Welcome to the Tanjung Puting National Park Guide. Maybe the name doesn’t sound like anything, but you surely do know the famous safari aboard houseboats or klotoks to see the Bornean orangutans in their natural habitat.
If you are starting to prepare your trip to Indonesia, you will surely have already crossed paths with this destination so demanded by travelers from all over the world. You can also see orangutans in Sumatra or other parts of Borneo, but today we will focus on Tanjung Puting National Park. With this post I want to help you plan the visit to Borneo as part of your trip to Indonesia and a summary of how important this place is for the planet.
Tanjung Puting National Park is located in the southwest of the island of Borneo, in the Indonesian part, called Kalimantan. It has a size of 416,000 hectares of jungle, with some parts of mangroves, salt flats and rainforest. The island of Borneo, along with Sumatra, are the only two places on the planet where these great apes still live in the wild and in 1977 it was designated as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.
Despite this and its declaration as a national park, it suffers constant threat due to illegal logging for agricultural uses, specifically for the production of palm oil. This is causing elimination of thousands of species, including Bornean orangutans. Tanjung Puting National Park has been erected as reference center in conservation and care of these primates. They rescue them from deforested areas and reintegrate them into the park, where they live in freedom and provide them with food.
The orangutan (word that comes from the Indonesian/Malay language; Orang=Person, Hutan=Jungle) is a species of great apes that is in danger of extinction since 2016, leaving about 9,000 orangutans throughout the island of Borneo. This number is in decline because of disappearance of its habitat, due to palm oil plantations; oil that is used among others for sweets, biscuits and even jet fuel.
Sharing with us humans, 97% of the DNA, one of the main characteristics of bornean orangutans is their reddish-orange hair. Males have large skunks, especially alpha males and a reddish-haired beard (females have little cheek and no beard.)
Skunks are actually cavities or air pockets that the male uses to make quite noisy calls. The estimated lifespan of an orangutan is 35 to 45 years, and females can weigh 40 kilos, while males can weigh 80 kilos and measure a meter and a half in height. During the mating season, the male and female spend a few days together and gestation lasts between 8 and 9 months.
The baby orangutan is born in one of the daily nests that the female builds and stays with the mother until at least 7 years old, at which time she abandons it and she becomes pregnant again. During this period the baby will learn to survive and make his nest as well as to know the foods that it can and cannot eat. The fact that the youngster spends so many years with the mother, makes a female orangutan only have 2-3 offspring during its life.
The wilder Bornean orangutans (those that have not been introduced for rehabilitation) are harder to see during travels, but not impossible. Wild Orangutans can often be seen on river banks and in the Interior of the national park. Most of the orangutans approaching the feeding camps have been those who have been rehabilitated and released.
These orangutans may have been babies that lost their mother after being killed by farmers, former pets of people or circus, or wounded orangutans that are brought to the clinic of Dr. Birute Galdikas and after being ready to return to the jungle, they are released in the National Park.
Wild orangutans often make a kiss-like sound, and it means they don’t like humans and want to protect their area.
During the trip in the national park it is totally forbidden to touch the Bornean orangutans, as humans can cause them many diseases and also the other way around.
Orangutan mothers with youngsters can act quite unpredictably and be aggressive if you get too close. It’s important to keep your distance and stay quiet for as long as you’re at the feeding camp.
The food given to the Bornean orangutans by the rangers consists of bananas, milk, corn, sweet cane, and wild fruits. The reason for feeding orangutans is to give them a daily supplement of food, especially in times of few fruits. In this way they prevent the orangutans from going outside the national park and falling into the hands of palm farmers.
Tourists and guides are forbidden to feed the orangutans to prevent them from getting used to the human hand and can become aggressive animals asking for food from tourists through attacks.
PLEASE, NEVER FEED THE ORANGUTANS DIRECTLY.
On most trips through Tanjung Puting National Park you will sail on the famous houseboat called Klotok. The klotok is a wooden boat, which will be your accommodation during the contracted nights (not for those who book the stay in a hotel or lodge.)
