Bukit Lawang: Sumatran Orangutan Jungle Trekking By Medan, Indonesia
Bukit Lawang jungle trekking with a guide in Indonesia is one of the best places to see the Sumatran Orangutan in the wild, and it’s pretty easy to do on a budget!
The small town of Bukit Lawang sits on the edge of the Gunung Leuser National Park, a big rainforest where you can see all kinds of animals, including tigers, rare birds & lizards, orangutans, and other monkeys.
Trekking packages are generally ethical and you’re almost guaranteed to see Sumatran Orangutans and other wildlife. We saw more than 20 orangutans and a bunch of rare animals in just a couple days of trekking!
This Bukit Lawang blog and guide will explain how to get there, what to do, where to stay, trekking prices, and everything else you need to know before you go!
How To Get To Bukit Lawang
Bukit Lawang is located in North Sumatra, Indonesia.
There’s no airport in Bukit Lawang. The nearest international airport is in the city of Medan (KNO), which gets daily flights from places like Bangkok, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, and Jakarta starting at $40 USD for a one way ticket.
Bukit Lawang is a 3 hour drive from Medan city, although in heavy traffic it can take an extra hour or two. Your hotel in Lawang can arrange a driver for you, or you can book a driver online here.
A normal price for a driver from Medan to Bukit Lawang (or vice versa) is about 600k Rupiah ($42 USD), but may cost a little extra in heavy traffic.
Bukit Lawang Jungle Trekking
The rainforest has lots of great wildlife.
In two treks we saw orangutans, gibbons, Thomas leaf monkeys, long tailed macaques, monitor lizards, giant ants, a spectacular banyan tree, and other jungle sights.
Inside the national park, you also have a possibility of seeing rare birds, Sumatran tigers, rhinos, elephants, sun bears, pig tailed macaques, vipers, cobras, kraits, and many other things.
This jungle is part of the Gunung Leuser National Park, and it houses some endangered animals, so there are a few rules they expect you to follow:
- Don’t enter the park without a guide. If you pay for a trekking package, you’ll have two guides with you at all times. Their job is to keep you safe in the jungle and give you info about the Sumatran Orangutan and other animals.
- Don’t enter the park without a permit. Your Bukit Lawang guide will handle this for you.
- Don’t go closer to wild animals than 10 meters. Sometimes the animals break this rule, though, and if you’re lucky they may come close to you!
- Don’t feed or touch wild animals. They can become dependent or catch diseases from us. This includes the Sumatran Orangutan.
- Don’t leave rubbish in the National Park. Self explanatory. Thankfully we didn’t see any trash in the jungle at all during our treks.
The Bukit Lawang jungle trekking difficulty is not too bad, but it’s harder than I expected.
This isn’t like Tangkoko National Park where you can walk on flat ground all the way and burn minimal calories while enjoying the wildlife.
There are some steep hill sections at Lawang where your legs will get a big workout, and the ground can be muddy and nasty sometimes with thorns and leeches. The daytime humidity can also be crazy.
Don’t let this scare you away! It all adds to the experience. If you don’t think your fitness level is there, I’d recommend doing the 1 day trek instead of 2 days.
Before dinner, we soaked in the creek to bathe and cool off after the jungle trek. It was a nice clearwater stream and exactly what we needed to beat the humidity.
The camp is very simple and consists of a small 2-person tent inside of a larger covered bamboo shack where the guides and cooks can stay.
When you wake up the next morning after your trek, your Bukit Lawang guide will give you the choice of walking back to town or rafting on inner-tubes. We decided not to do the rafting, but now I wish we had.
It gives you a great view of the jungle from the outside that you won’t get to see on foot!
The jungle day treks normally provide lunch, and for 2-day treks there’s also dinner at night and then breakfast the following morning.
The food we had on our treks was great. For lunch it was fried rice, egg, crackers, and fruit (banana, pineapple, and watermelon).
For dinner, we had some Indonesian dishes that included chicken curry and perkedel (potato cakes), fried fish & rice, and more veggies. Breakfast was like lunch, but with a choice of tea or coffee.
The trekking companies can cater to your diet if there’s anything specific you want (or don’t want). Just give them a heads up the day before you start.
