Tropical Rainforest Sumatra

Tropical Rainforest Sumatra
Photo by Clyde.

The Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatra is a mountainous landscape that holds the most important remaining forests on the island.

The site comprises three national parks on the Bukit Barisan range: Gunung Leuser National Park, Kerinci Seblat National Park, and Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park. Their diverse ecosystems include volcanic, coastal and glacial features, often of great beauty. The forests hold many endangered species including the endemic Sumatran orang-utan, Sumatran tiger, rhino, elephant and Malayan sun-bear.

Community Perspective: Gunung Leuser is the most accessible of the parks, and its Bohorok entrance is suited for day visits. Clyde stayed for 4 nights camping (“Sleeping in the tropical rainforest/jungle was a nightmare”) inside the park and encountered over a dozen orangutans who once were rescuers. Timonator ponders about the ethical aspects of the tours conducted from Bukit Lawang.

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Germany - 02-Mar-24 -

Tropical Rainforest Sumatra by Timonator

The Gunung Lauser National Park is special as it is one of the few places on earth where you can see the Orang Utan (ind. for Man of the Forest) live wild. However due to the rehabilitation program the Orang Utans seen very adapted to humans and because tourist groups leave their fruit snacks along the hiking paths there is a natural attraction for the apes to come close. We saw eleven in total incl. male with typical face and many mother/ child duos. On day 2 and 3 of our hike we were also alone with two orang utans each which was amazing. Of course it's not all about Orang Utan in this tropical rainforest, but it surely is the highlight. We also saw black gibbons, white gibbons, long tail makakes, Thomas Leaf monkeys (endemic to Sumatra) and pigtail makakes. We didn't see any birds despite watching for them. We heard a few though. You can also walk in 7 or 8 days through the forest from Bukit Lawang until Kutacane and go back by Bus in about 15 hours via Medan or in about 20 days until Gunung Lauser mountain and raft back to Bukit Lawang. With at least 7 days there is the option to see wild elephants. Also our guide has seen a tiger once in his career of 7 years and about 7 times a python. He had never seen rhinos or nocturnal leopards.  
As all the other tourists we went to Bukit Lawang however with nothing pre-arranged. The local bus from Medan costs 25.000 IDR for locals and according to the driver 50.000 for tourists (I think tourists are people with white skin in this case). There is no luggage storage and both road and bus are not in good condition. It starts at  Pinang Baris Terminal in Medan but we entered from the closeby Mawar bakery and cake shop to have less touts annoying us. From the final stop it is a five minute Tuk Tuk ride to the Guide association were you can book your jungle treck. Also all the hotels offer the service to book it for you and it seems to be the same price. Our guide picked us up when we left the bus but we booked him as we had a good feeling and it proofed right. We paid 170 EUR per person for 3 days/ 2 nights. 
The day after we started the hike with only the two of us and Anuar L. as guide from our hotel through a rubber tree plantage into the jungle. Already next to On the Rocks bungalow we saw the first Orang Utan mum and kid in the tree. However with us there were twenty other tourists. And it's low season now. High season is much more busy said Anuar. It's in June to September when it is more dry. The hiking is really tough as you walk steeply up and down the hilly forest and every day in the afternoon a heavy rainfall commenced which caused the paths to become very slippery affording walking on hands partly as well. The camps are bamboo roofs on bamboo sticks and protect you from the rain. However your clothes will not dry from rain and sweat until the next day so it's better to carry many dry clothes and water protection for your bag as well. Under the roof a mosquito net is provided and mattresses and some hard pillows. We had one camp construction for us which was good to dry at least a bit the clothes but in high season it's really crowded with low privacy level in the camp. The longtail mskakes come in the morning to pick up the rest of the breakfast and seem to be a bit aggressive and forcing. At night you have many insects. I got despite protection many mosquito bites and the lowlight was a  caterpillar crawling in my neck in the camp causing strong skin irritations that lasted days. Also the bleeches are disgusting as the wounds don't stop bleeding but at least they cause no pain. We had 1 blech each is 3 days. The food provided by the 17 year old cook was awesome and a lot. It seems not healthy though what the cooks and assistants carry through the jungle in terms of weight though. The last day we rafted with all our luggage back on Bokorok river to Bukit Lawang which was fun. The huge raftings rings are also carried all the way to the camp by the cook.  
On another day we made a motorbike tour to the tallest flower in the world. It was still blooming but already starting to die. Also we saw another older version of the flower which already turned into fruits as our guide explained us. In total it was a 3 hour excursion from Bukit Lawang. 
Of course there are also two other national parks included in the WHS that I haven't seen and I don't know how they can be seen. However I will already rate the WHS based on Gunung Lauser NP. It'a a typical tropical rainforest with the big specialty of Orang Utans and some other interesting monkeys. Without the Orang Utan I would not rate the park much more than a medium rating however the Orang Utan really makes it to a special place. 
In the end of our trip we met a British scientist studying Orang Utans. She doesn't like Bukit Lawang because she gets angry with how all the guides feed the animals by leaving fruits behind. So if you want to do something good for the NP and WHS you can collect the rubbish of others. 