The name Klotok comes from the sound produced by the engines of those “kolotok – kolotok” boats. Originally these river boats were used to transport people upstream, goods and even floating markets. Now the Kumai River have been modified for tourism, there are various sizes of boats depending on the size of your group. From small boats for 1-2 people, to larger ones for 13-14 people. When there are larger groups, we divide them into several boats to be more comfortable.
Klotoks have two decks or floors. The lower deck is for the captain and crew, the kitchen and the common bathroom (Which can be one or two bathrooms depending on the size of the boat.)
The upper deck is for you. During the night the sleeping area is prepared with mattresses, sheets, pillows, and a mosquito net that will make you spend a comfortable and quiet night with the shook of the boat and sounds of the jungle. In the morning everything is collected, and the table is placed for eating, chairs and some mattress to rest or to take a nap.
The boat has a roof that will protect you both day and night in case of rain. Everything is measured to the centimeter to make the most of the space. Although the boats in general are quite basic and simple, the crew and your guide will make everything very comfortable and you end up having, possibly, the best experience of your trip in Indonesia.
To get to Pangkalan Bun there are 3 main options:
From Semarang by direct flight (about 3.5 hours from Yogyakarta by car.) We can organize this transfer for you by private car with AC both from Yogyakarta to Semarang and vice versa.
From Jakarta by direct flight. If you are coming from Jakarta, we recommend spending the night before in a transit hotel near the airport with airport transfers included.
From Surabaya by direct flight. If you are coming from Surabaya, here we also use a transit hotel for the night before located in the same airport.
NOTE: A direct flight between Yogyakarta and Pangkalan Bun has started operating only two days a week.
Once you arrive at Pangkalan Bun airport, a representative will be waiting for you to transfer to the port of Kumai where you will embark on your klotok. It takes about 15 min by car.
The arrival time to Pangkalan Bun must be at 12.00 the latest to be able to arrive in time to visit the first camp at 15.00. If your flight is delayed and you go on a private trip, the crew will still wait for you to start the trip but with the risk of missing the first and only camp on day 1.
If you book a shared trip, the klotok will leave at the scheduled time so that the rest of the travelers can arrive on time to the first camp.
If you do not arrive later than 14.00, we can organize a speedboat that will take you to the camp and at the end of the klotok will be waiting for you in the river. The speedboats have a capacity for 3 people and cost around 25-30 EUR/boat.
Remember that you can write to us at email@example.com to book flights or only to inform you of the schedules as well as any other services you need to get to Pangkalan Bun.
In 2021, the 50th anniversary is celebrated since the president and founder of the OFI (Orangutan Foundation International) Dr. Birute Mary Galdikas which we will talk about later, she created a first camp in the jungles of Borneo to begin his pioneering study of orangutans. During her first week she helped confiscate an orphaned baby orangutan, thus beginning her pioneering work in the rehabilitation and protection of orangutans. The orphaned orangutan eventually grew up and returned to the wild.
In silence she devoted her life’s work to understanding nature and sharing her knowledge with the world. This first camp was named Camp Leaky in honor of her teacher and mentor, the Paleoanthropologist Louis Leakey. For a long time, this camp performed the functions of rescue, rehabilitation and reintroduction of Bornean orangutans into the wild, but since 1995, the Government of Indonesia banned this activity and thus it became a center of study, research and feeding of orangutans.
Alongside Camp Leaky, other camps were created to fulfill a specific function, preserve the exuberant biodiversity of Tanjung Puting and protect the Bornean orangutans.
These are Tanjung Harapan and Pondok Tanggui that I will talk about more extensively throughout this post.
It is well known that much of Borneo’s forests are being burned to turn the land into fertile palm oil plantations gaining territory to the natural habitat of Bornean orangutans. In their incessant search for food in the primary jungles and not knowing the limits imposed by man, the orangutans come to leave the jungle to feed on the fruits of palm oil to survive.
To minimize the damage that Bornean orangutans inflict on their crops, some palm oil producers offer rewards for individuals who are able to hunt the animals. Over the past decade, businesses have offered rewards of up to $100 to locals and workers. By a foot, a hand or the head of an orangutan as proof that the animal has been killed.
