"). 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.
In the years after the arrival of the rehabilitation center more and more tourists found their way to Bukit Lawang and it became one of the most popular destinations in Sumatra. The feeding center was closed several years ago. All orangutans from the center have been slowly released to the wild. Now you can only see orangutans in the wild while guided trekking in the Nationalpark.
A flash flood hit Bukit Lawang on 2 November 2003. Described by witnesses as a tidal wave, the water was approximately 20 meters high, as it came crashing down the hills, wiping out everything in its path. The disaster, which was the result of illegal logging, destroyed the local tourist resorts and had a devastating impact to the local tourism industry. Around 400 houses, 3 mosques, 8 bridges, 280 kiosks and food stalls, 35 inns and guest houses were destroyed by the flood, and 239 people (5 of them tourists) were killed and around 1,400 locals lost their homes. After eight months of rebuilding, Bukit Lawang was re-opened again in July 2004.
For many villagers the trauma of losing family, friends and their homes has taken a long time to come to terms with. The people were facing unemployment and homelessness. It has been a long road to recovery and an especially hard task to rebuild a town with only limited financial assistance from the government. However the people in Bukit Lawang are survivors and the new village is taking shape and more and more businesses are opening again.
Especially the young generation is hoping to rebuild the village in more sustainable way than before and they are very aware of the importance of preservation of the fragile ecosystem they live in. They can use all the support they can get and the income of tourism will help them in realizing their ideas for a brighter future for Bukit Lawang.
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).
- From 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 20,000 per person (in August 2015), 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.
- From 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.
- From Ketambe - Banda Aceh - there is a company that runs public minibuses directly, through the mountains (16 hours, Rp 220,000, 2014).
- 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).
Another option is to take a taxi from the airport or hotel in Medan to Pinang Baris (no more than Rp 50,000). Do not get off at the big terminal: tell your driver to go on, just a bit past there is a bakery called Mawar. From there you can get a minibus (max Rp 20,000) or the big coach (max Rp 15,000). The big coach is government-run but minivans are private. They will stop many times along the way and in Binjai (about 40 minutes from Medan) they may stop for half an hour to fill up. The last stop, where you get off, is normally the bus terminal in Gotong Royong, a village 5 minutes from Bukit Lawang. From here you can get a becak (motorbike/sidecar/tuktuk type thing) for Rp 10,000. This should drop you at the national park office in Bukit Lawang and you can then find your guest house.
There are many drivers offering minivans from the Belawan ferry terminal direct to Bukit Lawang, bargain hard. Expect to be shifted minivan at least once (in Medan). Prices vary between Rp 60,000 and 70,000 all the way to Bukit Lawang. The extra cost should outweigh the hassle of getting into Medan, finding the bus station, then finding a hostel in Bukit Lawang (especially if you arrive during a torrential downpour). The driver will usually recommend a family or friend's hostel.
You can go by tourist bus (minivan 5-7 persons;) from Parapat (Lake Toba; Rp 130,000/person) or Berastagi to Bukit Lawang. Tickets can be bought at local tour agencies; but sometimes they run the vehicle as speed driver; to reach the arrival place; just check it out and made a good decision for the transportation
From Bukit Lawang - Medan - If you prefer the convenience of an air-conditioned transfer - a private car can be arranged for airport or your Medan hotel pick-up. Many Bukit Lawang hotels will arrange this service for you in conjunction with an accommodation booking. 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.
Fees and permits
Permits need to be arranged at a PHPA office before entering the park. The fee is Rp 150,000 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.
- Wild monkeys: gibbons, orangutans in the rainforest near Ketambe
- Bat Cave near Bukit Lawang
- Elephant Camp at Tangkahan
- Various waterfalls in the jungle
- Landak river
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 jungle trek is a must. Seeing the orangutan in the wild may be one of the best experiences you will have in your life.
It is not permitted to go unaccompanied into the jungle. There are plenty of good and reliable guides around so take your time to get to know some of them, have a chat, make your choice and prepare for a great adventure. Ask questions and ask them if they follow the rules and do not feed orangutans or any other wildlife. Ask if they will actually be your guide or if they will pass you on to another group. It has happened that travellers pay their money and get sold off and end up in a group of 10 people. Ask how many people will be in the group.
