Orangutan Tour – An Extraordinary 2 day hike in the stunning Sumatran Rainforest

Orangutan Tour – An Extraordinary 2 day hike in the stunning Sumatran Rainforest

If you’re travelling throughout Indonesia, you’ve probably got the words ‘Orangutan tour’ somewhere on your bucket list. However, the first place everyone seems to think of when they mention wanting to see Orangutans in the wild is on Borneo island.

For whatever reason Sumatra island often gets overlooked. However, going on a Sumatran Orangutan tour can often be the better option of the two. This is partly due to Bukit Lawang (that’s the name of the town where you start your Orangutan trek from by the way) is in the middle of nowhere. It requires quite a bit more effort to get too than the options available in Borneo.

I hadn’t done a lot of research before heading out to Indonesia, I just knew I wanted to see WILD orangutans and not just ones in a rehabilitation centre. After talking to a few other travellers about their experiences and where they went, I made up my mind that I was going do a Sumatran Orangutan tour.

And I can say, from first-hand experience, getting to see wild Orangutans was one of my highlights from my trip to Indonesia. I highly recommend doing an Orangutan trek in Bukit Lawang.

So, what are you waiting for? Grab yourself a brew and let’s find out more about the Bukit Lawang Orangutan trek.

This post may contain affiliate links. To find out what this means and more information visit my disclosure page.

Travelling around Indonesia? 

Here are some other great articles to help plan your trip.

Alternatively, if you want to see loads of Sumatra like the waterfalls, beaches AND the Orangutans but with NONE of the leg work then check out this amazing fully immersive 14 day Highlights of Sumatra small group tour some inspiration.

Not enough time to read about the Sumatran Orangutan tour now? No worries, why not pin it for later.

An amazing jungle expedition through the Sumatran rainforest on an Orangutan Tour near Bukit Lawang to see the stunning 'Rang-Tangs' in the wild. If you are travelling around South East Asia or Indonesia you need to add Orangutan hike to your bucket list. This is one of the top wildlife experiences ever. Just wow! #SouthEastAsia #Indonesia #Sumatra #WildlifeExperiences #Bucketlist
An amazing jungle expedition through the Sumatran rainforest on an Orangutan Tour near Bukit Lawang to see the stunning 'Rang-Tangs' in the wild. If you are travelling around South East Asia or Indonesia you need to add Orangutan hike to your bucket list. This is one of the top wildlife experiences ever. Just wow! #SouthEastAsia #Indonesia #Sumatra #WildlifeExperiences #Bucketlist
An amazing jungle expedition through the Sumatran rainforest on an Orangutan Tour near Bukit Lawang to see the stunning 'Rang-Tangs' in the wild. If you are travelling around South East Asia or Indonesia you need to add Orangutan hike to your bucket list. This is one of the top wildlife experiences ever. Just wow! #SouthEastAsia #Indonesia #Sumatra #WildlifeExperiences #Bucketlist

SUMATRAN ORANGUTAN TOUR, INDONESIA
- USEFUL INFO

Before you travel to Indonesia to do the Orangutan tour, have you remembered to book your travel insuranceGet a quote from True Traveller.

In recent years there’s been so much press on Palm Oil and how detrimental it is to the Orangutan. Back in 2018, Greenpeace produced an awareness video, it was then used by UK supermarket chain, Iceland.

If you somehow managed to miss this short animation doing the rounds a while back, in a nutshell, it was about the plight of ‘Rang-Tan’ the Orangutan and her story about ‘dirty palm oil’. If you did miss the advert, then take a look.

Wildlife tourism can play a huge role in the protection of the Orangutans. Unfortunately, palm oil production is a lucrative business, so for starters as consumers, we need to be using less of it. However, IF money through wildlife tourism can outweigh the need for deforestation then maybe that could help the Orangutans plight. I can hope.

I was eager to see the Orangutans in, what’s left of, their natural habitat. Booking onto an Orangutan tour which offers passive interaction and education will hopefully help this endangered species as well as supporting industries not linked to palm oil like accommodation, restaurants, activities and shops.

Where is Bukit Lawang, Sumatra?

So, there are only a handful of places where you can see Orangutans in the wild; all of them are in Indonesia. The islands of Borneo and Sumatra both boast opportunities to see Orangutans in the wild.

Bukit Lawang is a small town in northern Sumatra, the nearest city is Medan, which is 86km away. Bukit Lawang is situated right on the Bahorok River and a stone’s throw from UNESCO listed Gunung Leuser, National Park. It’s in this protected park where you’ll do your Orangutan tour.

