The majority of visitors to Kalimantan come for one reason: to see orangutans in the wild. There is nowhere better to do this than Tanjung Puting. This is the most popular national park in Indonesia, and the one where you’re most likely to see wild orangutans. It is also well set up to cater for tourists and offers an experience which is both adventurous and safe. The park is an important centre for conservation of the apes. This has a lot to do with Dr. Birute Galdikas, a Lithuanian primatologist whose work here informed much of what we know about orangutans.
Getting to Tanjung Puting
Flying to Pangkalan Bun
The easiest way to get to Tanjung Puting is to fly to the airport at nearby Pangkalan Bun. From here, it’s a short taxi ride to Kumai, the nearest town to the national park. Current destinations from the airport include Jakarta, Semarang and Surabaya. However, as always, this is subject to change, so check the latest information before you plan your trip.
Getting to Tanjung Puting by boat
The only other simple way of getting to Tanjung Puting is to catch a boat from Java to Kumai, the nearest port to Tanjung Puting. There are a couple of Pelni boats per week between Semarang on Java and Kumai, but this ferry takes around 72 hours. There is also a weekly boat between Surabaya on Java and Kumai, which takes about 24 hours. This is obviously much longer than it takes to fly, but it is cheaper, too. However, domestic flights in Indonesia tend to be very reasonably priced, so it is probably not worth getting the boat.
While you may want to combine your trip to Tajung Puting with a visit to Balikpapan, it is not as easy as it might look on a map. Kalimantan is huge – it takes up most of Borneo, the third-largest island in the world – and most of it remains wild and undeveloped. It can take several days to travel overland by bus, or mean paying for several domestic flights.
From Pangkalan Bun/Kumai to Tanjung Puting
Once you get to Pangkalan Bun or Kumai, you cannot just walk into the park if you’re travelling independently. First, if you’re flying into Pangkalan Bun, you are requested to register at the police station. In Kumai, you will have to register at the park headquarters. Both places will require photocopies of your passport and visa.
This is one reason why it’s easier to visit Tanjung Puting as part of a tour, although it’s perfectly possible to do it independently – it just requires a bit more effort.
How to Arrange a Klotok Riverboat Tour
The most popular way to experience Tanjung Puting is with a cruise on a klotok riverboat. Klotoks have been in use for hundreds of years and are a traditional wooden boat used to navigate Indonesian rivers. Klotok cruises can easily be arranged in Kumai. They start from around Rp 200,000 per person.
The classic klotok cruise lasts for three days and two nights, and will see you sleeping and eating on the boat. You will cruise up the river, stopping at feeding stations where animals come to eat. You’ll also make stops at rehabilitation centres and research centres. This is a good way to experience the park, as the boats do not disturb the animals and you can watch them going about their business on the riverbanks.
You are pretty much guaranteed to see orangutans on a cruise in Tanjung Puting. Other animals you can hope to spot include proboscis monkeys, with huge noses and even bigger bellies; two species of crocodile; and sun bears, among many others. Cruising up the river on a wooden boat for days at a time is also very romantic and feels like a great adventure.
Where to Stay When You’re Not on a Cruise
Kumai and Pangkalan Bun both have several backpacker lodges where you can stay either side of your trip, while Pangkalan Bun also has a handful of upmarket hotels, such as the Grand Kecubung Hotel. If you want to stay inside the park itself, the best option is Rimba Ecolodge, which offers comfortable accommodation with a fantastic location right in the rainforest.
Treat the Animals with Respect
Orangutans are beautiful creatures, and their eerie similarity to humans and, sadly, increasing rarity, make them very special. Furthermore, many of them are unafraid of humans and will walk very close to you, particularly at feeding stations. For these reasons it can be tempting to try to approach or touch them – don’t.
Orangutans are smaller than humans, but many times more powerful than us. They are also unpredictable, even if they are being rehabilitated or have been raised in captivity. Treat them with respect and caution and it’s better for both them and you. The same goes for the myriad other wild animals in the park. You wouldn’t try to pat a gharial crocodile – apply the same logic to the orangutans.
Tanjung Puting is a national park in Kalimantan, one of Indonesia’s wildest and most beautiful provinces. It is one of the best places in the world to see orangutans in the wild. It’s relatively easy to reach from elsewhere in Indonesia with a flight to Pangkalan Bun. The classic way to experience the park is with a multi-day river cruise on a traditional klotok riverboat. Along the way, you will spot animals form the riverbanks and stop off at feeding stations and research centres, where you can really see orangutans up close.
Have you been to Tanjung Puting National Park? Do you have any suggestions other than those listed above? Please let us know in the comments below.