The Best 10 Wildlife Encounter Destinations in Indonesia

    I have a few friends that are into wildlife photography. Looking at their beautiful photos capturing life in the wilderness is interesting. Watching wildlife would also be something that people be interested in doing when they travel to a particular country. For example, you must have heard South Africa is very popular for its exciting wildlife sighting. People travel to South Africa just to see the African exotic animals, the migration of millions of wildebeest – like what we see in the Lion King movie, and also to learn about their local culture. I must admit that South Africa is on my travel wishlist, too!

    However, did you know there are places in Indonesia where we can also see some endemic wildlife? They are still unique and exciting, although wildlife sightings in Indonesia may not be as massive as in other countries. We must remember that most of the wildlife in Indonesia I am about to share is endangered. Hence, if you ever plan to visit these places, you must know the dos and don’ts before entering their habitats. And indeed, I highly recommend always getting the on-site guide or ranger to guide you while visiting.

    Below are some of the places I have been to before that I think are worth including on your bucket list if you are keen on wildlife.

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    1. Bukit Lawang

    This place is home to Sumatran Orangutan. Their habitat is the jungle which is still part of the Gunung Leuser National Park, North Sumatra. To see the Orangutan, we must trek through the jungle with guidance from the park ranger. Besides Orangutans, we can see numerous birds and plants. I enjoyed seeing the Orangutan.

    I would prefer wearing a mountain sandal to trekking shoes for this activity, and I would recommend you do the same – as long as you feel comfortable enough. Because after seeing the Orangutan, instead of walking back, we can take the tubing ride down along the river instead. This also means our footwear will be getting wet.

    2. Raja Ampat

    Have you heard of Bird of Paradise, or Cendrawasih, before? It is a medium size bird species that are unique to Papua Island. There is about 45 Bird of Paradise species, and you probably won’t believe they exist. The species are scattered around the whole land of Papua; not all the bird sighting areas are easy to reach.

    However, in Raja Ampat, there are two particular species – Red Bird of Paradise and Wilson, we can look out for in the jungle. The birds usually hang out in several spots, and the birdwatching guide will know the best. For sure, don’t forget to bring binoculars! It will be beneficial to spot the birds staying on higher tree branches.

    [ Read: Baliem Valley Festival in Papua ]

    3. Tangkahan

    Although Tangkahan is also part of the Gunung Leuser National Park where Bukit Lawang is, these two sites are not exactly nearby, spend at least two days at Tangkahan to refresh in the nature by visiting the Sumatran Elephant Conservatory, interacting with them and watch how this gentle giant animals live in their habitat. Once a week, the elephants will be released into the wild so they don’t lose their survival instinct.

    Also, enjoy river tubing and trekking in the rainforest and river while you are there. There are waterfalls that we can stop by, too! Tangkahan is a unique and peaceful place you shall not miss if you ever plan to visit North Sumatra.

    4. Komodo Islands

    I listed Komodo Islands as one of the recommended places to visit in Indonesia (especially when you are a first-timer), among many others. It is not only because of the beauty of the national park but also because it is only here that we can find the giant lizard in the world, the Komodo Dragon.

    There are three big islands within the national park: Padar, Rinca, and Komodo Island. Although visitors usually will only go to either Rinca or Komodo Island for the sighting, the Komodo dragons are also on other small islands within the national park and Flores Island.

    Live on board for a night or more in the national park for snorkelling, diving, visiting the local villages, or just enjoying the life in the ocean, are a few things we can do here besides trekking on the rugged and hilly island to search for the dragon. It will be an excellent, memorable experience that we won’t get elsewhere!

    5. Tarakan

    If you are looking for a place not far from the city where you can see the endemic monkey of Kalimantan called Bekantan, then the Bekantan and Mangrove Conservation Area in Tarakan is the place! The fact that it is located right in the middle of the city of Tarakan makes it reachable by car or public transport.

    No extra preparation is needed to see the Bekantan except our luck. They are still considered in the wild anyway. If we are lucky enough, they will hang out on the mangrove boardwalk, where we can spot them easily. Their appearances with the male Bekantan has a more extensive and bigger nose while the female has a smaller and sharper nose make them unique!

    6. Baluran National Park

    Baluran National Park is located at Situbondo, East Java. An early morning call to catch the sunrise from the Bama Beach, located in the national park, is worth the shot. From the beach, we can continue to drive along the road that cuts across the savannah area while watching the wildlife – monkeys, birds, peacocks, water buffalos, deers, and many more, feeding or just checking out. We can also see Mount Baluran, which is no longer active from afar.

    As the climate in Baluran National Park is very dry, it is more recommended to visit here before the sun rises high. Not just because it is more enjoyable but also because we can see more wildlife at that hours, except for those nocturnal animals. 

