Why You Shouldn’t Visit It
The Main Activities in Tangkahan: Elephant Washing & Riding
The Elephant Camp is a popular destination for travellers in Sumatra because of its proximity to Bukit Lawang – one of the best gateways in Sumatra to see orangutans. You can visit Tangkahan from Bukit Lawang on a day trip. While they are only 20 km apart from each other, the bumpy journey easily takes 2 hours.
At the Tangkahan Elephant Camp you can bath the elephants, ride the elephants or do both. These tours are offered twice a day: starting at 9:00h and at 14:00h.
The site positions itself as an ecotourism destination. And while it has actually started with good intentions to end illegal logging, it is not a true sanctuary in our view. The label is only used for greenwashing to cash in on people’s willingness to spend money in the name of environmental protection.
Elephant washing sounds innocent but requires physical and psychological “crushing”
Seemingly innocent interactions with elephants could already be very problematic. According to World Animal Protection the bathing is oftentimes stressful for the elephants, especially when dealing with groups of excited people.
Visitors can wash elephants in Tangkahan Elephant Sanctuary. As beautiful as the selfies are, as brutal is the abuse it takes to get elephants into submission to show unnatural behaviour such as being washed by humans.
But the real horror is the torture required to bring the elephants into submission to safely interact with tourists: A technique called “elephant crushing”. This includes forcibly taking elephant babies from their mothers, chaining and cruel beating to tame them.
Elephants are chained in the Tangkahan Elephant Sanctuary.
Elephant riding can cause permanent spinal injuries and depression
As strong as elephants look, their spines cannot support the weight of people. Doing so frequently can lead to permanent spinal injuries. There are further complications from having a chair attached to their backs which painfully rubs on their backs and cause blisters that can become infected.
Visitors can ride elephants in Tangkahan Elephant Sanctuary. This can cause permanent injuries on the elephant’s back as it is too weak to carry things.
Moreover, elephants are a lot like humans: They socialize, have families and friends, feel pain and happiness. When they are in trekking camps, they are separated from their herd and can get depressed.
A mahout in Tangkahan removes the feces of constipated elephant by hand.
The Tangkahan elephants are structurally stressed and therefore they have chronic constipation. An inconvenient consequence is that the mahouts in Tangkahan put their arms in the anus of the elephants to remove their feces.
Animals in a real sanctuary live in freedom with little human contact
Ethical wildlife sanctuaries care for animals that have been rescued from abusive situations. The end goal should be to release them again in the wild (as has been done with many orangutans around Bukit Lawang). And when the animals are too traumatised or injured to ever return to the wild again they should live in the camp in as much freedom as possible with little human contact.
As there should never be any physical contact between visitors and elephants, ethical elephant camps work on an observation-only model. This still provides jobs and a valuable income to local people while it genuinely helps elephants in need.
Do proper research before visiting a wildlife sanctuary
Unfortunately there are a lot of shady sanctuaries like the Tangkahan Elephant Camp. But that doesn’t mean there you can’t find an ethical sanctuary to visit.
Do your own research and make sure your once-in-a-life-time elephant experience is not based on a lifetime elephant torture. Ignore the self-labelling and beware that even tour agencies do not always know. There are many genuine orangutan tour companies in Bukit Lawang that offer tours also to Tangkahan simply because it is the thing to do and they just never thought of the unethical side of elephant riding and washing.
The first and easiest step is to check if the elephant sanctuary you’re thinking of visiting is accredited by the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries. If it isn’t it does not yet mean that it is shady. Read reviews and contact the sanctuary with a lot of questions. One yes to these questions could already be a red flag:
- Do the elephants perform for visitors (such as painting or standing)?
- Can visitors feed, wash, ride or touch elephants?
- Are the baby elephants separated at times from their mother?
- Are the elephants chained (usually at nights)?
- Are the elephants bought (instead of rescued)?
- Do they use bullhooks against elephants in any circumstances?
But despite a thorough research you may still end up in an unethical sanctuary. In that case, help fellow travellers by leaving a review and posting photos or videos. In some cases it will even motivate the camps to improve their practices.
A British family enjoys a photo shoot with juvenile elephants at Lucky Beach on Phuket, Thailand. Many travelers, unaware of the training the elephants endure, view such picturesque experiences as the highlight of their trip. Source: National Geographic Channel.
There is Hope…
Since we had published this post a several years ago, the Tangkahan Elephant Sanctuary decided to no longer offer elephant riding tours to travellers to address repeated complaints.
This is a fantastic first step and it shows how powerful travelers are! When travellers no longer actively support an organization that mistreats elephants, it is in the sanctuary’s financial interest to treat them better.
However, not offering elephant rides is not enough. Elephants are still ridden by their carers, the mothers are still separated from their children, and they are still beaten and chained into submission.
The most powerful thing that we can do is to bombard Tangkahan Elephant Camp with emails about why we will not visit them, and what they should change in their behaviour for us to reconsider. For the sake of impact, remain polite when explaining your issues with their treatments. You can contact their office via WhatsApp on the number +62 813-9624-2503.
No inspiration what to write? Here’s an example.
Dear Tangkahan Elephant Camp,
As an animal lover, I was looking forward to visit an elephant sanctuary during my visit to Sumatra. Since there aren’t many elephant sanctuaries in Sumatra I came across of your organization.
It is with enthusiasm that I have read about your recent decision to no longer offer elephant ride tours. I applaud this development. However, it is with sadness that I read that your carers still ride elephants, that elephants are sometimes chained and that the mothers are separated from their children. It is for this reason that I have decided to not visit your sanctuary.
I kindly advice you to reconsider the treatment of the elephants. Besides this being the morally just thing to do, it would also be in your financial interest since travellers increasingly look for eco-friendly activities. Please let me know whenever you have adopted a more elephant-friendly treatment, so that we can support your organization with a joyful visit the next time we are around.
A final word: Spread the word & Share
We have written this article because we belief in the power of ecotourism and it hurts to see greenwashing attempts undermine the true ecotourism concept.
It is not uncommon that animal camps that chain and abuse animals label themselves as sanctuaries to lure more visitors. Unfortunately, it is a very simple and successful strategy that unaware travellers easily fall for.
Could you help us spread the word, protect travellers from a big disappointment and help them choose true ecotourism destinations to support environmentally friendly initiatives? You help a lot by sharing this article with your network.
With the increasing environmental awareness of travellers, ecotourism has received more attention. Sometimes it is referred to as “sustainable tourism”, “ethical tourism” or “responsible tourism”. But what is ecotourism really? How does it help the environment? Isn’t it best for the nature if there is no tourism at all? Here we discuss its definition, we explain why ecotourism is so important and provide tips how to identify greenwashing attempts.
What is Ecotourism
Why is it so Important?
What is Ecotourism?
While there are several different definitions for ecotourism, they all essentially say that ecotourism is about bringing nature conservation, local communities, and the travel industry together to ensure development of an endangered area focused on long-term sustainability rather than short-term profits. Here’s the definition according to The International Ecotourism Society (TIES):
Responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education.
1. CONSERVATION | Ecotourism is a tool for conservation
Conserving the environment is one of the founding principles of ecotourism. An ecotour should at least minimize the environmental footprint (via e.g. recycled material, low plastic- or energy consumption) and preferably even contribute to the conservation of the area. This is usually financially when visitors pay for park entrance fees, which pay for conservation efforts and the salaries of park rangers and researchers.
There are many other ways one could contribute; from planting trees to picking up trash on the trail. You could also donate to a conservation organization, such as the orangutan rehabilitation centre of International Animal Rescue in Kalimantan.
The orangutan rehabilitation centre of International Animal Rescue near Ketapang, Kalimantan, Indonesia.
