Sumatra Travel Advice
EcoTravel’s Sumatra Travel Guide (FAQ)
Sumatra – the name does not only suggest adventure: for most travellers, this country with its foreign culture and often still limited western amenities is full of it! Of course, we have taken all the necessary measures on site to ensure you have a wonderful Sumatra holiday. But nothing is more essential for a relaxed stay abroad without unpleasant surprises than first-hand information – and happy EcoTravel guests remain our top priority. Below you will find an overview of our very exclusive Sumatra travel advice on recurring questions (FAQ) ranging from accommodation to tips for a stay in Bukit Lawang and sustainable Sumatra travel and jungle trekking.
Although it is difficult to recommend a fixed sum of money we can give a few guidelines: after your arrival in Bukit Lawang you have to pay for entrance permits to the national park and a tax for using cameras before starting your trek (150.000 IDR / pax). For keeping extra luggage in a locker room during overnight treks there is a small fee at around 20.000 IDR at most of the guesthouses. At our EcoTravel Cottages and at The Hangout@ EcoTravel, storing luggage is free for our guests. If you require a local porter for carrying your luggage from taxi/bus stop to your chosen guesthouse, their fees range from 50.000 -100.000 IDR (per person / one way). Yet again, if you are staying at our EcoTravel Cottages or at The Hangout@ EcoTravel, you enjoy free local porter services upon arrival/departure! Meals in Bukit Lawang are available at approximately 50.000 IDR per person, including soft drinks or water. One small bottle of beer is around 30.000 IDR. Unfortunately Bukit Lawang is a bit more expensive than other places in Sumatra.
The most important items are cash money, good walking shoes/hiking boots, a flashlight/torch and mosquito repellent! There is no chance to change money, electricity often breaks down and to keep you safe from mosquito bites you should buy a mosquito repellent with a minimum content of 40% deet in advance. More information can be found on our website under “Travel Tips & Packing List”.
What about the standard of accommodation in Bukit Lawang? Do they have air condition and hot shower?
In Bukit Lawang air con rooms are not common. In this jungle village you shouldn’t expect a Bali standard! But our choice of guest houses is the best option to stay there with clean rooms, good standard and reliable service. Apart from EcoTravel Cottages and The Hangout@ EcoTravel, which offer a “western” bathroom and hot shower, most other guesthouses have cold running water. If you wish to have your room cleaned please tell reception because it’s not common to clean rooms every day – except in our EcoTravel Cottages and The Hangout@ EcoTravel with daily room cleaning service. Quite good standard can also be expected from Hotel Deli River in Medan, Tabo Cottages (Lake Toba) and Freddies Santa Sumur Tiga (Pulau Weh).
There is no ATM machine in Bukit Lawang and its surroundings. As an exclusive service to our guests we also change Euros and US Dollars and offer credit card payment (Visa & Mastercard / 3% charge) in our EcoTravel office in Bukit Lawang, if required. Unfortunately, if you fail to pay your final cash payment to the tour operator team after arrival, it is not possible to start your tour. Note: The maximum amount you get from ATM machines in Sumatra is 2.5 Mio IDR so you have to make several transactions to get a higher amount! Due to frequent problems with ATM machines we recommend to take 2 -3 different credit cards with you.
There are a couple of things to be aware of: a good mosquito/insect repellent should be applied at least twice a day (in the morning and in the evening) to your clothes and your body (ears, wrists, ankles). Sensitive western stomachs may be rather upset by Indonesian „street food“: it is prepared in the morning and stays on display for hours so it is often contaminated with bacteria. Instead, restaurant food is usually prepared freshly and comes at a reasonable price. Switch off your mobile phone or tablet pc during thunder storms as there are no lightning conductors in the jungle. To avoid being bitten or to even catch rabies, we recommend strongly not to touch any animals around the village, especially pets. Furthermore, don’t drink local alcohol. Apart from local ‘gin’, ‘whisky’, ‘vodka’ and ‘arak’ which are all available in and around Bukit Lawang. Extreme caution is advised because cheap, adulterated local alcohol has already caused serious health problems and even some deaths. You are also quite likely to be offered marijuana in Bukit Lawang. It is illegal and can get you in big trouble with the police if you are caught.
