Walking with Orang Utans in Sumatra

Sumatran orangutan

Emily and I have just returned from Sumatra where we visited the small village of Bukit Lawang.  People visit Bukit Lawang from all around the world for one reason, to see the Orang utans.  There are between 5000-7000 orang utans in the jungle around this sleepy village, so sightings are almost guaranteed.

Bukit Lawang is located about 90km east of Medan, Sumatra’s largest city. On the bumpy, pot holed Sumatran roads, this 90 kilometres took us 4.5 hours!  We arrived late in the evening exhausted.

The village is located on either side of the river, nestled against the Gunung Leuser National Park.  There is a Orang utan rehabilitation centre a short walk from the centre of the village, where twice a day, visitors can cross the river by a small boat and watch the Orang utans being fed.

On our first morning in Bukit Lawang, we crossed the river and waited patiently for one of our hairy ranga cousins to turn up.  After about an hour, our guide told us that the orang utans probably wouldn’t come that day because the Durian fruit was now ripe so they have lots of food in the jungle.

We left disappointed but not deterred.

The next morning we took a guided walk into the jungle.  At this point our expectations were very low.  Within 15 minutes however we came across our first Orang utan!  Seeing these majestic creatures in the wild is a real thrill.  Over 4 four hours we encountered 11 wild orang utans including a huge male as well as a few very cute babies.

At times we were close enough to see directly into their eyes.  It left us without doubt that orang utans have personalities and great intelligence.

Our guide was very knowledgable.  We learnt quite a lot about the animals of the jungle as well as the plants and trees. My favourite fun fact was to learn the difference between the Borneo Orang Utans (the only other place you can see them) and Sumatran Orang utans is the Sumatran animals don’t walk on the jungle floor.  They remain in the trees as their natural predator is the Sumatran Tiger!

The guides were also very respectful of the creatures as well as the forest.  They understand their living is derived from providing a quality “eco-experience” and rubbish was duly collected and appropriate distances were maintained from the animals.  Not something that always happens when travelling in Indonesia.

As Emily was nursing an injured knee, we only walked the short half day walk, but even this was enough to put us on a high for days.  Trekkers who camp out in the jungle have the opportunity to see hornbills, elephants and on rare occasions, even Sumatran Tigers and Rhinos.  Definitely a reason to go back one day.

Sumatra is not an easy place to travel.  The roads are terrible and the major cities are very polluted.  However, if you are a walker and feeling adventurous, Bukit Lawang (and other places in Sumatra) are well worth a visit.

We hope one day in the not too distant future, that Bukit Lawang will feature on an Inspiration Outdoors itinerary… but nothing happens too quickly in Indonesia!!!

Bukit Lawang
Orang utan, Bukit Lawang

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