It may have been a few years since my visit to Bukit Lawang, Indonesia, but it sure hasn’t been one to forget. Bukit Lawang, Indonesia is one of those places you remember for the rest of your life as a cultural, natural and interactive exploration.
While the village is beautiful and the local people are amazing, the town is vulnerable when it comes to mass tourism. It may still be a hidden gem up, but the more travellers that learn about this magical place, the more unwanted travellers will come. Of course you’ll get a mix of both responsible and irresponsible travellers, but let’s try to minimize that. Never forget:
Leave nothing but footprints and fond memories
What is Bukit Lawang? Why is it so magical?
Bukit Lawang is a small riverside village along the Bahorok, located in North Sumatra. It is a few hours drive into the middle of the wilderness from Medan, Indonesia and is known to have the largest Sumatran orangutan sanctuary in the world. There are over 5,000 orangutans located in the surrounding Gunung Leuser National Park and have been rehabilitated back into the wild. Many travellers visit Bukit Lawang to hike this national park and set their eyes on the rehabilitated orangutans.
Animal tourism is a sensitive matter in today’s tourism discussions. While we all want to experience animal encounters, it’s important to know when it’s okay to do so. Since these orangutans have been rehabilitated back into the wild, it is important to avoid interaction and flash photography.
Many of the tours arranged in the Gunung Leuser National Park are arranged specifically to help the conversation of the sanctuary and the protection of the rainforest.
As a rule of thumb no matter where you’re off exploring, always be sure to follow these easy tips:
- Hire a local guide for excursions
- Book local accommodations
- Eat local foods and support local businesses
- Do your research first – is it sustainable?
If you need a little inspiration for Bukit Lawang, Indonesia, here’s a few restaurant, accommodation and tour companies that provide you an opportunity to travel responsibly.
Where to Stay?
- EcoTravel Cottages offer spacious rooms with a panoramic view of the rainforest. They are made from local wood and stone and completely built by local craftsmen.
- Indra Valley Inn is where I spent my time in Bukit Lawang. While they do not call themselves an “eco lodge”, a lot of what they do is extremely sustainable. Their staff are hired locally and they make some delicious local dishes. There are also no air conditioners – love it, or hate it, it is more sustainable.
- Junia Guesthouse hires certified local tour guides to take you on your next adventure and offer quite a sustainable accommodation as well.
At the end of the day, many of the hotels in Bukit Lawang (due to the remoteness of the area) rely on local produce, hiring local staff, training local people and offering responsible tourism treks.
Where to Eat?
While I have tried all of the above (top 3 on TripAdvisor), I must admit that there wasn’t one restaurant in the area that dissapointed me. Don’t be stubborn and stick to the “western food,” embrace the delicious local cuisine – it’s super cheap and affordable!
What Excursions are Responsible?
- Tubing along the Bohorok River is a great way to spend the day. Rent an inner tube from one of the local shops and spend your day relaxing along the river. No motors, no pollution, just you and nature.
- Kayaking is a cool way to see Bukit Lawang and surrounding villages. You’re going to have to hike it back up stream, but it’s definitely worth the exploration.
- Jungle Trekking can be as sustainable as you’d like it to be. Local guides will often take you on 1-6 hikes in the rainforest with local food wrapped in leaves. Note: Do not disturb the animals – you’re on their territory
- Rafting similar to tubing, but you can hop on the white water rapids with a couple other travellers and enjoy a little heart pulsing action.
If you’re doubting your excursion, ask yourself these questions:
- Does it support the locals or not?
- Does it impact the economy negatively?
- Does it impact the environment negatively?
- Are you interacting with animals in an unsustainable way?
If you’re unsure about any of these answers, check with a local in the area!
Have you discovered any other villages similar to Bukit Lawang that you would recommend to travellers? Leave your comments in the link below! Looking for other sustainable travel tips? Check out: The Best Types of Sustainable Accommodations, The Most Unique Destinations for Eco Travellers and 10 Book To Inspire Responsible Travel.