2. LOCAL WELFARE | Ecotourism should help local communities
Ultimately, the locals decide what to do in and around the endangered area. Should it be cleared for palm oil production, timber or agriculture? Should it be used for oil & gas extractions or for the excavation of rich minerals? Or should the local economy be designed around the conservation of the area and present its beauty to visitors and researchers? In order for ecotourism to function, local people’s support is a prerequisite and they must directly or indirectly benefit.
Our local representative in Sulawesi, Budi, is born and raised in a remote Sulawesi jungle – near Tana Toraja – and now provides multi-day survival jungle treks with minimal environmental footprint.
3. EDUCATION | Ecotourism should enhance environmental & cultural awareness
Sure, seeing exciting wildlife like orangutans in Sumatra is enough to make people happy. But ecotourism is much more. It provides context. It informs about environmental-, economic- or social challenges such as the blood, sweat and tears required to fight against palm oil deforestation or logging.
When visitors understand it better, they’re more likely to help the area, and upon return they may not only show pictures to friends and family but they may also inspire them with context and act as ambassadors for the natural area they’ve visited.
Travellers take an intimate look into the local culture by staying at home with our guide Daude and his family.
“But not travelling is better for the environment than Ecotourism, right?”
This is what cynics ask oftentimes, and rightfully. After all, ecotourism brings tourists usually to relatively untouched places and therefore could potentially be the reason for environmental degradation. It starts with the global pollution by flying just to get to the exotic destination. Each return ticket from London to Jakarta costs the Arctic three more square meters of ice Science … Yes, every ticket.
Then there is the local pollution through cars or boats used for the local transport, habitat loss in order to accommodate visitors in eco-lodges, stress on the environment by the higher demand for food, water or other local resources. So if you want to reduce your environmental footprint, flying as little as possible is a good place to start.
A realistic but rather weak argument against banning all travel is that in the end of the day humans are explorers, and not travelling at all is simply not achievable. The stronger argument for travelling to ecotourism destinations is that with all the direct downsides outlined above, the indirect consequences of not travelling may be much worse.
Just imagine what would happen in this global free market system if the ecotourism revenues would fade away. Who would pay the rangers to fight against logging. If the already poor people in Sumatra or Borneo have nowhere else to work other than in palm oil factories, would it be unlikely that they choose exactly that, and – despite their love for their rainforest – would support deforestation in order to feed their families? The heartbreaking story of Yasuni National Park in Equador FT shows the power of money and how the destiny of even the most diverse ecosystems in the world is subject to financial interests.
In short, if you care about the environment, fly as little as possible – reconsider the weekend trip to New York or the leisure beach holiday – but please do visit ecotourism destinations and give local communities a strong incentive to conserve the beautiful ecosystems that are the habitat of exotic and sometimes almost extinct creatures.
Visitor plants a tree at the reforestation site Camp Pesalat in Tanjung Puting National Park in Kalimantan.
Integrity Issues of Ecotourism
Because everyone prefers an eco-friendly tour or accommodation over an eco-unfriendly alternative, many organizations are jumping on this trend and sometimes falsely claim that their parks, programs or accommodations are eco-friendly.
Think of the many popular places presenting themselves as animal sanctuaries while in practice the elephants are chained and ridden by tourists or the tigers are imprisoned and used for selfies. Or vast exaggerations by International hotel chains or airlines claiming they are eco-friendly because they use recycled toilet paper, while ignoring the environmental damage at the heart of their business model.
It is financially interesting to greenwash and cash in on people’s willingness to spend money in the name of environmental protection. Unfortunately, this hurts the integrity of the ecotourism concept. But there is an easy way to address this as an eco-traveller and make sure you participate in a true ecotourism concept:
Research the organization you’re considering, ignore their self-labelling, and test their adherence to each of the pillars of true ecotourism: Conservation, Local Welfare and Education.
Visitors can wash and ride elephants in Tangkahan “Sanctuary”. As beautiful as the selfies are, as brutal is the abuse it takes to get elephants into submission, be gentle towards humans and accept people sitting on their weak backs.
Why Local Guides cares about ecotourism
Local Guides has been founded on the basis of helping local communities and conserving the fragile ecosystems we grew up in. What is encouraging are the positive reactions from visitors when they are told about the environmental and cultural challenges we are facing, and how understanding and empathy can turn into ambassadorship for our environmental and cultural heritage.
In Sumatra and Kalimantan palm oil is the primary reason for rainforest deforestation and has killed over 100.000 orangutans in since 2003. An area the size of Belgium is lost every 2 years for palm oil in these two tropical islands.
The palm oil industry is extremely powerful as it employs 4.5 million people in Indonesia. The best way to fight against deforestation, is by making it even more profitable to conserve it and turn the local palm oil workers into park rangers and tour guides. Our programs in Sumatra and Kalimantan present the exotic habitat of orangutans as we trek into the rainforest with local guides and cooks.
In the past decades Sulawesi has been subject to social unrest and natural disasters, prompting locals to migrate. While the situation has normalised, tourists still stay away which is a disaster for its local economy and puts its cultural heritage at risk. We showcase the authentic local traditions in Sulawesi, and the little known breathtaking treks off-the-beaten-path with overnight stays in scenic mountain villages to boost the local economies and give visitor an experience of a lifetime.
The Covid-19 pandemic has had a terrible impact on the local communities beyond Sulawesi and throughout Indonesia. The pandemic and global travel bans have disproportionally hit the ecotourism industry, while the polluting palm oil industry was barely hit. Through our environment blog we inform readers about this and other local issues, and provide a platform to anyone with a willingness and ability to support our fight.
To curb the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic, many countries have at the time of writing imposed social distancing restrictions, strongly affecting the travel & tourism sectors. While a luxury for travellers, tourism is the primary source of income for many locals in Indonesia. Their incomes have been wiped off by as much as 100%, and they have not had the luxury to make savings, receive little government support at best, and the end of the pandemic is not in sight. A financial catastrophe is emerging for the voiceless.
In this article we show the economic devastation of the corona pandemic for the communities in Indonesia depending on tourism, and provide a platform for those who want to help.
Covid-19 Devastates Indonesians
What You Can Do About It
Among the hardest hits sectors of the global Covid-19 restrictions is the travel industry, which many developing countries such as Indonesia strongly depend on. The economic consequences have triggered the most basic fears in local communities in Indonesia as some are already struggling to feed their families.
Poster with information about the closure of Tanjung Puting National Park, one of the best destinations in the world to see orangutans. The many visitors not only brings many locals out of poverty, a stronger local tourism industry also gives more leverage against palm oil deforestation.
How has Covid-19 impacted the local communities in Indonesia?
One way to answer this question is to look at how the corona pandemic has deteriorated business in the travel sector in Indonesia. We were not able to find official data, so let’s have a look at our own data from Local Guides showing the aggregate impact in the destinations we offer tours, including Bali, Borneo, Flores, Sulawesi and Sumatra.
FIGURE 1. Number of tours in 2020 relative to the historical average. Since EU member states placed travel restrictions in Mid March, the number of clients has dropped by 100% until the time of writing.
In the first few weeks of 2020 – as the virus was already known to be spreading within Wuhan/China – the number of tours we organised were at a similar level as in past years.
But since the first reported Covid-19 case in France on January 24, the number of clients deteriorated as fast as the virus spread across Europe.
Vincent local guide in Maumere
Local restrictions apply since 20th March, varying from stay-at-home orders, wearing masks outside, closed schools/public places/parks and no big religious celebrations. Whenever we return home from outside when buying food (which is still allowed), we should have a 15 minute sunbath, wash ourselves and drink hot water.
With no income since then, I’m very concerned how to take care of my family: a new-born child, 9 year son, wife, and my mother that also lives with me. We have reduced all our costs to the bare minimum but still need food, milk, health insurance and paying off the debt of the loan I received last year to build a house.
So far, there has been no government support for my region. We haven’t received any support for daily needs such as food or masks, let alone a financial support.
