The Ultimate Guide to Batu Katak, North Sumatra

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Batu Katak is a dreamy little village lying on the edge of the Gunung Leuser National Park in North Sumatra. Perched on the banks of the Berkail River, this place is teeming with natural wonders. It’s one of our favourite places to get off the grid and spend a few days communing with mother nature.

On one edge of the village, there’s an incredibly diverse and exciting karst forest full of cave systems and interesting landscapes, and across the river lies the famous National Park.

Although Batu Katak has previously been something of a hidden treasure, it is growing in popularity with visitors. This is partly because of its proximity to the famous trekking destination of Bukit Lawang, but also because of the unique flora and fauna on offer, such as the giant Rafflesia and Amorphophallus flowers found in the area.

People enjoy jungle trekking in Batu Katak in search of orangutans, gibbons, enormous plants, or even tigers (well, tiger footprints, at least!). It’s one of our  Top 6 Places to See Orangutans in the Wild!

There are only a handful of tourists here, and you get a slice of authentic Sumatran village life.

Read on for everything you need to know to visit this little patch of jungle paradise!

How to Get to Batu Katak

Batu Katak

Although staying in Batu Katak feels like an off the beaten path experience, it’s not difficult to get to. The nearest town is Bahorok, which is only a hop, skip and a jump away from busy Bukit Lawang.

From Bukit Lawang to Batu Katak

If you’re already in Bukit Lawang, ask your guesthouse or a trusted local to give you a ride; it should take no more than 30 minutes, and the roads are good. You’ll be looking at around  100,000 per person via motorbike.

From Medan to Bahorok

While there’s no bus directly to Batu Katak village, it’s simple enough to reach Bahorok and find transportation for the last part of your journey.

If you’re heading there by private car, piece of cake. If your driver doesn’t know of Batu Katak, tell them to head to Bahorok, then ask directions from there; it’s not complicated.

Need help finding a car and driver? Shoot us a message and we’ll hook you up.

If you don’t have the budget for a car, you’ll be relying on local buses from Medan.

In Medan city, get yourself to the Pinang Baris bus station (using a taxi, grab, go-jek, becak, or your trusty feet!)

There, you’ll be looking for a bus (don’t be confused, these often look more like mini-vans!) to Bukit Lawang. It will say B. Lawang on the windscreen.

When you get on, tell the driver you will be getting off in Bahorok, NOT Bukit Lawang.

It should cost you no more than 100,000 per person, and you should pay only when you get off the bus in your destination.

Unfortunately, this bus station is quite renowned for having a few troublesome people that try to rip tourists off. They may attempt to overcharge you or make you pay before you board the bus.

Knowing a few words of Indonesian helps in this situation, as does remaining calm, friendly and resolute.

Useful Tip: Before your travels, download the Maps.me app to your phone and make sure you pre-download maps for Sumatra. This app works even if you don’t have Wi-Fi or data. Keep an eye on this as you travel, so you know when you arrive in Bahorok and can remind your driver to drop you off.

From Bahorok to Batu Katak

Once you’re in Bahorok, you can get picked up by your guesthouse if you’ve pre-arranged it. Or, you can wing it and find a becak (motorbike transport); there are usually a few around that will take you the rest of the way. If worst comes to worst, you should be able to find a local willing to take you to Batu Katak for a small fee.

Need help with transport? We can put you in touch with some of our great friends living in Batu Katak who can help you get there. Don’t be shy; we’re happy to help.

Things to do in Batu Katak

Like most places in Sumatra, Batu Katak will appeal to nature-lovers. You won’t find bars, restaurants, or souvenir shops.

What you will find is an endless array of outdoor activities to get stuck into. Trekking is the number one thing to do – at it’s truly outstanding here. But even if you just want to take it easy, you can enjoy swimming in the river, relaxing at the nearby waterfall, or just sitting by the river with a pair of binoculars doing some wildlife spotting.

Explore the Karst Forest

Karst refers to an area of land made up of limestone, and a karst forest is a forest that grows amongst this terrain. Karst areas are unique because they contain some pretty impressive rocky structures and plenty of caves and underground rivers.

The karst forest offers a different trekking experience because of that stunning terrain.