Check out this great article if you’re travelling around South-East Asia

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The town on Bukit Lawang on the Bahorok River with the Gunung Leuser National Park in the distance

Getting from Medan Airport to Bukit Lawang

A big part of why the Sumatran Orangutan tour feels more authentic than that package-holiday-feel of some of the similar tours on Borneo is that it requires a bit of effort to get there.

The quickest way to get from Medan airport to Bukit Lawang is a 4-hour taxi ride, and that’s on a good run! The day I travelled was a festival weekend and national holiday when I visited, so it took 5 1/2 hours to get through the traffic. Either way, just be prepared for a long journey.

Alternatively, you can catch the public bus. If you plan to go by bus to Bukit Lawang then make sure you arrive in Medan early in case you miss the connections. It will take you the best part of a day to do the journey. Catch the ALS (Antar Lintas Sumatera) bus from Medan Airport bus terminal. Look for the one that says ‘Binjai’ on it. Binjai is a city just outside of Medan en route to Bukit Lawang. It will take a couple of hours. From here catch the onward bus to Bukit Lawang.

The roads start nice and smooth; don’t be deceived, this quickly changes as soon as you leave the main towns. So during this long journey, you’d be hard press to get any shut-eye.

History of the Bukit Lawang Orangutan Sanctuary

The area historically was famous for The Bukit Lawang Rehabilitation Centre for Orangutans. The Rehabilitation Centre was founded in 1973 by two Swiss zoologists. The purpose of the centre was to take care of Orangutans in the region who had been injured or orphaned as a result of deforestation – you will see the massive palm oil plantations in the surrounding areas which is a testament to how much of the local, once a forested area has been commercialised. The centre still exists today, however, under different ownership. 

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Our encounters with the Orangutans

Things to do in Bukit Lawang - Which isn't the Sumatran Orangutan tour

Apart from going on the Orangutan tour, obvs, there are quite a few things to do in Bukit Lawang.

  • Explore the local area– Depending on how far you want to walk, you’ll pass through plenty of forests including rubber plantations where the trees still bear scars from where the bark was removed to get the latex. If you walk far enough you’ll reach the edges of the palm oil plantations where jungle once stood. When you’re out walking be careful of the gangs of cheeky and overconfident macaques occasionally blocking the path near some of the guesthouses. Generally, they’ll keep their distance however if they can see or smell food, they will steal it off you.
  • Visit the Orphanage – You’ll pass a very cute little cluster of colourful buildings surrounded by well cared for gardens. Unfortunately, it was closed when I walked past but I was told by a local that you could visit the children here as well as make donations.
  • Go into the Bat Cave – Look out the for the sign that says ‘Bat Cave’ made out of old bottle tops wedged in the ground. The cave is up a bit of a slope, so it might be a muddy slope up to the entrance. There is a little hut outside where you’ll pay a small fee (approx $5) for one of the local boys to take you inside the cave to show you the rock formations and the bats.
  • People Watch – IF you happen to be in Bukit Lawang at the weekend, there will be a hive of activity down by the river. Find yourself a vantage point and watch what locals get up to at the weekend. The river is the hub for everything in Bukit Lawang and there will usually be dozens of children playing in the river, tubing seems to be the most popular pass time with parents chilling on the river bank. It’s lovely to just be in the moment and watch how the locals spend their spare time.
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The colourful little orphanage in Bukit Lawang
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A network of rickety bridges connect the town on each side of the the river

What to take on the Orangutan Tour

      • If it’s been raining, chances are it’s going to be slippery. A pair of lightweight antishock Walking Poles can really help you from falling over.
      • You can not drink the water straight from the taps in Bukit Lawang (or Indonesia in general), so make sure you pack your water purification water bottle which means you can fill up from the taps without getting sick.
      • A portable power bank, you’re going to be in the middle of the jungle. So if you have electronics that need charging, don’t forget to pack one.
      • Overnight bag (basic toiletries, swimwear and a clean set of clothes)

You’ll have to carry EVERYTHING for the duration of the hike with you. So pack light and only take the essentials you’re going to need, your accommodation will look after your luggage for you while you are on the Orangutan tour.

THE ORANGUTAN TOUR - WHAT TO EXPECT

Have you remembered to book your travel insurance in case you have an accident while doing the Orangutan tour? Get a quote from True Traveller.