In this way, the feeding camps have been created in order that the Bornean orangutans, in addition to the food they can find for themselves in the jungle, have a supplement thus preventing them from going in search of more food to these palm plantations.
Each of the camps has a few specific hours of feeding. The rangers of the national park will make a call to them to let them know that the food is in the camp and it is at that moment where we will have the opportunity to see the orangutans arrive, collect the food or eat them in the same camp.
This activity is repeated every day of the year whether or not there are tourists.
ORANGUTANS ARE NOT FED FOR PROFIT PURPOSES FOCUSED ON TOURISM.
This camp is usually visited on day 1 of the expedition whether you arrive that same day in Pangkalan Bun or have slept in a hotel the night before. Due to its proximity to the port of departure of the klotok, as well as for the time of feeding (15.00) this camp is perfect to start our adventure in the jungle of Tanjung Puting.
Tanjung Harapan’s translation is Cape of Hope. This first camp is one of those that has more wetlands and being there in the afternoon means more mosquitoes so make sure you get enough repellent.
NOTE: If you have this camp scheduled on the first day and your flight is delayed, it is possible that the klotok, due to its slow navigation speed, will not arrive on time. If this is your case and you have contracted the trip with Come2Indonesia, we will organize a speedboat from the port to the camp so that you do not miss it. To arrive on time at the camp, the flight must arrive at Pangkalan Bun around 14.00. After visiting the camp, the klotok will already be waiting for you in the river to pick you up and continue the journey.
Pondok Tanggui is always visited in the morning at 09.00, after breakfast on the boat. Of the three camps, Tanggui is located in one denser jungle so the road has a great variation of tropical plants, and it is possible to find the Raflesia, the largest flower in the world. If you like macro photography, you will surely enjoy this trek to the camp full of tiny jungle species.
Pondok Tanggui is an additional camp created to help Bornean orangutans from different groups stay inside the National Park, as Leakey was already overcrowded and needed to have another place within the park but far enough away to avoid problems between alpha males.
Tanggui was a release zone for semi-adult Bornean orangutans, today they are still looking for areas where they can release orangutans and that they can live in freedom, but the increasingly narrowness of deforestation, makes that every day it is more difficult to find forest large enough to put groups of orangutans rehabilitated without the danger of them running from other groups of orangutans or palm oil plantations.
At the end of our visit to Pondok Tanggui and back to the boat, you can learn more about the flora and fauna that you will find along the way from the hand of your guide.
Established in 1971, and as we named above, Camp Leaky is the most important camp in Tanjung Puting National Park. Originally composed of just two cabins, Camp Leakey is now a set of permanent wooden structures designed to provide a base for scientists, staff, students and rangers. Over the years, Camp Leakey has supported the research efforts of dozens of scientists and students.
Projects range from Bornean orangutan behavior, studying proboscis monkeys, gibbon and leaf-eating monkeys, to studies of orangutan sign language skills and cognition, leeches behavior, and river system ecology. Camp Leaky as a center for research and rehabilitation of orangutans previously, has cured and returned to the jungle, at least 200 orangutans.
At 14.00 you can see the feeding moment of the orangutans and you can visit the small museum made by the scientist Dr. Birute Galdikas.
Upon observing the Bornean orangutans in this camp and if time and conditions permit, we will do a gentle hiking through the jungle back to the boat to look for wild orangutans and other animals. On the way we will have the opportunity to learn from our local guides, some of them born in the jungle, how to look for carnivorous animals or plants or simply, listen to their experience of life in the jungle.
Camp visits vary greatly depending on how much time we are enjoying each one and the conditions of the moment. Sometimes there are many orangutans and also good weather, so we will be longer. And other times it might be that there are fewer orangutans, or suddenly it starts to rain, so we’ll spend less time. The average is usually one to two hours at each camp.
When the Rangers arrive with the food, they start making calls and you will see how the trees begin to move through the jungle and the orangutans begin to come. You will have enough time to capture this moment, both when they arrive and when they collect the food. There are even times when you have to step aside because they want to go through where you are.
