As responsible travellers we tend to be lovers of nature and all things in it. Therefore a place that has a reputation for being one of the world’s most bio-diverse regions would be an extremely enticing invitation.
Let us introduce you to the Gunung Leuser National Park in Indonesia’s northern island of Sumatra, an ecological wonderland full of hundreds of mammal and bird species, 21 that are endemic. Include the thousands of species of plants, abundance of waterfalls, underground cave systems and tall, steep cliff-faces and you have what we would call the perfect destination for nature lovers.
The Gunung Leuser National Park is home to the world’s second largest concentration of Orang-utan, as well as the endangered Sumatran Tiger and Rhinoceros, the Sumatran Elephant, Thomas Leaf Monkey, both black and white-handed Gibbons, long-tailed and pig tailed Macaques, Water Monitors and many more. With the affluence of wildlife that resides here conservationists have been working for years to protect this land. Many NGO’s work in wildlife research, rescue and rehabilitation in the area, while also raising environmental awareness in the local communities. Over the years this awareness has had a large influence on the local people and now eco-tourism plays an important role in sustaining the forests. Many ex-poachers and loggers now act as trekking guides and many of the local people in town have set up businesses that cater to tourists, such as guest houses, jungle trekking, village tours etc.
As a traveller, your contribution plays an important role in protecting the forests as well. By visiting the area and supporting the local community you too are protecting the home of the wildlife here, especially the infamous Sumatran Orang-utan, by providing an alternative income to the people in the local villages. There is also the benefit for you to get up close to these marvellous creatures.
The Gunung Leuser National Park is home to around 7000 Orang-utans, some wild and some semi-wild. On a trek you’ll have a good chance of seeing both kinds. The semi-wild ones are the ones that have been released here by WWF after being rescued and rehabilitated from the wildlife trade. They are more used to human interaction and won’t be too shy to come up close to the visitors and take fruit from the rangers. The wild ones tend to stick higher up in the trees but you can still catch a good glimpse of them with your camera. There are few places in the world where you can have ethical encounters with wildlife, and luckily for us Sumatra remains one of those places. There was a time where Orang-utans were on their way to extinction but, thanks to forest protection and awareness, their numbers are increasing. However, unfortunately it’s not all good news. Although many areas of forest are protected from logging under federal law illegal logging practices still occur. Not to mention all the damage being done to the Bornean island of Indonesia which also has a high concentration of Orang-utan.
The best we can do as travellers is support local practices that protect the environment and raise our own awareness about environmental issues facing the countries we visit. We highly recommending spending some time in Bukit Lawang Sumatra and supporting the work they do here to protect their environment and the animals that reside in it.
Getting to Bukit Lawang (Sumatra’s Orang-utan village)
Take the public bus (ALS) from Medan airport to Binjai (40,000 IRP, 2 hours)
Take the small yellow bus from Binjai to Tanah Lapang (10,000 IRP, 20 mins)
Take the public bus from Tanah Lapang to Bukit Lawang (30,000, 2 hours)
Beware of a scam – When the ALS drops you at Binjai some local men will come up to you asking you to get in a bus to Bukit Lawang. They will try to charge you 200,000-400,000 IRP. Just tell them you know where you are going and you will take the yellow public bus. Strangely there is no scam leaving Bukit Lawang, only on the way there.
You may also be able to arrange your guesthouse or trekking guide to pick you up from Medan airport for a larger fee.
Where to stay in Bukit Lawing
There are a number of guesthouses located in Bukit Lawang. Here are our top picks
Rainforest Guest House (Nora’s Homestay)
Rooms from 40,000 IRP a night
Rooms from 120,000 IRP a night
Indra Valley Inn
Dorms from 120,000 IRP a night