There are lots of opportunities to do some minor rock climbing, which makes life interesting. We find that when you have to think hard about where to put your hands and feet, you forget about how hot, sweaty and tired you are!

This area is not part of the national park, so it’s not protected. This is a huge problem, as all the animals found in the park also move around the karst forest. There are orangutans, gibbons, sunbears, tigers, and many more precious animals here.

The land is in fact owned by a cement company, who are looking to develop the area, which will be disastrous for all the species living there.

One way to keep the karst forest safe is to make it valuable for tourism. Your support in visiting helps the local community protect it.

An NGO called Stay Wild also do essential work in hopes to protect this ecosystem. More about them below.

Check Out Some Jungle Caves

Batu Katak Cave
The captivating entrance to the Water Cave (hidden behind this pool!)

Thanks to this karst landscape, there are some great caves to explore not far from Batu Katak.

One of the most impressive is the Water Cave. This cave stretches underground for 901 metres, following a small river.

While you enter through rather a narrow opening, it’s not a “crawling through small spaces” kind of cave. There’s plenty of room to move, and it’s not a challenging walk.

It takes between 1-1.5 hours to make your way through this cave, and you can see bats, frogs, lots of cool insects, and maybe even the odd snake!

Go Jungle Trekking

Of course, jungle trekking in Batu Kataka is top of the to-do list! While there’s no guarantee you’ll see some of the more elusive wild animals like orangutans or siamang gibbons, the chances are pretty decent. And at least you know that when you DO see them, they are 100 percent wild-born, wild living animals.

Batu Katak is excellent because it’s still relatively undiscovered. The river can get a bit crowded with local tourists on weekends and public holidays, but the jungle is still peaceful. You are highly unlikely to bump into another soul during your trek, no matter how long it is.

We LOVE trekking here and have been many times, from half-day treks to three-night expeditions. You’ll come across the most photogenic rivers you’ll ever see, dotted with pools for bathing in and waterfalls that will refresh your body and soul after a day of trekking. It’s truly an unmissable spot.

You shouldn’t have to worry about irresponsible tourism here (fingers crossed it stays that way). Most of the local guides understand about respecting the animals and keeping their distance. But if you’re concerned, it might pay to check out our blog on How to Choose a Responsible Guide (and why it’s so important).

Learn About Honey Bees

Yup, you heard us right! The local villagers are continually thinking of ways to help the environment and give value to tourists. The most recent initiative is the addition of beehives!

You can visit Mr Kelingi to see the work he’s doing and learn all about the process of bees and honeymaking, as well as buying some delicious jungle honey to sample. Ask when you’re there about how to do this.

Embrace Karonese Culture

Traditional medicine class Batu Katak

Like many small villages in the Langkat region, Batu Katak has a strong Karonese community. Batak Karo people are one of the six Batak ethnic groups found throughout Sumatra).

Karonese culture has its own language, cuisine, dance, music, and customs.

Part of this culture is a deep love and respect for the environment. You may find if you have a Karonese guide, they make an offering to their ancestors before they enter the jungle. And using jungle plants as medicinal herbs is a large part of their traditional heritage.

One of the things you can do when you stay in Batu Katak is take a traditional medicine class. You’ll spend time with an experienced elder who will teach you about the various plants used as medicine, and you’ll help them make your own.

If you’re lucky, you might even be able to learn some of the traditional Karonese songs and get some personal instruction on their dances.

Karonese people are among the most open and friendliest you’ll ever meet, so don’t be shy to ask them anything you want to know. There are some great stories passed down through the generation that they’ll be happy to share.

Spot Some Wildlife

Orangutan in Batu Katak

Images Courtesy of Stay Wild/Facebook

Batu Katak is teeming with wildlife, and generally, it’s quite easy to see some incredible animals without even heading into the jungle.

At dawn and dusk, families white-handed gibbons and Siamangs can often be found nearby in the karst forest or hanging out along the river bank.

The awesome funky monkeys (Thomas Leaf monkeys) and macaques are also familiar sights. Many times, we’ve seen orangutans just in the forest behind Orchid Bungalow, as well as when trekking deeper into the jungle.

