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!
This blog was updated in January 2023, so you can plan your trip to Batu Katak with up to date info!
How to Get to 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 – and 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
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
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
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.
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.
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!
Relax in the River and Bathe in a Waterfall
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!
Since our first visit ever visit, we have always stayed at Orchid Bungalow. As such, we haven’t personally checked out the two other accommodations in the village.
However, we have heard from a number of guests who have stayed at Jungle River and greatly enjoyed their experience.
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.
In breaking news, we have been informed that all the guesthouses in Batu Katak now have Wi-Fi, including Orchid Bungalow – so you can get that rural, off the grid vibe while remaining connected!
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).
While we haven’t personally visited Jungle River yet (it’s on our list!), we are friends with the local owners/managers, and have had positive feedback from guests who have stayed there.
Located just upriver from Orchid Bungalow, Jungle River is also right on the river (and funnily enough, next to the jungle!)
The rooms are basic but comfortable, and Wi-Fi is included.
If you’d like to book or make an enquiry, contact Joe via Whatsapp: +62 812 6340 3452
Batu Katak Guesthouse
This is another guesthouse we haven’t personally visited, but have heard good things about.
Located on the opposite side of the river to the other guesthouses (and main village area), Batu Katak Guesthouse overlooks the river and karst forest, with the jungle in the background.
If you’d like to book or make an enquiry, contact Joe via Whatsapp: +62 812 6340 3452
Ecotourism and Conservation in 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.
Amenities in Batu Katak
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.
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!
All the guesthouses at Batu Katak now have Wi-Fi, so you can stay connected even when it feels like you couldn’t be further away from the “real world.”
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This Post Has 13 Comments
Amazing Blog Carly! Did you have any problem with leeches during your trek? We are travelling in December and had read that even though you can be fully covered, leeches will find a way to get to you
Hi Eddie – thanks for the feedback! So glad you’re enjoying the blog. We have trekked many times in different areas, with a variety of leech involvement haha. If you hit a particularly wet day, you’ll have more. But you are likely to meet a few even when it’s dry. Even if you wrap a scarf around your neck, tuck your shirt into your pants and your pants into your socks, they are very good at getting past the defences! Good thick socks can help though. Best advice is to lather yourself in mosquito repellent (which you should do anyway for the mozzies), as leeches aren’t fond of the taste of it!
What a great blog, thanks for all the useful information! 🙂
I am planning a trip this October and I was hoping you could help me with a few things.
My plan would be to start in Bukit Lawang with an overnight trek then travel to Batu Katak for either another overnight trek or maybe for just a few hours trek to see those amazing flowers.
I was trying to find out if the two flowers will be blooming that time (beginning of October) – do you know that by any chance?
Also, do you know around what time the treks start in Batu Katak? Would it be possible to travel from BL to Batu Katak in the morning and do the flower trek the same day? Without needing to leave Bukit Lawang at 4am already…. 🙂
Thank you in advance for your help
Have a wonderful day 🙂
Thanks for the lovely feedback! Great idea to fit in a visit to Batu Katak while in Bukit Lawang since it’s so close. Batu Katak is one of our favourite spots. I’ve answered your question about the flowers in your other comment, but want to add that there should be more accurate insight into whether there will be any in bloom a month or two before your trip. Fingers crossed!
The area where the flowers are in Batu Katak isn’t too far, you could easily do it in an afternoon – so drive to BK in the mid-late morning, do a trek, have lunch by the river, tube back, and return to Bukit Lawang late afternoon. If you’d like help to organise this, we can put you in touch with a local guide from BK, so feel free to send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Great blog, thanks for all the useful info 🙂
I am planning a trip to Bukit Lawang and Batu Katak to see orangutans and those amazing flowers you talked about.
Do you know if they are in bloom in October?
Also, do you have any up to date info on the prices for an overnight trek starting from BL or from BK? I wonder if there is any difference betweem the two.
Thanks a lot in advance for your help.
