If trekking in the jungle filled with Orangutans, snakes, monkeys (many of which are endemic to Sumatra), tropical rainforest and hot humid days is your type of adventure, then add Northern Sumatra to your list. I was completely blown away by the landscape, terrain and animals on my trek through the Gunung Leuser National Park.
Gunung Leuser National Park is an UNESCO World Heritage park with Bukit Lawang being the main gateway to the park. You can access the park by arranging a tour with a local tour operator and can choose from day treks or multi day treks. It depends on the type of experience you are after. I did a three day trek, which was a great taste of the jungle.
Day 1 we trekked from the Eco Lodge Bukit Lawang after filling up on a delicious breakfast of fruit, eggs and Indonesian Nasi Goreng. All served with locally harvested and sustainable coffee. The trail took us through Rubber Tree (Hevea brasiliensis) plantations, across a river and to the entrance of the national park. From here the humidity was evident and I have never sweated so much during a trek! We sipped on jungle whiskey (cups of tea) to keep cool and munched on fresh fruit for energy. The jungle was lush and the humidity became a distant memory once we started to see the life in the rainforest. Throughout day 1 of our trek, we saw a total of 17 Orangutans (most had been released back into the wild after rehabilitation), a number of Thomas Leaf Monkeys (who are incredibly cheeky), White Handed Gibbons and a variety of butterflies. Our ears listened to the constant singing from the cicadas along with the swaying of the trees from the wind. When you leave a city and leave behind human activity, the transition to listening to nature instead is truly mesmerizing and a reason I love being in the outdoors and with nature on a regular basis. Each part of the world has its own animals and sounds and the Sumatran rainforest is completely different to the sounds of the rainforest in Australia or South and Central America. Following seven hours of trekking, we made it to our camp. Our camp was based at the edge of a river and already set up when we arrived. The tents were under a canopy and the crew arrived earlier to have snacks ready for us with dinner on the way. Definitely a luxury for me, as I’m usually trekking solo or with friends.
Day 2 was a tough day of trekking. It commenced with an extremely steep incline, which followed a ridge. This ridge was quite narrow and if you are afraid of heights, this may not be the trek for you. There were people in my group with a fear of heights and I was so proud when they climbed the ridge. It’s one thing to have a fear of heights and it’s another to face those fears head on. When we made it to the peak of the ridge, again the crew had gone ahead and prepared lunch for us. It was a huge highlight of the trek, having such incredibly fresh, hearty and delicious food prepared for us along the way. The dishes were all traditional Indonesian cuisine and primarily vegetarian. I chose not to eat meat over the three day trek and learnt my body could be energised and sustained with vegetables, vegetarian protein and fruit and nuts. After lunch and a rest, it was time to descend the ridge. Another challenged faced us as parts of the trek included holding on to branches on our hands and knees as a way to safely descend. It was even a new experience for me and I quite enjoyed feeling like Tarzan. The local guides were extremely supportive with guiding the group to which branches to hold on to and where to place feet. At the end of the trek, we had made it to our campsite, which was next to the river again. We all made it just in time, as torrential, tropical rain poured down as we were settling into our tents. With no sign of the rain stopping, it was an early night ahead after a very hard day of trekking.
Day 3 was the final day of the trek. Following a night of rain, the terrain was muddy and very slippery. As soon as we left the campsite, it was straight up another ridge. We were tested by the slippery conditions, however we all supported each other and made it to the top of the ridge. Our guides were excellent mentors and continued to teach the team the best trekking techniques for such a dense jungle. The most important consideration was small steps and making sure we were always holding on to a tree root or branch, especially when trekking down the steep ridge. This minimised the possibility of slipping, however a few of us managed to get muddy bums but this was all part of the experience. Once we had made our way to the other side of the ridge, we finished the trek by another river. We enjoyed our final lunch in the jungle and we made our way back to the lodge via tubing. For those who have not experience tubing, it really is a fun experience and a relaxing way to see the jungle, especially after three days of intense trekking. There were four people per tube, with one tour guide leading us down the river. There were sections of the river where we experienced small rapids and made the tube bump around and gave us a refreshing spray of water. We saw monkeys and birds along the way and passed small villages and glimpsed another way of local life.
The trek in Northern Sumatra was truly a beautiful experience. I felt blessed to be part of an amazing team and have the opportunity to see up close so many animals, which are endemic.
- Experiencing lush rainforest
- Seeing flora and fauna, largely endemic to Sumatra
- Eating delicious Indonesian cuisine
- Watching the cooks prepare our meals onsite
- You can hire a porter if you don’t want to carry your pack
- The humidity is challenging if you are not used to it
- The trek is challenging, even for experienced trekkers
- If you get sick, it can take time to seek medical assistance
- You won’t have access to flushable toilets
- Expect torrential rain and muddy conditions
- Fly into Singapore and then take a flight to Medan, Indonesia
- Depending on the tour operator, they may meet you at Medan or you may need to make your own way to Bukit Lawang