It is a good idea to ask for information at the guest houses... if anything goes wrong or you are not happy you can complain to them. And they have a reputation to keep up.
A fixed price for Bukit Lawang jungle treks is €55 per day. A 2-day trek including rafting is €90 and a 3-day trek including rafting is €120. Prices in Ketambe are generally cheaper starting at 350.000rp per person per day for group trips. Keep in mind it is illegal to pay for services in Indonesia in a foreign currency, despite many of the guides stating their prices in Euro.
In Bukit Lawang it has happened quite often that some guides have fed orangutan some human food during a trek just to coax the wild animals to pose for tourists. Several orangutan have gotten sick or died for this reason. You should NEVER get close to or call or feed any of the animals, even if your guide irresponsibly tells you it is OK.
Even though sightings of the orangutan and other wildlife can never be guaranteed, when following the instructions of your guide the chances are favorable.
Another hero is the Thomas Leaf Monkey. Such a wonderful creature that leaps into air with wild abandon as they move from tree to tree. Their mohawk hair styles and faces filled with millions of years of character really make these little guys stand out.
If you want to go on a multiple day trek make sure you are fit and in good condition. The humidity coupled with the intensity of grade of the hills makes for some hard work. The reward at the end of your jungle adventure is a late afternoon paddle in the river back to the village.
Everyone who is planning to go on a jungle trek is asked to refrain from any physical contact with the orangutans. Getting too close to an orangutan increases the risk of passing on disease and viral infection, which jeopardizes the orangutan's chances of survival and in turn the health and survival of the wild orangutan population in the entire area. All guests should keep at least 10 meters away and move away if an orangutan approaches. The motto of any jungle adventure should be take only pictures, leave only footprints.
Another popular past time activity is tubing. When tubing one uses an inner tube to float down the river. Tubes can be rented at various stalls along the village and expect pay around Rp 10.000 per tube. Be careful on the water because currents are strong.
You can also visit the bat cave for Rp 10,000 [make sure to take a flashlight], make a stroll around the rice fields and rubber plantations, visit some of the social projects (like the Children's Home on the way to the bat cave), visit the Friday market or just hang out with some of the locals and enjoy the relaxed atmosphere.
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.
- Ketembe - you will see real wild living orangutans (in Bukit Lawang the orangutans are all rehabilitated semi-wild), monkeys and many kind of birds. It's not uncommon to see other mammals such as gibbons, barking deer, civet cats, binturong, mouse deer and leopard cats. There are also Sumatran elephants, tigers and rhinos, but these are incredibly rare to see. On a 2- to 3-day trip you can go to a natural hot spring inside the jungle 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 or explore remote jungle wilderness. (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
Roundtrips around Sumatra
After your Bukit Lawang adventure you can also explore other parts of the island like Lake Toba or Berastagi. Discover Sumatra specializes in organising tailor-made trips.
- We Care Program. This school provides free English lessons, lessons on the environment and key skills to disadvantaged children in Bukit Lawang. They appreciate any time you can give: You can join them for one lesson or volunteer long-term. They provide free accommodation for long-term volunteers. Visitors to the school are also welcome. You can also pay to trek with the teachers; proceeds will go to the school.
In Bukit Lawang during the low season not all shops are open on weekdays, however in the weekend there are several small shops that sell the locally made coconut necklaces and clothes. Also there is a small shop selling bamboo souvenirs, like key chains, picture frames, etc. There are also a few shops that sell wood carvings and at the beginning is Genta's batik shop, selling traditional batik paintings.
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.
- Green Hill (Bukit Lawang). Has great views of the jungle and there food is great. The restaurant is a lovely open plan space and a good menu and is brilliant for vegetarians e.g. banana and chocolate pancakes, tempe rendang, veggie curry.
- Indra Valley Inn and Resto (Bukit Lawang). Have a wonderful riverside location with jungle views. The restaurant & bar offer offer a variety of delicious fresh meals and snacks with a good variety of vegetarian options. Ask the staff about their river surfing- for those wanting to work up an appetite before they dine.
