Spanning nearly 14,000km2 from the foothills east of Padang up and over the central Barisan mountain range in western Sumatra, the Kerinci Seblat National Park encompasses a wide array of geological features and ecosystems. Together with the Gunung Leuser and Bukit Barisan Selatan National Parks, Kerinci forms the UNESCO World Heritage Site known as the Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatra.
The Great Sumatra Fault runs through the centre of the park, which together with the Barisan Ranges, forms a labyrinth of deep valleys and river gorges, caves and hot springs. No less than five active volcanoes lie within the park boundaries including Mount Kerinci, which at 3,805m high is the highest active volcano in Indonesia. The mountains are also the watershed for some of Sumatra’s most important rivers which originate from springs and peat swamps like Ladeh Panjang, the mountain lake of Danau Kebut and the highland wetlands of Rawa Bento.
With such a vast array of habitats, it’s no surprise that the park has a high degree of flora and fauna biodiversity. The world’s two largest and rarest flowering plants, the Rafflesia arnoldi and the Titan arum, so called “Corpse plants” due to their foul smell, are found in the park along with 4,000 other plant species. The pretty Javanese edelweiss Anaphalis javanica flowering shrub, which only grows on volcanoes is found on the high slopes of Mount Kerinci and Mount Tujuh.
More than 370 bird species, including hornbills and 17 of Sumatra’s 20 endemic birds such as the Sumatran ground-cuckoo, Schneider’s Pitta and Salvadore’s pheasant, which were all once thought extinct, are also found in the park.
Despite their elusiveness, the remote chance of actually seeing one of the parks rare mammal species is enticing. Kerinci is recognised under the Global Tiger Initiative as one of the 12 most important protected areas in the world for tiger conservation. Camera traps and other surveys have indicated Sumatran Tigers are active in 83% of the park. The Sunda clouded leopard, marbled cat, leopard cat and the Asian golden cat are also found throughout the park.
Other highly endangered species found in Kerinci include the Sumatran dhole, Sumatran elephant, Malayan tapir, Malay sun bear and the Sumatran muntjac deer. Sadly, poaching has wiped out the park’s once healthy population of Sumatran Rhinoceros. At least seven species of primate reside in the jungle and intriguingly, farmers around the edge of the park have occasionally reported seeing the so called orang pendek, a ground dwelling upright ape similar to bigfoot or the yeti. These reports are consistent with documented sighting by villagers, Dutch colonist and Western scientists going back well over a hundred years.
Needless to say, the Kerinci Seblat offers endless opportunities for sightseeing, trekking, wildlife encounters, bird watching and even canoeing. Obviously, trekking into the jungle offers the best opportunity for wildlife encounters and is necessary to reach some of the parks gorgeous natural attractions, and one of the great things about Kerinci Seblat is that there are single to multi-day trekking and climbing adventures to suit all experience and difficulty levels. However, for those that can’t or would prefer not to, trekking isn’t the only way to explore the park.
The main gateway to KSNP is the town of Sungai Penuh, located on the parks east central boundary. Its central location makes it a perfect base from which to explore a wide cross section of the park’s attractions and the settled region of the Kerinci Valley, which sits outside the park boundaries. The town has a handful of decent hotels and homestays, restaurants, transportation, tour operators, guides and shops. And whilst tourists are common here, they’re not in large numbers so although the town can satisfy the majority of traveller needs, don’t expect anything too fancy.
Whilst the entire Kerinci Valley can be explored from Sungai Penuh, staying a night or two in one of the villages closer to the outlying attractions is often more convenient in terms of arranging local guides and can save you 2-3 hours travelling a day. For attractions in the north, consider Kersik Tuo village and Lempur village for the south.
Public minibuses (angkot) from Sungai Penuh provide regular shuttle services to the surrounding villages and main attractions, providing a cheap and easy means of getting around. They usually depart when full from the bus terminal near the main market in Sungai Penuh. Alternative transport options include private hire car with a driver, taxis or ojeks. It’s also possible to hire a scooter or bicycle if you want to have the freedom to explore without relying on someone else.
