Indonesia – from Orangutans in Borneo to Diving in Raja Ampat

With over 17000 islands Indonesia is a land of massive contrasts. from the volcanoes of Java to the beaches of Sulawesi and the Jungles of Borneo there is a bit of everything. While massively populated, especially on Java, there are plenty of places for wildlife to survive and even thrive.

The Orangutan is the iconic species of Indonesia, found on both Borneo and Sumatra. However there are many more amazing animals to be found, some that don’t exist anywhere else on earth.

Tarsiers, Komodo Dragons, Sumatran Rhinos and Tigers, Proboscis Monkeys and Birds of Paradise are just the above ground marvels that are on show in this diverse country. Underwater there are many more marvels to be seen. Sulawesi and Raja Ampat are world class diving areas.

Travel in Indonesia isn’t always easy, given the lack of population and wealth in the more out of the way areas. However a wildlife trip to Indonesia will leave you wondering why you never went before.

In Borneo the jungle is so thick that the best way to see wildlife is by following the river. You often see wildlife on the banks.

Borneo – Primates in the Jungle

Borneo is the world’s third largest island and Indonesia’s second after Papua. The Southern two thirds of Borneo are Indonesian and the vast majority is equatorial rainforest. The warmth and rain leads to a huge diversity of creatures.

Of course visiting animals in a jungle is very difficult but a bit of time and patience makes Borneo a very rewarding wildlife destination. The jungles make travel difficult but the rivers make it a bit more relaxing.

It is very easy to get a cruise along the many rivers of Kalimantan. The areas around the National Parks of Tanjun Puting and Sebangau are very popular and relatively easy to access with flights from Java to the near by cities.

Not all river cruises stay on the river. Quite often a small amount of trekking in the Parks is part of the program. Some of the more tourist oriented boats also have jungle guides on board.

The advantage of a river trip is quite simple the possibility of seeing animals. Within the jungle visibility is limited but along the river you often have more opportunities to see animals.

Saying that there is no guarantee you will see anything. Specifically searching for animals like Orangutans is a more difficult trip into the jungle with good guides. However you might always get lucky elsewhere.

The wealth of creatures in the jungle means that you will see something along the riverbanks as you cruise. Gibbons, Proboscis Monkeys, Simians and Macaques are among the larger primates of the jungle. Horsfields Tarsiers, many Langurs and of course the Slow Loris are also there. Unfortunately these cute creatures are still hunted to be sold illegally as pets.

There are more than just primates in the jungle. Pygmy Elephants roam around as do Clouded Leopards, Leopard Cats, Flying Squirrels and the elusive Bornean Marbled Cat which was only caught on camera in 2003 for the first time.

Orangutans though are the main draw to Borneo. They are easily visible around Camp Leaky a rehabilitation centre which has released them back into the wild. However these rereleased creatures don’t always travel too far from where they know.

Due to the expanding palm oil industry and destruction of forest habitat the work of rehabilitation centres like Camp Leaky is very important. Also many have to be returned to the wild having been confiscated by wildlife officials policing the illegal trade of Orangs as pets.

The Simiang is a primate seen in the jungles of Sumatra. However it can be hard to see wildlife in the thick jungle. Often a river trip is a better idea. Gunung Leuser National Park is a good place to spot animals.

Endangered Tigers, Rhinos and Orangutans

The animals in Sumatra are fairly similar to those in Borneo. A much larger population though means the pressures on the wildlife are greater. It has lead to a number of the larger animals becoming quite endangered.

While there are many small preserved areas it is the connecting forest between these preserves that is disappearing alarmingly fast. It means that the corridors that Sumatran Tigers, among others, use are reduced and so prevent their spread.

The numbers of Sumatran Tigers left is estimated to be around 500. Sumatran elephants; about 2000 and the Sumatran Rhino has less than 100 individuals left. A trip to Sumatra therefore demands a serious lack of expectation when it comes to spotting larger animals in the wild.

Of course the smaller creatures are more abundant and any trek in the jungles will be rewarding.

Gunung Leuser National Park at the North end of the island is a fantastic area for Jungle treks. Easily accessible from Medan, and relatively near the beautiful Toba crater lake, the park is home to over 150 species of mammal and twice that many bird species. Multi day treks are easy to organise, though relatively hard to complete due to the humidity of the tropical jungle.

The Komodo Dragon is one of the iconic species of wildlife in Indonesia.

Dragons Still Exist in Indonesia

One of the world’s iconic animals is of course to be found on a remote island in Indonesia. The world’s largest reptile, the eponymous Dragon, lives on the island of Komodo.

Just a few islands East of Bali and Lombok it is a world removed. Komodo Island is completely given over to the national park that bears its name and protects the Dragons within.

The large reptile is renowned as a dangerous creature. Weighing as much as 70 kg and being 2.5 m in length they are as big as most men. Being part of the family of monitor lizards the also have a bit of venom in their bite. Distance should be maintained.

While one can visit any time of year, April to June and September to November are best as they are they dry seasons. Also at this time you avoid the sun being directly overhead as Komodo lies just south of the equator.

Indonesia has plenty of wildlife below water level. Diving in Sulawesi, Bunaken and Raja Ampat is fantastic. Dive boats and dive tours are common.

Scuba Diving in Indonesia

A complete guide to scuba diving in Indonesia would be a massive undertaking as there are many amazing places. The diversity of the land above is reflected underwater with hundreds of species of fish visible in the waters around the archipelago.

Underwater life isn’t exclusive to fishes though. About a third of all Whale and Dolphin species are to be found in Indonesian waters.

The Blue Whale and the Whale Shark, respectively the world’s largest mammal and fish are both found here.

All over the country there are spectacular diving spots. Good for learners and for advanced divers.

Boat alone

The crystal clear waters of Northern Sulawesi are a diver’s paradise. The Bunaken National Marine Park is a big draw. Named after a smaller island off the coast of Sulawesi, the Marine Park is home to more species than the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.

The management of the park is nicely decentralised and a lot of the monies it receives is ploughed back in to the local villages.

This not only benefits the locals but also encourages them to preserve a solid source of their income.

The water is warm, the visibility is good and the diving infrastructure is excellent. There are plenty of diving resorts here where everything is looked after, thereby allowing you to make the most of your dives.

With nearly 400 species of coral and 90 species of fish, you are going to see something amazing every dive.

Whale Sharks are common in Raja Ampat one of Indonesia's top dive spots

Raja Ampat is little bit further from civilisation than Bali or Sulawesi but well worth the extra effort.

The best way to dive here is on a liveaboard. Quite simply the facilities are not as good as elsewhere in Indonesia. However diving isn’t about facilities but about the quality of the underwater world. It is here, away from dense human populations that Raja Ampat excels.

Even though surfing is more common Bali is still a top dive spot.

When one thinks of watersports in Bali one normally thinks of Surfing. However under those turbulent waves is a world of fascination.

There are options for both beginners and experienced divers in Bali.

For the more experienced places like Manta Point on the nearby Penida Island offer the chance to get into the water with Manta Rays. Sting Rays and Nurse Sharks are often seen in the surrounding area as well.

Buyuk also on Nusa Penida is a place for beginners. A shallower dive to the corals it has an abundance of smaller fishes and quite often turtles as well.