Read more from Timonator here.


Malta - 18-Nov-18 -

Tropical Rainforest Sumatra by Clyde

I visited this WHS in September 2018 spending 4 nights in and about the Gunung Leuser National Park in Sumatra Island. After a long and bumpy ride from Medan Airport to Bukit Lawang (and a cheap overnight stay), we left for three days to explore the tropical rainforest of Gunung Leuser NP, camping at different places within the inscribed NP.

Our main goal was to admire the Sumatran Orangutans in the wild and we got to see more than a dozen including alpha males, females, young as well as newly born orangutans. The orangutan sanctuary was closed down and the few orangutans kept there were released as the number of orangutans grew enough over the years. We were lucky to spot a female orangutan with her baby around sunset just before she prepared their night nest high up in the trees just above our camping site. Early in the morning, they played together at the small waterfall nearby while we had breakfast which was an unforgettable moment.

Apart from the orangutans we also spotted several white handed gibbons, black gibbons, long-tailed macaques, pig-tailed macaques, Thomas' leaf monkeys, silvery lutungs, Sunda slow loris, monitor lizards, jungle peafowls, Salvadori's pheasants, Roll's partridges, Sumatran Laughingthrushes, Sunda Laughingthrushes, Rueck’s Blue-Flycatcher and countless butterflies.

Even though the Gunung Leuser NP's size is mindboggling (almost 8000km2), our nature guide was very knowledgeable in tracking and spotting different fauna species (mostly monkeys and primates) but also sun bear claw marks on different trees. Even though it was sunny during our visit, it can get very dark the more you venture inside the tropical rainforest. Luckily we didn't see any Sumatran tigers or leopard cats, nor did we see Sumatran elephants which can be easily seen by adding another day of trekking towards a deeper water source within the NP.

Sleeping in the tropical rainforest/jungle was a nightmare, not only because of the close encounters with large venomous spiders, all sorts of creepy crawlers (most impressive of which were the giant ants), a curious baby monitor lizard trying to enter our camp and last but not least noisy long-tailed macaques jumping on our tents. Nevertheless, it was well worth it. The Gunung Leuser National Park is also famous for being the home of the Rafflesia, the biggest flower in the world, as well as the home of the Amorphophallus titanium, the tallest flower in the world.

There were rather scary parts to climb up or down the tropical rainforest, so not only sturdy shoes are a must but ideally also walking sticks can be of great help. As of this year there is also a tree top walk just after the NP entrance with the UNESCO logo. At Bukit Lawang there is a tiny visitor centre which is more of an entrance ticket booth but worth visiting for the information boards if you have the time. After three days, we ended our visit with a very fun tubing experience down the river and back to Bukit Lawang.

Michael Novins

United States - 28-Jul-18 -

Tropical Rainforest Sumatra by Michael Novins

In July 2018, I spent a few days at the Jungle Inn in Bukit Lawang, the gateway to Gunung Leuser National Park, probably the best place to see Sumatran orangutans, where I spent two days hiking in the national park and saw more than a dozen orangutans over both days, ranging from an infant being carried by its mother to a large male.

Elisabeth Fransisca Situmorang

Indonesia - 24-Oct-17 -

I went to Mt. Kerinci as part of Kerinci Seblat National Park, as part of the series of rainforest and mountain range in Sumatra Island in Indonesia.

The location is quite far from the closest airport. It is 7-8 hrs drive from Minangkabau International Airport in Padang, West Sumatra.

If you are a hiker/mountaineer, it is definitely worth a visit (and hike).