Because the situation is impossible for me, I am talking with the bank to get permission to pay my debt later. I have been a guide for many years, but if the situation continues any longer I am forced to look for other jobs to buy food and milk for my family, knowing there are not so many jobs anyways.
The virus is already spreading in my community, so it is concerning that we cannot avoid crowded markets to buy food. Searching for a second job will further expose me and my family to the virus, but I do not many options.
By the time EU member states decided in March 17 to place severe travel restrictions, many international flights, including those to Indonesia, were already canceled and the number of tours had dropped by 100%.
Some of the locals that haven’t had any income since mid March, have managed to get through with their small savings. Others spent their savings within weeks already and face a frightening period.
How much worse could things get?
Well, if the circumstances do not improve within the coming weeks, the financial impact for these local communities is dramatic because of the very strong seasonality of the tourism sector as shown in Figure 2.
Historically, he starting point for the travel season is mid March, which exactly coincides with the global travel restrictions. The months prior to this (November – March) was low-season during which the locals in the tourism sector were already living from their savings earned in the high-season.
+70% of the annual income of locals working in the tourism sector is earned in the months June-September.
FIGURE 2. The number of tours in 2020 in comparison to the historical average. Covid-19 travel restrictions were imposed when the travel season was just about to take off.
While the borders may open again for tourists in the summer, it is believed that the tourism will be far from normal levels for at least the next months.
if I go to the jungle, I have least risk to get sick because locals stay away from the jungle as they think it is hunted.
Budi – local guide in Sulawesi
We also see that in our bookings: While most bookings for the high season are historically done in the period March-May, since mid March this year nobody has booked for a tour in the high season period.
Nur local guide in Kalimantan
Almost everything, including schools and mosques, has been closed since the social distancing measures in Kalimantan on March 17th.
Although we haven’t yet received any government support, we know they will provide some sort of support but it will for sure not be enough.
We cannot do any other work because it is difficult to find any work during the lockdown. The only big local industry that is barely impacted by the Covid-19 crisis is the palm oil industry.
Because we have little savings, we have to sell our personal stuff to survive such as laptops, cell phones, rings or necklaces. Owners of boats – the primary transportation for the orangutan tours in Tanjung Puting National Park – try to sell their boats with discounts.
We are worried to get the coronavirus, but the situation for the healthy people is also terrible.
Moreover, of those who had booked before the pandemic broke out, 80% has already cancelled its tour because of fears for the coronavirus, flight cancellations or the general uncertain outlook.
So it is hard to overstate how worrying the outlook is for these communities.
For a typical household family to have adequate food, clean water, and a roof over their head it costs €5/day/person.
So What Does Local Guides Do to Help?
We try to help out the local communities as much as we can, but sadly, our resources are limited because we barely have any income, and there are a lot of cancellations that require refunds conform our cancellation policy.
The staff at Local Guides have other primary jobs and only work on voluntary basis for Local Guides so that our reserves can be used exclusively to help local communities and refund clients. Fortunately, some of our clients that were eligible to receive a cash refund were kind to accept a voucher for a future tour, and as such support those in need today.
Budi local guide in Sulawesi
When I saw the news in February about the situation in Italy, my heart broke. When Local Guides checked how I was coping with the lost income, I told them to worry about the Italians instead as they are the ones struggling.
Later the virus arrived in Indonesia and I noticed only rich people got it. We are superstitious people so I thought that because we’re poor we won’t get sick.
Then suddenly everything was put in lockdown in Tana Toraja, and the people around me got infected.
So now I am really worried. I am mostly scared of getting the virus because my family relies on my income. I cannot help them when I am sick. Therefore, I decided that if I go to the jungle, I have least risk to get sick because locals stay away from the jungle as they think it is hunted. I myself am born and raised in the jungle, can hunt for my own food and sleep in self-made shelters.
But the problem was that I didn’t have any savings to leave for my family as I would be away. I had spent most of my savings to support the victims of the tsunami in Palu in the end of 2018. And then the tourism season in 2019 was very bad because travellers avoided Sulawesi after this earthquake.
But my friends at Local Guides sent money to my family. This gives us big relief and I really hope that I can pay them back soon. But I am very worried about my neighbours, my friends, and my colleagues. I do not know how they can get through this situation. I am sad because I want to help them but I can’t.
To the local guides most in need we provided donations worth of several months of salaries. To others, we provided loans with 0% interest rate and a friendship agreement to pay it back whenever they can.
But as we mentioned, this is not a sustainable solution as we are running out of reserves and there are more people than the local guides that need help, such as cooks, taxi drivers, cleaners, hotel staff.
We decided to write this article to act as the voice of the struggling local communities. Through this article we ask clients, readers and friends to help these communities in Indonesia. This brings us to the next point.
The road to the usually popular Canggu beach is closed amid the corona pandemic.
What Can You Do to Help?
We won’t dance around it: The best way to help is through donations directly to local communities or via initiatives that pass it directly through such as Food for the poor for the locals in the village Bukit Lawang, Bali Children’s project for the children in poverty in Bali or Kitabisa for affected low income families.
You could also donate through us via the donation form below. 100% of the donations are sent to local communities in tourism sector across Borneo, Sumatra, Sulawesi and Flores via our well connected guides.
While costs for living vary, life is generally inexpensive relative to Western standards:
- meals: 3-6 EUR per day
- filtered water: ±1.50 EUR per bottle
- toiletries: 2-4 EUR per month
- rent: 30-90 EUR per month
For a typical household family to have adequate food, clean water, and a roof over their head it costs €5/day/person.
Any donation you give will help a voiceless person in need in a big way.
Edie local guide in Bukit Lawang
I live in Bukit Lawang. It is a small village in Sumatra, where we enjoy and respect our nature as we live our simple lives as a community.
My village depends on tourism income, but since mid February the village in closed for visitors.
The government is telling us since mid March that they will help the poor after they work out the details and planning. They are still busy with planning, so we have to rely on our own community.
Now we have to work as farmers or have to do other temporary jobs to earn money. I myself am now building roofs from plants in the hope that someone will buy them. Sometimes we get rice and water from donations made by old clients or individuals.
When the flood in 2003 destroyed our village, it took us years to rebuild it and things were finally starting to improve. Recently, I received a donation from Local Guides for the education of my son which gave us a perspective.
But now, it feels like we are back to where we were in 2003, but this time we do not need to rebuild our village but have to wait for visitors to return which is beyond our control. It may take years again for things to improve.
I am looking forward to the day I can work again with my friends and family to show visitors the beautiful habitat of the Sumatran orangutan.
A final word
Because we are a small organization without marketing experience, we only reach a very small audience.
Without your help we cannot be the voice that the local communities need. Could you please help us and share this article with your network?
Thanks so much. Stay safe & healthy,
Palm Oil Deforestation
What You Can Do About It
A brief introduction to Palm oil
Palm oil is a type of vegetable oil that comes from the palm fruit, which grows on the Elaeis guineensis or simply African oil palm. Palm oil trees grow naturally in tropical forests, and originate from west and south-west Africa.
Palm oil trees were introduced by Dutch colonists to Indonesia and Malaysia in the late 19th century and have been planted extensively to satisfy global demand. Now, Indonesia and Malaysia together make up over 85% of global palm oil production.
Especially in Indonesia palm oil production has soared in recent years. It is a significantly more profitable commodity for farmers than traditional farming and has helped lift many people out of poverty. According to Indonesia’s Ministry of Industry, the palm oil industry employs 4.5 million people, and is the single biggest export product of the country.
Why is Palm Oil an issue at all?
Palm oil destroys rainforests and kills orangutans
Palm oil is a major driver of deforestation of some of the world’s most biodiverse forests, destroying the habitat of already endangered species like the orangutan, pygmy elephant and the Sumatran rhino. In Indonesia alone, a forest area the size of Belgium is lost every 2 years (let this sink in).