In 2016 in the port of Kumai there were around 60 Klotok ships (in 2010 there were 18 ships). During a day in the months of October to June, you will find during your visits about 10-15 Klotok each day making exactly the same visits as you, so you will have on the feeding platforms another 20 – 40 people enjoying the encounter with orangutans.
But in July and August this changes. It is the high season, when everyone can take a vacation and want to see the magnificent Orangutans. That’s when the boats are not enough, and there are many people who run out of boat for not booking in advance and on each visit you will have about 20-30 boats doing the same visits as yours, and about 50-100 people in each camp. In Leakey, it’s sometimes more than that.
We control very well the times to make the most of and have the best places to see the Orangutans, arriving before everyone else, and moving to try to be alone as long as possible, even during hiking before and after the camps.
We are also pioneers in organizing a new tour to a river where other tourists do not usually go. It’s the Buluh Kecil River, and this is an extension of one more night that you can add to your trip and meet the Bornean orangutans practically alone with guides and rangers! I’ll tell you about this extension below.
As you will have seen on many websites, most travelers spend 3 days and 2 nights to visit Tanjung Puting. And we also recommend it if you want to visit several areas of Indonesia on your trip and you come with a fixed time. However, the experience in Borneo is so mind-blowing that it always gets short. In these three days of journey (counting the arrival and departure), you can visit the 3 camps and spend two nights in the jungle.
For the more adventurous or those who want to spend more time with Bornean orangutans, there are several options.
Come2Indonesia is a pioneer in organizing a trip to a part of the national park to which tourists almost do not visit and you can do it as an extension to your trip with us and discover an almost intact area. One condition only: Respect and love for the orangutans are a duty to come and see them here.
It is located in a part of the national park where only the park rangers live in a house on the wetlands and in an incredibly beautiful area. To get there we must do it in small speedboats, because the river is narrow and sometimes very shallow.
In the past, orangutans were fed at 07.00 on a platform on the river, a time that we observed from our boats, but that has changed to 14.00, time at which it is no longer possible to be in that part of the jungle due to weather conditions.
Due to its proximity to the houses of the rangers, orangutans usually hang around the area so our objective is to look for its trace learning to distinguish an old nest from a newly made one thus finding out if they are close or not, differentiating the sounds of the branches or their own sounds.
If you’re in the klotok doing a 3-day or 4-day tour, at 5.00 in the morning you will be picked up at the Klotok, and we will sail for about 1 hour and a half, going out to the open sea and entering Buluh Kecil. During the way upriver that you will start in complete darkness, you will see how the night is giving way to a unique sunrise in the jungle of Borneo.
Once we enter the new river, our search for the great variety of birds that inhabit this river and the rest of the animals begins, with the help of the technical data sheets that your guide will take with you. The orangutans of this area have had less contact with humans so you will see them in a wilder mode. In addition, having the river so empty of boat traffic, it is common to see them in the water.
Then we can visit the house of the rangers who live permanently there to protect the area and have a tea or coffee with them, while listening to the morning sounds of the jungle. An unforgettable place. Again in boats, we go downstream to take you to the port and transfer you to the hotel.
An authentic wildlife quest! We CANNOT assure you that you see them, but if you do, it will be a of the most rewarding experiences you take away from Borneo.
In addition to Bornean orangutans, in this jungle also inhabit proboscis monkeys, kalaos birds, macaques, crocodiles
and monitor lizards
One of our most frequent travelers and already a friend, Pedro Mora of Viajeros Chicharreros, has already visited this part of the jungle on two occasions. In these videos you can see how he lived his experience.
In Tanjung Puting there are no mountains so almost all the roads in the park are flat. In some parts you will walk on bridges or wooden walks made to avoid flooding, others through the jungle with some other part a little slippery, but for the most part it’s always plain and simple. Talk to the guide if you want to go more or less, travel longer or shorter paths, depending on you and the family/children you bring.
Although it is known that Indonesia has two seasons (wet and dry) Borneo’s tropical climate is generally sunny and hot all year round and with a high percentage of humidity (90%). The average year-round temperature is 32 degrees during the day and 20-25 at night, although you may have to pick up a sweater in the early hours.
