Ketambe is the jumping off point for trekking into the Gunung Leuser National Park, which is listed as a World Heritage site in combination with two other national parks in Sumatra, Kerinci Sablat and Bukit Barisan Selatan.
Located on the main north-south road cutting through the centre of Aceh, Ketambe sits in a river valley surrounded by dense jungle home to a dizzying array of wildlife including tigers, elephants, rhinoceros, monkeys and orangutans. It's the remoteness of the town which makes it such a great place to commence treks, with guests able to choose from either the eastern or western portion of the forest which is separated by the main road.
Ketambe is not a popular choice for people coming to Sumatra to see wildlife. In fact, far more visitors head to the relatively accessible Bukit Lawang than Ketambe, but that is a shame as Ketambe provides a far more natural experience and leaves behind some of the gaudiness which has crept into Bukit Lawang over the past decade. Consequently, accommodation is small scale in Ketambe with only a handful of basic guesthouses open and even those places only opening a few rooms.
Because of Ketambe's location, it makes sense to incorporate it into a trip either to or from Banda Aceh, if you have time. This trip takes two days on minibuses, with an overnight stop in the stunning lakeside town of Takengon. Alternatively, a trip to Ketambe can simply be seen as something which is worth going out of the way for, such is the magnificence of the surrounding jungle and low-key nature of the town itself.
If you visit Ketambe to trek, you are likely to see many wild animals and most guides insist that there is a 90 percent probability of seeing orangutan. While seeing tigers is almost impossible, they do roam in this very forest and we were even offered an excursion to a part of the forest that has a tiger's den -- we passed.
By Adam Poskitt.