Bukit Lawang – Best Place to Spot Orangutans

This post was last updated on May 25th, 2020 at 08:54 pm


Bukit Lawang is one of the most famous “stops” in Sumatra. It is not surprising, because it is a beautiful place, in the middle of the jungle of the island. There are few places in Indonesia with such a relaxed atmosphere as here. And all in the middle of the beautiful jungle of Sumatra.

 

Many travelers go to Bali, Java, or the Gili islands. Understandable, especially when you come to Indonesia for the first time, but if you are looking for a destination that is not yet overflowing with tourists, Bukit Lawang is a great option.

 

The village is located on the Sungai Bohorok River next to the jungle of Gunung Leuser National Park. That is also the reason that most travelers come here. The impressive jungle and treks where you can spot Orangutans. More about that later!

 

Akisoto’s Experience

We found this village one of the most relaxed places in Indonesia. It has no tropical beach, no extravagant bar scene, but what a cool place this is. A place where you can spend your evening in a hammock, go on a jungle trek or relax by the river. A must-see in Sumatra!

 

Check out our full description of our jungle trek in Bukit Lawang.

 

Orangutan in the jungle of Bukit Lawang in Sumatra

 

Best Things to Do in Bukit Lawang

This region is best known for its jungle and, of course, the orangutans that you can spot here. Yet there is more to do in this beautiful jungle village.

 

We have listed the best things to do in Bukit Lawang below.

 

1. Swim in the river

Although it rains more often in this region than in the rest of Indonesia, it is still nice and warm. That is why swimming in the river is a popular activity. Not only among travelers but also among locals.

 

The river does not flow very fast, as long as it does not rain very hard, and due to lack of beaches, this is the best place to cool down. On the water, you will also find all kinds of nice restaurants and bars where you can enjoy a drink while paddling!

 

TIP – Bikinis are not allowed here. Put on a shirt and shorts if you want to go for a swim.

 

2. Explore the Village

Bukit Lawang is not very big, but it’s nice to walk through and to meet the locals. The village is completely built around the river. It consists of two parts because the village is separated by the river.

 

Enjoy the tropical animals, plants, and exotic flowers around you and chat with the friendly locals. Stroll across the large river suspension bridge where children play, women wash and men catch fish for dinner. In the evening it is cozy everywhere, everyone sits together and there is often live music.

 

You will find nice markets and cozy bars and restaurants where you can relax all day.

 

TIP – There is NO street lighting in Bukit Lawang, so be careful where you walk!

 

Suspension Bridge connecting Bukit Lawang over the rive

 

3. Enjoy the Excellent Food

In Indonesia, you can eat delicious dishes everywhere. It doesn’t matter where you walk, food is available everywhere and it is delicious everywhere. The same goes for Bukit Lawang!

 

You can choose BBQ, but also local dishes that are made on the street or small stalls. Great if you have planned a resting day and can plop down anywhere to get some food.

 

TIP – Be sure to eat at Junia’s. It’s a nice place and you’ll be next to the water.

 

4. Relax in One of the Nice Bars

One of the reasons we liked Bukit Lawang so much, in addition to the impressive surroundings, were the many places where you can relax in the evening. This village has a real laid-back feeling.

 

Life here is a little slower than in the rest of the country.

 

This is evident in the many bars where you can relax. Not many bars with loud music, like in Kuta (Bali), but just bars and restaurants where you can linger all night with a game of cards and a beer.

 

To us, that is the real travel feeling!

 

Tourist sitting near the river in Bukit Lawang

 

5. Tubing on the River

The Bohorok River runs through Bukit Lawang. That makes this location very suitable for tubing. Fortunately, it is not as crazy as it once was in Vang Vieng in Laos. Tubing here is much more relaxed.

 

Tubing can be arranged in the village. Many accommodations know someone or else they check it for you. It is a fun activity to do. Especially when the weather is nice. When we were there the weather let us down, but with some sunshine and a calm river, this is fun to do.

 

TIP – It will cost you around US$10 to US$15 p.p.

 

6. Look for the Orangutans

Sumatra is one of the few places on earth where you can encounter orangutans in the wild. They are located in Gunung Leuser National Park and during a jungle trek from Bukit Lawang you have a chance to spot them. Most orangutans are semi-wild: they have been taken from people who have kept them as pets and put them back in nature. A number of females have now given birth to babies, so you will encounter those as well.

 

In the Gunung Leuser National Park, the jungle is protected and they can swing undisturbed between the trees. A nice thought, because everywhere in Sumatra the rainforest is felled for palm oil plantations. Be aware that if you travel from Medan to Bukit Lawang, the ride is mostly through giant plantations. Besides orangutans, you will also encounter many other animals: punky monkeys, baboons, and even a rare black gibbon.