Wojciech Fedoruk

Poland - 17-Oct-17 -

Tropical Rainforest Sumatra by Wojciech Fedoruk

Out of all three national parks composing this WHS, perhaps the easiest one to visit is Gunung Leuser on the border of Aceh and North Sumatra Province. Visitors center is in Bohorok, which is located around 3.5 hours by car from Medan airport (from the city of Medan it should take around 3 hours). There are no rental cars available in Medan airport so you either get a taxi or go to the city of Medan and rent a car there. I took a taxi and for a whole day I paid 1.2m INR (around 65-70 EUR). The road is very bad and leads through very populated areas, so drivers must be very careful.

I had only 4 hours to stay in Bohorok, so I had to arrange my visit quickly. It is not a problem at all as foreign visitors (quite many for this part of Indonesia) are immediately surrounded by guides. I was offered with 3-hour trekking which costs 35 EUR per person, 3 people minimum. We agreed for 50 EUR for just me, park fee included.

Of course I desired to see the main attraction of Gunung Leuser – Sumatran orangutans, but the guide realistically told me that the chances to see them during 3-hour trekking are not higher than 30%. Usually people stay there at least overnight or for a couple of days to maximize the chance to see these apes. The park offers long trekkings with a few nights in the jungle, so the participants may see not only orangutans, but also elephants or even Sumatran rhinoceros.

We went for a quite demanding trekking, with lots of climbs and slippery descends. After around 2 hours we saw no apes, all remaining groups passed by were unlucky as well. We were about to go back when my guide saw something brown on the top of distant tree. He started imitating orangutan sounds and crackling a pack of nuts, which he prepared before as a hook. After a while one big female orangutan came to us, followed by her about 2-year-old baby. Although they are undisputedly wild animals, they are quite familiar with tourists, so feeding them was not a problem. There is a rule that you cannot feed the baby if his mother is not eating – it ended with severe beating of the baby and taking away nuts by the mom.

We spent with orangutans about 30 minutes in total privacy, so the experience was unforgettable. Based on what I was told by other tourists, it cannot be compared with observing orangutans in Malaysian Borneo, where there are many tourists and few orangutans.

It should be noted that previously it was possible to see the orangutans in Bohorok Rehabilitation Center, without going to the jungle, but now the place is closed.

John booth

New Zealand - 29-Jun-13 -

Tropical Rainforest Sumatra by John Booth

Despite external forces of corruption there are still people in Sumatra that are dedicated to halting further encroachment by farmers, loggers and poachers on the remaining areas of tropical rainforest.

I met rangers in the Gunung Leuser National Park who care for the burgeoning number of orang-utans in their care. This notwithstanding that the forest can no longer sustain the numbers now there, requiring the rangers to supplement their food supply.

In the Kerinci Seblat National Park there are similar individuals trying to protect the remaining wildlife and flora, all the time having the forest encroached on by farmers, hunters and loggers.

I visited these two National Parks as part of a tour of Sumatra that also took in visits to Berestagi, Lake Toba, Bukittinggi and Padang.

Anthony Sun

USA - 17-Dec-08 -

This WHS is spread out all over Sumatra. All jungle national parks look the same to me and so to find a reason to check this WHS off your list is to get to Medan in North Sumatra and visit the Bohorok Orangutan rehabilitation center, a two hour drive from Medan. Orangutan babies are collected illegally by killing their mothers. They are then sold as pets. The problem is that when the Orangutans grow up and become unmanageable, they are abandoned. The rehab center is to save these animals and train them to survive in the wild with some supplemental milk and food. Orangutan rehab centers exist also in Borneo but this site is more primitive and so much more natural then others I have visited. I visited this site in August 1994 and also nearby Lake Toba and the native villages around the lake.

Bohorok is part of Gunung Leuser National Park.

Site Info

Full Name
Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatra
Unesco ID
2004 - In Danger
7 9 10
Natural landscape - Forest

Site History

2011 In Danger

four proposed roads, ongoing encroachment, poaching and illegal logging

2004 Inscribed


The site has 3 locations

Tropical Rainforest Sumatra: Gunung Leuser National Park
Tropical Rainforest Sumatra: Kerinci Seblat National Park
Tropical Rainforest Sumatra: Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park


The site has

Human Activity
Individual People
WHS on Other Lists
World Heritage Process