Gunung Halimun Salak National park in West Java holds the largest remaining lowland forest on the island. It comprises of Mount Halimun, the Mount Salak range and an 11km forest corridor between. It’s one of West Java’s most important water catchment areas and is also one of the last known habitats for the endangered Javan Gibbon and Grizzled Langur (monkey), among dozens of other mammal species.
The park is designated as mixed-use so apart from habitat protection, it supports a range of other activities such as research, education, horticulture, agriculture (tea plantations) and eco-tourism. Boasting majestic mountains, beautiful highland scenery, pristine montane forests and lowland rainforests, waterfalls and a diverse array of fauna and flora, nature lovers will find no end of attractions.
The Kesepuhan, a traditional Sundanese community of around 5,300 residents, reside in the southern section of the park in small scattered villages. Visitors are most welcome and although their lifestyle is best described as semi-traditional, most tourists will find the villages quite interesting.
Trekking looms high on the list of things to do with trails to suit all experience and fitness levels networking the park. There are no less than eight beautiful waterfalls to explore including Cimantaja and Cipamulann located near Cikiray village, Piit and Cihanjawar in the vicinity of Nirmala, Citangkolo and Ciraksamala close to Mekarjaya village and finally Ciberang waterfall near Cisarua village.
Both Mount Haliman (1,929m) and Mount Salak (2,211m) can be summited. For Mount Halimun, the best route to the summit starts at Leuwijamang village located at an elevation of 800m on the northern slopes. There’s no road access to the village though so you need to walk there from Cisarua village.
The Mount Salak trail begins from the agricultural station near Cimelati Villages, also at 800m elevation. At the summit you’ll find a gravestone marker and a shelter and although the mountain is fairly thickly forested, it thins out towards the top so there are nice views over Salak’s lesser summits, the Gede-Pangrango massif and the city of Bogor below.
Both Haliman and Salak summits take around 8 hours return and are relatively straightforward. Haliman can be done without a guide but one is recommended for Mount Salak as you could easily get confused among the lesser peaks and limited visibility.
One of the most popular Salak treks is from Javana Spa near Cicung village to the active Kawah Ratu (Queen’s) crater. This crater is highly active and visually impressive with steaming sulphur vents, sulphur rivers, bubbling water, mud pools and a hillside strewn with white rocks. Don’t venture to close or linger too long though as the level of poisonous sulphur gases in the area can be quite high and people have lost their lives here (generally campers). Those with respiratory problems such as asthma should probably give this one a miss.
Ask the park rangers at the entrance gate just before Javan Spa for directions to the trailhead then simply follow the markers that have been place along the trail. It’s a relatively easy, flat 5km hike to the crater; average hikers should be able to make the return journey in 3-4 hours.
Incidentally, the first part of this trail shares an alternative route to the Salak summit which is becoming increasingly popular. Known as the Cangkuang route, it branches off the Kawah Ratu trail at around 1,200m at the Bajuri campground. Right for Salak summit, left for Kawah Ratu.
Remember before tackling any of the treks in the park to check in with the Gunung Halimun National park’s rangers to obtain permits, rules and expert advice. Good sturdy footwear is essential and be sure to take adequate water and snacks. Trails to the majority of the waterfalls are not sign posted so the hiring a guide is strongly recommended.
Another interesting trek is to the small but ancient megalithic temple of Candi Cibedug that dates back to the 5th century. It’s located around 8km west of Citorek village and takes around 3 hours to reach but is well worth the effort.
One of the parks most popular activities include the Canopy Walk, a series of bridges suspended 20-30, above the ground through the tree tops. It’s only 100m long but it offers and interesting perspective of the world from above. The walk is located only 200m from the Cikaniki Research Station. It’s also around here that you can see the intriguing glowing mushrooms which bioluminescence as a result of some sort of chemical reaction. In everyday speak, that translates to little mushrooms that glow like green neon signs in the dark. Fascinating!
Another very popular activity is white water rafting on the Citarik River located on the southeastern edge of the park. The class 2 and 3 rapids provide plenty of adrenalin inducing moments. You’ll get tossed about somewhat and you’ll definitely get wet but your chances of falling out of the inflatable raft are very small unless you do something silly. All in all its pretty good fun.
Accommodation options in and around the park are limited and very basic. The Cikaniki Research Station Lodge was built to provide accommodation to researchers working around Cikaniki and Citalahab forest. However, tourists are more than welcome to stay subject to availability. The lodge has 5 basics rooms that sleep 4 people each and a fully equipped, shared kitchen with all cooking utensils provided. You’ll have to provide your own food though. It is highly recommended to stay during a week when it’s generally a bit quieter. Rooms cost around 250.000Rp per night.
Alternatively, by asking around you can usually find someone in Citalahab village (near the Nirmala Tea Plantation) willing to put you up. Not only will you be warmly welcomed by genuinely hospitable locals it’s a great way to immerse yourself in the local culture and get some excellent tips on what to see and do around the place. Make sure you have an Indonesian phrase book with you.
If the lodge or a homestay isn’t your bag, it’s possible to camp in and around Citalahab, Cimantaja and Leuwijamang villages in designated park campgrounds.
Although the park can be accessed from various villages along the northern and southern boundaries, Cibadak village on the eastern boundary is the usual gateway to Gunung Halimum. It’s best reached from Bogor, Sukabumi or Rangkasbitung by private hire car, ideally a four wheel drive as some sections of the road are quite degraded, particularly as you get closer to the park. Public transport is available along all these routes but be prepared to be spend half a day travelling. If you’re on a budget, try to find a group of people to share the costs of a private car.
Gunung Halimun experiences between 4,000 – 6,000mm of rainfall a year so it’s wet much of the time and cool given the higher elevation, so bring a raincoat and warm clothing and bedding. It also experiences a longer wet season from October to May when visiting the park becomes difficult to the point the entire park is closed for trekking from December to April.