You can book your Orangutan trek for any number of days and nights. Most people book the 2-day-1-night excursion, but if you wanted to explore deeper in the jungle, this can also be arranged. The evening before you go on your Orangutan Tour you’ll meet your guide and have a quick briefing which includes departure time and what to take.

The day starts early as you enter the national park meandering your way through muddy paths and shallow rivers. Be careful of some of the steeper slopes and slippery tree roots, this is where a pair of decent lightweight antishock walking poles come in useful.

You’ll have frequent stops along the way with your guide pointing out different flowers, fauna, trees, bugs, fruits, nuts as well as footprints and markings left by various other animals. 

The frequent stops is also a nice break from hiking in the sticky and humid heat. I was torn between wanting to take off my long-sleeved top so I could cool down and not wanting to be eaten alive. Just make sure you have plenty of bug repellant with you.

Not for the squeamish

If you’re squeamish, then watch out for the leeches! I picked up a few of the little suckers on my ankles when I was passing through the shallow streams. In fairness, they were small, about 2cm long, I didn’t notice them latching on until the guide flicked them off. 

If you freak out over things like leeches, then don’t look down. When I knew what to look for the ground around some of the streams were crawling with them. They seemed to make a beeline for anyone that stood still for more than a moment. 

Leeches don’t believe in exclusivity, a few people in our group ‘collected’ them on their ankles.

Our first encounter

Like all wildlife, you’re never guaranteed to see it in real life. However, we were blessed fairly early on with two Orangutans; a mother and a baby. 

They were high up in a tree so our guide took us to a better vantage point to get a closer look. Down a ravine, precariously straddled and balanced on tree trunks, rocks and shrubs our group watched silently. 

The Orangutans were relaxed and foraging for food. Naturally, they would have heard us scrambling about below. For a moment, they started to come closer, and down from the tree with much more grace and elegance than us lot perched in the ravine and clambering about on tree roots. They lost interest as soon as they realised we had nothing of interest for them. 

NOTE: DO NOT FEED THE ORANGUTANS

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Mother and baby Orangutan in the canopy
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This Orangutan came down for a closer look

Jungle camp

In the late afternoon, we arrived at the jungle camp. Campsites in the jungle consist of a semi-permanent structure; a tarpaulin stretched over 4 wooden posts to form a kitchen, a river to wash in, and a hole in the ground to do your business. Certainly, no glamping here, but it was pure bliss.

Our group didn’t need much encouragement to ditch the backpacks, chuck on some bathing gear and head straight for the refreshingly cool river to wash off the day’s accumulation of sweat and mud. Reassuringly, there were no leeches here!

The cold river was so rejuvenating. After we sat relaxing on the riverbank, the late afternoon sun shining through the forest canopy whilst drinking warm cups of sweet tea. To describe the feeling in a word; blissful. 

So, it’s no secret why they are called rainforests, the answers in the name but a quick jungle downpour temporarily put a dampener on things. For all of 5 minutes.

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Out basic yet blissful jungle camp

Camp life

The pebbles in the area are soft, almost like smooth lumps of compacted clay, this means that they are easy to carve into with a pocket knife. 

Our guide showed us how to carve an Orangutan face into a pebble and after a quick demo, left us to create our own. As a testament to his evident years of practice, he made it look easy. Our attempts we’re a different story altogether.

The evening meal was served, a hearty curry with rice, washed down with more sweet tea while sitting around the campfire. This was followed by several rounds of cards before heading off to bed.

We were up early and greeted by the sun shining through the forest canopy which looked stunning coming through the smoke from the campfire. Our every movement was being watched by a local mob of Macaques hoping to scavenge any scraps of food we may have dropped.

The overnight rain made the slopes even more slippery so it was a little tougher going than the previous day. I stayed clean for all of 5 minutes! However, it wasn’t long into the morning two of our Orangutan tour until we saw another pair high in the tree.

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The morning sun shining through the fire from our camp fire and the jungle canopy

Orangutans in Bukit Lawang

There are two types of Orangutan in Bukit Lawang, ones which had been rehabilitated and wild ones. Our guide had said that both of these Orangutans had been born in the wild, so they would never come down from the trees as they don’t associate the jungle floor and humans with food. They carried on regardless and ignored our presence totally unlike the pair we saw yesterday.

Later in the day, our guide spotted a solo Orangutan in the distance walking on the jungle floor. Our guide recognised this Orangutan, saying that she was an older female who had been rescued from the tourist trade and reintroduced to the wild.

