Encounter Wild Orangutans in Borneo – Exploring Taman Nasional Tanjung Puting Rainforest
Borneo’s Taman Nasional Tanjung Puting Rainforest, located in the Indonesian part of Borneo, is one of the largest and most diverse habitats for orangutans in the world. It is also one of the very few places in the world where people can observe those magnificent creatures in their natural environment. As orangutans are one of our closest relatives in the animal kingdom, it is a deeply moving experience. The journey to the rainforest is an adventure in itself. It involves flights, boat rides and treks through a dense jungle. In this blog post, we’ll delve into the awe-inspiring experience of encountering orangutans in the wild within the Taman Nasional Tanjung Puting Rainforest.
- Where are the Wild Orangutans in Borneo
- How to get to Taman Nasional Tanjung Puting Rainforest in Borneo
- Best time to visit Borneo
- The feeding platforms
- The tour in Taman Nasional Tanjung Puting Rainforest
- The itinerary and cost
- Our experience meeting wild orangutans in Borneo
- What to pack for your adventure
Where are the Wild Orangutans in Borneo?
Wild Orangutans are located both in the some Malaysian and Indonesian parts of Borneo. But in this article, we will focus on our experience in the Taman Nasional Tanjung Puting Rainforest. It is located in the southern part of Indonesian Borneo. Spanning over 400,000 hectares this region is renowned for its rich biodiversity, including various species of flora and fauna, most notably the endangered Bornean orangutans. Visitors access the park through the town of Pangkalan Bun. It’s the gateway for embarking on expeditions into the rainforest.
By the way, did you know that the word ‘orangutan’ means ‘a person of the forest’ in the Indonesian language?
How to get to Taman Nasional Tanjung Puting Rainforest in Borneo
Getting to Taman Nasional Tanjung Puting Rainforest requires you to fly to the Indonesian province of Central Kalimantan, specifically to the town of Pangkalan Bun.
Pangkalan Bun has a small airport (Iskandar Airport) that serves domestic flights from major cities in Indonesia, including Jakarta, Surabaya, and Balikpapan. Airlines such as Garuda Indonesia, Lion Air, and Sriwijaya Air (Nam Air) operate direct flights to Pangkalan Bun. We flew with Sriwijaya Air (Nam Air) from Jakarta. The journey took 1h15min and cost apx 150 EUR pp.
↬ NOTE: A week before our departure to Pangkalan Bun, the company delayed the flight from 5:45 am to 14:40 pm. Since we chose a group tour, we were worried the tour will depart without us. However, it turned out that all participants were on the same flight, so the boat waited for us. Unfortunately, this meant that we lost half a day of the experience in the rainforest.
Upon arrival at Iskandar Airport in Pangkalan Bun, you’ll be picked up by your company driver. He will take you to the port town of Kumai, which is the starting point for boat trips into Taman Nasional Tanjung Puting. The drive takes about 20 min.
From here you’ll embark on a boat ride along the Kumai River and Sekonyer River to reach the heart of Taman Nasional Tanjung Puting Rainforest.
Best time to visit Borneo
The best time to visit wild orangutans in Taman Nasional Tanjung Puting, Borneo is during the dry season, which typically occurs from May to October. This period offers more favorable weather conditions for exploring the rainforest and increases the chances of wildlife sightings, including orangutans.
We visited in August and had wonderful, hot and dry weather.
Summer months however are the busiest time of the year in term of tourism. Consider booking your trip at least a few months in advance if you plan to visit in July/August. Most people book their tour 3-4 months in advance.
A bit of the history
Tanjung Puting National Park was initially designated to protect the diverse ecosystems of lowland tropical rainforest. However, the park gained prominence as a critical orangutans habitat in Borneo due to the efforts of renowned primatologist Dr. Biruté Galdikas, along with fellow primatologists Dian Fossey and Jane Goodall, was part of the “Trimates” who studied great apes in their natural habitats.
In 1971 Dr. Galdikas established the Orangutan Research and Conservation Project in Tanjung Puting, focusing on the study and conservation of orangutans. Over the years, the park has become a cornerstone of orangutan conservation efforts in Indonesia, providing a safe haven for rehabilitated orangutans with the ultimate goal of reintroducing them into the wild, and serving as a research site for scientists and conservationists.
Today, the park is home to several orangutan rehabilitation centers, including Camp Leakey, Pondok Tanggui, and Tanjung Harapan. Those centers concentrate on researches and monitoring programs in the park providing valuable insights into orangutan behavior, ecology, and population dynamics.
The feeding platforms
In Taman Nasional Tanjung Puting, Borneo, orangutans feeding platforms play a crucial role in the conservation efforts aimed at protecting and rehabilitating orangutans. Many of the orangutans were living in captivity before being rescued, rehabilitated and reintroduced into the wild. The feeding platforms were established to supplement the diet of rehabilitated orangutans, ensuring they receive sufficient nutrients to support their health and well-being. The orangutans (both semi-wild and wild) are free to come for the feeding platforms or stay away. During the months when the forest provides plenty of food, they don’t even show up.
There are 2 feedings per day at each of the centers- the first one at 9am and the second one at 2pm.
During the dry months of summer when there is less food in the forest it is almost guaranteed that you will see the orangutans at the feeding platforms. The chanced decrease in the wet season, as the food in the forest is plenty.
