Top 7 national parks in Indonesia

Comprising thousands of islands, the Southeast Asian nation of Indonesia is home to vast swathes of untamed natural beauty and more than 50 diverse national parks teeming with rare and wonderful wildlife. Here is our guide to the best of them.
Komodo dragon in Komodo National Park. Photo: Shutterstock
Komodo dragon in Komodo National Park. Photo: Shutterstock

Wildlife-lovers may already know about Komodo dragons, the rare Javan rhino, Sumatran elephants and tigers, as well as both Sumatran and Borneo orangutans. However, many aren’t aware that most of these creatures can be found within Indonesia’s best national parks, which are treasure troves of rare species of birds, mammals and plants.

The tropical rainforests of Indonesia comprise some of the world’s oldest and richest natural habitats, home to a fabulous variety of fauna and flora, including many species found nowhere else on earth. There are also large areas of pristine mangrove forest and swamp, montane forests and savannahs, and thousands of miles of coastline harbouring coral reefs. Dotting these diverse environments are Indonesia’s national parks – more than 50 of them. 

1. Komodo National Park

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Komodo National Park lies in the strait between Sumbawa and Flores and is the natural habitat of the world’s largest reptile, Varanus komodoensis, the Komodo dragon. This giant carnivorous monitor lizard is one of the world’s oldest species, and a close relative of the dinosaurs that roamed the earth 100 million years ago. Although there are dragons on two other nearby islands, in order to protect wild populations visitors are only allowed on Komodo and Rinca. 

In addition to its extraordinary reptiles, this remote corner of Indonesia offers some of the best diving and snorkelling in the Asia-Pacific region. During low tide at Pantai Merah (Red Beach), near Komodo, reefs teeming with colourful fish are very near the shoreline. There are 260 species of reef-building corals and around 1,000 species of fish and marine mammals, including manta rays, sharks, sea turtles, dolphins and whales. The strong currents here provide plenty of plankton for small fish to feed on, in turn attracting larger ones, and provide migratory paths for the whales and dolphins. You can visit Komodo National Park as part of Insight Guides' Indonesia Island Hop trip.

Practical information

Transport There are daily flights from Bali to Labuan Bajo, and Komodo Airport to Bali, each taking around 1.5 hours. Motorboats run from Sape in West Nusa Tenggara every day, weather permitting, and Pelni ferries from Bali make a stop in Labuan Bajo every two weeks.

When you’re there The most popular trek is a 2km (1.2 mile) walk to Banunggulung. Trekkers must be accompanied by a park ranger, whose expertise in animal behaviour, and knowledge of how to look for and spot wildlife, is invaluable. The park ranger is also responsible for your safety.

Landscape view from the top of Padar island in Komodo islandsView from the top of Padar island in Komodo National Park. Photo: Shutterstock

2. Ujung Kulon National Park

A UNESCO Natural Heritage Site, Ujung Kulon National Park is located south of Carita on the southwest tip of Java. A 420 sq km (260 sq mile) reserve, it shelters the gravely endangered and rarely sighted Javan one-horned rhino – of which fewer than 70 remain – and numerous other forest species. The area includes Java’s largest lowland rainforests, home to hornbills, deer, wild boar, black panthers and green turtles. Other wildlife resident in the park includes leopards, macaques, leaf monkeys, crocodiles and indigenous wild oxen (banteng).

While much of the area is dense lowland rainforest, there are also open woodlands and wetlands – excellent for birdwatching – with beaches in the north and south. Offshore, Krakatau Island is also part of the park.

Between April and August, migratory birds flock in their thousands to the nearby islands of Pulau Dua and Pamojan Besar in Banten Bay. The best time of year to visit is during the dry season, from April to September.

Practical information

Transport Best accessed by chartered boat from Carita beach. From here, a five-hour boat ride will take you to Peucang in the national park, which has basic bungalows and a restaurant. Note that in bad weather the boat crossing can be rough. The main office of Ujung Kulon National Park is located in Labuan, where entrance tickets, insurance and park information can be obtained.

When you’re there Within the park, guides are a requirement and can be hired at the ranger station.

3. Bogani Nani Wartabone National Park

In North Sulawesi, the Bogani Nani Wartabone National Park is one of Indonesia’s lesser-visited parks. This vast mountainous rainforest is rich in fruit-bearing trees such as durian, nutmeg and figs, and is home to a collection of rare, endemic Sulawesi animals including babirusas (Sulawesi ‘pig-deer’), shy anoas and Sulawesi warty pigs. The New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society, established in 1895, partners with a local conservation group to manage three of the largest communal nesting grounds for the maleo birds in the park. Its southern coast is the last-known site of beach nests for this endangered land-bird.

Practical information

Transport The park office is on the road to Doloduo, close to central Kotamobagu, which is the nearest town. 

When you’re there There are several trails to choose from, ranging from one to nine hours of hiking.

Babirusa in Bogani Nani Wartabone National Park. Photo: Shutterstock

4. Kerinci Seblat National Park

Another of Indonesia’s lesser-visited parks, Kerinci Seblat in West Sumatra shelters Sumatran elephants and tigers, clouded leopards, Malayan sun bears and tapirs, as well as more than 375 species of birds, and the world’s largest and tallest flowers. There are no orangutans, but occasionally sightings have been reported of the mysterious orang pendek, a bipedal ape similar to an orangutan, and the mythical sigau, half-lion and half-tiger.  