While the deforestation directly contributes to the population decline of orangutans, the good news is that orangutans are resilient and can adapt to some level to new environments such as palm oil plantations. However, deforestation severely deteriorates the orangutan population indirectly through the increased killings by farmers protecting their harvest and through the new infrastructure making it easier for poachers to get further into the rainforest.
A recent study from 38 international institutions found that nearly 150,000 orangutans were killed in the period 1999 – 2015 in Borneo. In the last 75 years, the population has dropped by 80% to an estimated population of 104,000 orangutans on the island. And according to the researchers it will further fall by at least 45,000 by 2050 due to habitat loss alone without fresh efforts to protect them.
Palm oil is a major source of CO2 emissions
In preparing rainforest land for palm oil plantation, the most valuable trees are cut down and removed first. What remains is burned. Tropical deforestation is currently responsible for about 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions according to the IPCC, and the plantations to produce it account for 10% of permanent global cropland .
Palm oil facilitates child labor and inflicts local conflicts
The USA ranks the palm oil industry as one of the worst for forced and child labour , where children “carry large loads of heavy fruit, weed fields, and spend hours every day bent over collecting fruit from the plantation floor” for little compensation. The Indonesian government claims that “thousands of communities are involved in conflicts with companies, the state and each other” consequent to the industry.
Palm Oil and Tanjung Puting National Park
While Central Kalimantan has one of the fastest rates of oil palm expansion in the world, an unaware visitor to for example Tanjung Puting National Park – where we offer Borneo orangutan tours – may not even notice this.
If you look closely, though, you will see that as you cruise through the Sekonyer river that the Tanjung Puting National Park is on one side where you will have all the activities, while the other side is private land with palm oil trees.
We have noticed that some of our clients in Tanjung Puting National Park tend to blame “palm oil farmers” for the harmful effects of this industry to the rainforest destruction and the killing of orangutans.
While we understand this sentiment, we also recognise that local farmers simply try to keep themselves and their families out of poverty. Moreover, harvesting palm oil on private land is not an environmental issue if that land was already used for agriculture.
But then whom to blame? Well, it’s a complex issue, but instead of pointing at farmers, we think it is better to increase scrutiny on the following players:
The big industries – such as BW Plantations in Kalimantan – that expand their activities through deforestation and stealing land from native communities.
The village of Tanjung Harapan on the Sekonyer river in Tanjung Puting has over 100 families who are actively opposing the palm oil plantation and its expansion and demand the rights of the Sekonyer community to be returned.
Your political representatives that have not yet advocated the mandatory labelling of palm oil in your daily products to enhance customer awareness
The consumer. Let’s face it… in the end the palm oil industry just has a demand to meet… While blaming ourselves is inconvenient, it also means that we hold the key to solve the issue.
Then Why Is Palm Oil Used?
Palm oil simply serves the global demand for vegetable oil, accounting for about half of all packaged products in the supermarket according to WWF.
Compared to other vegetable oils such as soy, rapeseed, coconut or corn, palm oil has a superior yield and it produces up to 3-8 times more oil per unit area! Its high melting point make it smooth and easy to spread and it is the cheapest vegetable oil to produce and refine.
FIGURE 2. A comparison of the land efficiency for different vegetable oils relative to palm oil.
Which Products Contain Palm Oil?
Well, the better question is which products do NOT contain palm oil. Fifty percent of all packaged products in the super market contain palm oil according to the WWP.
It provides the foaming agent in virtually every shampoo, liquid soap or detergent. It is widely used in tooth paste, frozen meals, sauces, oat meal and cleaning products. The below illustration gives you an impression of how you consume palm oil on a daily basis.
FIGURE 3. A Day in Your Life with Palm Oil, based on a design by Philadelphia Zoo (edited for readibility).
Yet, most consumers are not aware of their immense palm oil consumption, and even if they want to be more conscious about it they struggle because palm oil is rarely clearly labeled in the ingredients list.
Ingredients list for palm oil
Many products that use palm oil aren’t clearly labeled. Palm oil and its derivatives can appear under many names. Here are some of the used synonyms for palm oil according to the WWF.
INGREDIENTS. Vegetable Oil, Vegetable Fat, Palm Kernel, Palm Kernel Oil, Palm Fruit Oil, Palmate, Palmitate, Palmolein, Glyceryl, Stearate, Stearic Acid, Elaeis Guineensis, Palmitic Acid, Palm Stearine, Palmitoyl Oxostearamide, Palmitoyl Tetrapeptide-3, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, Sodium Kernelate, Sodium Palm Kernelate, Sodium Lauryl Lactylate/Sulphate, Hyrated Palm Glycerides, Etyl Palmitate, Octyl Palmitate, Palmityl Alcohol
CONTAINS. Palm oil
How Can You Fight Palm Oil
The most effective solutions come from the demand side as suppliers are going to keep clearing forests until consumers force them to stop. Consumer awareness is needed about the link between the purchased products and the environmental disaster they’re causing. Beyond these generalities, here are 4 concrete actions you can take:
1. Consume Less Palm Oil
The most effective measure is simply to reduce your palm oil consumption. Use fresh ingredients for your meals as opposed to frozen dishes or processed food and switch your hand soap, tooth paste, shampoo or brand of biscuits to a sustainable alternative.
With such small changes to your shopping habits, you reduce your palm oil consumption and influence directional changes for global corporations.
2. Look for the RSPO Label
Major palm oil producers, consumers and the WWF established the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), which is a certificate for palm oil that is produced in a sustainable manner.
There are still some issues with the RSPO label. It does not rule out the clearing of the rain forest, climate protection is ignored, compliance with the criteria is not consistently reviewed, and violations are rarely punished. Greenpeace even considers the RSPO to be “little more than greenwash”.
Nevertheless, it is the strongest certification for sustainable palm oil. Moreover, the RSPO management recognises the criticism and tries to address them with the help of NGOs.
If you aren’t sure whether a company uses sustainable palm oil as an ingredient, use the rating tool of the WWF.
Fortunately, there are many bright conservation organisations, activists and communities fighting the palm oil industry and rehabilitating wildlife suffering from it. Think of International Animal Rescue, Rainforest Action Network, Friends for National Parks Foundation and Save our Borneo.
However bright they are, this is a fight between David and Goliath and they depend on kindhearted volunteers and sponsors. Make a difference by financially supporting them.
4. Promote Eco-Tourism
You may think “Isn’t the most sustainable way of travelling, not to travel at all”? Mass tourism has severely impacted Indonesia, with fresh water reserves cemented for hotels, beaches littered with debris from revellers, and wild animals captured and displayed for entertainment.
While not travelling has the least direct environmental damage, the indirect damage could be much worse as it forces local governments to find other income streams and further strengthens the palm oil industry.
Instead, we advice to travel sustainably. Ecotours incentivise locals to conserve the rainforest and not destruct it. Choose a tour operator that genuinely cares about the environment. Read more about the importance of ecotourism in this post.
It’s surely our responsibility to do everything within our power to create a planet that provides a home not just for us, but for all life on earth.
– David Attenborough –
A Final Word
We have written this article to enhance costumer awareness about the devastating effects of our daily lives on the beautiful rainforests and wildlife in Indonesia and Malaysia.
We realise that we only reach a very small audience and that our contribution is tiny. But if we all would make a tiny contribution, couldn’t the sum add up to something immense? Couldn’t we make the difference together?
We only reach a small audience. Please help us spread the awareness and share this article with your network.
The Ultimate Guide
What to do in Tana Toraja
The must-do activity in Tana Toraja is to visit several of the many mysterious burial sites of ancient villages and royal families, that are mostly located in the South. Find below a selection of the most beautiful sites in Tana Toraja.
Burial Sites in Tana Toraja
Bolu Livestock Market
Another popular activity is to visit one of the animal markets. Palau Bolu (Polu Market) is the biggest market where mostly buffaloes are sold by small herders, and where significant sums of money is spent by locals. It is here where family members buy buffaloes to be sacrificed for the the deceised in a burial ceremony.