Being an island mostly covered by river forests, it is very common that during the day the rain falls that is usually strong but not long lasting. If you ask which months that it rains more than average, those months would be between November and March, while the driest months of the year are therefore between April and October. Always bring a small rainy and sweater for your trips in Indonesia. Check out our post of when to travel to Indonesia by destinations and months that will help you choose the best time to come.
Malaria is a problem in almost all of Indonesia, especially in Eastern Indonesia (Nusa Tenggara, Moluccas, Flores and Papua.) In Lombok, Sulawesi, Borneo, Java and Bali there may also be malaria but not as often as in the east of the country.
Mosquitoes that produce malaria are usually more active in the evening hours. The best way to avoid malaria is to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes. Mosquitoes can cause other diseases such as Dengue, so it is highly recommended to bring mosquito repellent with a high concentration of DEET (at least 50%). We also recommend wearing light-colored clothes and long sleeves at sunset. Garish colors attract mosquitoes.
Today, there are two types of medicines-prophylaxis towards Malaria, Larian and Malarone. We do not recommend the Larian, because it usually has side effects, especially for those travelers who want to go diving after the trip to Borneo. Some divers have had false symptoms of decompression due to the consumption of the Larian. Malarone is in the opinion of most doctors, the best prophylaxis for malaria, most effective and with fewer side effects.
In other places where orangutans can be seen such as Sumatra, there have also been cases of Chikungunya. This is also a virus produced by the mosquito bite and the effects are similar to dengue (high fevers.)
If you wish, you can do a night hike which we usually do on the first night. It is recommended that you let us know before going to Borneo that you wish, to be able to notify the national park and the guide. Thus the guide will be prepared, and will have located the best places according to comments between guides and their visits the previous days/weeks. During night hiking you can see Tarantulas, Tarsiers, Scorpions, luminescent Zetas, and hopefully (or not) the Nebula Leopard, cobras, Malay Bear, etc.
Scientist, conservationist and educator for more than four decades, Dr. Biruté Mary Galdikas has studied and worked closely with bornean orangutans in its natural habitat, and is today the world’s highest authority on orangutan.
Galdikas was born after the end of World War II, while her parents were on their way to Canada from their homeland of Lithuania. Galdikas grew up and went to school in Toronto. After pulling her first book out of the library, Curious George, at the age of six, Galdikas was inspired by the man in the yellow hat and his rebellious jumpsuit. By second grade, she had decided on her life’s work: she wanted to be an explorer.
When her family moved from Canada to the United States in 1964, Galdikas had already completed a year of studies at the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Vancouver. She continued her studies in natural sciences at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), she quickly obtained her bachelor’s degree in psychology and zoology in 1966 and her master’s degree in anthropology in 1969. It was there as a graduate student that she first met Kenyan anthropologist Dr. Louis Leakey and spoke with him about her desire to study orangutans.
Although Dr. Leakey seemed disinterested at first, Galdikas convinced him of her passion. After three years, Dr. Leakey finally found funding for Galdikas’ studies on the orangutan, as he had previously done with Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey for their respective studies on chimpanzees and mountain gorillas.
At 25, Galdikas arrived in Borneo to begin her field studies on Bornean orangutans in a jungle environment extremely inhospitable to most Westerners. Galdikas proceeded to make many invaluable contributions to the scientific understanding of Indonesia’s biodiversity and the rainforest as a whole, while also calling the rest of the world’s attention to the orangutan.
When she arrived in Borneo, Galdikas settled in a primitive hut of bark and straw, on a site she called Camp Leakey. Once there, he encountered numerous poachers, legions of leeches and swarms of carnivorous insects. However, he persevered through many tribulations, remaining there for more than 30 years while becoming an outspoken advocate for orangutans and the preservation of their rainforest habitat, which is being rapidly devastated by loggers, palm oil plantations, gold miners and unnatural conflagrations.