Restaurant food varies widely. However it’s always free of pork, because most people in Bukit Lawang are Muslim. But there’s a big choice of western and Asian food around your guesthouse. Our favourite (and clean) spots for delicious food around our EcoTravel Cottages are (walking distance 1 min to 5 min): Waterstone: professionally run restaurant offering a small but well selected, excellent menu of Indonesian cuisine. We can also recommend Chicken Rendang and Chicken Semur. How to get there? From EcoTravel Cottages walk downstream along the river for about 5 minutes, the restaurant is on your left from the walking path. Eriono Artshop & Restaurant: Indonesian, Balinese and Italian cuisine, run by a young local couple. Recommendations: Vegetable Curry, Sambal Terong, Spaghetti with Tomato Sauce. How to get there? From EcoTravel Cottages walk down river for about 5 minutes, restaurant is on your right from the Walkingway, opposite Lawang Inn. Lawang Inn: Professionally run restaurant with moderate prices offering a fusion of Indonesian and European cuisine. We can recommend any Curry, but there is also a big breakfast menu as well s freshly baked bread. How to get there? From EcoTravel Cottages walk down river for about 5 minutes, the restaurant is on your left from the Walkingway. Garden Inn: Cosy and clean backpacker restaurant offering traveller’s cuisine. Recommendation: Chicken Barbeque. How to get there? Walk up river from the EcoTravel Cottages for about 1 minute, along the Walkingway to your right (after Riverside Guesthouse)
Currently our maximum group size for jungle treks is up to 7 persons. Especially in low season you may sometimes be on your own. The maximum group size for tours around Bukit Lawang and for transportation is 8 persons.
Is there a difference in prices and standards of EcoTravel treks compared to other tour operators or guides in Bukit Lawang? Most of the others include the national park permit? Why is it excluded by you?
The official price list for jungle trekking in Gunung Leuser National Park issued by the Indonesian Tourist Guides Association is based on a minimum group size of 3 people and includes the park entrance permit/camera tax of 150.000 IDR/pax. But our EcoTravel prices are based on a minimum group size of 2 persons only for most of our popular trekking tours (except Bufferzone Trek and Observation Treks). There are no additional costs, even if no other guests join your group. Along with our exceptionally delicious food we provide double tents, sleeping bags, pillows, mattresses, mosquito nets, safety jackets and helmets for children. These features make trekking safer and more comfortable for EcoTravel guests. But our team has to use official camp sites and the usual “jungle toilets” in the national park. As opposed to some others our team follows the official rules of the national park office and pays the required entrance permit to the national park for each guest. For reasons of transparency we list the national park permit separately from our trekking fees. By adding both figures they sum up to the official standard charge per person. Before you start trekking, your permit is handed out to you. But please note that some tour operators or guides do not follow the rules of the national park, do not pay permits for their guests, neither do they register them. Each traveller in Bukit Lawang is supposed to hold a permit before they start trekking (DIN A6 format, 4-colour, with registration number!).
Tips are neither expected by EcoTravel team members nor by drivers or staff at our accommodation partners. Everybody who works with EcoTravel is well paid. But of course if you feel that you have received a very good service, you are welcome to give a small tip from 50.000 up to 100.000 IDR. Each of our team members will be happy about this! Please give the tip directly to the staff member you want to reward for his/her service.
We can pick you up from your Medan hotel and take you back to your hotel any time from 07:00 am to 07:00 pm. If you would like to book a pickup service with our EcoTravel team from Medan airport to the jungle, please note that your flight should arrive before 15:00 pm. For your transfer from Bukit Lawang back to Medan airport your flight departure should be after 13:00 pm. EcoTravel-tours are group tours, so there will be other EcoTravel guests joining you if their arrival/departure is at the same time. Currently our maximum group size for tours and transfers is up to 8 people but especially in low season you may sometimes be on your own. Please remember it’s a 4 hour drive from Kuala Namu Airport (KNO) in Medan to Bukit Lawang so the later you arrive the later you will get to Bukit Lawang. And if your jungle trek starts the next day you will have to get up early.
From Medan to Bukit Lawang? What’s the latest we should arrive in the jungle on the day before our trek will start? What is your Sumatra travel advice?
