When you are in Indonesia, and you wonder where to go in Borneo and where to see Orangutans in the wild, Kutai National Park might not be the first park that comes to mind. We chose Kutai National Park as it offered the possibility to see wild orangutans in a less touristy environment, while still being reasonability accessible by public transportation.

This post contains affiliate links, which means we receive a percentage if you make a purchase using these links – at no cost to you. Our opinions are our own and are not impacted by these partnerships.

Where is Borneo?

Borneo is one of the major islands in Indonesia, actually the third-largest worldwide, and considered the largest in Asia. The island is north of Java, east of Sumatra, and west of Sulawesi.

The island is split between three countries: Indonesia covers 70+% of the territory, Malaysia 26%, and Brunei a tiny 1%.

Where to See Orangutans in Borneo?

In Indonesia, Kutai is less known than Tanjung Puting National Park, which offers more developed organized tours also sees more tourists. Gunung Palung National Park and Betung Kerihun National Park are in more remote locations and less infrastructure, meaning getting there and visiting more of a challenge. Kutai is in East Kalimantan, where the other three are in West Kalimantan.

On the Malaysian side, the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre is considered the most popular Orangutan sanctuary in Borneo. Another one is the Kinabatangan wildlife sanctuary. Both are around Sabah.

But let’s back to Indonesia and see why we chose Kutai National Park at that time.

 

Why Kutai National Park?

The East Kalimantan park covered about 2,000 km2 and was established in 1982 to prevent the former Kutai Game Reserve from further deforestation after a third of the forest was logged and worked by mining companies. However, the massive 1982 and 1983 Borneo fires burned another considerable part of the park. Today about 30% of the primary forest is left of what was that section of Borneo jungle in East Kalimantan.

How to Organize your Trip to See Wild Orangutans in Kutai National Park // Orangutan baby and mother

Orangutan baby and mother

Borneo has one of the oldest rainforests in the world, and one of the most diverse biodiversity. Kutai National Park offers a glimpse into this primal forest and includes different habitats, from tropical, coastal mangrove, swamps, and kerangas. Impressive trees like ebony, ironwood trees, Meranti trees, and dipterocarpus stand tall throughout the forest. The Borneo forest is an imposing sight!

The park is home to about ten different species of primates including the famous Borneon orangutans, Bornean gibbons, Proboscis monkeys, and 90 mammals such as Malayan sun bears, clouded leopards, marbled cats, and between 300 to 500 birds species such as Sun Birds and Hornbills. A recent survey shows that about 2,000 orangutans now live in the park, a sharp rebound from the dramatic decrease of the early years of 2000.

How to Organize your Trip to See Wild Orangutans in Kutai National Park // Feeling tiny standing by Meranti tree buttress roots

Feeling tiny standing by Meranti tree buttress roots

You need a ranger to accompany you on each hike, which is available one in the morning from 8 am, and one in the afternoon around 3 pm. Each lasts about two hours. While it might feel it should be easy to find your way as some of the trails are easily found, our ranger helped us find the orangutans each time. In addition to information on orangutans, he was also very knowledgeable in identifying other animals: the songs of the birds, the calls of other monkeys. He also made sure we checked every corner of the park in our search for the orangutans.

Given its remoteness and lesser popularity, we saw only a few tourists during our stay. A couple was there when we arrived but left the next day. Another person arrived on our second day and was there for two nights. In both cases, we were by ourselves during our Borneo jungle trek, just the two of us with our ranger. This private setting allowed us to take our time and spent one full trek morning with one group of orangutans. A private viewing was the highlight of our visit.

How to Organize your Trip to See Wild Orangutans in Kutai National Park // Crossing a slippery wooden bridge in the Borneo Jungle

Crossing a slippery wooden bridge in the Borneo Jungle

How to Organize Your Trip to Kutai National Park

Kutai is less known than Tanjung Puting National Park, which offers more developed organized tours also sees more tourists. Gunung Palung National Park and Betung Kerihun National Park are in more remote locations and less infrastructure, meaning getting there and visiting more of a challenge. Kutai is in East Kalimantan, where the other three are in West Kalimantan

We chose Kutai National Park as it offered the possibility to see wild orangutans in a less touristy environment, while still being reasonability accessible by public transportation. Click here to read about our experience watching wild orangutans in Kutai National Park.

While a couple of tour operators offer organized packages to Kutai National Park, you can also visit it independently.

Organized Orangutan Tours in Borneo

A couple of local tour operators offer a trip to the national park and can combine with an extension to see the Dayak people on the Mahakam River. Unless the tour company provides its tents for lodging, you will have the same conditions as staying independently in the lodge. Since you also need to be accompanied by a ranger, you will still need to follow the park regulations for hiking the area.

The organized tour can make sure there is room available in the Prevab lodge. However, after discussing with the rangers, it seems the two rooms are rarely occupied at the same time, and if so, one can sleep on the floor of the lodge by the dining area.