The tour in Taman Nasional Tanjung Puting Rainforest
The only way to visit Taman Nasional Tanjung Puting Rainforest is with a tour on a traditional klotok boat cruise along the Kumai River and Sekonyer River. Klotoks are traditional wooden boats equipped with basic amenities such as seating areas, toilets and bathroom with shower and kitchen.
There are many tour options available. Most visitors choose 3D2N or 4D3N trip. This means that during those days you live on the klotok boat and make stops along the way to explore the rainforest. You can opt for a private tour or a group tour. Even if the private tour seems like a great option, we highly encourage you to choose the group tour instead. It will help limit the amount of boats on the Kumai River and Sekonyer River.
We chose the 3D2N group tour with a local tour operator Orangutan Houseboat Tour. Our choice was based on the opinions we found online and were extremely happy with our decision. We contacted Pardi via email and he organised everything for us.
We were a part of 8 people total group tour and we all became friendly already the first evening. During the day we exchanged stories and watched the proboscis monkey play along the river as we cruised. In the evenings we talked over delicious dinners. It was a super fun experience and even if initially we considered doing the private tour, we are very happy we chose the shared tour instead.
The itinerary and cost for a 3D2N tour to see wild orangutans in Borneo
Most tours operate on the exact same itinerary. It seems that since we visited in August 2023 the tours have changed a bit. They no longer offer the night jungle walk nor the visit to Tanjung Harapan Camp on the first day. Now a typical 3D2N tour follows this plan:
Day 1: Airport pick up, boarding the klotok boat and starting the cruise to the Taman Nasional Tanjung Puting. Dinner on the boat.
Day 2: After breakfast visit Pondok Tanguy Camp at 9am. Afternoon on the boat cruising to Camp Leakey. Visiting the Camp Leakey feeding at 2pm. After that cruise back to see fire flies along the river.
Day 3: After breakfast going back down the river to the town and the airport
Tour Includes :
1. Return transfer from & to Pangkalan bun airport.
2. Boat Transport : A wooden river boat about 15m by 3m / klotok.
3. English speaking guide and own chef.
4. All meals.
5. Admission fee and park entrance permit.
6. Accommodation 2 nights on the boat.
7. Ranger donation.
8. Mineral water, tea, coffee, snacks.
Tour Excludes :
1. Alcoholic beverage, laundry, souvenirs.
2. Self Insurance.
3. Any expenses incurred due to all causes beyond program (cancelled flight).
4. Personal expenses (Tipping for the guide & Crew).
5. Force major & Airport tax.
For a 3D2N group tour in August 2023 we payed 4000000IDR pp (apx 240 Eur).
You will need to send 50 usd deposit via PayPal to confirm your tour. You can pay the rest on the spot in cash.
Our experience meeting wild orangutans in Borneo
We absolutely loved our trip to Borneo. It was one of a kind experience. Living on the klotok boat for 3 days. Seeing the orangutans in the wild of Indonesian Borneo’s rainforest. Spotting the proboscis monkeys playfull in the trees. An exciting night walk in the rainforest. We would gladly do all those things again.
The boat was surprisingly big and had plenty of space for everyone. On the lower deck there were two western toilets and a shower room (with hot water!). On the lower deck was also the kitchen, where a private chef prepared all our delicious meals, the steering room and crew rooms. There were total of 4 crew members with us- our guide, the captain, a chef and an assistant.
On the main deck there were comfortable sun chairs, bean bags and mattresses where we chilled during the day. And a long table where we had all our meals. During the night the table was pushed to the side by the crew and 5 mattresses were spread on the floor. The crew hang mosquito nets above the mattresses. There were three doubles for the couples and 2 singles for a daughter and a father that traveled to Borneo together. The setting was very comfortable and we slept amazingly each night. It was a unique experience- sounds of the jungle singing lullabies as we were falling asleep.
Taman Nasional Tanjung Puting, like many other tropical regions, is home to mosquitoes, and there is a risk of mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria. Malaria transmission in Taman Nasional Tanjung Puting can occur year-round, although the risk may be higher during the rainy season when mosquito populations are more abundant.
Before traveling to Taman Nasional Tanjung Puting National Park you should visit a healthcare professional to determine if you should take antimalarial medications like Malarone. We personally opted against taking the medication, as I suffered terribly from the side effects in the past. However, we carried them with us in case of a possible infection.
To reduce the risk of mosquito bites you should apply insect repellent at all times while on the tour. We would shower and then reapply the repellent immediately afterwards. We repeated the process throughout the day multiple times. I got beaten only 3 times (immediately after the shower, when I still didn’t put the repellent).
What to pack
- Lightweight Clothing: Pack lightweight, breathable clothing suitable for the tropical climate
- Long-sleeved Shirts and Pants: Bring long-sleeved shirts and pants to protect against mosquito bites
- Rain Gear: bring a lightweight rain jacket. A sudden rain can happen even during the dry season
- Shoes: Wear comfortable, closed-toe shoes for walks through the rainforest (sneakers will be fine) and flip-flops for showers and walking on the boat
- Hat, Sunglasses and SPF: the sun is very strong mid day
- Mosquito Repellent
- Headlamp: it will be useful for nighttime activities
- First aid kit and other necessary medications
- Toiletries: bring travel-sized toiletries such as toothpaste, toothbrush, soap, shampoo etc
- Cash: you will need to pay the remaining fee in cash. Plus bring a bit extra for tipping the crew (we tipped 10EUR pp)