It’s no secret that I love Kerinci. The highland valley, surrounded by a mountainous national park (Sumatra’s largest) has been my home for over eight years. And it’s beautiful – the mighty volcanic peaks, mystical cloud forests, swirling morning mist over the jungle, and cool temperatures are hard to beat. But every once in a while, I miss the ocean. So last month, we packed up our family, and in a rare trip out of the highlands, made our way down to the coast of West Sumatra and to the little piece of paradise at Rimba Ecolodge.
From the city of Padang, the capital of West Sumatra province, it’s only about a forty-five minute drive south to the village of Teluk Bungus, where the boat from Rimba picks you up. Even though Rimba is still on the main coast of Sumatra, because it sits on a peninsula with a protected rainforest behind it, there are no roads to the bungalows – it can only be reached after another forty-five minutes over turquoise waters, passing a number of idyllic islands and hidden beaches along the way.
After the beautiful ride on calm seas, we pulled into the bay where Rimba sits. The bay is essentially divided in two by a large rock outcropping, only passable at low tide, separating it from the beaches of Jophira Tintin, (which is also a lovely spot). We basically had the place to ourselves, although even at full capacity, it’s a very small and intimate place and could never be crowded.
Stepping off the boat and wading to the shore felt a little like becoming a castaway on a lost island. The beach is truly wild, with large trees hanging over the sand and not an umbrella in sight. The bungalows and main meeting area are all hidden under the rainforest canopy, with the sounds of the surf and singing birds replacing all signs of civilization. Even mobile phone and internet signal is cut off, save for one tiny spot – when the wind blows just right. We were excited to unplug and be able to truly relax in this pure environment.
We met Reno, a passionate leader from the nearby village of Sungai Pinang, and his wife Nad, a French woman long involved in conservation work on Sumatra, at check-in. They started Rimba in 2013, getting permission from the local government to manage and protect the forest and bay. Through their efforts, year on year they’ve seen the reefs continually become healthier and more biodiverse, wildlife flourish in the surrounding jungle, and a significant economic boost to the nearby villages. With their Indonesian registered non-profit organization, they offer school supplies, drive education initiatives, and participate in village waste management efforts – they even have a plastic waste-to-fuel conversion machine in operation, along with traditional composting. Since support for conservation and communities is also what we’re working for in Kerinci, Rimba is exactly the kind of organization we are keen to support when we do our own travelling.
There are four different types of bungalows at Rimba. Most are good for two or three people, but with our family of five, we chose the largest one, Kalao. It was perfect for us – two small bedrooms, each with a queen-sized bed, and a large living room area with seating and dining table, isolated from the other bungalows at the end of the property. Being an environmentally and socially responsible project, all the bungalows were made from local and sustainably sourced materials, like bamboo, rattan, and palm, and were built by craftsmen from the nearby villages of Sungai Pisang and Sungai Pinang. While there is electricity, there are no fans or air-conditioning at Rimba. However, being under the tall trees, with the ocean breeze constantly blowing, we always felt sufficiently cool.
One thing to know though – the accommodations are *very* open to the elements. There are no walls in the hangout area, and even the bedrooms only have half walls, with the tops open. In a way, it’s like camping – it certainly makes one feel connected to nature, with all sorts of insects and even crabs passing through from time to time. Thankfully, mosquito nets are provided.
The word “Rimba” is the Indonesian word for an undisturbed, primary rainforest – and the surrounding grounds certainly live up to that name. Within the first ten minutes, we saw our first monkey, a long-tailed macaque, right from our deck. And it wasn’t like the semi-wild long-tailed macaques one sees in touristy areas like Bali – this one had zero interest in us and kept its distance.
It was a good sign of things to come – over the next few days, we saw a host of other wildlife. Besides the macaque, we saw two different species of leaf monkeys (a troop of the Silvery Lutungs—pictured above—appeared almost every day in the forest canopy over the bungalows), hornbills, kingfishers, sea eagles, herons, a huge variety of crabs, and more. Some guests have captured wildlife as varied as wild boar to porcupines on camera traps. Two species of gibbons make their home in the nearby hills – and on very rare occasion there have even been signs of a tiger back there. Plus, a population of rafflesia was discovered hidden near the small mangrove! Rimba is just bursting with life!
Just a few steps from our porch, the Indian Ocean stretched to the horizon. In the protected inlet, with a coral reef just off shore, the surf was calm and the waters shallow. There aren’t many places in the world where one has such accessible snorkeling on the edge of an old growth rainforest – where you can be watching sea turtles below the water one moment, only to pop up and see hornbills flying overhead the next. Even our young children were able to join in – they each spent hours with their masks on and faces down, watching the sea life below.
In the five years that Rimba has been in operation, they have done a fantastic job of protecting the Muaro Duo bay from overfishing and destructive fishing practices. Year on year, they’ve seen an increase in both the quantity of aquatic creatures, as well as the biodiversity of species present. In 2018, they were even able to get permission from the Environment and Forestry Ministry of Indonesia to officially make the bay a protected area, off limits to fishing by law, and managed by their non-profit organization. The snorkeling was already great when we were there – can’t wait to see what it’s like in the future!
Coming in the middle of rainy season (which isn’t actually predictable or consistent in this part of Sumatra), we were prepared to spend a few hours of the days indoors while it rained. But in our five days there, only once did it rain before 7pm, and even then it started around sunset, giving us some spectacularly haunting lighting. Most of the time the rains began after 9pm, with every morning bringing bright and sunny weather with it.
Since Rimba is cut off from everything else, all meals are included and eaten together family-style in the main gathering area. It’s great not having to worry about cooking or budgeting for meals, and the food was delicious local cuisine made from local ingredients, which even our sometimes picky kids enjoyed. Because of the fixed meal schedule though (which in general was much later than our usual eating times), if you have kids it’s a good idea to bring some snacks along from Padang. Although it’s easy enough to order fruit, chips, pancakes, or the like at the canteen.
With this place so firmly off the beaten path, families especially rarely visit, which is a shame. Between the exploration of the jungle and the abundant and accessible sea life, our kids were never bored. This was great for us parents, as we could also spend our time doing what we wanted to do– whether snorkeling, walking in the jungle, taking photos, or just melting into a hammock and dreaming away an afternoon – without them looking to us for entertainment. Pure bliss.
It’s also an incredibly good value. Prices vary somewhat based on which room you have and how many are travelling with you, but they can be as low as 200,000 IDR (about $15 USD) per person—including three meals a day, free-flow water/tea/coffee, and use of their snorkel equipment and canoes. And kids are 25%-50% off, based on their age. Possibly the lowest cost all-inclusive vacation in the world?
Every night we stood on the beach watching the gorgeous sunsets over the Indian Ocean, afterwards roasting marshmallows and making s’mores over a small campfire made by the Rimba staff.
At the end of five days, with great reluctance, it was time for us to leave this proverbial Garden of Eden and make the journey home. Saying our goodbyes to Reno, Nad, and the team, we climbed once again aboard the boat for the crossing back to Bungus (which was a bit more rough this time!). But we can’t wait to visit again, hopefully sooner rather than later!
If you’re a responsible traveler looking to make a positive contribution to conservation and the communities you travel in, while enjoying a picturesque slice of nature away from the tourist hordes found in Bali, the Gili islands, or other parts of Southeast Asia, you really can’t do much better than a visit to Rimba. I also can’t imagine a better way to relax and recharge after some serious jungle trekking in Kerinci.