Most companies that organize tours will take you to the more popular parks. The lack of major tour operators also means fewer crowds, giving you a better experience in the jungle.

Tours to Borneo Orangutans

Seeing orang-utans is obviously one of the top Borneo things to do, and you might not be keen on preparing your own trip. A private guide would be the best way to get things organized for you.

How to Organize your Trip to See Wild Orangutans in Kutai National Park // Map of Prevab

Map of Prevab

Visiting Kutai National Park Independently

This is very doable and can be organized through the park rangers. See below details on how to get there. Most of the access is via public transportation, only the last section via canoe needs to be arranged with the park. The trickier part is to get hold of the rangers but can be done with a few phone calls to the right rangers.

Where to Stay in Kutai

There are basically two basic rooms in the Kutai National Park, with basic mattresses on the ground, and a mosquito net. Some nails let you hang a few clothes. The kitchen is mostly used by the rangers and local staff for visiting organized tours, but if you can nicely, you can probably use it too.

A simple bathroom with shower and restrooms is available. Don’t expect hot water but the sparse water will feel awesome as you clean the sweat of the day.

How to Organize your Trip to See Wild Orangutans in Kutai National Park // Kutai lodge

Kutai lodge

How to Organize your Trip to See Wild Orangutans in Kutai National Park // Room in the park lodge

Room in the park lodge

Where to Eat in Kutai 

Unless you organize your trip with a tour guide or tour operator, you need to bring everything. We stocked up with instant noodles, instant coffee, and some fruits. The lady from the local family and the rangers would boil water for us. Even tour operators and guides will buy everything in Sangatta and bring them to Kutai. The local family that will cook the meals can also organize this but they need to know that you are coming. This requires someone to speak Indonesian Bahasa to call ahead. Drinking water also needs to be brought in, unless you have a water filter as we did. We recommend shopping in Samarinda for better food choices.

How to Organize your Trip to See Wild Orangutans in Kutai National Park // Kitchen in the park lodge

Kitchen in the park lodge

Costs As Independent Travelers

  • Guiding fees 150,000 IDR / per 3-hour trek (usually one in the morning, one in the afternoon)
  • Room fees 150,000 IDR / night / room
  • Boat 300,000 IDR / boat for both ways
  • Park entrance 150,000 IDR / person / day
  • No camera fee
  • Food & Groceries: around 250,000 INR for 2

Contacts to Organize Independently

  • General office +62 813-4333-6345 (might only be in Bahasa)
  • Park Manager: Mr. Saragi 0811 581056 (Bahasa / English)
  • Ticket management Mr. Adi –  0821 5808 8945 (Bahasa / English)
  • Park Ranger Udin  081346417675  (Bahasa / English)
  • Pak Supiani (0813 4634 8803)
    Tourist coordinator Pak Supriono +62 81346348803
    Pak Willis (one of the guides) +62 81347045111
  • We also got the help from Dennis, a tour guide in Samarinda who has good contacts with the Kutai rangers. He was able to confirm our boat pickup at night with them.

Why are Orangutans Endangered in Borneo?

The rapid deforestation of the Borneo jungle for mining, palm oil plantation, agricultural development, and illegal logging has reduced the natural Orangutan habitat. In turn, the conflicts between humans and orangutans have increased as the animals search for environment where they can live and find food. This situation led to an Orangutan endangered species’ situation.

Traveling to see these endangered orangutans might be the option for protecting them in the long run. We are by no mean talking about mass tourism due to its lack of sustainability. But wildlife projects like managing Silverback gorillas in the Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda have seen positive impacts on how the local community sees the great apes. Protecting their environment and the animals bring greater benefits to them than poaching and logging the forest. In order to save the orangutans, similar projects could be developed in Borneo. However, to prevent from orangutan extinction, and limit further orangutan habitat loss, long-term ecological development must take precedence over the short-term economic enrichment.

East Kalimantan is facing numerous challenging. Protecting endangered wildlife and forests might appear of lesser importance in comparison to population survival and development. Some reforestation projects have been put in place but keeping the biodiversity as it also needed to be taken into consideration, not just simply replanting. Such projects are being implemented in Kutai National Park, and one can only hope more the restoration of the habitat of an orangutan population can take place.

While determining the causes of the problem is easy, finding the solution is not.

How to Go to Kutai National Park

Kutai National Park is located north of the Mahakam River, some 120 km north of Samarinda. The main Borneo airport on the Indonesian side is Balikpapan. You can fly to Borneo from several other Indonesian cities like Bali, Jakarta, Sulawesi, and even Papua.

If you booked an organized tour, transportation from the airport should be organized by the tour company.

How to Organize your Trip to See Wild Orangutans in Kutai National Park // Local buses from Samarinda

Local buses from Samarinda

Independent Travel from Samarinda  

If you travel independently, you will need to use public buses and reach out to the park rangers for transportation into the park.