Further away in the jungle or karst forest, there is evidence of tigers, sunbears, porcupines, and so much more, but the chances coming across these animals during a trek are very slim. You may get lucky enough to spot fresh tiger footprints or sun bear claw marks though, which is thrilling in itself!

See Giant Flowers

Batu Katak is home to not one, but TWO rare and enormous plants. The trick is being there at the right time, as each only blooms for a short period.

But even if you aren’t lucky to see the actual flower, it’s still awesome to see the other plant structures and learn more about them.

Amorphophallus Titanum

First two photos courtesy of Stay Wild/Facebook

The Amorphophallus titanum (or titan arum) is a flowering plant endemic (native to) Sumatra. It likes to grow on steep hillsides within rainforests. It’s quite picky, though, and can’t be seen in many places.

Batu Katak is one of the few areas in North Sumatra where it can be seen pretty easily, but the Kerinci Seblat National Park in West Sumatra also has these spectacular plants.

A quick Google tells us that this plant boasts the “largest unbranched inflorescence of any plant and smells of rotting flesh.” But to be honest, we’ve seen it a few times and didn’t smell anything!

These flowers are stunning. There’s an inner “spike,” which is the tallest part and is usually a yellowish colour. The spike can (spadix) can grow up to more than three metres (9.8 feet). Then there is a kind of enormous petal around the outside (known as a spathe, incidentally) which is kind of creamy coloured before opening, but reveals a beautiful rich, crimson/purple interior when it unfolds.

As we mentioned, you need to be right on the money with your timing, as this flower only blooms for 24 to 48 hours.

Smartypants fact: these flowers have the charming stench of rotting flesh to attract beetles and flies for pollination.

There are so many cool things about this plant, I could write a whole page of facts! But in fear of boring the non-plant-enthusiast, I’ll just leave this great little link to Brittanica.com for those who want to know more.

Rafflesia

Unrelated to the titan arum (but apparently just as smelly), the Rafflesia arnoldii wins the award for having the largest single flower in the world. The bloom can be as big as one meter in diameter (3.3 feet) and weigh up to 11 kgs. 

Interestingly, the rafflesia is a parasite which lives on vines of other plants, which happen to only grow in primary rainforest areas.

Unlike the titan arum, the rafflesia doesn’t have any recognisable plant structures (it doesn’t need leaves for photosynthesis, because it takes all its nutrients from its host plant) aside from the flower, so it’s tough to find if it isn’t in bloom, and only blooms for five to seven days.

It too is endemic to Sumatra and is recognised as a national “rare flower.”

It’s reddish/brownish/orange in colour with white patterns and five petals. It’s said to be super stinky too, but the ones we saw had no odour.

Rafflesia can be found in several areas of Sumatra, such as the Kerinci Seblat National Park, and are less common in North Sumatra – making Batu Katak even more special!

Rafflesia close up

Relax in the River and Bathe in a Waterfall

Batu Katak River
Waterfall Batu Katak

Need a break from trekking? No worries! There’s a pristine river right on the doorstep to wash away the worries of the day.

We’re big fans of waterfalls of shapes and sizes too (check out our Favourite Waterfalls in Lake Toba). Luckily, there’s an utterly appealing little waterfall just upriver with a pool perfect for floating in. Just follow the boardwalk up past Orchid Bungalow and you can’t miss it.

You can check these areas out unaccompanied.

Important note: As lovely as the local people are, this is still a small, conservative village. It is disrespectful to show too much skin.

When swimming, we advise you not to wear a bikini or swimsuit. Stick to shorts and a t-shirt (singlet should be acceptable if you’re in the middle of the jungle!)

If you’re heading into the village itself to look around, get a coffee, and interact with the locals, show respect by wearing pants or longer shorts/skirts and avoid revealing tops.

Where to Stay in Batu Katak

Batu Katak is still an ecotourism destination in development, so there aren’t many places to choose from, which is part of its charm!

From our first visit three years ago, we have remained loyal to our favourite guesthouse, Orchid Bungalow. As such, we haven’t checked out the one or two other accommodations in the village, and can’t recommend for or against them.

Orchid Bungalow

This place is fantastic. It’s right on the river, with the karst forest towering just behind it.

The owner, Darwin, has a bit of a green thumb and has put a lot of energy into landscaping, so there are beautiful trees, greenery, trickling streams, and flowers everywhere.