Galdikas’ conservation efforts have extended far beyond defense, focusing primarily on the rehabilitation of the many orphaned orangutans that were given to her for her care. Many of these orphans were once illegal pets before becoming too smart and unwieldy for their owners. Galdikas rehabilitation efforts through Orangutan Foundation International also include the preservation of the rainforest.
The value of Galdikas’ work has been recognized in television shows hosted by Steve Irwin and Jeff Corwin on Animal Planet. In addition, the importance of Galdikas’ concern and work in preserving Indonesia’s rainforest has been reinforced by the January 25, 2007, biofuel article in The New York Times and the November 2008 article in National Geographic magazine, “Borneo’s Moment of Truth.” Galdikas’ organization, OFI, is also involved in a reforestation project, planting native trees in previously destroyed rainforest areas.
Really by the time you take a trip with us you are already helping the conservation of the national park because we try to make our travel is as sustainable as possible. To this end, among other efforts, we avoid the use of plastic in our boats, we give you reusable bottles for water, we use disposable bamboo wipes, we avoid palm oil in our meals and we organize annual cleanings of the river.
If you’re still interested in helping even more, there are several ways to do it:
1. Do not buy any product containing palm oil (in Indonesian: minyak kelapa sawit.) Large international and local companies burn the jungle to plant that palm tree. The resulting oil produces many products of reputable brands such as Lays, Oreo, margarine and even chocolate among many more.
The average says that for every hectare they burn of jungle, at least 6 Bornean orangutans die, along of course birds, snakes, pigs, etc. A palm tree has an estimated lifespan of 26 years, after which, once that period has passed, companies directly abandon that land and burn new land. Why? Because it is cheaper for them to burn and plant again than to cut trees, because palm trees have large roots and acids that make it more complicated and expensive to do a second replanting. Many species of protected plants and animals have continued to be cut down and killed in the name of these burnt plantations and national parks, but the corruption and money these companies pay to local governments make them turn a deaf ear to this problem.
2. Use soap, shampoo and products that we give away while you are on the boat and avoid using other products in your shower, because the poluted water goes directly to the river.
3. You can donate to several NGOs operating in the area, we recommend IAR, OFI and FNPF as 3 of the most serious organizations operating in Kalimantan.
4. Plant a tree. Join the reforestation we include in our 4 days trip and you will have the experience of being part of that jungle! If you want to do it on the 3-day trip, do not hesitate to tell us and we will do our best to put you on the trip.
Come2Indonesia is a legal company, with permanent offices and physical management and a team of more than a dozen professionals who will be taking care of every detail of your trip both in Borneo and elsewhere in Indonesia. Our trips have a 99.9% success, you can read reviews and comments on many forums, and places on the Internet where all our travelers praise us for the careful work.
Our guides are official (4 of them speak Spanish) highly valued by the Association of Guides. Every year we provide our guides and new ones with courses and training with what we believe is the best way to behave and act with our clients.
Our guides have a high knowledge of the flora and fauna of the national park and leave their skin in letting you know for the duration of the trip. We spare no expense when preparing meals and we assure you that on our boats you will have possibly the best meals you have during your trip to Indonesia. (If you follow a specific diet or there is a product that you can not consume, let us know in advance so we can notify our cooks.)
All our Klotok boats have bathroom, shower and electric generator (the latter turns off during the night to be able to sleep simply with the sound of the jungle.) We want our trips close to perfection because we know that nowadays, the best advertising of a company is the customer, and we want to always cover beyond your expectations!
In addition, we keep our boats maintained and we avoid the use of plastics on our klotoks and palm oil in meals. We donate 10 Euros for each of you who come to the jungle with Come2Indonesia for reforestation, we organize annual cleanings of the river and we have a 100% local crew ensuring a quality and learning experience with the environment.
In addition to all this, and as a base point, we organize and pamper this experience a lot because we are nature lovers and we want to teach the beauty of that national park and help protect it through tourism.
We say goodbye with this video so that you can start savoring your trip to the center of the jungles of Borneo and remember that you can contact us for more information through this post, through the tour of our website that you like the most or by writing directly to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Enjoy your trip to Borneo!
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