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Gunung Leuser National Park

Finding Orangutans in Northern Sumatra, Indonesia


orangutan in sumatra, indonesia

An orangutan in Gunung Leuser National Park

Photo by Greg Rodgers

Sumatra's crown jewel for nature, the Gunung Leuser National Park spans 1,094 square kilometers and serves as refuge for many endangered plants and animals. Aside from the usual attraction of both wild and semi-wild orangutans, the national park is home to even rarer species such as elephants, Sumatran rhinos, and tigers.

The riverside village of Bukit Lawang serves as base for trekking; the Indonesian name for Gunung Leuser National Park is Taman Nasional Gunung Leuser.

Trekking in Gunung Leuser National Park

Strangely, prices for trekking in the national park are listed in euros; be mindful of the exchange rate used if you pay with US dollars or Indonesian rupiah. Treks require a minimum of three people, but joining a group is easy during the busy summer months.

Spending an overnight in the jungle greatly increases your chances of seeing wildlife because of the early start the next morning. Prices include food and camping gear.

Day Trips

Both three-hour (EUR 15) and one-day (EUR 25) trips can be booked if you do not wish to spend overnight in the jungle. Seeing the semi-wild orangutans on only a three-hour trip is entirely possible, as they are found only 30 minutes from the start of the trail.

Overnight Trekking

Tubing back to Bukit Lawang along the river -- a great option after a long walk -- costs an additional EUR 10.

  • Two days / one night -- EUR 50 per person.
  • Three days / two nights -- EUR 75 per person.
  • Four days / three nights -- EUR 100 per person.
  • Five days / four nights -- EUR 125 per person.

Hiring a Guide in Bukit Lawang

Although pricey, a guide is mandatory to enjoy trekking in the Gunung Leuser National Park; hiking alone without a guide is both dangerous and forbidden.

Nearly every adult male in Bukit Lawang is a jungle guide, training to be a jungle guide, or is related to a jungle guide -- you will be approached frequently. While finding a guide is not difficult, finding a good guide who is mindful of conservation and the environment is a different story.

Guides must be licensed through the local Guide's Association (phone: +62-813-70730151); you may ask to see their license without causing offense. The safest bet is to hire a guide through your accommodation or from the visitor's center located in the village. Settle on a final price before booking; you may be asked to pay a deposit before they can obtain a trekking permit. Tipping after your trek is optional.

Things to See in Gunung Leuser National Park

  • Orangutans: Incredibly intelligent, the orangutans are the primary draw in Gunung Leuser National Park. While there are no guarantees, semi-wild orangutans are spotted regularly; the wild orangutans are often seen only in the distance. See some interesting orangutan facts.
  • Rafflesia flowers: Famous for their size and putrid smell, the rafflesia is the heaviest and one of the rarest flowers in the world. Seeing one takes a little luck and a lot of timing; read more about the rafflesia flower.
  • Hornbill Birds: Hornbills can sometimes be spotted on jungle treks; the colorful and strangely shaped head is unmistakable.
  • Sumatran Tigers: Only a lucky few overnight trekkers are treated to at least the piercing scream of a Sumatran tiger in the middle of the night, even fewer ever manage to see one of these highly endangered creatures.
  • Monkeys: Other than orangutans, six other species of primates live inside the national park. Leaping Thomas leaf monkeys and long tailed macaques are often seen. Read more about monkey bites and staying safe.
  • Ancient Trees: While most of the forest is secondary, a few majestic gum trees have survived -- some more than 600 years old!


  • Some of the trails are steep and slippery; if you aren't comfortable with the chosen path, tell your guide.
  • Mosquitoes swarm during the day; read about how to avoid mosquito bites.
  • Leeches sometimes appear in wet areas; wear your socks high to stop the bloodsuckers.
  • Learn how to avoid and counter these 10 threats on outdoor adventures.
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