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Sumatra, Indonesia

Ketambe Orangutan Trek

There's a sense of pure elation when you finally spot an orangutan. After hours of trekking in the humid Sumatran jungle, you hear a rustling or perhaps a long call and you crane your head up. It takes a while for your eyes to adjust, but when they finally settle, the sight of the red furry creature unveiled among the leaves is incredible. Even from far away, their human-like movements and features are evident. You can sense the big dark eyes of the mama orangutan staring at you as she keeps vigilant watch over her baby joyfully swinging in the branches. It’s hard not to fall in love.

The closest airport is Medan airport, in the capital of Sumatra. The airport is served by many domestic and international flights. The trek starts in Gunung Leuser National Park in Ketambe, approximately 7 hours' drive from Medan. Your guide will arrange for a private pick up from the airport or your hotel in Medan.

If you are travelling from somewhere else within Sumatra, just let us know and we will do our best to get you to Ketambe.

Yes, having a guide is mandated by the Gunung Leuser National Park. You'll be glad for one too as the jungle doesn't have marked trails and it will also be difficult to spot an Orangutan hiding in the trees without a guide!

The trails starting in Ketambe can be categorized into easy, medium and strenous, and you can choose which one you take for the trek. For the easy one, the terrain is mostly flat so minimal fitness is needed and you only need to be comfortable with walking for several hours at a time. For the strenous one, there are sections with steep inclines so you should be used to moderate exercise on a regular basis. Medium is somewhere in the middle. The heat and humidity makes the trek feel more intense than it otherwise would be, but you can take breaks as often as you need!

It is possible to go year round. Note though that if you plan to go during November to March, this is wet season in Northern Sumatra (with December and January seeing the heaviest rainfall). This makes the trails more muddy and difficult to trek through, so you'll need to pack good rain gear and a change of socks!

The trek only takes 2 or 3 days (depending on which option you pick), but the total trip (including transport time from Medan) will take 4 or 5 days.

Between the providers, the main difference will be the accommodation that you will stay in - they're all broadly equivalent in terms of amenities, though One Thousand Hills has the newest guesthouse.

Between the options, the main difference is that the 5 day option allows you an extra day's trek to see a bit more of the jungle (e.g. hot springs and waterfalls) and a higher chance to spot the orangutans.

Day 1
Pick up (depends on specified time) from the airport or hotel in Medan and drive to Ketambe (about 7 hours) at specified time. Stops along the way for food and breaks. Upon arrival have dinner and spend the night at guesthouse in Ketambe.

Day 2
Start trek around 8am in the morning. Spend the day in the jungle hunting for orangutan who live high in the trees. Arrive to the camp site around 1pm, where your guide will prepare lunch and set up camp. After lunch go back out into the jungle to look for more orangutans. Return to camp around 5pm. Dinner will be served around 7pm by your guide and porters. Sleep over night in camp.

Day 3
Have breakfast around 8am and start trekking to see more orangutans. Return to camp around noon for lunch. If you have chosen the 4 day option, start trekking back to Ketambe town after lunch.

If you have chosen the 5 day option, cross the river and trek dowards hot springs while continuing to look out for orangutans after lunch. Set camp at a new location not far from hotsprings and enjoy evening of bathing in hot and cold waters followed by dinner.

Day 4 (if you have chosen the 5 day option)
Trek out of the jungle after lunch the next day. At end of trek return to Ketambe for overnight in guesthouse.

Final day
Depart for airport or next destination at specified time.

Head lamp
Mosquito repellent
High-energy snacks (optional)
Dry bag
Walking shoes
Money (no ATM)
Comfortable trekking pack
Toiletries (including towel)
Sleeping bag liner (optional)
Sweater for overnight
Light and quick-dry clothing for hiking
Basic first aid kit
Rain gear

Ketambe is a pretty small town with not very much outside of the guesthouses and a few warungs. You may want to give a try the kitchens of some of the other guesthouses if you are bored of the one you are staying in - for e.g. One Thousand Hills Guesthouse has a pretty good selection of food choices.

If you have an extra day that you would like to spend in Ketambe, you can experience white water rafting on the Grade III-IV rapids of Alas River.