    7. Tanjung Puting

    I think my visit to Tanjung Puting is one of the most memorable trips I have had so far. At this point, you may probably wonder which one is better – to visit Bukit Lawang or Tanjung Puting, if you want to see the Orangutan in their habitat. Each place offers a different kind of experience.

    In Tanjung Puting, we spend nights on the wooden boat cruising along the river, which is a very different experience from what we have in Bukit Lawang. Then, we will stop at the designated posts, alight from the boat, and follow the trail until we reach the point where the orangutans usually hang out.

    Besides the pleasant encounter with the mammals, the experience of staying on the boat is lovely, too. At night, the boat will be stationed at the side of the river, and sometimes we could see a tree shining like a Christmas tree because of the fireflies! So, if you have a chance to visit both, please do. Otherwise, you probably want to flip a coin and let it decide for you.

    8. Bali

    I think most of you know of Bali. On the land, the grey monkey is probably the most common land animal you will find now and then when you explore the Bali and even the Nusa Islands just across Bali. Meanwhile, under the blue water surrounding the islands, there are marine animals such as the Mola-Mola, widely known as Ocean Sunfish, believed to be in the Bali’s water year-round. They have a distinguished shape that is relatively thin but wide, with two long dorsal fins on both sides that can reach up to 3.5 m in height.

    Although they stay in the deep cold water most of the time, they come up nearer to the surface from July to October – when the water temperature in Bali starts to drop. They will get the parasites cleaned off of their skin by the cleaner fish, and it is during the cleaning we can see them stationed for a prolonged time. I haven’t seen them in real myself. I hope I will spot them one day!

    The Mola-Mola sighting is possible mainly for those who dive. However, you can see another gentle marine animal during your snorkelling session for those who don’t. Unless we are not in luck, Manta Rays can be seen almost every day at their favourite spots around the island! Many dive centres on the island can arrange your water activities in Bali or Nusa Islands. For diving, I would highly recommend you to look for Livingseas!

    [ Read: Support Bali Coral Conservation and Help Save the Ocean ]

    9. Tangkoko National Park

    Another place for wildlife sightings not far from a city is Tangkoko National Park. It is located in Bitung, a city in the North of Sulawesi, facing the Lembeh Strait and opposite Lembeh Island. Bitung is probably already famous for divers. They will head to Bitung for muck diving in Lembeh Strait. A lot of small critters can be seen even only in one dive. But perhaps little that people know that in the Tangkoko National Park, we can see the second smallest primates or monkeys in the world, the Tarsiers. They are only about 3.5-6 inches each.

    These nocturnal primates with big googly eyes live in the tree hollow and usually in one family – the adults and their offspring. However, unlike primates who like to swing from one tree branch to another, Tarsiers leap. It was an unbelievable sight when I saw with my own eyes how they leap. It was so fast that I couldn’t catch their movement.

    In Tangkoko National Park, besides the Tarsier, we can expect to bump into another type of monkey, such as Celebes crested macaque, commonly known as Macaca Nigra. We can see them roaming freely in the park, and watching how curious and how they behave in the group is an exciting sight!

    10. Berau

    Berau is one of the regencies in East Kalimantan. Looking at the map, we might notice the lush green forest covering almost the whole island. And probably not many have known yet that we can spot the Orangutans on this part of Kalimantan. The sighting journey starts by taking a wooden motorised boat cruising along the Lesan River and then continuing by trekking into the rainforest.

    On the other side of Berau, there are Derawan islands which consist of 31 islands. Derawan, Maratua, Kakaban, and Sangalaki Island, to name a few of the islands. Those who have visited would agree that Derawan Islands are heaven for more giant marine animals such as whale sharks, manta rays, and sea turtles. Not also forgetting a lake with stingless jellyfish that only can be found in several places in Indonesia, and Kakaban Lake is one of them!

    [ Read: Up Close & Personal with the Whale Shark ]

    • • •

    I believe that far more places should have been included on the list. Such as Banda Neira and Papua probably. But because I have not been there myself, I think I should put those two off the list for now so that I can have a better understanding when I share my opinion about the place simultaneously.

    Wildlife encounter is exciting. Just that, do note that we shall always stay cautious and aware of the ethic of how to interact with the wildlife. Heed the advice from the local guides who know best, and we will leave the place with happy and memorable experiences.

    Wildlife and the environment are inseparable and impact each other in many ways. If one is taken for granted, the other is also affected. As humans who can protect or destroy, we shall choose the sooner. We should also realise that the environment and wildlife will be alright without us.

    I hope this list can help you decide where to go for your next wildlife encounter. So, have you visited any of the places listed above? Which one is your favourite?

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