But first you need to get to Sungai Penuh and whichever direction you’re coming from, brace yourself for a long journey. Motion sick pills are a good idea if you’re prone to getting car sick. Fortunately, there are reasonably good transport links which means the trip can be made relatively comfortably and affordably. Shared private minivan transfers link Sungai Penuh with Padang (267km, 8hrs), Bukittinggi (305km, 8hrs), Jambi (389km, 12hrs), Bangko (147km, 5hrs), Bengkulu (341km, 12hrs) and Muara Bungo (220km, 6hrs). Fares range between 50.000-100.000Rp per person and generally include pickup from your accommodation. There are several transport companies plying these routes and you should be able to find and book transfers through just about any travel desk in any of the aforementioned cities. In Sungai Penuh, your accommodation provider will be able to help.
Alternatively, there is an airstrip in Kerinci with flights to and from Jambi city airport: SusiAir flies four times a week on Monday, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sunday mornings. Tickets are around 330,000 IDR. However, it’s not the most reliable service, being frequently cancelled or delayed without notice. So be sure your schedule isn’t tight on the other end if choosing this method.
Your first stop in town should be to the National Park Office to obtain your park permit (150.000Rp in July 2015). The staff are generally quite helpful and will be able to provide you with lots of suggestions about what to see and do. They can also help you arrange treks, guides and transport.
Around Sungai Penuh, a great place to start your explorations is to head to Bukit Khayangan, a 25min ojek ride to the south west of town. From the summit, the entire Kerinci Valley opens out before you from Mt Kerinci in the north, Sungai Penuh below and south beyond the expansive Danau Kerinci (Lake Kerinci). It’s an outstanding view that gives you a good lay of the land.
Continuing 15km south from Bukit Khayangan will take you to Renah Kayu Embun, traversing the pretty highland plateau of scattered farming communities. Renah Kayu Embun is the starting point for the trek to the summit of Mt Raya (2,543m) which looms above the plateau to the south.
After returning to the valley, head south 10km along the main road to Pulau Tengah village on Danau Kerinci (Lake Kerinci) western shoreline then head back into the foothills to Pancuran Rayo Waterfall. The towering 75m high falls are simply gorgeous and worth the 3 hour trek. Pancuran Gading Waterfall is an additional 30 min detour. There are a number of diverging trails in the hills here so you’ll need to a guide to help you find both waterfalls.
After a busy day exploring the hinterland, head back to Lake Danau to relax, watch the local fishermen and enjoy a meal on one of the floating restaurants.
To the north of town, some of the easily reached attractions include Batu Kuho Waterfall, the steaming Semurup Hot Springs (too hot to soak in but worth a look) and Pendung Semurup Waterfall. From the village of Sungai Medang, take a fairly easy 1.5 hour trek to the Sungai Medang Waterfall, a pretty series of 11 cascades, then on return, finish off with a soothing soak at the village hot springs.
Wildlife enthusiasts should head out along the Bukit – Tapan Road which cuts right through the middle of the park from east to west, either early morning or late afternoon. The 30km stretch west of Sungai Penuh is a known hotspot for wildlife including mitered leaf monkeys, short-tailed macaques, siamang gibbons, slow lorises, binturong (bearcat), deer and a wide array of birds. The rangers at the national park office can even help you arrange a night safari; with a spotlight or strong torch you should be able to spot some nocturnal species such as civets, flying squirrels, cuscus and others.
Located inside the parks central eastern boundary, the village of Kersik Tua is the gateway for those wishing to climb Mt Kerinci or Mt Tujuh via Danau Gunung Tuju, SE Asia’s highest crater lake. With relatively easy access, well blazed trails, superb wild scenery and sublime summit views, these are two of the most popular mountain treks in Indonesia. Neither is a walk in the park though. The trails to the summit are steep with relatively few switchbacks to ease burning thigh muscles, mud and trip hazards like rocks and tree roots abound and you will need to camp out. As long as you’re well prepared and reasonably fit, and assuming you’re the adventurous type (otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this in the first place), it has all the ingredients for a fabulous trekking adventure.