The deceased is thought to being its journey to Puya after the burial ceremony, and the buffalo is considered to be a vehicle to make the journey. Therefore, family members want to buy as many buffaloes as they can afford for the deceased to do the journey as fast as possible. The Bolu Market is open only once or twice a week depending on the season.
Another famous animal market is the Makale Market where the main commodity is pigs.
Beautiful Landscapes in the North of Tana Toraja
The beautiful landscapes around Tana Toraja are mostly located in the North of Tana Toraja. While the most famous village around is Batutumonga, other beautiful villages with scenic landscapes include Tinimbayo, Limbong, Parinding, Tina, Perangian, Pana, Salu, Lolai and other picturesque places that are discussed in more length in the day-to-day itinerary of the 4D Toraja & Village Stay tour below.
Recommended Tana Toraja Tours & Scenic Treks
The must-do activity is a 2 Day Toraja Tour during which you spend one day to see the burial sites in the South from Rantepao – such as Kambira, Kete Kesu and Tampang Allo – and spend another day to see the beautiful landscape and mountains in the North around Batutumonga, and ideally do a short trek through the rice fields and remote villages.
As Tana Toraja is famous for its unique funeral ceremonies, many travellers overlook that it is a paradise for hikers as well! Unfortunately, most guides are only familiar with the touristic and marked trails, and are not familiar with the beautiful off-the-path mountain treks just a bit further from Rantepao, so choose your guide wisely.
If you also want to experience the beautiful landscape around Sulawesi and stay overnight in remote villages among locals, you should do at least the 3D Toraja Tour & Village Stay Tour, but we recommend the 4 or 5 Day Toraja Tour & Village Stay to fully enjoy the serenity as you trek through rice fields, bamboo forests, cacao- and coffee plantations, and meet friendly locals as you stay overnight in their remote communities.
Find below the day-to-day itinerary of the 4D Toraja & Village Stay Tour. Other day-to-day itineraries can be found in our Tana Toraja Tour Page (click on the tab above the image slider).
Itinerary for 4D Tana Toraja & Village Stay Tour
Day 1: Highlights of the South
Rantepao >> Lemo – Kambira – Tampang Allo – Lampio – Bebo & Karuaya – Kete’ Kesu >> Rantepao
Included: guide, car, driver, fuel, parking fees
excluded: accommodation in Rantepao, entrance fees to sites, meals
Visiting the Southern area will feel as if a cultural documentary has been brought to life. These are the must-sees of Tana Toraja.
Typically we will visit Lemo, Kambira, Tampang Allo, the weaving village Lampio, and the burial site in Kete’ Kesu. If there is time we could also visit the animistic villages Bebo and Karuaya.
Day 2: Trekking to Tinapu Village (L D)
Rantepao >> Pana – Kata – Kepe – Poya – Perangian – Tinapu
Included: guide, car and driver for drop-off, long trek (Pana – Tinapu), overnight at Tinapu, meals as mentioned
After breakfast, you are picked up and dropped off at Panaa. We visit the old stone grave, and then start our scenic day trek. We walk to Kata which located in the middle of rice fields.
We continue via Kepe to the very old village Poya, where some still have animistic beliefs and who have been studied by European scientists. The next stop is at Perangian village, with many joyful children excited to see foreigners.
We hike through a beautiful and rough landscape before arriving at our final destination Tinapu village, where we meet the hospitable villagers and feel the warm Torajan atmosphere where people live simply and are happy at the same time.
Day 3: Trekking to Salu (B L D)
Tinapu – Limbong – Parinding – Bela – Salu
Included: guide, long trek (Tinapu – Salu), overnight at Salu, meals as mentioned
After breakfast we start our hike to the beautiful ricefields at Limbong village, and the many Torajan houses and rice burns at Parinding
We will have lunch in the forest or the rice fields. And then we pass cacao- and coffee plantations and beautiful rice fields before we arrive at the remote, traditional village Salu. We meet the villagers, have diner, and spend the night in a local house.
Day 4: Highlights of the North (B)
Salu >> Lombok Parinding – Bori – Palawa – Tinimbayo – Batutumonga – Loko Mata >> Rantepao
Included: guide, car, driver, fuel, parking fees, short trek (Loko Mata – Kata – Kayurame)
excluded: accommodation in Rantepao, entrance fees to sites, meals
After breakfast in Salu village, we are picked up by car to explore the scenic Northern part of Toraja.
We visit the stone graves and rice burns in the village Lombok Parinding, the megalithic stones in Bori, and the traditional village Palawa and Tinimbayo.
Lunch will be served in Batutumonga, where you enjoy a beautiful panorama view. After lunch, we drive to Lokomata to see the boulder grave.
At Loko Mata we start our scenic trek of 2-3 hours through rice fields, bamboo forests, cacao and coffee plantations, until we arrive at Kayurame village, from where we return by car to Rantepao.
(click on the tab “Toraja Tours” above the image slider)
For a good preparation of your Tana Toraja Tour, read the The Ultimate Guide to Tana Toraja
How to get to Tana Toraja
Makassar is the gateway to Tana Toraja, and Rantepao is the base from which to explore Tana Toraja.
Fly to Sultan Hasanuddin International Airport in Makassar. From here you can reach Rantepao both via land and by air.
By Air. Take the morning flight from Makassar to Palopo Bua Airport (±1 hour), located ±2 hour drive from Rantepao. We pick you up here for free if your tour starts on the same day. Use SkyScanner to search for international and domestic flights.
Taxi. Take a private transfer from the airport to Rantepao (±8/9 hours). You could make stops at interesting sites on route (Bugis village, Erotic mountains), make a detour to visit Rammang Rammang, or break the journey with an overnight at Sengkang.
Bus. The cheapest option is to take the bus (±9/10 hours). There are many bus companies with different prices and each bus has several seat classes. Always take the “VIP” seats as these are the most comfortable. Bus companies include Litha & Co, Manggala Trans and Primadona. Usually you need to buy the bus tickets locally, but Primadona has a (primitive) online booking system and an email address ([email protected]).
Where to stay in Rantepao
While nowhere near the high-end resorts in Bali, the best and relatively luxury accommodation in Rantepao is Toraja Misilliana Hotel .
What is the best period to visit Torajaland
From a climate point of view, Tana Toraja can be visited all year long. While the temperature is fairly constant throughout the year, chances for the best weather are in the dry season from mid April to early October. However, the rain season in Tana Toraja is not as wet as in other places in Indonesia; typically there is short rain shower in the late afternoon, if it rains at all. In the worst case it could rain half a day.
The best period to visit Tana Toraja to attend a funeral ceremony is July – August. In these months you will be able to attend a ceremony with near certainty if you stay in Tana Toraja for 3 days or more. At the same time this is the busiest period with crowds or visitors.
The best period to visit Tana Toraja for scenic trekking are the shoulder periods in the dry season April-June and September-October, although the off-the-beaten-path experiences are also fun in the rain season October-March and the super peak season July-August.
What to bring to your Tana Toraja Tour
The general pack list:
- Comfortable shoes
- Insect repellent (DEET 40%)
- Small backpack for the day trips
Pack also the following for the Tana Toraja treks:
- Pocket light
- Mobile charger for your electronic devices (or a spare battery)
In case you visit a ceremony, you could consider bringing ceremony gifts (e.g. sugar, chocolate, cigarettes) with you, or alternatively just ask your guide to make a stop at a store on the way to the ceremony.
Where to go after Tana Toraja
The Tana Toraja Tours can be perfectly combined with visits to Rammang Rammang, Lake Tempe and Bira Beach.
- Rammang Rammang (±1.5 hours from Makassar by car) is part of Batimurung National Park, famous for its limestones. You need to cross a mangrove river by canoe to arrive at Rammang Rammang, where you can do several short hikes, visit the viewpoint on a hill or the caves with ancient drawings.
