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Sumatra trip this coming January

Boulder, Colorado
posts: 3
Sumatra trip this coming January


My husband and I are visiting Sumatra early January 2014. We have around 8 days to visit and would like to head to Gunung Leuser National Park. I'm a wildlife biologist, and interested in hiking, bird watching, photographing wildlife and plants, and exploring in general. I'm looking for advise on areas such as: where to stay, how long to allow for travel, the best way to travel around (bus, hired driver, etc,), reputable guides to hire for day-hikes, and best places to visit. Also, are there any places you can hike to, where you can hike from cabin to cabin, rather than tenting?

Thanks for you help,


7 replies to this topic
posts: 2,174
reviews: 29
1. Re: Sumatra trip this coming January


Compared to US National Parks, where there are signposted trails, guidebooks for walks, and so on, there really is nothing like that in Sumatra, or in Indonesia generally, to speak of.

Ground transportation is very slow and gruelling, it's not a rent-a-car and explore island. Basically there are one or two villages setup for tourists, and that's it. Outside of those villages you are talking about literally hacking your own path through jungle, and it's not something most people would consider.

By far the most popular entrance point to the park is at Bukit Lawang. There are over one hundred guides (far too many, and there isn't much of a process of accreditation/knowledge) there, they do vary in terms of their knowledge of the flora and fauna - most visitors come to see the orangutans (this is trivially easy as they are semi-wild), drink some beer, smoke some dope, and leave.

The fees earned by guides for trekking are very attractive compared with local wages/employment opportunities, and combined with the lack of any real accreditation process (beyond not getting lost), poor education, and so on, means that many guides won't be able to name flora and fauna species beyond the most obvious. As I said, in most cases the tourists are happy with this, because they aren't wildlife biologists, they saw the orangutans, they had a good time and they left. If you are more demanding then you need to seek out specific guides. PM me if you would like me to help arrange a guide for you.

In the park you have:

Bukit Lawang - ~3 hours by surfaced roads from Medan. See orangutans, many guides, good choice of accommodation, treks can be arranged from half-a-day up to several weeks. More info at http://www.bukitlawang.com

Tangkahan - 5 hours by a mixture of surfaced and rougher roads from Medan, or 3 hours by unsurfaced road from Bukit Lawang by jeep. Captive elephants, you can ride them (overpriced, uncomfortable), or bathe them in the river (more reasonable, more enjoyable). Only 4 or 5 accommodation choices, quieter than Bukit Lawang, much smaller and quieter in the evenings, more of a wild, unspoiled feel. Treks also possible, much less well-trodden than Bukit Lawang due to the lack of (almost) guaranteed orangutans.

Ketambe - 10 hours+ by rough road from Medan, also a trekking/orangutan place like Bukit Lawang, but less touristed due to the distance. See http://www.ketambe.com/

Some other places less trodden still may be possible, but probably not with only 8 days.

There are no cabins.

Most tourists will make a trek near the village, sleeping in the jungle close to the village. This keeps logistics transportation costs/down. More serious hikes requiring road transport for supplies (potentially a long way round) increase costs but are possible. Here's an example www.insidesumatera.com/en/…

Be aware that the conditions are nothing like walking in the forests of North America (I have walked in several US National Parks), the heat and humidity is much higher, and without experience of walking in tropical rainforest conditions it's generally unwise to commit to a longer trek in advance.

Probably as a starting point Bukit Lawang is the easiest, and you the biodiversity in the forest is huge, so if you have an interest in say fungi, or insects, or whatever else, then you will find a huge amount to interest.

There are some guide books here also:


As far as transport goes the best is definitely to hire a driver as and when you need it. An aircon minivan with driver for Medan - Bukit Lawang costs around $60, Bukit Lawang - Tangkahan is around $100 by jeep and so on. Public transport exists too if you are on a lower budget.

Boulder, Colorado
posts: 3
2. Re: Sumatra trip this coming January

Thank you so much! Your information is very helpful. We are also considering Bukit Lawang for three days and then lake Toba for three days. Is this possible with 7-8 days or are they too far apart?



posts: 108
reviews: 22
3. Re: Sumatra trip this coming January

You will climb Mt Leuser? that is best option for explorer Jungle in Gunung Leuser national park,

Another good place for Jungle trekking is on Kerinci Seblat National park, and also climb Mt Kerinci 3805m


posts: 2,174
reviews: 29
4. Re: Sumatra trip this coming January

Allow 1 day to travel between any two principal destinations in N. Sumatra. It gets dark around 6pm, though by 4:30pm the thunderstorms might be looming.

Specifically Bukit Lawang - Lake Toba is around 7 hours drive, so you would leave B. Lawang in the morning and arrive Lake Toba in the evening (not too late because of the ferry).

Medan airport to Bukit Lawang is around 3.5 hours by private transport, a little more to Lake Toba.

So a typical itinerary could be:

Day 1: arrive Medan - transfer to Bukit Lawang

Day 2: relax (jetlag? climate adjustment?)

Day 3-4: overnight trek in the jungle

Day 5: transfer to Lake Toba

Day 6: explore Lake Toba

Day 7: explore Lake Toba

Day 8: leave for airport

Depending on your flight times you could transfer directly to Lake Toba by car on the first day; if your flight on day 8 is a.m. then Lake Toba would not be as practical due to the need to catch a ferry off the lake. You can arrange transport to Bukit Lawang at any time of day or night, so if your flight on day 1 is evening or on day 8 morning, you would be best heading to Bukit Lawang to coincide with that.

With such a short time frame, private transportation is definitely essential.

Boulder, Colorado
posts: 3
5. Re: Sumatra trip this coming January

Thanks for the info!

Toronto, Canada
posts: 3
reviews: 2
6. Re: Sumatra trip this coming January

Jdulberger - thanks for initiating this post! My travel companion and I are planning to travel to Bali in January and came across the Orangutan tours in Borneo while doing some research. We're wondering if there's a chance we could book a 3 or 4 day tour in January (very last-minute, I know!). If anyone has any tips or suggestions, I'm all ears. I've been checking out sites for tours, but many of them don't list their tour dates for some reason. I've emailed a few and am waiting to hear back.

Richmond, Australia
posts: 11
reviews: 19
7. Re: Sumatra trip this coming January

Hi somewhereinlondon,

I have been reading all your good info and had a question. My partner and I are going to Sumatra aswell in late January 2014 and have 2 weeks and are planning to travel to Bukit lawang, Tangkahan, and hopefully Ketambe with a stop off at Mount Sibayak on the way. But I was curious about a good experienced guide that could show us as many animals as possible with a good knowledge aswell. We are both interested in Photography.

Thank you kindly

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