Human interaction isn’t encouraged on the Orangutan tour, however, she still associated humans with food so started to approach our group. Our guide stopped us about 15metres from her, then told to crouch down, keep totally still and silent until she lost interest. It was mindblowing to be this close an Orangutan.

A sad throwback and realisation from her previous captive life meant that she kept trying to sit and pose for us. She hung about for a short while before realising we had nothing of interest before wandered back off into the jungle. But wow, just wow!

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Our close encounter with a rehab Orangutan
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Our close encounter with a rehab Orangutan

Orangutans don't like the rain

During the afternoon the rain came, this time a much larger downpour than yesterday.

Like humans, Orangutans don’t like getting wet. Equally like us, they use umbrellas! It was almost comical to see a large adult, solitary Orangutan pulling the big leaves from the surrounding trees over the top of its head to create a shelter from the rain.

The rain also brought out some fairly large lizards. Monitor Lizards are from the same family as the infamous Komodo Dragons although thankfully not as big and not on a mission to bite us!

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The big Monitor Lizards swimming near to camp

Watch out for thieves

Thoroughly soaked, we made it to the second camp. A cheeky and opportunistic Thomas Leaf monkey decided to join us under our shelter. Not only wanting shelter from the rain, but it also wanted to steal our lunch. After sitting a short while on the sidelines, planning its attack, the Thomas Leaf monkey came right into our shelter, sat for a moment before grabbing a bag of rice. Promptly it was chased off dropping the bag as it went.

Looking back at us with a very disgruntled expression that not only had the monkey lost its bag of food but then had to sit out in the rain.

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The cheeky Thomas Leaf Monkey and the face of a thief
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The disgruntled look of a thief who lost its prize

Taking the Tube back to Bukit Lawang

We were near the end of our Orangutan Tour and time in the jungle, it was time to head back to camp via the river on inflated tyre inners.

Five inner tyres lashed together with rope ready to float down the river and back to the town of Bukit Lawang. With our rucksacks put into watertight bags and fastened on, we all clambered onto our makeshift raft, side-by-side and off we went, down the rapids, through the jungle and canyons back to base.

An exhilarating way to get home and a fantastic way to finish off the Orangutan tour.

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Our tube raft back to Bukit Lawang

Rang-Tans plight against 'Dirty Palm Oil'

It’s heartbreaking that these creatures are being pushed to extinction.

The jungle near Bukit Lawang, Gunung Leuser National Park, is a protected area, but it’s clear to see how much has been cleared for palm oil plantations. 

This is going to continue unless consumers change their attitudes towards products containing palm oil.

I know for sure, I was incredibly privileged to see wild Orangutans. It would be a huge loss to the natural world if they were pushed to extinction.

So would I recommend this Orangutan Tour?

A massive yes, yes, yes. An Orangutan tour is a definite must-do if you are travelling to Indonesia. True, it’s a bit of a mission to get to Bukit Lawang, but it’s 100% worth it the effort to get here.  

It was one of the most memorable things I experienced in my entire Indonesia trip so much so that I would jump at the chance to do the Sumatran Orangutan tour again.

Bukit Lawang Accommodation

    • On a budget: On The Rocks Bungalows offers cute and rustic style jungle lodges in landscaped gardens. There is wifi throughout the property and an onsite restaurant.
    • Mid-Budget: Hotel Orangutan offers spacious rooms with balconies overlooking the river and surrounding jungle. Considering the hotel is on the outskirts of a jungle, it offers wifi throughout the property and an onsite restaurant. They can also arrange an Orangutan tour for you.
    • Blow the Budget: Jungle Inn offers riverside accommodation and a private beach area. The rooms are large and airy with landscaped gardens and a terraced area overlooking the jungle. Wifi is available on site and daily evening entertainment in the bar and restaurant area.
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My accommodation came with a cute alien faced kitten

Travelling around Indonesia? 

Here are some other great articles to help plan your trip.

Alternatively, if you want to see loads of Sumatra like the waterfalls, beaches AND the Orangutans but with NONE of the leg work then check out this amazing fully immersive 14 day Highlights of Sumatra small group tour some inspiration.

Pin it for later

So are you excited about going on an Orangutan tour and getting the chance to see wild Orangutans? If you found this article useful or know someone who would, then please like and share.

Why not save these Pins for future reference? Or if you have any questions please comment below and I’ll try my best to answer them.