Sumatran Orangutan Facts
Of course, the main attraction at Bukit Lawang is the Sumatran Orangutan!
Orangutans live only in Indonesia and Malaysia (on the islands of Sumatra and Borneo), and Bukit Lawang is one of the best places to see Sumatran Orangutans in the wild. They’re gentle animals and very smart.
Orangutan is an old Indonesian word meaning ‘forest person’, and true to their name, these great apes spend most of their time in the trees, where they use their long flexible arms to find fruit and leaves.
Orangutan Conservation Status
The Sumatran Orangutan is critically endangered, and there are less than 15,000 left in the wild. This is because their habitats are being destroyed on a large scale to make way for palm oil plantations.
The total number of Sumatran Orangutans has decreased by 80% in the last 75 years, and sadly it’s expected to keep shrinking, with extinction on the horizon unless major changes are made in Indonesia and Malaysia.
Orangutans are a protected species in Indonesia, but government enforcement is weak even when the animals are killed illegally. Palm oil farming has taken priority because it brings more value to the economy.
Indonesia is still a relatively poor country, and that’s especially true in Sumatra where tourism isn’t a big player yet, so money speaks. And unfortunately that continues to motivate palm oil farming, illegal logging, the illegal wildlife trade, etc.
Hopefully the tourist money flowing into places like the Bukit Lawang orangutan sanctuary will help incentivize the proper protection of these animals so we can keep enjoying them in the future.
Bukit Lawang Trekking Prices & Length
Most tourists wanting to see the Sumatran Orangutan choose the 1 day trek ($60/pax) or 2 day trek ($100/pax). Bukit Lawang trekking prices are pretty similar across companies.
Treks of up to 7 days are available and you get to go deeper into the jungle like that, but I question how ethical it is, because critically endangered species like the Sumatran Tiger and Sumatran Rhino need all the space they can get.
Keep in mind, the Sumatran rainforests have already shrunk massively to make way for palm oil plantations (and due to illegal logging), and sadly that trend is continuing. There are less than 100 Sumatran Rhinos left in the wild.
Personally I think the 1 day trek at Bukit Lawang is the best bang for your buck, requires the least amount of work, and leaves the least ‘footprint’ on the ecosystem. That’s my opinion. We saw plenty of orangutans and other wildlife on the 1 day trek.
Best Bukit Lawang Jungle Trekking Tour
If you’re looking for a vetted tour company for seeing the Sumatran Orangutan, here’s a Bukit Lawang jungle trekking tour with Klook starting at $60 USD (850k IDR) for a 1 day trek or $100 for a 2 day trek.
This pretty closely mirrors the Bukit Lawang trekking prices we saw advertised in town, and it also includes hotel transfers (from Bukit Lawang or Medan), along with the national park permit fees, meals, and optional river tubing.
We’ve used Klook for lots of tours and activities around the world, and they’re great! Highly recommended.
Book Now: Bukit Lawang Jungle Trekking
Where To Stay In Bukit Lawang
Bukit Lawang is a cozy riverside town with lots of budget friendly hotels that are basic, but comfortable.
Here are some of our top picks:
- Green Travelodge – Best rated hotel in town, with a tree house theme – 335k IDR ($24 USD)
- Thomas Retreat – Hotel and restaurant with fan or A/C rooms plus WiFi – 195k IDR ($14)
- Garden Inn – Standard rooms with a garden view – 210k IDR ($15)
- Hotel Orangutan – Family luxury room (sleeps 6) with balcony – 2.5 Mil IDR ($180)
- Rainforest Guesthouse Bukit Lawang – Budget friendly option for backpackers – 60k IDR ($4)
These prices may fluctuate from time to time, so just keep an eye out for a good deal. Hotels in Bukit Lawang can fill up though, so it’s a good idea to book something in advance.
Other Bukit Lawang Tips
- ATM: From the town of Bukit Lawang, the nearest ATM is about 10 kilometers away, so make sure you bring enough cash. You can also pay things by bank transfer. Credit cards aren’t accepted.
- Hotels: Expect cold showers and fans only, no air conditioning. We were never hot at night. Electricity is stable, but sometimes there are short outages.
