Named for the famed paleo-anthropologist Louis Leakey, Camp Leakey is located in Tanjung Puting National Park in the remote jungles of Indonesian Borneo. This is an active research facility that does not allow overnight camping, but day visitors may tour and observe the feedings of wild and semi-wild primates in the area. The focus of Camp Leakey's research is orangutan rescue and rehabilitation and the region's massive deforestation brought on by the palm oil industry.
On the docks of Kumai, board a klotok, a traditional Indonesian boat named for the sound the engine makes. It is a short journey from Kumai to the entrance of Tanjung Puting National Park at the mouth of the Sekonyer River. Beyond this point, there are almost no signs of civilization save for a small village near the river mouth and a couple dilapidated ranger camps en route to Camp Leakey.
While traveling upriver, be on the lookout for wildlife. The jungles of Borneo are teeming with wildlife found nowhere else in the world. Along the banks, troops of proboscis monkeys and orangutans jump from tree to tree, and crocodiles lounge in the sun.
All meals are prepared and served by the staff on the boat and should be negotiated into the price of the trip. It is important to discuss entrance fees to the national park and Camp Leakey when making arrangements as well. Most outfitters include these in the price, but it is best to make certain before departing.
Sleeping quarters are what one would probably expect in this remote corner of the world. It is common and safest to sleep on the boat. Most klotoks are open air with a patio on the top deck, where the crew will set a mosquito net up with bedding on the floor. Bring a headlamp that has a red light feature; these tend to attract fewer insects than a white light.
Nights in the jungle canopy are dark, and stargazing from the river is amazing. Some guides also offer nighttime jungle treks, which offer an opportunity to see some of the nocturnal wildlife endemic to the area.
Boats typically arrive in Camp Leakey early on the second day. The feeding station is an absolute must-see. From the docks, a guide leads through the camp and into the jungle to a clearing, where wooden platforms are set up. Attendants bring bananas and milk out for the primates. At a relatively safe distance, gibbons, orangutans, and other primates may take turns at the feeding stations.
Once leaving Camp Leakey, boats moor downriver for a second night. After an early start the next day, boats return to port in Kumai by early afternoon, where the guided trip ends. Make arrangements to stay in a hotel in Pangklan Buun, where there are hotels available with clean showers.
A parting word of advice: Be flexible when planning this trip. Air travel can be unreliable to and from this region. Flights are canceled frequently, and without flexibility to maneuver between destinations it is possible to miss connecting flights, of which there are not many.
Because of its location, travel to Camp Leakey is only possible by river, and for this reason it is necessary to hire a guide. Make arrangements with a river guide outfitter well in advance of arrival. Attempting to do this on the ground is difficult at best due to the lack of facilities available and cell service. When flying into Pangkalan Buun, also spelled Pangkalanbun, it is a good idea to meet the guide at the airport. From the airport, it is just a short drive to the port town of Kumai, which is the departure point to Tanjung Puting National Park and Camp Leakey.
Borneo is an unforgiving island with remote areas of tropical rainforest. When planning a trip to this remote pocket of jungle, it is important to plan ahead. Check with a physician and the Center for Disease Control for recommended vaccinations and medications prior to arrival. This is an extremely important part of the pre-trip preparation considering the possibility of exposure to a vast array of tropical diseases, including malaria. There are few medical facilities in Borneo and a low likelihood of a timely medical evacuation, and it is a good idea to pack a well-stocked first-aid kit as well.