Once upon a time, Indonesia was home to thousands of tigers across three subspecies. In addition to the Sumatran tiger, there were Balinese and Javanese varieties, both of which were sadly hunted to extinction in the mid-20th century. Today, only the Sumatran tiger remains. The population is estimated at around 500, and declining.

Even at the best of times, tigers would have been difficult to spot – they are famously shy, and largely nocturnal. However, it is still possible, although unlikely, to spot Sumatran tigers in the wild. The best place to do it is Sumatra’s largest national park, Kerinci Seblat.

Kerinci Seblat National Park

Kerinci Seblat is thousands of square miles of thick rainforest on the western edge of Sumatra. As well as the Sumatran tiger, it is home to lots of other rare and beautiful animals and unusual plants. These include the rafflesia, a bizarre plant with huge flowers measuring several metres across.

These plants are parasitic, feeding off other plants, and stink of rotting flesh – earning them the nickname ‘corpse flower’. Kerinci Seblat is also home to the incredibly rare Sumatran rhinoceros, who are believed to be fewer than 100 in number. These are the world’s smallest rhinos and are unusual in having a coat of red-brown fur all over their bodies.

Getting to the Park

The majority of visitors to Kerinci Seblat will arrive via Padang, the nearest large city. While it’s not exactly close – around 3-4 hours drive away from the park – Minangkabau International Airport is well connected. Destinations include Jakarta and Solo on Java, as well as Batam in the Riau Islands.

Internationally, you can travel to and from Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. Be aware that taxi drivers at Padang airport are notorious for charging exorbitant fares to the national park. You may be better off heading into Padang itself, maybe spending the night there, and then organising transport to the park the next day.

What to do in Kerinci Seblat National Park

Spotting tigers at Kerinci Seblat

Many, perhaps most, visitors to Kerinci Seblat, come mainly for the chance to see the Sumatran tiger in the wild. It should be pointed out that they are very elusive creatures, and you should certainly not count on the fact that you are going to get to see one. For one thing, they are largely nocturnal, live solitary lives, and are incredibly shy. That being said, this is the best place to see Sumatran tigers in the wild, and sightings do happen occasionally.

While you might not see the tigers, it is much more likely is that you’ll see signs of the tigers rather than the cats themselves – particularly droppings, prints and scratch marks in trees. Tigers live throughout the park, and guided walks through various stretches of rainforest are available and offer chances to spot them.

Scale the mighty Gunung Kerinci

Indonesia is known for good reason as the Land of Fire, and the national park is home to no fewer than five active volcanoes. The biggest, and most volatile, is Gunung Kerinci. It erupted in 2013, and is Indonesia’s tallest volcano. Needless to say, it’s not an easy trek, but it’s a very scenic and rewarding one.

Treks begin at the entrance to the park and are split into two stages. First, you’ll hike up to a campsite at 3,400 metres, which takes around half a day. You’ll then spend the night there before getting up early the next morning to make the hour-long trek to the summit.

It’s a demanding trek, but the views of the sunrise from the top will make it all worthwhile. On the way, you’ll pass some of the beautiful and unusual flora and fauna which make Kerinci Seblat such a great destination. If you’re lucky, you’ll spot langurs, lizards, edelweiss and corpse flowers, among many others.

The trek up Gunung Kerinci is a popular one. Many visitors are happy for this to be their main or only activity in the park. The cost of a trek, including a guide, meals, park fees and transport starts at around Rp 900,000 per person. It’s a bit expensive, but worth it for the experience.

Spot rhinos amid the Sulphur Pools of Ladeh Panjang

Nowhere is Kerinci Seblat more otherworldly than the rainforest of Ladeh Panjang. This is an area of sulphur lakes and hot springs in the west of the park, and is off the beaten hiking track. As it is quieter than the rest of the park, you may have a higher chance of spotting tigers here. It’s also a good place to catch a glimpse of the Sumatran rhino, one of the most endangered rhino species in the world.

Another unusual creature that lives here is the tapir, a large pig-like mammal with a bulbous nose. Adventurous trekkers can embark on a five-day journey through this section of the park – a real rainforest adventure, but not for the faint of heart.

Final thoughts

Kerinci Seblat National Park is one of Indonesia’s largest and most beautiful national parks. It is home to diverse ecosystems, from thick rainforests to simmering volcanoes. These habitats are home to a wide range of animals, some of which are critically endangered. The most famous of these, and the main reason why many visit the park, is the Sumatran tiger.

The last of the Indonesian tiger subspecies, after the Balinese and Javan were wiped out, it is a rare and elusive creature, but this place offers the best chance to spot it. If you love nature make sure to add Kerinci Seblat to your Indonesia bucket list. You won’t regret it!

Have you been to Kerinci Seblat National Park? Do you have any suggestions about what to do there other than those mentioned here? Please let us know in the comments below.