We really recommend arriving in Bukit Lawang no later than 18:00 pm! Between 16:00 pm and 19:00 pm there will be a meeting with your guide team in our EcoTravel Cottages where you will receive important information and an introduction to your trek starting the following morning. During our special “Meet & Relax Happy Hour” you will meet other EcoTravel guests and our team will answer all your questions. This social gathering, a nice warm up for the next day, is not to be missed! However, if no earlier flights to Sumatra are available and a late afternoon pick-up service with our EcoTravel team from Medan Airport to Bukit Lawang is required, we will be happy to organise this exclusively for you. Just remember that the transfer from Medan Airport to Bukit Lawang takes about 4 hours, so the later you arrive, the later you will arrive in Bukit Lawang. On arrival you will need to walk from the taxi stop to the EcoTravel Cottages for about 25 minutes – and if your jungle trek starts the next day you will need to get up early. If you arrive late you may also have problems with dinner, as most restaurants in Bukit Lawang close at 21:00 pm. However, if there is no other option than arriving late at Kuala Namu Airport in Medan, we would actually advise you to simply arrive a day earlier – and why not stay in an airport hotel before you start your jungle adventure? Our transfer service could arrange a relaxed pick up service from your hotel in Medan the next morning – and you could profit from another half day the jungle of Sumatra. Relax, swim, join an additional half day tour or simply discover this beautiful jungle village on your own. This is our very own Sumatra travel guide for EcoTravel guests – to help you all having an unforgettable time in the Sumatran jungle!
Your website lists fixed starting dates for your packages. We arrive in Medan one day earlier, could we shift the start of our tour?
To keep up our good service we run all our tours and jungle treks in Bukit Lawang on fixed days suiting our well selected Sumatra touring packages. Arrival/departure in Bukit Lawang is usually on Fridays/Saturdays/Mondays. Some Sumatra tours also start on Tuesdays or Thursdays . However, we can tailor each package to match your specific requirements! It is possible to add some nights before or after a package. You are also welcome to skip, change or add some tours in Bukit Lawang and/or extend your stay with our partners on Lake Toba, in Medan or on Pulau Weh. We will do our best to suit your needs – subject to availability! And if all this still doesn’t match your travel plans, why not join our jungle trekking tours only and book accommodation and transport individually somewhere else?
EcoTravel packages are offered in different prices ranges – deluxe, superior, standard, budget and basic budget. What exactly are the differences between these categories?
In order to meet the different needs of our lovely guests, EcoTravel’ Sumatra Tours come in different price categories. The options “budget” and “basic budget” include the lowest room category without views and do not include transfers to/from Medan. If you prefer a better room type but do not require transfers you can book any of the above packages (deluxe, superior, standard), but without transportation. The Superior Package with room type Jungle View Room at EcoTravel Cottages in Bukit Lawang is always listed in detail on our website. At our partner Tabo Cottages at Lake Toba, our EcoTravel guests will stay in a Junior Suite with air-con. The higher price of the Deluxe Option results from the best room option in Bukit Lawang (Jungle View Suite / EcoTravel Cottages) and our choice at Lake Toba (Toba Suite with fan / Tabo Cottages). Rooms chosen for our Standard Option are smaller and in a lower price range. Guests will stay right next to our EcoTravel Cottages in our new accommodation “Hangout@EcoTravel” (Orangutan Room/Jungle View Room). At Lake Toba you will stay in Tabo Cottages’ Batak Villa (fan). Note: In contrast to a variety of room types and rates in Bukit Lawang and at Lake Toba, there is only one room type chosen to accommodate EcoTravel guests at our partners in Medan, Berastagi and on Pulau Weh (Deli River Hotel/Deluxe Room, Nachelle Homestay/Volcano View Room, Freddies Santai Sumur Tiga/Seaview Beach Appartement). However, in cooperation with all our accommodation partners we are giving our best to present you with the best value for money.
We have booked the package „Sumatra Highlights“. Is it possible to extend our stay for 1 or 2 nights at certain spots on a spontaneous basis?
No, unfortunately this is not possible because all your room and transport arrangements have to be booked in advance.
