Bukit Lawang is one of the few places where you can spot the Sumatran orangutans in the wild as it has the largest animal sanctuary of this specie with about five thousand apes. This small tourist village situated on the bank of Bahorok river is also the main access point to the Gunung Leuser National Park.
Thanks to the foundation of the Bukit Lawang rehabilitation center for orangutans in 1973, the village became one of the top tourist destination in the island. The main purpose of this Swiss organization, that closed in 1994, was to rehabilitate orangutans released from captivity and preserve the decreasing number of orangutan population due to hunting, trading and deforestation.
Bukit Lawang suffered a flash flood back in 2003 that had a devastating impact to the local tourism industry in the area. The disaster destroyed most of the guest houses and local homes, killing more than two hundred people. The site was rebuilt seven months later in a more sustainable way after thanks to international cooperation agencies.
How to get there: Bukit Lawang is 90 kilometers northwest of Medan, the capital of North Sumatra. There are local buses departing daily from Pinang Baris that take about 3 to 5 hours to reach Bukit Lawang through a bumpy road. The bus stop is located next to a bakery called Mawar and the price is about 15.000-20.000 IDR per person. The last stop of the public bus is Gotong Royong, a village just 5 minutes from Bukit Lawang. From here you can get a motorbike or tuktuk ride for 10,000 IDR.
Where to stay: I loved my room at Terimakasih guest house, where I paid 50.000 IDR per night for a single occupancy in a double room. The place has the perfect location by the river and close to the main restaurants and shops.
How to get around: Bukit Lawang is a small village and it is easy to get around by foot. You can walk from one side to the other in about 25 minutes. There are three bridges that provide access to the resorts across the river.
What to do:
Jungle trekking with a local guide is the main activity in Bukit Lawang. My guide was Putra, who I met at the bus stop in Gotong Royong. He is super nice and knowledgeable of the jungle. The price for a private tour was 800.000 IDR (less than 50€) including the permit to enter Gunung Leuser National, lunch and the rafting down the river back to the village.
Another popular activity is tubing down the river. Tubes can be rented at various stalls along the village for as little as 10.000 IDR per tube. Be careful on the water because currents are strong and if the water tide is low you can get hit with the rocks at the bottom. We walked up the river passed Back to Nature guest house and started the rafting from there.