An amazing jungle expedition through the Sumatran rainforest on an Orangutan Tour near Bukit Lawang to see the stunning 'Rang-Tangs' in the wild. If you are travelling around South East Asia or Indonesia you need to add Orangutan hike to your bucket list. This is one of the top wildlife experiences ever. Just wow! #SouthEastAsia #Indonesia #Sumatra #WildlifeExperiences #Bucketlist
An amazing jungle expedition through the Sumatran rainforest on an Orangutan Tour near Bukit Lawang to see the stunning 'Rang-Tangs' in the wild. If you are travelling around South East Asia or Indonesia you need to add Orangutan hike to your bucket list. This is one of the top wildlife experiences ever. Just wow! #SouthEastAsia #Indonesia #Sumatra #WildlifeExperiences #Bucketlist
An amazing jungle expedition through the Sumatran rainforest on an Orangutan Tour near Bukit Lawang to see the stunning 'Rang-Tangs' in the wild. If you are travelling around South East Asia or Indonesia you need to add Orangutan hike to your bucket list. This is one of the top wildlife experiences ever. Just wow! #SouthEastAsia #Indonesia #Sumatra #WildlifeExperiences #Bucketlist

Orangutan Tour - An Extraordinary 2 day hike in the stunning Sumatran Rainforest 19

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Becki from Meet Me In Departures

Adventure travel blogger with a big addiction to the World. An ex-rat-racer who was fed up with sleep-work-eat-repeat materialistic mentality that plagues modern living. I love anything to do with off-beat travel, abandoned places, temples & ruins, street art, wildlife in its natural habitat, adventure sport.....basically anything but the 9-5!

This Post Has 15 Comments

  1. Fabulous experience.
    Wishing you many more. Xx

    1. It really was and amazing experience 🙂 and certainly made for life long memories. Thanks for reading 🙂

  2. What an incredible experience! Though it sounds like a trek to get to, the tour from Bukit Lawang sounds amazing. To be that close to these incredible animals…so jealous. And, the ride back looks like it’s own adventure! If one wanted to do this, how much should they budget for – including taxi from the main city and the city? Thank you so much for sharing!

    1. Hi April, thank you for reading and commenting. Good questions too, so the taxi was approximately £40 if you book there and then. I negotiated to £25 equivalent in local currency as the driver from the guest house I was staying at was already at the airport (and would hang about) . The return journey I shared with other travellers and split the cost. For the actual tour, I paid equivalent of €70 (for some reason they sell in Euro!!! – they said most the clients are from Europe) also add money on to tip your guide – the tip will be on local currency. Hope that helps 🙂

  3. Sounds like a fantastic experience in the little-known part of the world. I saw all my Orangutans in Borneo while looking for cats in the jungle. Both Kinabatangan River and Deramakot Forest Reserve in Sabah are good for spotting Orangutans in the wild. Of course both areas are surrounded by the endless seas of oil palm plantations ?

    1. Yes, I’ve heard of both those places when I was talking to people about Orangurang Tours 🙂 maybe next time I’ll go there for a comparison.
      But yes, the palm oil plantations are a massive problem in so many places there. It’s so sad.

  4. Wow the photos you got of the rehabilitated orangutan are amazing! What a privilege to be so close to such an amazing animal. Also, thanks for shedding some light on he difficulties these animals are facing. We’ve been to Borneo too and it blew our mind just how much of that island is covered in palm oil plantations. We drove for 8 solid hours through them

    1. Wow! That sounds like some epic size palm oil plantation you drove through. Unless you see first hand how big the plantations are, it’s so hard to imagine. But also I wonder how many Orangutans lost their homes/lives in something that size. Its sad to think about it.

      I’m glad you liked the pictures 🙂 they are such beautiful creatures.

  5. This would be one of my husband’s dream trips! He is crazy about monkeys and orangutans. Your trip looks very fun. The cat, is a Devan Rex. My friend has a couple of them and they are extremely high dollar and very smart. 😉

    1. Ahhhh I’m glad you recognised the cat breed. It was a lovely playful little thing, I wish I could have taken her with me.

  6. What an incredible experience this must be. I would so love to go!!!

  7. Amazing trip and experience. I emailed to myself your post because I feel totally inspired. Thank you for sharing your amazing adventure

    1. Thank you for the lovely comment. It’s trully amazing to see the Orangutans in the wild, I feel incredibly priveledged to have done this.

  8. What an amazing experience to get up close and personal with the Orangutans in the wild. I had always planned to go to Borneo but this sounds like a much better experience, much less touristy. Thanks ?

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