Is it possible to have vegetarian/vegan food included in the package? Is it hard to find vegetarian/vegan food in Bukit Lawang, Tangkahan, Pulau Weh or Lake Toba whenever the food is not included?
Vegetarian/vegan food is possible. Just let our team know on arrival. They will prepare vegetarian/vegan food during your trek. In Bukit Lawang there is also a range of good restaurants (Waterstone, Eriono, Garden Inn or Ecolodge). In Tangkahan the Mega Inn offers good food – just tell the waiters about your dietary needs when placing your order. Tabo Cottages on Samosir Island offer a delicious vegetarian menu. Freddie on Pulau Weh and Hotel Deli River in Medan will create meals catering especially for vegetarians as well as guests with allergies.
At most times you will see orangutans on our jungle treks but there is no guarantee! These animals live out in the wild and it’s hard to determine where they will be at any point of the day. But our jungle treks leave Bukit Lawang at 8:30 am and go past the old orangutan feeding area where you will have the best chance to see semi-wild orangutans up close. Probably you will not see tigers because they live in remote parts of Gunung Leuser National Park which would mean many days of trekking from Bukit Lawang.
Our guides speak English.
Do we have to carry all our kit while jungle trekking or will there be a porter? Do we need to bring sleeping bag or a mosquito net? And what about toilets?
There will be a porter for the equipment (tent, camping mats, mosquito nets) and all the food. Just bring your personal belongings in a small backpack (1- or 2-day-treks: 20-25 litres / 3- to 5 days-treks: 30-40 litres). Our team will provide sleeping bags as well as safety jackets for tube rafting. It is not necessary to bring a mosquito net for trekking but if you like you can fix your own net in our tent to be on the double safe side. Concerning toilet arrangements: this is real jungle trekking! You will find many “jungle toilets” behind big trees!
Yes, especially our jungle observation treks are hard to do because there are many hills to go up and down and the climate is extremely humid. You should be a very active person and in very good physical shape. It is within your own responsibility to have a thorough check up with your doctor before you set off!
We have two quite young children who are not very experienced walkers (although they are sporty). Do you think the overnight trek would be appropriate? Is tube rafting safe for children?
Yes, many of our young guests did it already – and they loved it very much! Basically most of our jungle trekking tours (except Jungle Explorer & Observation trek) are only suitable for children aged 5 and older. For your safety we will send an extra guide and we will do a shorter and easier trek so the children can have an earlier break at the camp. The following day after swimming, relaxing and having lunch the highlight of the day will be traditional tube-rafting down the Bohorok River back to Bukit Lawang. Our team has been running safe rafting tours for many years. Of course we provide life jackets and helmets for children.
We’re only 2 people but some treks have a minimum group size of 3. How much do we have to pay to start this tour?
In case we still don’t have bookings for your requested date we have to increase the price based on the minimum group size. If there will be other guests joining you then our team in Bukit Lawang will give you a part refund on arrival.
I am traveling on my own but most of your packages have a minimum group size of 2. How much do I have to pay to take part in your tours?
All our trekking tours are based on a group size of up to 7. Single travellers will be charged for at least two persons. If there are other guests joining you while trekking or for a day tour, you will get an advance discount based on the separate tour prices stated in your booking confirmation or a refund on arrival in Bukit Lawang. Please note: Prices for transport and rooms are per item which means that the basic rate also applies for single travellers – as published on our website! So – that’s our advice for single travellers to keep costs down: when travelling on your own, booking a budget range hotel can save you money.
There is no real ‘season’ to visit Bukit Lawang. The rain season from October to February means torrential rain – but generally only in the afternoon/at night and it rains at moderate temperatures. Unfortunately the climate in Southeast Asia has been changing in recent years so accurate predictions are not possible! But we do not recommend travelling during Indonesian public holidays because hundreds of local visitors will crowd all Indonesia. This is our our Sumatra travel advisory because this is something that western tourists may find annoying because it can be a lot more noisy and hectic everywhere. If visiting Bukit Lawang on a Sunday it is wise to head for something quieter, such as jungle trekking, going to Landak river or to Tangkahan.
