Where can you see orangutans in the wild?
Orangutans in the wild are a wonder to behold.
While you may have been to your local zoo to see orangutans playing on a rope course, seeing them in the wild in Indonesia is something really special. There are two species of orangutans in the world, and you can find both in Southeast Asia. Bornean orangutans live on the island of Borneo and their slightly longer-haired, paler cousins, the Sumatran Orangutan, on the island of Sumatra.
There are a variety of tours, national parks and rehabilitation and conservation centres that will get you closer to this remarkable species in Borneo. Here are our favourite places to spot orangutans in the wild, without interrupting their way of life.
Image: Mother and baby orangutans crossing river, Borneo in Indonesia
But wait! Something to consider before you choose your
As orangutan numbers decrease more and more, it’s important to choose an experience that doesn’t cause harm.
Making sure you’re a part of a legitimate ecotourism experience means that not only will you get to experience nature and culture with little environmental impact, but your local guide will teach and engage you in discussions about the local environmental issues. In Borneo, orangutans have been declared critically endangered – and their numbers are shrinking faster than we can save them.
We’ve recommended these five national parks because they all provide fantastic options to explore the natural home of the Bornean orangutan, without upsetting their remaining habitat.
The Top 5 National Parks To See Wild Orangutans
Image: Map of top 5 national parks to see orangutans in Borneo
Tanjung Puting National Park
Central Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo
Tanjung Puting National Park has been called one of the natural wonders of the world. A vast and dense rainforest that spans over four thousand square kilometres, Tanjung Puting is full of wild orangutans who love the tree tops and swampy mangroves. The best way to get a great view of wild orangutans is to travel down the Sekonyer River on a Klotok. A Klotok is a type of river houseboat, used by locals to transport goods up and down the river, and also by tourists as a great way to get around.
The easiest way to get to Tanjung Putting National Park is via Klotok. It’s a good idea to make sure your tour booking includes or can arrange an airport or hotel transfer, as well as transport to and from the park. Between travelling on a Klotok, bonding with a local tour guide and spotting the elusive Bornean orangutan throughout your trip, Tanjung Puting National Park has it all.
The best part? Tanjung Puting is also home to the well-known research facility Camp Leaky, where you can meet wildlife researchers, get up close with orangutans in rehabilitation and other creatures of the jungle.
Make your way through Tanjung Puting with us, at Orangutan Trekking Tours. Our ecotours help the Green Team buy back areas of the forest to protect them from illegal palm oil farmers and poachers, and they’re a fantastic way to explore the rainforest and all its inhabitants.
Image: Arbain, OTT leader following an orangutan in Tanjung Puting NP
Kutai National Park
East Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo
Kutai National Park is located in East Kalimantan on Indonesian Borneo and is home to around two thousand orangutans. Unfortunately, a large part of this forest has been devastated by deforestation and fires in the past, which has left only 30% of the original forest behind. This means that the forest is no longer the green wonderland it was, but it is on its way to recovery and still worth a visit.
There are two main access points for tourists to the park. Along the road between Sangatta and Bontang you’ll find Sangkima, with a number of old national park buildings still standing. It provides fantastic photo opportunities of the orangutans, otters and monitors lizards from the easily accessible loop platform. Sangkima has a walking trail and boardwalk that will take you to one of the largest trees of the forest. This area, due to its easy accessibility, is under growing pressure from tourism.
Prevab is a more remote section of the park that was preserved, and the forest here is in fairly good condition. It is accessed via a 25 minute boat ride on the Sangatta river. It’s here that you will be able to see orangutans as well as an array of exotic flora and fauna, such as sun bears, flat-headed cat and long-tailed macaque. Trekking through the Kutai National Park requires both a permit and a local guide.
Image: Trekkers on a boardwalk in Kutai NP
Gunung Palung National Park
West Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo
Gunung Palung National Park is estimated to be home to around two thousand orangutans The forest in Gunung Palung National Park is quite dense and less visited by tourists, which has helped the growth and protection of its diverse habitats, including mangroves, swamps and lowland forests. The park was given official National Park status in 1990, but it has a history of mismanagement. Until recently, tourism to this area was taken away from the control of the locals and exploited by a company who made travelling to this area far more expensive than it should be. Luckily, this struggle is beginning to end and tours operated by local villagers are now taking place again.
One of the unique things about tours through Gunung Palung National Park is the absence of the tourism industry. There are no real pathways or roads, and the primary place of accommodation is camp Lubuk Baji, a wooden building that sits on stilts and has been likened to a tree house. The orangutans that call Gunung Palung home aren’t used to seeing people, which makes the furry apes of this park wilder and harder to find. But this means it’s twice as rewarding when you do see them swinging through the trees!
Image: Lubuk Baji Camp, West Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo
Credit: Leave Your Daily Hell
Betung Kerihun National Park
West Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo
Betung Kerihun National Park runs along the Malaysian Borneo border, Sarawak. It has four main waterways that run through from the other side of the border. Throughout the park are small villages of locals, some only accessible by long boat. The locals live in houses suspended on the river banks above potential flood levels, called ‘Long Houses’. The tours through Betung Kerihun National Park are primarily run by the Nanga Potan people who supply long boats, insight into their culture and opportunities to see wild orangutans in this region. It is a key area for conservation in Indonesia.
A great way to experience this part of Borneo is by bike. Between some of the villages, there are narrow pathways which can take either motorcycles or bicycles. While this experience is seasonal, it provides a great ground-floor view of the forest, and a bit of a workout for the willing tourist. Bornean Orangutans are not afraid to come down from the trees, and you might just have a face-to-face encounter with one of these amazing creatures as you cycle through the forest.
GIF: Orangutan Rowing Longboat at Camp Leaky, Borneo
Danum Valley Conservation Area
Sabah, Malaysian Borneo
This park is technically not in Indonesian Borneo, but we’re giving it a special mention due to its eco-friendly, conservationist ethics.
Located on the Malaysian side of Borneo Danum Valley Conservation Area, this is the most accessible of the National Parks that we’ve mentioned. There are many walking trails through the park, including a suspended walkway. A popular choice for accommodation is the Borneo Rainforest Lodge which sits alongside the Danum River. There is no roughing it here, with premium accommodation, including optional spa packages, so you can see the rainforest in style.
There are a couple of wild orangutans who call the surrounding trees home, although it is not guaranteed; you may not have to leave the lodge to see wild orangutans here. The lodge has strict guidelines for guests when leaving. These are put in place to minimise tourism’s effect on the surrounding forest and wildlife and are common among eco-tourism accommodation providers.
So, how can you help?
Do your research and choose travel and tour companies that promote true eco-tourism. Avoid places that fit the description of a harmful tourist trap and avoid contributing to the ongoing struggle of this ecologically diverse island. Follow the rules set out by lodges and tour guides.
Your eco-conscious travel will help support the local people who are working to make a difference, and not just financially. By talking and sharing images with the locals who run these tours, we generate the right kind of conversation about the endangered Bornean orangutan.
Image: Rules Sign at Camp Leaky, Kalimantan, Indonesia Borneo
We would love to explore Tanjung Puting National Park
Orangutan Trekking Tours have plenty of options for rekking through the Bornean rainforest, and you can check them out here.
If you have any questions about our treks, let’s chat! Get in touch with us.