The park is one of Indonesia’s largest reserves, covering an incredible 14,000 sq km (5,400 sq miles) of jungle and mountains. It is home to the highest peak in West Sumatra, Gunung Kerinci. Indonesia’s second highest volcano, it attracts climbers who are up for a serious challenge. Conservation groups there have trained local guides to take the adventurous on treks through the forest and climbing.

Practical information

Transport Located two hours south of Padang – take the road from the city. It is an eight-hour journey, but an extraordinarily beautiful drive through forests and jungle.

When you’re there There are a number of simple hotels and a colourful market in Sungaipenuh. Homestays and trekking operators are available in Kersik Tuo, a tea plantation village at the foot of Gunung Kerinci, where treks start. From the south of Kerinci, trek on forest paths (two days) to Renah Kenumu, a traditional village with many megaliths, hot springs and excellent wildlife spotting opportunities.

Before planning to climb Gunung Kerinci – or any Indonesian volcano – it is best to find out if it is active or not. The Indonesian Department of Volcanology lists the status of volcanoes showing activity. A blinking amber light means ‘danger’, a blinking red light means ‘stay away’.

5. Way Kambas National Park

In South Sumatra, on the southwest coast, Way Kambas is a sanctuary for Sumatran elephants and rhinos, assuring visitors of the chance to spot them. The park comprises estuaries, marshes and open grassland and is the home of the Sumatra Rhino Sanctuary.

The four-hour (one-way) boat trip through the rainforest from Labuhan Meringgi, 12km (7 miles) south of the reserve, to the Way Kambas estuary comes highly recommended. The trip offers excellent opportunities to look for wild elephants, tigers and boars that come to the river’s edge to drink. Birdwatching is also spectacular, with resident kingfishers, lesser adjutants, woolly-necked storks and pelicans. The park also houses an Elephant Conservation Centre, where the endangered mammals are bred and trained to patrol park boundaries. 

Practical information

Transport Take a day trip from Jakarta, which costs around US$170 per person.

When you’re there There are well-organised treks and boat trips.

Sumatran elephant at National Park Way Kambas. Photo: ShutterstockSumatran elephant at Way Kambas National Park . Photo: Shutterstock

6. Tanjung Puting National Park

Orangutans are the flagship species of Tanjung Puting National Park in Central Kalimantan. The highlight of the park experience is the orangutan feeding sessions (check times upon arrival) at one of the three park outposts. The first, Tanjung Harapan – directly opposite the Sekonyer River Ecolodge – cares for orphaned infants and new arrivals and has a visitor information centre. By far the most famous of the three, Camp Leakey can be somewhat of a circus during high season (June–August), with visitors who are less conservation-minded clamouring to walk down jungle paths to see the red apes in action. 

Older orangutans, sometimes with their offspring, can be found at Pondok Tanggui. During the feeding sessions at Camp Leakey and Pondok Tanggui, orangutans that hover near the stations are offered bananas and milk to supplement the seasonal lack of food in the forest. Allowing tourists the experience achieves an additional benefit: raising awareness of the plight of orangutans and the shrinking forest. It is a joy to sit quietly and watch as semi-habituated orangutans, lumbering hand over heavy hand through the trees, arrive at the feeding platforms.

The best wildlife viewing is possible from the river. At sunrise, proboscis monkeys begin their day’s foraging. Occasionally, one will belly-flop into the river, his lightly webbed toes enabling him to swim against the currents. During these times, the birds are particularly active. Along the riverbanks, watch for mudskippers and archerfish, pythons sunning themselves on branches, and estuarine crocodiles. For a sublime jungle river experience, ask the boatman to stop the engine for a while to allow the boat to drift quietly.

Practical information

Transport The starting point is Pangkalan Bun, which is accessible by air. Scheduled arrivals and departures ply routes to and from Pontianak, Ketapang, Banjarmasin, Jakarta, Semarang and Surabaya.

When you’re there From the park office, hire a taxi for the 20-minute drive to Kumai, a riverside village that is the entry point to the park. At the harbour, either hire a klotok (local motorised boat) or a speedboat to go upriver. While speedboats are faster, the noise they generate may nullify whatever chances there are for birdwatching or quiet enjoyment of the nipah and mangrove ecosystems along the muddy jungle river. Be sure to buy food and water in Kumai before heading upriver.

Orangutan at Tanjung Puting National Park. Photo: Shutterstock


7. Lorentz National Park 

Between Timika and Agats in Papau is Lorentz National Park, a Unesco World Heritage Site. At 2.5 million hectares (6.2 million acres), it is the largest protected area in Southeast Asia. The park's vast expanses encompass tropical marine environment and lowland wetlands, as well as Indonesia’s highest mountain, Puncak Jaya, which reaches 4,884 metres (16,024ft) and is capped with permanent ice fields. The mountain is the tallest peak between the Himalayas and the Andes, and one of only three equatorial glaciers on the planet.  

The park’s extraordinary biodiversity supports rare animals. It is also home to numerous isolated tribes, including the Amungme, Western Dani, Nduga, Ngalik, Asmat (Sempan, Komoro), Mimika and Somohai. 

Practical information

Transport Most convenient is to fly to Wamena, Biak, Jayapura or Timika, and then make your way to the park.

When you’re there Tourism is only allowed in certain zones. Mountain climbing is also popular, if you are brave enough to take on formidable Puncak Jaya.

Ready to visit Indonesia's incredible national parks?

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Updated 15 August, 2018