Try to leave as little behind as possible. Anything you bring into the jungle should be taken with you as you leave. In addition we are currently the only tour operator in Bukit Lawang who pays staff to clean and maintain our campsites on a regular basis for your comfort. Our team has committed itself, environmentally and socially, to ecological and responsible outdoor adventures. So EcoTravel Bukit Lawang is a member of “The International Ecotourism Society” (TIES) since January 2012. More information can be found on our website under “About Us”.
Our team in Bukit Lawang has been into guiding for many years and never witnessed an accident. We have an excellent reputation to keep our guests safe, but to be honest you will be out in the wild and you will be involved in Indonesian traffic. You should understand that tours arranged by EcoTravel Bukit Lawang also involve certain risks and dangers. These include: traveling in mountain terrain, trekking in dense rainforest and crossing rivers; unpredictable behavior of wildlife; accidents caused by the forces of nature; accidents or illness in remote regions with little or no medical facilities and without any means of rapid or free evacuation; accidents caused by Indonesian traffic. So please note: insurance lies within the responsibility of each traveller or group to cover for accidents, injury or loss of property. Our Sumatra travel advisory: You should especially make sure with your health insurance to cover for foreign travel, jungle-trekking, transport and the like!
Which deposit do we have to pay? And what is your cancellation policy regarding COVID-19 and future travel warnings?
The deposit to secure your booking depends on the total amount, the type of tour and the rooms required but starts at a minimum of 20% of the total price. If you cancel your Sumatra tour within 90 days prior to arrival there will be a cancellation fee of 20% of the total price. If you cancel later we will keep the total deposit ranging from 20 – 100%, depending on your individual booking. However, if you have problems getting to Sumatra on your scheduled date because of COVID-19, our standard terms and conditions do not apply. Being a small family business, a refund is difficult for us as we are still sustaining a lot of locals by employing them and by using their services as suppliers. However, none of your money will be lost: we would ask you to use your deposit for postponed bookings up to two years later. This is how we will act in any future pandemic including official travel warnings.
To secure your booking we usually require a 30% – 50% deposit depending on your chosen package. Please pay the deposit stated in your booking confirmation because the payment methods through Paypal, via Transferwise or by bank transfer will restrict your and our costs to a minimum. Unfortunately it is not possible to make an advance payment for the full package price in Euros through Paypal. Your total package price would also have to be increased because of additional fees and exchange rates. But if required we can offer you to pay the total package price in IDR to our Indonesian bank account. Package prices are exchanged from Euro to IDR on the day of the booking. Any changes to the rate between booking and arrival are not taken into consideration.
The remaining payment is due after your arrival in Bukit Lawang. Your driver will pick you up at the airport in Medan. He will wait outside the exit bearing a sign with your name on it and bring you to Bukit Lawang. One of our team members will meet you at your guest house. After check in there will be an informal meeting to discuss details of your tour and to do the final payment. Please pay in Indonesian Rupiah and please be kindly informed that it is not possible to start your tours without advance payment in cash. As an exclusive service to our guests we also change Euros and US Dollars and offer credit card payment (3% charge) in our EcoTravel office in Bukit Lawang, if required. Your remaining payment is based on the exchange rate of your day of booking. Any changes to the rate between booking and arrival are not taken into consideration.
You’ve sent me two documents with terms and conditions, one for Sumatra EcoTravel Bukit Lawang and another for Sumatra EcoTravel. What’s the relation between the two and what relations do I have with both regarding my trip?
We are one EcoTravel family working together in a partnership as follows: Sumatra EcoTravel (Christina) handles all bookings and email correspondence BEFORE you travel. The team of Sumatra EcoTravel Bukit Lawang, owned by Kembar & the EcoTravel team, is your tour operator DURING your stay. Sumatra EcoTravel acts as disclosed agent for the tour operator Sumatra EcoTravel Bukit Lawang. When you make a booking the contract it will be only between you and your tour operator Sumatra EcoTravel Bukit Lawang.
No, we’re sorry but we don’t book flights but on our website we recommend airlines and flight search engines (cheap tickets, skyscanner). Actually Lion Air cannot be booked online. But there is a website a few EcoTravel guests recommend this to book flights (nusatrip.com), just try it! However, we are happy to provide Sumatra travel advice and organize sustainable tours, jungle treks and accommodation in Northern Sumatra.