 

Traveling to Bukit Lawang and NOT going on a jungle trek is unthinkable. Trekking through the dense rainforest of Bukit Lawang in search of this great ape is a unique experience.

 

Unfortunately, Sumatra and this region, in particular, is one of the few places where the orangutans, or “People of the Forest”, still live in the wild. They only live in Sumatra and Borneo. Very sad but unfortunately, it’s the reality.

 

Several tours can be booked;

  • 3-hour trek
  • 1-day trek
  • 2 days of trekking
  • 3 days of trekking
  • 4 days of trekking

 

Big male orangutan walking through the trees

 

7. Explore the Surrounding Villages

Hop on the back of a motorcycle with a local guide and drive past rice fields, cocoa plantations, endless palm oil plantations (unfortunately), colorful country houses, and cheerful waving children. Stop by a river for a refreshing swim and eat delicious nasi goreng at a local Warung. Ask your guide for the most beautiful viewpoint for an impressive view of the tropical rainforest.

 

8. Sleep in the Jungle

If you choose a 2-day trek in Bukit Lawang, you will stay the night in the jungle on a mat. You sleep under a simple canopy of wood and black plastic, with only a yoga mat on the floor to sleep on. You can wash in the river, and the toilet is somewhere behind a tree. Pretty primitive, but after a long day in the jungle, it feels like a reward. You can rinse off all the sweat in the river and enjoy nature for a while.

 

During such a jungle trek you also get great tasting food. Someone walked with you all day with a backpack full of food and drinks. In the evening a complete Indonesian rice table is prepared in the middle of the jungle and an extensive breakfast in the morning. We didn’t sleep well during the night, but waking up in nature is a great experience.

 

Another species of monkey in the jungle of Bukit Lawang

 

Which Trek to Choose?

Which trek you choose depends on your budget and your physical condition. The longer your trek is the further you go into the jungle, and the more likely you are to spot special animals.

 

Not only Orangutans, but also birds, other monkeys, snakes, very large spiders (yikes!), and even monitor lizards.

 

We recommend staying at least 2 nights in the jungle. Not only because it is a super cool experience, but also because you are more likely to spot the orangutans. View our trekking tips here.

 

What Should you Pay Attention to?

Unfortunately, the jungle treks to see the orangutans are not always good. There are many organizations that work with non-certified guides who have little understanding of jungle life, especially orangutans.

 

They are critically endangered animals and although a trek like this one is very cool, orangutans are not supposed to get used to human contact.

 

Some guides feed the animals with fruit to bring them closer. This is not what they’re supposed to do as the orangutans must be able to survive in the wild themselves.

 

TIP – Always check whether guides are certified and do not choose the cheapest option.

 

Orange Orangutan in the green leaves of the jungle

 

Where to Book a Trek and What Does it Cost?

The costs for Jungle treks in Bukit Lawang are different per tour. You can already book a 3-hour jungle trek for US$45 p.p. The longer you go the more expensive it becomes.

 

The prices are as followed:

  • A day of trekking in the jungle US$80 per person
  • Two days jungle trek US$115 per person
  • Three days jungle trek US$259 per person
  • Four days jungle trek US$320+ per person

 

Where to Book a Trek?

You can book these treks all over Bukit Lawang, but there is a chance that the tours will be fully booked if you want to book one on the spot a day in advance. We were so excited about this tour that we immediately contacted a tour operator to see if it’s possible for us to offer this tour.

 

We believe that travel happiness should be shared.

 

Book a Jungle Trek Through Viator

We have completed our own jungle trek in Bukit Lawang and can tell from our own experience how unique this experience is. At Akisoto we want to share the happiness of traveling and so you can book the orangutan trek with Viator.

 

A 3-day tour costs US$259 per person. That’s a lot of money, but we guarantee you will never forget this tour!

 

  • Book one of the most unique experiences in Indonesia.
  • Spot orangutans in the wild.
  • Take this adventure with professional, trained, and certified guides.
  • Hike for 3 days through the pristine rainforest of Sumatra.
  • This tour includes English speaking guides, entrance fees, camping equipment, and food.

 

Green forest of the jungle at Bukit Lawang
The gorgeous green jungle at Bukit Lawang

 

Useful Tips

Before traveling to Bukit Lawang it is good to know that this region is not as developed as Java or Bali, for example. That is why we would like to give you some tips so that you will not be faced with surprises while you’re there.

 

1. Electricity and Wi-Fi are Available, But Not Great

There is no fast internet in Bukit Lawang. Electricity is available, but not guaranteed. Some accommodations still work with generators that generate power between certain hours.