- Lake Tempe is the largest lake in Sulawesi and known for its floating villages. You cruise by boat between the houses, and can make stops for a coffee or desert in one of the floating houses.
- Tanjung Bira is known for its white beaches and turquoise water and considered to be among the most beautiful beaches in Indonesia. Located ±200 km from Makassar, it is relatively remote and therefore not crowded with tourists.
- 5 Day Makassar > Rammang Rammang – Lake Tempe – Tana Toraja > Makassar
- 7 Day Makassar > Rammang Rammang – Lake Tempe – Tana Toraja – Tanjung Bira > Makassar
The Ultimate Guide
History of Bukit Lawang as Rehabilitation Center
In 1972 a Swiss based organisation initiated Bukit Lawang as the center for orangutan rehabilitation. Its main purpose was to preserve the decreasing population of orangutans due to hunting, trading and deforestation.
In the rehabilitation phase, rangers taught survival skills to the rehabilitating orangutans. Thereafter, the orangutan was released to their natural habit for reintegration. However, the orangutans that have been released in this area are still being monitored by the rangers.
Over the course of time Bukit Lawang became increasingly visited by tourists, and consequently the orangutans were increasingly exposed to human interaction. Unaware visitors touched and fed orangutans, which made the orangutans sick, food poisoned, and dependent to humans, and which jeapordized the objectives of the rehabilitation center.
The rehabilitation centre closed in 2002 as the place got too crowded and unsuitable for animal rehabilitation, but the role of Bukit Lawang as the centre of ecotourism to see the semi-wild orangutan keeps going on until now. In order to minimise the human impact on orangutans, local guides explain to travellers why it is forbidden to get near or feed orangutans.
What to do in Bukit Lawang
The must-do activity around is the Bukit Lawang Jungle Trek in Gunung Leuser National Park. You will be trekking through the jungle, spot orangutans and other animals, and stay overnight in jungle camps. We recommend to do at least a 2D1N Bukit Lawang Jungle Trek to experience a magical night in the jungle. However, visitors enjoy the 3D2N Bukit Lawang Jungle Trek even more because of the full day in the jungle. For trek lovers with more time, we also offer longer jungle treks to get deeper into the jungle.
Day-to-day-itineraries for all Orangutan Treks
(for the itineraries, click on the tab above the image slider)
Below is the day-to-day itinerary of the 3D2N Bukit Lawang Jungle Trek.
Itinerary for 3D2N Bukit Lawang Jungle Trek
Day 1: Start in Bukit Lawang: All-Day Jungle Trek
We start around 8-9 a.m. after breakfast at your hotel. We walk for around 6-7 hours into the Gunung-Leuser National Park and will along the way see a lot of wildlife, such gibbons, leaf monkeys, longtail and pigtail macaques, flying squirrels, Sumatran peacocks, hornbills and of course orangutans.
Our guide will show some natural medicinal plants and explain how to use them in practice. After a nice lunch in the afternoon, we continue towards our campsite where we will rest, get a hot drink and take a refreshing jungle bath in the clean stream.
We will end our day at dark with a well-deserved diner at the camp fire!
Day 2: All-Day Jungle Trek
Waking up in the middle of the jungle is a magical feeling. You hear the morning sounds of the birds and the excitement of the gibbons in the distance as you breath the fresh air.
After a good breakfast, we get ready to leave the camp and walk for 5 to 6 hours in the jungle towards another camp site (usually “Aras Pinang”). Along the way, we enjoy the nature and wildlife, try all sorts of ‘jungle-food’ and how to recognize them and use them. We have lunch in the jungle somewhere half-way.
At the camp we can relax and swim in a clean jungle river. We end the day with dinner at campfire.
Day 3 – Return with Rubber Tube Raft
The following morning you can choose to either do a short jungle trek or to simply relax at the campsite.
After lunch we head back to Bukit Lawang with a exciting tube raft on the river through the jungle! Alternatively, we can return by foot (depending on your personal wish or for safety reasons)!
How difficult is the orangutan Jungle Trek
The jungle treks in Bukit Lawang is done by people from all ages, ranging from solo traveller’s in their 20st, to families with young children and elderly people.
The regular all-day treks take 6/7 hours with breaks in between, and the terrain is relatively easy with here and there some odd small climb. The guides tailor the trek as well as the speed to the wishes and abilities of the clients. Fit travellers may get a more challenging route with more climbs, while families with young children will do some short cuts and have more breaks with more time spent on explaining the animals, insects and the medicinal properties of the plants on route.
The jungle is relatively dry and therefore the humidity is less of an issue than in rain forests elsewhere in Indonesia.
When you book your Bukit Lawang Jungle trekking, just inform your guide of your fitness and make sure that they will adjust the itinerary to your abilities. If you book your Bukit Lawang Jungle Trekking with Local Guides, you can just mention your wishes in the online booking form and we will tailor the itinerary, accordingly. We will always discuss the itinerary also just before we start the jungle trek so that we can accommodate any wishes up to the very last moment.
Is the Bukit Lawang Jungle Trekking safe with children
The Bukit Lawang Jungle Trekking can be tailored to wishes and abilities of visitors. In our experience, kids are among the people that enjoy the jungle trek the most. While Local Guides pays special attention to families with kids already by default, in case you book the tour with anyone else, ask the guide for the following arrangements for a carefree and enjoyable time with your kids:
- Ask for a private tour to make it easy to tailor the trek length and speed to the abilities of the children
- Ask for extra breaks for the kids to play around and rest a bit during the trek
- While kids are excited to see Orangutans, they are also excited to learn about all the insects. So ask the guide to also talk about the insects (or medicinal properties of plants) – kids love that!
- Ask your guide to choose an easy path
How are the jungle camps?
There are several different jungle camps in the Gunung Leuser Nation Park where one can have an overnight as part of the jungle trek. They are all situated next to the Bohorok river, so you can have a fresh bath at the jungle camps.
However, beware that the camping here is not glamorous! While you sleep under mosquito nets against insects, the mattresses are thin. The toilet is a simple squat toilet. So this tour is not for the glamorous traveller.
Instead, expect fun, adventure and a back-to-nature experience! You’ll never forget your night sleeping in the lush jungle, and waking up with the morning sounds of the monkeys and birds!
How is the food
In contrast to the jungle camps, the meals are of relatively good quality. All meals are freshly prepared; at Local Guides, we even send a private cook with you to the jungle.
- For breakfast, there are typically banana pancakes and tea.
- For snacks, there are a lot of fresh fruits to choose from ranging from pineapple, oranges, mangoes to passion fruit and melons.
- In the evenings, there are several options to choose from ranging from tasty chicken dishes, a traditional Sumatran fish casserole, vegetable dishes, with fried potato or rice, and with – of course – fresh fruit. Throughout the evenings, you can take biscuits, tea or water.
In case you have any dietary restrictions, just inform your guide about it in advance so that they can accommodate for when doing the shopping.
How to get to Bukit Lawang
Fly to Medan. The gateway to Bukit Lawang is the Medan, Sumatra. Fly to Kuala Namu International Airport in Medan. From Medan it is ±3/4 hours driving to Bukit Lawang.
By Local Bus (budget travellers). Most local buses to Bukit Lawang leave from a terminal at Kampung Lalang, on the outskirts of Medan. Local buses can get you here for around 6,000 Rupiah, but you may need to learn a bit of Bahasa Indonesia to survive! From Kampung Lalang, a minibus to Bukit Lawang will cost ±30,000 Rupiah per person, and the journey will take 4-5 hours. Be prepared for a lot of Indonesian music being played by the driver! Last bus to Bukit Lawang leaves at 17.30hrs.
By Luxury Bus. A more luxury option is to take a tourist bus to Bukit Lawang. These depart from near the Grand Mosque in Medan and they are relatively good quality buses (by Sumatran standards) that don’t break down as often as the minibuses. The price for a bus ticket is ±100,000 Rupiah.
