Gunung Leuser National Park
As Bukit Lawang is near Medan, it can get crowded during the week-end, especially during the public holiday period (June-beginning of July). Try to avoid the week-ends (full guesthouses, crowded feeding platform, large and numerous trekking groups).
The park is named after one of its highest points, the 3,381m Mount Leuser (Gunung Leuser). The highest point in the park is "Puncak Tak Punya Nama" ("The peak with no name").
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).
There is a research station at Ketembe. It is not open to the public.
Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre
In 1973 a Swiss organization set up an orangutan rehabilitation centre in Bukit Lawang. 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.
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. In Bukit Lawang, you can usually see them near the rehabilitation centre and at the feeding platform during the morning and afternoon feeding sessions.
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 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. For elephants, go to Tangkahan or near Ketambe 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.
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.
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!
Permits need to be arranged at a PHPA office before entering the park. The fee is Rp 20,000 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.
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 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.
These are all multi-day treks.
For souvenirs see Bukit Lawang: Buy.
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.
Guesthouses sell a range of drinks and when trekking your guide should bring enough water but you may wish to check this.
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!
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.
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.