On its own, climbing Mt Kerinci usually takes 2 days and 1 night from the trailhead 5km west of Kersik Tua. The trail starts out through pretty tea plantations with Kerinci in view the whole time. As you begin ascending the lower flanks, the tea gives way to chilli and potato fields before passing a rangers post and entering the forest. From there it’s virtually straight up. There are several shelters along the route at Pos 1 (1,880m), an unnamed one at 2,207m, Pos 2 (3,040m) and Pos 3 (3,306m) about 2 hours shy of the summit.
Most trekkers camp at Pos 2 where there is some protection from the wind and a semi-reliable water supply from a small creek nearby. To reach the summit by sunrise, you’d need to set off by 3:00am. The alternative is to camp at Pos 3 which is just above the tree line and therefore more exposed but the trade off is excellent views of Mt Tujuh and Lake Tujuh and a slightly later 4:00am start the next morning.
Either way, you don’t want to miss sunrise on the summit. The vision of the sun coming up over Mt Tujuh and Lake Tujuh and surrounding shadowy peaks of the Barisan mountain range is spectacular.
If climbing Mt Kerinci isn’t enough to satisfy your thirst for adventure, Mt Tujuh (2,732m) lies in wait. The peaceful Danau Tujuh cradled within the massive caldera belies its violent origin from a massive, ancient eruption that literally blew the top off the mountain, leaving behind seven distinct peaks and the 4.5km wide caldera lake.
Though not as high as Mt Kerinci, climbing Mt Tujuh is still challenging and just as rewarding. Most people take 2-3 days to complete the trek, depending on how early they start out from the trailhead, and whether or not you want to tackle one or two of Tujuh’s peaks overlooking the lake. The starting point for climbing Tujuh is just outside tiny Pelompek village on Tujuh’s western flank and 15km northeast of Kersik Tuo. Any of the homestays in Kersik Tua can arrange ojek transfers to the trailhead.
From the trailhead, it only takes 2-3 hours to reach Danau Tujuh lakes shore inside the caldera. Provided you got an early start, that leaves plenty of time to set up camp, explore around the shoreline or cross the lake by dugout canoe to Pasir Putih, the launching point for an attack on Gunung Terbakar, the second highest peak, or Gunung Kecil (2,300m). To fully explore the lake surrounds and tackle both of these peaks, you’d need to allow three days for the expedition. Note the highest peak and true summit, Gunung Tujuh, is unclimbable.
There’s a tiny fishermen’s settlement on the lake shore not far from where the trail enters the caldera. For a small fee, these guys are usually happy to transfer you across the lake in their dugout canoes; just drop by the settlement or hail from the shore if they’re already out on the water.
Other attractions around Pelompek village include the impressive Telup Berasap Waterfall to the north and Pauh Tinggi Waterfall, a 2 hour trek to the southeast. With an 80m fall and a delightful jungle setting, this rarely visited waterfall makes an excellent half day outing. Also from Pelompek, you can arrange a dugout canoe tour of the Rawa Bento Swamps on the Sangir River just south of the village. These highland swamps are an important habitat for fish, freshwater crustaceans and a huge variety of birds, including migratory birds coming from as far away as Russia. Monkeys and other wildlife also inhabit the area, so the roughly 2 hour canoe trip provides plenty of wildlife spotting opportunities.
About halfway along, and just to the south of Kersik Tuo – Pelompek Road, the hamlet of Renah Kasah is the access point for the little known Goa Kasah Caves, the largest cave system in Kerinci. It takes around 3 hours to reach the caves on foot, trekking through very pleasant rice fields, highland farm plots and swamp forest. You’ll need to engage a local guide from Renah Kasah to help you find it – just ask around.
For something a little different, ask your homestay in Kersik Tuo to help arrange a tour of the Kayu Aro Tea Plantation, the largest in the world, and the adjacent Bedeng tea processing factory.
Kersik Tuo has a handful of homestays and a small campground just outside the village. Local guides, porters and equipment can be sourced from the village. Your homestay will be able to help you organise everything. Additionally, homestays will usually issue your park permit (around 30.000Rp per person). Expect to pay 350.000Rp per day for an English speaking guide, 200.000Rp for a porter and additional for any equipment hire. There are several tour companies offering all-inclusive trekking packages if you prefer to have everything organised for you. An internet search will turn up quite a few, but you can easily book something once you’re on the ground in Sumatra and then only a day or two in advance.