The rooms are clean and comfortable. You can get twin or queen beds, and every room comes with a western-style shower (cold water only) and sit down toilet. You’ll also have a fan to cool you down during the night and a mosquito net.

The restaurant is large, airy, and open, with gorgeous views. There’s no menu to choose from, but the cook makes delicious meals from fresh, local ingredients every day, and can cater to your dietary needs.

There are also cold drinks (yes, Bintang!) in the fridge.

But what really makes this place special is the team who work there. They’re super friendly, incredibly passionate about the environment, and will take great care of you during your stay.

Bonus: most days, you’ll wake up to the sound of gibbons calling from the nearby forest – or even the sound of the orangutan long call, if you’re lucky!)

The team here can help you organise transport and trekking.

Click here to contact them on Facebook. 

Or contact us for help with booking (sometimes the internet is less than ideal in Batu Katak, so it might be hard for them to respond to your message quickly).

Ecotourism and Conservation in Batu Katak

Gunung Leuser National Park
Siamang in Batu Katak
Ecotourism Batu Katak

Like many of the small, forest-edge communities in Sumatra, Batu Katak once relied on the destructive activities like poaching and logging to get by. People in these remote areas don’t have many options. They can work in the endless palm oil or rubber plantations; a few lucky ones have their own land to grow crops on for an income.

However, the tide is slowly turning. Batu Katak is a pioneering community who embrace ecotourism initiatives and are passionate about protecting their natural resources.

Ecotourism gives local communities a much-needed income and equips them to protect the jungle rather than pillage it.

The presence of tourists, rangers, and guides that comes along with tourists discourages poachers and illegal activity, giving these precious ecosystems and their inhabitants added protection.

There are several international organisations based in Batu Katak that are empowering the community to care for their environment. They make many things possible, but one of the most noticeable to us was the rubbish program.

Compared to many similar communities, Batu Katak village and the river is very clean. You’ll find rubbish bins all over the village (a very rare find in Indonesia!), and signs about recycling and trash. I believe this is, in part, thanks to an organisation known as Green Life. But in no small part is successful because of the passion and open-mindedness of the community in general.

Stay Wild

Jungle patrol Batu Katak
Education in Batu Katak

Images Courtesy of Stay Wild/Facebook

One organisation we know very well is called Stay Wild, who do an incredible job with minimal resources.

Launched by our good friend Vanessa Rowe from NZ, Stay Wild employs a team of locals to run a number of programs in Batu Katak, including camera trapping, ranger patrols, wildlife rescue, domestic dog health, English classes, livelihood assistance and a Junior Ranger Program.

Many of the Stay Wild Team work at Orchid Bungalow, which explains why this is such a great place to stay; they are genuinely knowledgeable and passionate about what they do.

We’ll be talking a lot more about Stay Wild in an upcoming Stories of Sumatra feature, but feel free to follow them on Facebook and Instagram and check out their website to learn more about the essential work they do.

Amenities in Batu Katak

Batu Katak Village Sumatra

Batu Katak is a tiny village with very little in the way of shops. That’s why we love it so damn much.

If you’re in need of some snacks or basic supplies, you’ll find them at one of the small shops in the village, but for anything else, you need to head to Bahorok.

Luckily, Bahorok is quite a big town, so you should be able to get most of what you need there.

ATMs

The nearest ATMs are in Bahorok.

One is from BRI bank and gives out up to 2.5 million at a time.

The other is Mandiri and gives a maximum of 1.25.

Do bear in mind that ATMs throughout Sumatra are not the most reliable of machines; sometimes they’re broken, have no money, or don’t work with your card.

Our best advice is to take out as much as you can on each machine when you find one that works!

Wi-Fi

Prepare for a few days offline, because Batu Katak does not have wifi anywhere. Even the signal for data is patchy at best. If you desperately need to use the internet, it’ll involve a trip to Bahorok.

Got the urge to visit Batu Katak after seeing these amazing photos? We don’t blame you! It can be tricky to arrange a trip to smaller villages at times, so message us if you need any help.

Already been to this little gem of a spot? We’d love to hear about your trip in the comments or see your best pics on our Facebook page

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