One of Asia's last great wildernesses
The trekking here is similar to that in Bukit Lawang, except that because fewer people trek here, animals are more regularly spotted close to the edges of the forest. Additionally, all animals here are wild whereas many orangutans around Bukit Lawang are re-released animals with some dependency on humans.
Treks in Ketambe can be arranged through any of the guesthouses and all prices are fixed by a cartel that operates to keep prices artificially high. That said, for longer trips, individual guides may be willing to negotiate a more reasonable rate if it can be done in private. Still, prices for trekking here are about half that of prices in Bukit Lawang where guides seem to have lost grip on what’s reasonable. Rates in Ketambe start at 250,000 rupiah for a single day per person and 350,000 rupiah per day per person for multi-day trips.
Most people opt for a two or three-day trek and camp overnight in the forest. You’ll be required to carry your own personal items such as towel, toilet paper, spare set of clothes, camera, rain jacket, blanket/sleeping bag and long sleeve shirt for cold nights. Your guide and/or porter will carry all the food, tents and miscellaneous cooking equipment. Guides advise that good sports shoes are perfect for trekking and that it isn’t necessary to bring hiking boots if you don’t already have them.
This is virgin jungle at its best, filled with gibbons, monkeys, orangutans, deer, hundreds of species of tropical birds, tigers, rhinoceros and elephants. Tigers, birds and rhinoceros are very infrequently encountered with many guides having only seen a tiger on one or two occasions over the course of their 20 years in the jungle.
Terrain is steep in this jungle. So much so that if you don’t have a reasonable level of fitness, you may struggle to get past the first couple of hours. It’s important to note that conditions in the forest are hot and humid which exacerbates any lack of fitness that you may have. The worst case situation is that you just take it slow and rest every 15 minutes or so, such is the punishing nature of the terrain.
Although most people take two to three-night treks, bashing their way through the jungle, others choose to have a destination in mind such as Gunung Leuser or even Bukit Lawang. Hiking 3119-metre high Gunung Leuser is a brutal exercise from Ketambe, but one that you will never forget. Taking 14 days, you’ll bash your way through jungle until you reach the base of the mountain range which has three peaks above 3000 metres, the highest of which is as yet unnamed. It’s even possible to do a through trek which spits you out along the main north-south road at which point you can catch a bus to your next destination.
Choosing the right guide is more a case of them choosing you. A guide will usually attach themselves to you as soon as you arrive and will try and get a feel of what you’re interested in doing. Trying to get a different guide after that initial encounter is a difficult process as all the guides are friends and tend to hang out together all the time. Besides, knowing which is a good guide and which is not is difficult to judge without trying them out first. A good person to ask for recommendations is the ever trustworthy Ibu Ayuni at Wisma Sadar.
A point of note about rain. When it rains in the jungle, it pours. And everything you are wearing and carrying will get drenched, so it is essential to ensure your pack carrying your towel and spare clothes is waterproof. Some people also choose to bring a rain poncho to keep themselves relatively dry -- a decision that may well be the difference between an amazing experience and a miserable one.
This jungle truly is one of the last great wildernesses in Asia and it is certainly something you will not want to miss if you love nature.
Adam gave up a corporate career in 2009 and left Australia for the hustle and bustle of Southeast Asia. He now lives in Indonesia.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
Our top 1 other sights and activities in and around Ketambe