 

Although the facilities are getting better, power outages are the most normal thing in the world. A flashlight, an extra battery for your camera, and a power bank are no unnecessary luxury here.

 

2. There Are No ATMs

There are no ATMs in the village itself. The nearest ATM is 10 kilometers away and with a scooter taxi, you will be there in no time. To avoid problems, you should take some cash with you.

 

TIP – Always bring a credit card. Tours can often be booked with a credit card, so you don’t have to spend all your cash.

 

3. Monkey Spotting

Orangutans aren’t the only monkeys living here, of course. Fortunately, you do not encounter orangutans in Bukit Lawang village itself, but there are other smaller macaques living in the village. No matter how cute they look; watch your stuff!

 

4. Be Careful Not to Get Stuck Here

This is such a place where you plan for two or three days and end up staying for more than a week. So did we! We planned to stay here for a few days, but stayed longer than a week, partly thanks to the 4-day orangutan trek.

 

Of course, it’s okay to stay longer, but if you have a route in mind it is good to know if you can plan some extra days to stay here.

 

View of the river and village of Bukit Lawang in North Sumatra

 

Great Places to Stay the Night

No shortage of accommodations here. Bukit Lawang is not large but fully equipped to receive travelers. You can actually spend the night anywhere. You can choose between many different types of accommodation.

 

Price Range

Backpackers, families, couples, or seekers of luxury, there is something for everyone here. The cheapest rooms cost around US$5 a night. And then we are talking about a private double room! Check out Sumatra Cheeky Monkeys and especially Thomas’ Retreat Bukit Lawang for cheap, decent rooms.

 

Of course, you can’t expect much for just US$5 a night. If you are looking for a little more luxury, check out Bukit Lawang Hill Resort where you spend the night in a unique, beautiful location with a view of the jungle for US$30 a night.

 

We stayed at the Garden Inn ourselves.

 

TIP – Check out all accommodations in the village here.

 

Food and Drinks

Most restaurants in Bukit Lawang belong to the guest houses and other accommodations that can be found here. The average quality is generally good here. Even if you stay somewhere else, you can just go to a restaurant in another accommodation to eat something there. If you want to have a drink in the evening, Ricky’s Bar is the best option.

 

These are our favorite restaurants in Bukit Lawang:

Name Food Menu
Jungle Hill Cafe Great local food at a beautiful location.
Lawang Inn Restaurant Delicious rendang and other Indonesian dishes.
Green Hill Excellent Indonesian food and a great atmosphere.

 

How to Get There

Bukit Lawang is located in the north of Sumatra, about 85 kilometers from the city of Medan. That is also the way to get here. Medan is the gateway to Sumatra. The easiest way to get here is by airplane.

 

TIP – A return trip from Bali to Medan will cost you around US$110 – US$160 p.p.

 

From Medan to Bukit Lawang

You can choose to take a taxi from Medan. This takes about 3 to 4 hours and costs about US$45 to US$65 per taxi ride. A lot more comfortable than the bus, but also a lot more expensive.

 

Buses to Bukit Lawang depart from Kampung Lalang, about 8 kilometers from the center of Medan, so you must first take a (scooter) taxi to the bus station. The drive from Medan to Bukit Lawang takes about 3 hours.

 

Count on 50,000 IDR (around US$3.35). That’s more than the locals pay, but that’s how it works here.

 

Scams

Many scams take place here. Sellers in Medan try to sell you an all-inclusive jungle trek to Bukit Lawang. There are also many ‘sellers’ at the bus station; they try to sell tickets to Bukit Lawang at ridiculous prices.

 

Don’t pay for it. Always and only pay to the bus driver when you arrive in Bukit Lawang. Never pay more than 30,000 IDR p.p.

 

Best Time to Visit

In Bukit Lawang, it is not always beautiful and sunny. Not surprising because you are right in the middle of the rainforest. The high season runs from July to August and in December because of the holidays.

 

The best weather is between March and September. It is then dry and there is less rain.

 

The rainy season runs from October to February, and if you have the opportunity, avoid these months.

 

Best Time to See the Orangutans

Early morning is a good time to start looking for the orangutans. Not alone, but with a reliable guide. We left the hotel at half-past seven, later it is also possible, for example around 9 o’clock. The advantage of leaving early is that you are one of the first in the jungle and that it is not that hot yet, making your trip less difficult.

 

In terms of month, it is best to travel to Bukit Lawang between January and August. The rainy season starts after August. We were in Bukit Lawang ourselves in November, during our trip through Indonesia it did rain a lot, but fortunately, we were able to see the animals in the jungle without rain.

 

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