  • Take a Bemo or bus to Samarinda.
    • If you don’t have any business in Samarinda, and if you arrive in the morning, we recommend the express bus from the airport.
    • If you spend the night in Samarinda, take one of the local buses. Note that the bus terminal to Sangatta is different than the bus terminal you arrived from Balikpapan. Also, the last buses to leave might be around 2 pm. You can find more information on Bosbis for the bus schedule and costs.
  • From Samarinda, take a bus to Sangatta.
    • Alternatively, you can take a bus to Sangatta directly, but this would be a long day.
  • Once in Sangatta, the park has two entrances.
    • Sangkima is accessible by road and sees more of the visitors given its ease of access. It is also the section with the most “urban” development because of the road and the number of people living in the area.
    • The other entrance is Prevab, accessible only after a 20-minute boat ride on the Sangatta River. You need to reach the Kabo Jaya (pier) north of Santatta where a local bus or a taxi can take you all the way. At the pier, one of the rangers will pick you up and take you to Prevab. Due to the boat requirement, even fewer people visit that section, providing a higher chance to see wildlife given the limited human interaction.
How to Organize your Trip to See Wild Orangutans in Kutai National Park // Canoe ride to the park entrance

Canoe ride to the park entrance

Where to Stay in Samarinda or Sangatta

Kutai’s Prevab post offers two rustic rooms, a dining area, and a kitchen. The kitchen is mostly used by guides and a local support family that sleeps there as well. The rooms are basic – a mattress on the ground, a mosquito net (with some holes), a small table, and a few hooks on the wall. There are two bathrooms – one with a Western toilet and a showerhead, one Indonesian with water buckets. The dining area has a large table where you can your meals, hang between the lunch break, and chat with the rangers.

There is power in the evening so you can charge your phone or camera batteries if need be. There is no Wifi, but if you have a local SIM card, you can get some connection.

On the way and from the park, you can check these two guest houses

  • SamarindaDeDe GuestHouse – Dennis is a tour guide who can organize trips to Kutai as well as the Mahakam river. The guest house offers one small room with a mattress on the upper floor. His wife and family live on the main floor. The room was 100,000 INR / night, including breakfast of sweet potatoes, bananas, or other Indonesian staples. If you are looking for something less basic, Booking.com is a good way to find local accommodations. Beware that prices are more expensive than Bali, about twice as expensive.
  • Sangatta: Jayana’s Homestay near the gas station. We did not stay as we went from Samarinda directly to Kutai National Park.

 

Booking.com

When to Go Kalimantan Borneo

Borneo has a tropical climate, and in general high precipitations throughout the year. However, the weather between March and May is considered a light rainy season, in comparison to a high rainy season from November to January.

Borneo Travel Tips

  • Take a lot of insect repellant as you are sure to encounter these annoying bugs during any Borneo jungle tour. A mosquito head net might be a good item to take with you.
  • Wear long sleeves and pants as protection
  • Make sure your shoes are waterproof as you will walk on muddy and slippery grounds due to the constant humidity and occasional rain
  • Bring a camp mattress and mosquito net if you travel independently, in case the two rooms at Prevab are full
  • If you travel independently, be prepared to be self-sufficient. There is no store, no food to be bought. Everything is brought from Sangatta by boat.
  • Watch for the monkeys around the compound and don’t leave any food on the table, not for even a second. Or be prepared to say goodbye to bananas and cookies…
  • The road from Samarinda to Sangatta is nice but rather windy. The bus drivers tend to speed and break abruptly. If you are usually road sick, you might want to consider a private car with driver
  • Take some food and drinks with you as not all drivers stop along the several-hour drive.
  • An Indonesia travel book will be a good companion as well as an English-Bahasa Phrasebook.
  • Read about the wildlife of Borneo

Our take on Kutai National Park is that it was one of the best places to see Orangutans, as the small and remoteness of the park keep the encounter intimate. Watching orangutans in the wild was an experience of a lifetime. For more photos of orangutans, check out our post searching for orangutans. However, as deforestation continues, the future of orangutans in Kalimantan might be uncertain.

Have you been to Kutai National Park? What was your experience? Share with us your adventures in the Borneo wilderness.

If you are looking for more trip ideas in Indonesia, check out our posts on:

Stay tuned for more adventures
from our travel around the world!

Follow us now on
FacebookInstagram, and YouTube. 


This post contains affiliate links, which means we receive a percentage if you make a purchase using these links – at no cost to you. Our opinions are our own and are not impacted by these partnerships.

Wild Orangutans in Kutai National Park: How to Organize your Trip // Face to face with a Borneo Orangutan

ZeWanderingFrogs.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com, amazon.co.uk, amazon.ca. Amazon and the Amazon logo are trademarks of Amazon.com, Inc. or its affiliates.