- WiFi: Most places only have limited WiFi in the lobby/restaurant area, or none at all.
- Cell Service: Telkomsel has good 3G/4G reception in the town. We used this for a hotspot at times when we couldn’t reach our hotel WiFi.
- Restaurants: Many hotels have in-house restaurants for their guests, although you can eat at one of the restaurants in town if you’d like. We ate all of our meals at our hotel, Thomas Retreat, which had great Western and Indonesian food at reasonable prices (also good WiFi).
- Safety: We spent months traveling as a couple in North Sumatra and overall it’s very safe. Just take normal precautions. If you’re a solo female traveler, you can ask about joining a trekking group with other tourists.
- Monkeys: There are lots of cheeky macaques that visit the town every day. Most of the time they are good entertainment, but remember to close your hotel windows at night and keep an eye on your belongings or they might make off with them!
- Mosquitoes: According to this Lancet study from 2018, Malaria is rare in this part of Sumatra. I’ve never heard of a tourist getting Malaria from mosquitoes in Bukit Lawang. However, it’s still a very good idea to sleep inside a mosquito net and wear repellant while out and about, just in case. Malaria can be nasty and dangerous.
- More Things To Do: There’s a bat cave near Bukit Lawang town that you can visit on a short trekking tour. However, the best day trips are to Batu Katak to see the rare giant flowers, or Tangkahan to see the elephant sanctuary. You can find more info on these places below.
More Things To Do Near Bukit Lawang
• Batu Katak: Rafflesia & Titan Flower Trekking
Batu Katak is another small village on the east side of Gunung Leuser National Park where you can do flower trekking to see the giant Rafflesia and Titan Arum, two of the biggest flowers in the world!
This was one of the best highlights of our visit to North Sumatra. The Titan Arum flowers can grow to be 3 meters (10 feet) tall! There’s also several limestone water caves to see near Batu Katak, but I had an injured leg so we didn’t get to do the cave treks yet.
Batu Katak is 40 minutes south of the Bukit Lawang orangutan sanctuary. You can message Joe on WhatsApp (☎ +62 812-6340-3452) and he can arrange your pickup, trekking, and other info. He was a huge help for planning our trip.
• Tangkahan Elephant Sanctuary
The Tangkahan Elephant Sanctuary is a small settlement 2 hours north of Bukit Lawang where you can play with semi-wild Sumatran Elephants by the river!
Elephant tourism gets a bad rap nowadays, but these animals are critically endangered in Indonesia because their habitat is disappearing, and tourist money may be the only way to correct it. The elephants are well cared for, have lots of freedom of movement, and seemed very happy when we visited.
They have 9 rescued elephants (a new baby was just born) and you can pet them, feed them, and help bathe them in the river. It was a great experience!
It’s possible to visit Tangkahan on a day trip from Bukit Lawang, or if you want more time with the elephants there are some hotels in Tangkahan too.
Book Now: Tangkahan Elephant Encounter
When To Visit Bukit Lawang
Gunung Leuser National Park has a tropical rainforest climate that doesn’t follow the same weather patterns as the rest of Indonesia. You can find a monthly breakdown here.
I wouldn’t stress about when to visit. Every month is rainy at Bukit Lawang, because it’s a rainforest! The driest months are February, March, June, and July, but the rainfall is still much higher than places like Bali.
We went in December and the weather was good for trekking. The rain usually comes in the evenings or at night, and only lasts a few hours max.
Most tourists do their Bukit Lawang jungle trekking in June – August, and in the high season there are hundreds of them trekking per day. So if you want to avoid the crowds, pick a different month.
More Indonesia Travel Tips
I hope you enjoyed these Bukit Lawang blog tips for visiting the orangutan sanctuary in North Sumatra.
Don’t forget to check out my complete guide for the best places to visit in Indonesia!
- Most Beautiful Indonesian Islands - Best Places To Visit In Indonesia
- Indonesia Waterfall Guide - Best Waterfalls In Indonesia
- Indonesia Beach Guide - Best Beaches In Indonesia
- Best Things To Do In Indonesia - What To Do In The Islands
- Indonesia Travel Guide - Tips, Info, & Photos