- Jungle Tribe (Bukit Lawang). A cocktail bar and restaurant owned by Erika-Canadian woman and her husband Agun. Situated next door to Sam's restaurant across the road from Sam's Bungalows- 3 very pleasant rooms with great views of the river.
- Sam's Bungalows (Bukit Lawang). Right next door to Jungle Tribe cocktail bar, this restaurant has the best in panoramic views of the river. Sam's cook uses an array of herbs and spices that give her cooking an extra dimension. Try the Gado Gado special. All the curries are rich in flavor, filled with nutritious and natural food.
- Tony's Restaurant (Bukit Lawang). Serves excellent home made pizza for those craving a touch of the west. The best spaghetti this side of Roma and a great tasting Gado Gado for those seeking some of the local fare.
- Yusri Cafe (Bukit Lawang). Situated across from the National Park Ticket Office. A very homely feeling cafe with Yusuf and Rita (with Rita & her mum doing all the cooking) taking care of you. Serving tasty local food at local prices with decent portion sizes. Good western selection of food for breakfast. Nasi Goreng Rp 8,000, Nasi Ayam Rp 10,000, Black Tea/Coffee Rp 2,000 with milk Rp 5,000, Banana toast Rp 7,000, Banana Pancake Rp 8,000.
Guesthouses sell a range of drinks and when trekking your guide should bring enough water but you may wish to check this. At sunset a great place for a Bintang is the terrace at the Eco Lodge. The friendly folks there will serve you up a cold beer and you can watch the colours change over the town and river below.
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!
In order of position up the pathway by the river in Bukit Lawang.
- Back to Nature, Jungle (Must contact Aca), ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. Only place to stay that's in the jungle, not the town. 4 rooms, all with balcony. Family style meals. Free coffee and tea. Private waterfall bathing. 120 hectares of private jungle. Eco-resort. Dutch spoken. US$ 15-25.
- Bukit Lawang Cottages. Also known as 'Eco Lodge' (just across the river from main village at the base of the hill and where the walking tracks start), is a good option if you arrive late in the day. It's also one of the main places to eat/drink at night and meet in the morning for treks. Start from Rp 80,000.
- Bukit Lawang - Homestay (in Gotong-royong, a little village next to Bukit Lawang), ☏ , email@example.com. They welcome backpackers or families. There are lots of local children in the neighborhood and there is a sport field next to the house for playing badminton. Gotong Royong is a quiet place and there hardly any other tourists. So if you want to get a taste of Indonesian culture, learn how to cook Indonesian food and speak Bahasa Indonesia, then a homestay in Gotong Royong is a good choice. Rp 100,000 per night.
- Garden Inn, ☏ (Pardil). Not far from Jungle Inn is another pleasant place to stay in Bukit Lawang. Nice double bed rooms with cold shower. Around Rp 50,000 to 60,0000.
- 1 Green Hill Guesthouse & Eco Trekking, ☏ (Andrea), (Mbra), firstname.lastname@example.org. 5 rooms built high up behind their beautiful open-air building with incredible views. Simple room with shared bathroom for Rp 60,000 ; treetop bungalows are Rp 150,000 ; treetop chalet is Rp 250,000.
- 2 Indra Valley Inn & Trekking, Bukit Lawang, ☏ , email@example.com. Directly at the river at your left hand side when you walk to the orang utan centre. Certain rooms have hot showers. Great restaurant & bar with healthy food for reasonable prices. Owner and operator Obiwan is a very experienced (third generation) trekking guide. Jungle view accommodation with balcony and river view between Rp 200,000 and 600,000.
- Junias Guesthouse and Brando Resto (Junias Guesthouse) (Must contact Anang), ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. Enjoy both scenic river and forest sounds as you relax at junias guesthouse. Situated between Gunung Leuser National Park and the Bohorok River – the perfect place to stay in Bukit Lawang for trekking, tubing, enjoying Indonesian culture and food. Whether backpacking through or on holiday, Junia’s is a new, jungle-style guesthouse with comfortable and beautiful rooms. Offers very cheap rooms and discount for long staying. Also offer some services such as jungle trekking, and traditional jungle survival skills course. Rp 100,000 - 300,000.
