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National parks

This is the list of the national parks of Indonesia. Of all the national parks, 6 are World Heritage Sites, 6 are part of the World Network of Biosphere Reserves and 3 are wetlands of international importance under the Ramsar convention. A total of 9 parks are largely marine. The first group of five Indonesian national parks were established in 1980. This number increased constantly reaching 41 in 2003. In a major expansion in 2004, nine more new national parks were created, raising the total number to 50.

Gunung Leuser
Gunung Leuser National Park

Gunung Leuser National Park is a large national park covering 950,000 hectares in northern Sumatra, Indonesia, straddling the border of the provinces of North Sumatra and Aceh. The park is named after one of its highest point, the 3,381m Mount Leuser (Gunung Leuser). The highest point in the park is "Puncak Tak Punya Nama" ("The peak with no name").


Bukit Lawang literally means "door to the hills". Bukit Lawang is a small village situated 90 kilometers northwest of Medan, the capital city of North Sumatra, Indonesia. Bukit Lawang is most famous for being one of the last places in the world where one can see Orang Utans in the wild. Bukit Lawang is situated at the eastern side of Gunung Leuser National Park.

In 1973 a Swiss organisation 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 in 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 relient.

In the years after the arrival of the rehabilitation centre more and more tourists found their way to Bukit Lawang and it became one of the most popular destinations in Sumatra. A flash flood hit Bukit Lawang on 2 November 2003. Described by witnesses as a tidal wave, the water was approximately 20 meters high, as it came crashing down the hills, wiping out everything in its path.

The disaster, which was the result of illegal logging, destroyed the local tourist resorts and had a devastating impact to the local tourism industry. Around 400 houses, 3 mosques, 8 bridges, 280 kiosks and food stalls, 35 inns and guest houses were destroyed by the flood, and 239 people (5 of them tourists) were killed and around 1,400 locals lost their homes.After eight months of rebuilding, Bukit Lawang was re-opened again in July 2004.

For many villagers the trauma of losing family, friends and their homes has taken a long time to come to terms with. The people were facing unemployment and homelessness. It has been a long road to recovery and an especially hard task to rebuild a town with only limited financial assistance from the government. However the people in Bukit Lawang are survivors and the new village is taking shape and more and more businesses are opening again.

Especially the young generation is hoping to rebuild the village in more sustainable way than before and they are very aware of the importance of preservation of the fragile eco system they live in. They can use all the support they can get and the income of tourism will help them in realising their ideas for a brighter future for Bukit Lawang. So what are you waiting for, finish reading this page, pack your bags and get on your way for your jungle adventure!

Flora and fauna

Seeing the orangutans is a magical experience. You can usually see them near the rehabilitation centre and at the feeding platform during the morning and afternoon feeding sessions. Still 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 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.

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.

How to get there?

A one-way bus fare on large, non air-conditioned buses from Medan, Pinang Baris Bus Terminal to Bukit Lawang, 86 km by road to the north-west, was Rp 10,000 per person (in October 2008). There should be busses every 30', but sometimes some are skipped. Back to Medan, you can take a minibus (Rp 12,000 per person (October 2008)) or a large bus (Rp 10,000, but they might ask for more). They alternate every 15' from Bukit Lawang Bus Terminal.
There are many drivers offering minivans from the Belawan ferry terminal direct to Bukit Lawang, bargain hard. Expect to be shifted minivan at least once (in Medan). Prices vary between Rp. 60,000 and 70,000 all the way to Bukit Lawang. The extra cost should outweigh the hassle of getting into Medan, finding the bus station, then finding a hostel in Bukit Lawang (especially if you arrive during a torrential downpour). The driver will usually recommend a family or friend's hostel.

Another option is to self drive a rental car. This is possible with an international drivers licence and will cost around Rp 350,000 per day plus fuel (Jul 08). The road to Bukit Lawang varies in state from well made dual carriage ways through to deep pot holed aphalt roads and some gravel. Anyone considering driving in Sumatra should travel with a local bus first to get familiar with the driving style of the locals. The drive takes about 3.5 hours and you can park the car with security at one of the local hotels for Rp 10,000 per day. Yoga Car Rentals in Medan is the most prominent company on the internet and their service was great.

How to get in?

Access to the Gunung Leuser National Park is Rp. 20,000 per person - payable either in Bukit Lawang, or at the orangutan feeding ground. Permit should be included in all treks and jungle activities, but check with the guide to be sure. Bukit Lawang is a small village and it is easy to get around by foot. You can walk from on side to the other in about 25 minutes. There are three bridges that provide access to the resorts across the river.

What not to miss?

A jungle trek is a must when you go to Bukit Lawang. Seeing the Orangutan in the wild is one of the best expereinces you will have in your life. Even though sightings of the orangutan and other wildlife can never be guaranteed, when following the instructions of your guide the chances are favourable.

It is not permitted to go unaccompanied into the jungle. There are plently of good and reliable guides around so take your time to get to know some of them, have a chat, make your choice and prepare for a great adventure. All guides have to be licensed so ask to see their permit if in doubt of someone's expertise. A fixed price for jungle treks is 25 per day. Usually food and camping gear is arranged for by your guide. Always ask though to make sure.

Another hero is the Thomas Leaf Monkey. Such a wonderful creature that leaps into air with wild abandon as they move from tree to tree. Their mohawk hair styles and faces filled with millions of years of character really make these little guys stand out.

If you want to go on a multiple day trek make sure you are fit and in good condition. The humidity coupled with the intensity of grade of the hills makes for some hard work. The reward at the end of your jungle adventure is a late afternoon paddle in the river back to the village.

Everyone who is planning to go on a jungle trek or even to the feeding platform is asked to refrain from any physical contact with the orangutans. Getting too close to an orangutan increases the risk of passing on disease and viral infection, which jeopardises the orangutans chances of survival and in turn the health and survival of the wild orangutan population in the entire area. All guests should keep at least 10 metres away and move away if an orangutan approaches. The motto of any jungle adventure should be take only pictures, leave only footprints.

Another popular past time activity is tubing. When tubing one uses an innertube to float down the river. Tubes can be rented at various stalls along the village and expect pay around Rp. 10.000 per tube. Be carefull on the water because currents are strong.

You can also visit the bat cave, make a stroll around the rice fields and rubber plantations, visit some of the social projects (like the free English School, Children's Home and free clinic), visit the Friday market or just hang out with some of the locals and enjoy the relaxed atmosphere. Whatever you do, remember to enjoy your stay to the fullest!

In low season not many of the shops are open on weekdays, however in the weekend there are several small shops that sell the locally made coconut necklaces. Also there is a small shop selling bamboo souvernirs, like key chains, picture frames, etc. There are also a few shops that sell wood carvings and at the beginning is Genta's batik shop, selling traditional batik paintings.

Location map of Gunung Leuser

All text in this article is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License
Last revised on March 08, 2010
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