Weekends and holidays can get busy so aim for the weekday treks if you can. It can get cold at night so be sure to pack some warm clothing and wet weather gear as the weather can be quite changeable, even during the dry season.
Kersik Tua can be reached from by public minibus (angkot) from Sungai Penuh. Angkot depart daily between 8:00am-5:00pm when they are full. The 1.5 hour journey costs around 10.000Rp. If you’re not a public transport kind of person, grab a taxi or ask your accommodation in Sungai Penuh to help you arrange a private car with a driver.
This tiny village is situated at the end of the road at north end of the Kerinci Valley about 5km (30min by ojek) as the crow flies north west of Kersik Tuo (the nearest accommodation) or 47km (1.5 hours) north of Sungai Penuh. The village serves as the access point for Danau Belibis, a pretty highland lake cradled within an old secondary vent of Mt Kerinci. It’s about a 1 hour uphill hike from the road end. The Ladeh Panjang peat swamp marshland, which at 2000m is one the highest wetlands in SE Asia, lies in Kerinci’s western foothills north of the village. The wetlands contain Danau Singkarak and Danau Sakti; the former a moderately easy 6 hour one way hike from the village, the later a further 3 hours. The bulk of the trail is through primary forest in a little visited region of the park, maximising your chances of spotting a wide variety of wildlife like deer, tapir and primates such as macaques and gibbon and nocturnal species such as flying squirrels and civets around your quiet jungle camp.
Gunung Ayam Hot Springs is a further days trekking deeper into the jungle. It’s a gruelling trek with no defined trail in very remote territory – definitely only for hardcore, experienced hikers. As with the other treks from Buntu, an experienced local guide is essential.
33km (1 hour) south of Sungai Penuh, Lempur village is a convenient base for exploring the attractions at the southern end of the Kerinci Valley, not least of which are the many coloured lakes. These include the very pretty green lake Danau Lingkat where you can hire bamboo rafts to get out on the water or trek around the lake shores on well defined paths. Siamang Gibbons inhabit the western shore; they’re hard to spot but you may very well hear them.
Less than 500m to the southeast you’ll find Danau Nyalo (black lake) and an easy 2 hour trek further south Danau Duo. From here you can follow the trail for another hour to Danau Kecik, then a further 1 hour to Danau Kaco, a stunning brilliant blue lake nestled in the forest. If you’ve only got time to visit one of Lempur’s lakes, this should be it. Total trekking time for all four lakes is around 4 hours, most of it fairly flat and relatively easy, but you need to allow additional time for rafting on Lingkat, swimming in blue lake and generally exploring. Pack a picnic and plenty of water.
If it seems like too much effort, you can access all the lakes by car or scooter, leaving only short walks from the road to the lake shore. A good option is to trek out from Lempur and arrange a pick-up to meet you at Danau Kaco for the return trip.
The active and rarely climbed Mt Kunyit lies to the west of Lempur. Starting from the trailhead at Talang Kemuning village it takes around 6 hours to reach the crater rim. Here you’ll be rewarded with stunning views back up the Kerinci Valley, steaming fumaroles and the bubbling Taman Dewa (meaning “Garden of the Gods”) hotspring. Although fit and experienced trekkers could complete the trek in a single day, it’s best to take a more leisurely approach and spend a night camping deep in the jungle. Listening to the sounds of the jungle as ethereal clouds drift in and out is an amazing experience. On the way down, swing by the Talang Kemuning Hot Springs, a fumaroles site where boiling water mixes with a cool mountain stream to form a perfect natural bath.
Lempur has several homestays and can be easily reached by public minibus, taxi or ojek from Sunai Penuh. Your homestay will be able to help you arrange transport and a guide for any of the treks above.
Kerinci Seblat is best visited during the dry season from May – September when rainfall is at its lowest. Although it can be hot and humid in the jungle, temperatures at higher altitudes can be downright frigid so trekkers should come prepared.