Have a great day 🙂
Hi Juli, sorry for the late reply, we’ve just arrived in Sumatra and had a busy week preparing for our trip! Great to hear you are planning to visit later in the year. The timing of the flowers is a tricky one, as there’s not really a “season” for these as such. The guides often let us know when they find a young flower bud and can predict when it will be ready to view, but getting the timing right can be challenging! Prices in Bukit Lawang and Batu Katak for overnight treks are similar, as the guides belong to the same organisation which has set fees, although these can vary between guesthouses. I’ll give you a bit more insight in your other comment 😉
I’m planning on travelling to Sumatra in June-July 2022 with two other friends (19-20). We will definitely come to Bukit Lawang and after reading this probably come to Batu Katak for more authentic, secluded and untouched aspect of Sumatra. We’re looking to do an overnight jungle tour to see as much wildlife as possible. Would it be possible to travel from BL to Batu Katak and go straight into an overnight jungle trek there on the same day, then return to BL the next day? We’ll be in BL for 4-5 days and one of these days we’ll head to Batu Katak for a tour but I’m not sure if we should do the overnight tour in Batu Katak or BL? What would you recommend? How much does an overnight tour cost if you know roughly?
Your blog is incredibly helpful for researching Sumatra and I’m sure you’ll see another comment of mine pop up in another thread somewhere! Thank you
Thanks so much for the comment! So glad you’re enjoying the blog and finding it helpful. And yay how exciting you are planning a trip to Sumatra next year! I think a great idea to check out Bukit Lawang and Batu Katak to get two different experiences. And they are so close together that it’s worthwhile. With the timing, definitely possible to head to BK and start a trek the day you arrive and then go back to BL the following day – there’s plenty to see in Batu Katak that doesn’t require multi-day treks, so it would work well. I haven’t caught up with our guide friends there for a wee while, as we haven’t had visitors enquiring over the last year or two, so I’ll check with them about prices. I have your email here so will be in touch soon! Happy travel planning.
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Thank you for your blog. We are planning a trip primarily for nature trekking to Sumatra area, hoping to see orang utan and various other primates in the true wild. It seems that this spot and Ketambe are the best places to go so far from what I have read. Your insight has been very helpful. We hope to spend a week or so truly away from everything here in the west (including the internet – that’s great) and wake up to the call of the jungle. Tiny village is ideal 🙂
Hi Trevor! Thanks so much for your comment, it makes our day to hear that our blog has been helpful. We LOVE helping visitors to Sumatra discover the lesser-known spots, plus it means our local friends in the areas with fewer tourists have an opportunity for an income outside of the palm oil industry! So a win-win for everyone. We’re sure you will fall in love with Batu Katak – it really is a gorgeous spot, and everyone we recommended to go there has absolutely had an amazing time. Do feel free to get in touch if you need help with planning- or to let us know how your trip went!
Thank you so much for your nice blog. It gaves me a lot of advise on my journey in amazing Sumatra….
And about Batu Katak, specially
Thanks to Ucok, Amelia, Mariandi, Ricky and Jessaya for their welcome in Orchid bungalow.
I came there after reading a good website about Sumatra (wearesumatra.com) and I don’t regret anything! I loved walking in the jungle and above all, in addition to seeing animals, watching the guides who are looking for them … Those who guided me are from the village, they know their forest in every corner and above all they are good : They scrutinize, see something very far away and say: look over there the orangutan, the lar gibbon, the band of monkeys thomas leef etc, while me, I have absolutely nothing suspicious and that c it is by the force of long indications that I see the thing! You will tell me, it is the work of a guide, yes, but they impressed me with their competence.
But because of a lumbago, instead of 4 planned, I spent 9 days at orchid bungalow Batu Katak…. Unexpected but great experience. Because suddenly, I had time to see live a village of Sumatra, to start to have my habits in the small shop of the corner, and to better know the adorable team of guides, assistants, cook, of Orchid bungalow
(as i needed to rest, they settle an hamac for me and take care of me).
So nice people, no worry, you can trust them, and this is so good.
Hello Dominic! Thank you so much for your lovely comment! We are so pleased to hear from you and even more so to hear that you read our blog and discovered the beauty of Batu Katak (and its amazing people!)
Sorry to hear about your lumbago, but I couldn’t think of many better places to rest and be taken care of than Orchid Bungalow. They truly are a great team and very good at what they do.
I think we watched some of Ucok’s videos with you in? It looks like you had an amazing time. Thank you again!!