Private Transfer (Recommended Option). The most comfortable and fastest way to get from Medan to Bukit Lawang is by taxi. You won’t have any hassle of finding the bus terminal and are not restricted to the timetable. If you do a Bukit Lawang Jungle Trekking with us, you can book the private transfer directly with us for a price 600.000 IDR for up to 5 people. You can be picked up at your hotel or airport in Medan.
Where to stay in Bukit Lawang
A recommended accommodation in Bukit Lawang is Ecolodge . It is a beautiful facility and it also donates parts of the proceeds to the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme.
Another recommended accommodation is Sam’s Bungalow .
What is the best period to visit Bukit Lawang
Orangutans can be seen all year round as part of a jungle trek from Bukit Lawang.
From a weather point of view, the best period to visit Bukit Lawang is in dry season in the period April – September. The busiest period is July – August.
The wettest period is December – January: There are still mostly periods with sunshine but also frequent heavy rain falls typically at the end of the afternoon.
The shoulder periods October-November and February-March are quite good periods to visit Bukit Lawang as well. While there are rain falls in this period, these last just for a few minutes. Also there are very little tourists in this period, so it will feel as if you have the village and the Gunung Leuser National Park all for yourself!
Is Bukit Lawang a Touristic Destination
Over the past few years, Bukit Lawang has seen the number of visitors rise significantly. Together with Lake Toba, Bukit Lawang is considered the touristic hotspot of North-Sumatra. However, it is still a small village, with plenty of locals not living from the tourist sector, and compared to other places such as Bali, Flores or the Gili islands, the village feels still authentic and during the day it is easy to chat with friendly locals.
Also during the day most people are trekking in the jungle and you can relax in the beautiful village almost on your own or chat with the friendly locals. But during the main season from May to August it is likely that you will encounter other groups during the jungle trek. At Local Guides, we do our best to avoid the mass also during high season.
Do Not Feed Orangutans & Respect the Environment
Feeding orangutans is an absolute no-go. All our clients are instructed to treat orangutans respectfully, keep a safe distance, do not touch them, and do not feed them. The orangutans are wild, and should be treated accordingly.
Feeding orangutans may at first sight seem innocent or even a kind gesture, but it will make them aggressive towards humans, lazy to find their own food, or even sick.
We believe it is our responsibility to respect nature and educate our clients about the fragility of it. And we know that travellers will treat our jungle with the same respect once they understand the environmental consequences of our behavior.
Also, please always make sure you do not throw anything away in the jungle. Our guides will pick-up the rubbish they will see along the way and therefore the jungle is still very clean despite the number of visitors, but our goal is to further increase awareness and sense of responsibility among all visitors so that there wouldn’t be any rubbish to pick up at all:-)
What to bring for your Bukit Lawang Jungle Trekking
- comfortable/closed shoes for the trek
- sandals or flip-flops for walking in the river
- light trousers and shirts with long sleeves
- insect repellent (DEET 40%)
- small backpack for the trek
- mobile charger for your electronic devices
Where to go after Bukit Lawang
A popular combination of destinations in North Sumatra is Bukit Lawang, Tongkahan, Berastagi, Lake Toba.
Tangkahan is ±2 hours away from Bukit Lawang by car and is known for its elephant sanctuary where visitors can wash elephants and do elephant trekking.
The popular activity in Berastagi is climbing the volcanic mount Gunung Sibayak. Especially the sunrise volcano trek is a beautiful and satisfying activity. The climb is easy and takes ±2 hours; other activities include visiting traditional villages, natural hot tubs or the famous Berastagi market. It is ±5 hours driving from Bukit Lawang.
Lake Toba has been formed by a super volcanic eruption ±70.000 years ago. In the heart of the lake the idyllic Samosir Island is located which is the place to be around Lake Toba. In addition to the pristine scenery and serenity, you can learn here about the local Batak Culture, relax at the beach, explore the island by motor bike or play with the friendly and curious children.
- Day-to-day-itineraries for North Sumatra tour packages
(for the itineraries, click on the tab Sumatra Tours above the image slider)
- Prices & Availabilities are found on the online booking form
7 Unbelievable Facts
About Komodo Dragons
- Inspiration for King Kong. In 1926, William Douglas Burden set sail with a team of adventurers to capture the mythical Komodo dragon. Other explorers had already confirmed the existence of these ‘land crocodiles’ in the East Indies, but none of the animals had been brought to the west alive. William Douglas Burden did manage to capture 2 Komodo dragons alive, that were debuted at the Bronx Zoo and attracted tens of thousands of captivated visitors. Burden’s friend, the filmmaker Merian Cooper, injected elements of Burden’s adventurous trip into his then-upcoming movie, King Kong (1933).
- Reproduction without partner. Even without partners, female Komodo dragon can produce eggs. Interestingly, all hatchlings from eggs without outside fertilisation are males. It has been hypothesised that this reproductive adaptation allows a single female to enter an isolated ecological niche (such as an island) by establishing a sexually reproducing population with her male offsprings.
- Short Age in Captivity. While Komodo dragons can live up to 30 years in the wild, they only live a few years in captivity.
- Two Penises. Male Monitor Lizards, a close relative to Komodo dragons, have a double penis that are often used in alternation.
- Cannibalism Ten percent of their diet is made of newly hatched Komodo dragons. Young Komodo dragons therefore dwell in trees, safe from cannibalistic adults who are less proficient in climbing trees than the young dragons.
- Very sensitive tongue. With their tongue, they are able to locate carcasses of dead or dying animals that are located up a distance of 9.5 km (5.9 mi).
- Komodo Dragons Avoid Humans. Unlike anecdotes of unprovoked Komodo dragon attacks – often from unreliable sources or caused by defensive attacks – Komodo dragons avoid encounters with humans. Juveniles are very shy and will flee quickly into a hideout if a human comes closer than about 100 metres (330 ft). Older animals will also retreat from humans from a shorter distance away. If cornered, they will react aggressively by gaping their mouth, hissing, and swinging their tail. If they are disturbed further, they may start an attack and bite.
Note: Because Komodo dragons can lay very still up to the point they look asleep or even dead, unaware visitors can get very close for a picture/selfie – this could trigger a dangerous, defensive attack. Therefore, always follow the strict guidelines from rangers and keep a safe distance at all times.
The Ultimate Guide to Flores & Komodo
Would you like to see Komodo dragons yourself? Read about the Komodo Boat Tours by Local Guides and meet the Komodo dragons in Komodo- and Rinca Island, as you snorkel and trek around the majestic landscapes and fascinating underwater world around Komodo National Park!
Flores & Komodo
The Ultimate Guide
What are the best Komodo & Flores Overland Tours?
The most popular activity around is a Komodo Island Boat Tour to see the Komodo dragons in Komodo Island or Rinca Island, enjoy the viewpoint from Padar Island, snorkelling/diving around the rich corals and colourful fishes and swim with Manta Rays.
7 Unbelievable Facts about Komodo Dragons
For budget travellers, there are 1-day boat trip in (packed) boats that have basic facilities. If you don’t have high expectations on the boat and just focus on the activities, you will enjoy this affordable tour. You can book a shared 1-day Komodo tour upon arrival in Flores
Travellers that care more about comfort, book a Komodo Island Liveaboard Tour in a private boat with private staff. We recommend to use a boat with AC cabins because it can be quite hot at night.
Day-to-day-itineraries for all Komodo & Flores Tours
(for the itineraries, click on the tabs above the image slider)
While there are 2 Day / 1 Night (2D1N) and 4D3N Komodo Tours as well, the most popular is the 3D2N version. Below is the day-to-day itinerary for the 3D2N Komodo Tour.
Itinerary for 3D2N Liveaboard Komodo Tour
DAY 1: Labuan Bajo >> Kelor Island – Rinca Island – Kalong Island
Pick up at the airport or hotel in the early morning, and drop off at the harbor where you enter the boat and meet the staff. You start sailing around 8 am towards Kelor island. Here, you can snorkel and have short hike to enjoy the beautiful panorama from the top of the hill.