- Jungle Inn, ☏ (Bahrum). Directly opposite the orangutan sanctuary. Offers reasonably priced rooms, but slightly inflated prices for food by Sumatran standards. 'Honeymoon Suite' for Rp 350,000 and the new 'Penthouse' for over Rp 450,000..
- Jungle Border (On the opposite side of the river to the main village and the last resort before the jungle (hense the name jungle border)). New resort run by a nice and friendly young family with two beautiful river facing huts one with shower and toilet and the other without. Quiet location with good food and cold beer, the perfect place to chill out. Price ranges from Rp 80,000 to 150,000 depending on which hut you take and the time of the year.
- Jungle Tribe, ☏ (Agun). A free standing house with 'a bar and restaurant' next door. Rp 250,000 per night.
- Lucky Bamboo, ☏ . Right after the fancy Junias, the youngsters owners of the cottage will welcome you with a big smile (as often in Bukit Lawang) The cheapest bungalows, with the path to enter the Nation Park next to you, Lucky Bamboo can be the perfect option. No WiFi, but also no party or noise at night. Five to six bungalows around their house. if you take the front ones, you will sleep with the music of the river flowing... Just tell the guide you will probably meet at the bus station to drive you there. Rp 50,000 for a double bed bungalow (bathroom attached).
- Mama Anas Homestay (in Lambo village, 10 minutes from Bukit Lawang by local bus), email@example.com. A great location in the rice paddy fields with amazing views of the mountains. She has 2 really nice rooms and you will get to meet her children: a great way to experience a bit of real life. She and her husband both speak good English.
- Plan's Stone. Lovely bungalows next to the river, across the bridge from town. En-suite toilet and shower (cold water). Local family owned and run. Great service, friendly, welcoming, and authentic. Rp 50,000 with delicious Nasi Goreng breakfast and tea throughout the day. (April 2012)
- Wisma Bukit Lawang Indah. Across the river next door to Yusman which is next door to Wisma Sibayak. Cheap rooms with a double and single bed go for Rp 35,000. Bukit Lawang Indah has excellent cheap food
- 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.
- Sam's, ☏ (Samsul). 3 lovely rooms with prices from Rp 100,000-200,000.
- Terrario Tangkahan. Luxurious villas owned by renowned Indonesian actor and film producer, Nicholas Saputra. Rp 1,000,000++.
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 70,000 for a very basic room.
- Friendship Guesthouse.
- Our Jungle Ecolodge. Permaculture ecolodge run by local guide Safar Ketambe opening in 2023.
- Pak Mus Homestay.
- Pondok Wisata.
- Sadar Wisata.
- Wisma Cinta Alam, firstname.lastname@example.org. Guide: Johan
- Ketambe Gurah Guesthouse, https://ketambegurah.wordpress.com/, This ex-governmental Eco Resort is the only one that sits right in the Gunung Leuser Park and is now run by a very lovely family; it is located approx. 1 km after the village on the left side. Wildlife of all sorts are visible within the close area and/or from the balcony. The chalet sits close to the Alas river and offers spacious rooms (cold shower, no A/C). This accomodation was built several decades ago and is getting run down. It looks like the jungle is starting to take it over!
- Rainforest Lodge.
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), ☏ . 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. It is perfectly safe for female travellers here but do dress to the conservative standards of the area for your own safety. Don't wear bikinis or tight fitting and low cut t-shirts. Solo female travellers who seek a bit of reassurance should check with the guesthouses and arrange to go trekking with other travellers. Green Hill and Sam's Bungalows have good reputations for solo travellers. 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.
When travelling down the river rapids on the rubber tyres, do not go past the bridge. There are narrow drains and sharper rocks the closer you get to the village.
Keep your villa doors and windows closed when you are not around, the long tailed macaques like to get inside and raid your belongings for food.
Unbranded or unfamiliar branded or even unsealed bottled liquor or alcohol is best to be avoided as it may be too harsh for you and you might be end up hospitalized.
- 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.