Lunch is served on the boat. Then, you cruise to Rinca island to meet the dragons and other wildlife such as buffaloes, deers, monkeys, and wild boars. A ranger will accompany you on a 1.5 hour trek, during which you also go up hill and enjoy the panorama view.
The last destination of the day is Kalong Island where you see thousands of bats fly around you with sunset.
Enjoy a traditional Indonesian diner onboard and prepare for the night.
DAY 2: Padar Island – Komodo Island – Pink Beach
Enjoy the delightful breakfast on the boat and prepare for a 30 minute trek up hill to the top of Padar Island. This may be the absolute highlight of the day as the view is totally breathtaking!
Then continue to Pink Beach, one of favourite snorkelling spots during the trip. And yes, the beach is pink, so bring your camera with you! Lunch is served at this exotic place.
In the afternoon you sail to Komodo island, and a ranger accompanies you on a trek to spot the famous Komodo dragons. They are a bit bigger than in Rinca island.
Traditional Indonesian diner onboard, and then prepare for the night.
DAY 3: Taka Makasar – Manta Point – Sebayur Island >> Labuan Bajo
Your first stop is at the picturesque white beach at Taka Makassar, where you can relax or swim. The next destination – Manta Point – is nearby, and here you meet the giant Manta while snorkelling!
Continue to Sebayur island, where you can enjoy for the last time the beautiful underwater scene. Then it is time to sail back to Labuan Bajo, where you’ll be dropped off at your hotel or the airport.
Flores is also known for its beautiful overland tours through the lush, volcanic landscape via off-the-beaten-paths. Popular tours are the 2D1N Kelimutu Tour and 2D1N/3D2N Wae Rebo Tour. But the most beautiful and recommended tour is the 4D3N Flores Overland Tour during which you visit both Kelimutu, Wae Rebo, and other traditional villages, and beautiful nature and rice fields.
Below is the day-to-day itinerary for our 4D3N Flores Overland Tour. You can find the day-to-day itineraries of all other Flores Overland Tours on our Komodo & Flores Overland Tour page (click on the tab “Overland Tours” above the image slider).
4D3N Flores Overland Tour Itinerary
This tour starts in Labuan Bajo and ends in Maumere or Ende. The reverse itinerary is also possible.
DAY 1: LABUAN BAJO – RUTENG
Pickup at your hotel in Labuan Bajo around 8 am (or at the airport as long as you land before 9 am). As we drive towards Ruteng, we make stops at Melo village for a panorama of Labuan Bajo, at Lembor to see a large rice terrace and at Cara Village to see the beautiful Spire Web Rice Terrace Field. In Ruteng we stop at Ruteng Pu’u to visit the traditional houses of the Manggarai tribe, before we check-in at our hotel.
DAY 2: RUTENG – BAJAWA
After breakfast we continue the tour with the first top at Tepo Rakot, where we can enjoy a panorama of the rice terrace. Next we visit the Rana Mese Lake in the rain forest, and then visit Aimere village and learn about the process of making palm wine. The next village Bena is located in the slope of Mount Inerie and is the traditional village of Bajawa people. In the afternoon, we will relax in the Hot Spring at So’a. Then we check-in at the hotel in Bajawa.
DAY 3: BAJAWA – MONI
We continue the journey after breakfast and drive to the hot spring where we can swim and relax. The next stop is at Nanga Penda, where walk along the Blue Stone Beach [picture] and where we have lunch. We continue towards Ende and stop at the Museum of Bung Karno and visit the traditional villages in Saga [picture] and Wolo Gai [picture]. Finally, we arrive in Moni where we stay overnight in a hotel.
DAY 4: MONI – KELIMUTU – MAUMERE
We start the trip at 4 am and drive for an hour for the starting point of the mountain trek. The hike to the top of Mt Kelimutu takes about 45 minutes.
Here we will witness a beautiful sunrise, relax and enjoy the magnificent view of the Kelimutu lake. We drive back to the hotel for breakfast and check-out, and then we continue either to Ende or Maumere, depending on where you are flying from. If you fly from Ende, we will drive you directly to Ende; if you fly from Maumere, we will drive to Maumere and make stops at Koka Beach, Old church and Waring traditional village.
Book your Komodo Flores Tour with Local Guides
How to get to Labuan Bajo
Fly. The gateway to Flores is Bali. There are frequent flights from Denpassar (Bali) to Labuan Bajo and it takes ± 1 hour. You can book both your international flight to Bali as well as domestic flights to Labuan Bajo via Skyscanner. Consider booking a window seat to enjoy the beautiful view when approaching Flores.
Since recently there is also a direct flight connection between Labuan Bajo and Makassar, Sulawesi! So this tour can be perfectly combined with a Tana Toraja Tour (known for its world famous funeral ceremonies and treks in breath-taking landscapes off-the-beaten-path).
Boat from Gili Island. An adventurous way to get to Labuan Bajo from Gili island is by boat, and the standard tour is 4 Days / 3 Nights. We only recommend this option for low budget travellers that have plenty of time, because the facilities onboard are very basic. Most travellers prefer to fly from Gili to Labuan Bajo via Denpassar (there are no direct flights).
Where to stay in Labuan Bajo
The recommended accommodation in the top segment (especially for families or for a peaceful stay) is Villa Domanik. While on a walking distance from the city centre, this peaceful resort is far from the city buzz and is located on a hill with a beautiful panorama of the mountains and the sea.
What is the best period to visit Flores
The dry season is the best and most popular season to visit Flores. In the Western part of Flores, the dry season is in the period mid April – mid October, while in the Eastern side the dry season starts a weeks earlier and ends a few weeks later. During this period the humidity is low and there is little rain.
Another good period to visit Flores is in the shoulder months October-December and March-April. In this period it only rains occasionally in Labuan Bajo and Maumere, and when it rains it is also for a short period. There are still enough sunny days to even visit the beaches and there will be much less crowd in this period compared to in the dry season. However in the mountains it will rain daily, typically in the late afternoon. Overland tours are still recommended as we expect only few limitations during this period that we can accommodate by having shelter or relaxing a little bit during the short rain fall.
The rain season is at its worst in January and February. It is expected to rain daily in most regions, especially at the end of the day, and there could be storms and high waves. These months can be very stormy and cause high waves. It is the best time to dive on the south side of the Komodo National Park. We do not recommend Flores Overland Tours in this period, and it is possible that the tour itineraries for the Komodo Tours will be adjusted depending on sea/weather conditions.
What are the entrance fees to Komodo National Park?
Entrance tickets are needed to enter the Komodo National Park. The tickets are valid for 1 day, and there are no discounts for children or KITAS/KIPAS holders. For Indonesian citizens, the entrance fees to the National Park is 5000 IDR and 7500 IDR per person during weekdays and weekends, respectively. The prices tend to increase annually.
|Komodo Entrance weekdays||150.000 IDR
|Komodo Entrance weekends||255.000
|Komodo/Padar Tourism Tax||100.000
|Komodo/Padar Ranger Fee||80.000
per group of 5 pax
What to Bring to your Komodo Tour
- Long pants
- Long sleeves
- Swimming suits
- Comfortable shoes for the trekking
- Small backpack for the trekking
- Insect repellent (DEET 40%)
- Sun lotion
- Flash light
- Rain coat
Where to go after Flores?
The gateway to Flores and Komodo National Park is Bali. Travellers usually break their stay in Bali to explore Flores and then return back to Bali.
Since recently, there is a direct flight connection between Labuan Bajo and Makassar. Therefore, it is now also possible to combine Flores with visiting Tana Toraja, which is known for its funeral ceremonies, and has among the most scenic hiking treks through bamboo forests, coffee & cacao plantations and rice terraces.