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Borneo

The prospect of thrilling orang-utan encounters is incentive enough to visit, yet the world's third largest island has so much more to entice you

Tailor-Made Holidays
To Borneo

The third largest island in the world, Borneo ranks as one of the planet’s top wildlife destinations. The prospect of thrilling orang-utan encounters is incentive enough to visit, yet the island has so much more to entice you. That includes vast tracts of pristine rainforest, countless coral islands, mighty mountains, remote tribes, jungle-fringed rivers and extensive cave systems.

The human-like orang-utans (the name means man of the forest in Malay) head an impressive assortment of 10 primate species including gibbons, proboscis monkeys, the bizarre-looking western tarsier and the aptly named slow loris. Among the 40 other mammal species, diminutive Borneo pygmy elephants roam the forest trails together with sun bears, clouded leopards and the elusive Sumatran rhinoceros. There are over 600 species of birds, many rare orchids, various carnivorous pitcher plants and an amazing twelve species of Rafflesia, the world’s largest flower. Underwater, Borneo has some of the tropics’ most diverse coral reefs, and large numbers of marine turtles nest on its numerous sandy beaches.

Borneo is divided politically between the small sultanate of Brunei, the Indonesian state of Kalimantan and the two East Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak: it is these latter two states on which we focus our tours here. (If you are interested in visiting Kalimantan, please see our Indonesia section.)

A wonderful shot of an inquisitive young Gorilla in Nyungwe park

Photography by Dan Burton

Best Time To Visit Borneo

Borneo has a tropical climate and is typically hot and humid throughout the year. Expect a mix of sunshine and thundery downpours at any time. The north east monsoon brings heavy rains to the whole island during November, December and January. This is usually followed by a dry spell in March, April and May. The west coast of Sabah can also be affected by the south west monsoon blowing in heavy showers any time from May to October. Borneo is located far enough south to avoid the worst of the Pacific’s typhoons, gaining Sabah the title of “Land Beneath The Wind”.

Borneo Travel

Getting There

Flight Time

17 hours (including connections) London to Kota Kinabalu

Time Zone

GMT +8

Language

Malay

Population

18.59 million

Highlights

What To See

Layang Layang

Layan Layang Island is a diving Mecca on the Borneo Banks, a site famous for fantastic reef diving and the thrill of seeing schooling hammerhead sharks.

Sipadan Island

Off the coast of Sabah lies an underwater paradise made famous by Jacques Yves Cousteau who described Sipadan as an “untouched piece of art”. Here you can snorkel and dive with huge shoals of reef fish, large numbers of turtles and the odd shark or two. For competent divers, the ultimate experience is the Turtle Cavern, a vast underwater cave littered with the skeletons of countless turtles. Although there is no accommodation on Sipadan, the nearby islands of Mabul and Kapalai have good resort facilities, a profusion of ‘macro’ species and are only a 15-minute boat ride from Sipadan.

Lankayan Island

Turtles come to nest on lovely Lankayan Island which has a beautiful white sand beach and fringing coral reef. Snorkelling and diving are possible directly from the shore and the accommodation is very appealing.

Selingan Island

Selingan Island lies off the east coast of Sabah and is part of the Turtle Islands National Park where green and hawksbill turtles come to nest on a near-nightly basis. With luck, you can sometimes help release the young hatchlings back into the sea.

Longhouses

A highlight for many visitors to Sarawak is a stay with one of the tribes in a traditional longhouse, home to many families under one roof.

Sarawak has over 40 ethnic groups, each with its own traditions, culture and language. The Iban tribe (also known as Sea Dayaks because of their history as pirates and fishermen) were once feared as headhunters, but are now better known for their traditional weavings, silver craft, wood carvings, beadwork and friendly nature.

Gunung Mulu National Park

The World Heritage Site of Gunung Mulu is a breathtaking mix of primary rainforest, limestone pinnacles and huge cave systems. Travel by longboat to see the Clearwater Cave, reputedly the longest in the world, and the Wind and Lang Caves for spectacular formations. Deer Cave is home to millions of bats which emerge at dusk in long columns, often swerving to avoid repeated attacks by bat hawks and other raptors. For the more adventurous, trek to see the spectacular Limestone Pinnacles or climb Gunung Mulu mountain itself.

Kuching

Often regarded as one of the most beautiful cities in South East Asia, Kuching is a delightful mix of colonial buildings, markets and riverside promenades. Nearby is the Bako National Park, Sarawak’s oldest, with a diverse mix of woodland, mangroves and rugged coastline containing wild pigs, monitor lizards and a large number of proboscis monkeys.

The Semengoh Orang-Utan Rehabilitation Centre enables close encounters with the apes, particularly during the morning and afternoon feedings. Damai Beach offers good seaside relaxation as well
as a collection of longhouses from across Sarawak.

Gomantong Caves

Close to the Danum Valley, the Gomantong Caves are surrounded by primary rainforest (orang-utans are common here) and home to millions of bats and cave swiflets. The caves have a remarkable guano-based ecology and, at certain times of the year, local villagers can be observed precariously traversing the high cave walls on bamboo ladders as they harvest disused nests for making bird’s nest soup.

The Danum Valley Conservation Area

Covering 438 square kilometres of pristine dipterocarp rainforest, the Danum Valley is one of the most outstanding wildlife areas in all South East Asia. With its towering rainforest trees and stunning landscapes, the reserve holds a vast array of fauna including all ten of Sabah’s primate species, wild elephant, the beautiful clouded leopard and 275 bird species. This was also home to one of Malaysia’s last populations of wild rhino until the last surviving female was captured in 2014 and entered into a breeding programme.

Mount Kinabalu

The Crocker Mountain Range dominates western Sabah and culminates in Mt Kinabalu at its northern tip. At 4,095 metres Mt Kinabalu is the highest mountain between the Himalayas and New Guinea and provides exhilarating but non-technical mountaineering. At its base, the Kinabalu National Park is one of the world’s most biodiverse reserves, with over 5000 species of plants, 300 species of birds and a wide variety of reptiles, amphibians and invertebrates. Its diverse habitats range from lowland rainforest through deciduous oak and chestnut to sub-alpine montane forests.

A short drive away are the hot springs of Poring which offer a canopy platform, waterfalls, rainforest walks and good chances of finding Rafflesia species, the world’s largest flower with some blooms measuring over one metre in diameter. These can also be seen at the nearby Rafflesia Forest Reserve. To the far south, there is a spectacular rail journey from Tenom to Beaufort following the Padas River, which also affords good white-water rafting.

Sepilok Orang-Utan Centre

This world-renowned Sepilok Orang-Utan Centre works to rehabilitate orphaned or injured orang-utans back into the wild. Many of the released individuals return to the centre for supplementary feeding, affording wonderful close encounters. There is a resident Sumatran rhinoceros and the surrounding rainforest is home to pig-tailed macaques and large numbers of bird species. On night walks, flying squirrel, slow loris and other nocturnal species can be observed.

Kinabatangan River

At a length of 560km this is the longest river in Sabah and offers a staggering amount of wildlife along its rainforest waterways and within its oxbow lakes. The area around Sukau is particularly renowned for proboscis monkeys which arrive in large groups at the trees of the river banks during late afternoon. Borneo pygmy elephants are found here too, as are wild orang-utans, macaques, gibbons, silvered langur and maroon langur monkeys. Birds include all eight species of hornbill, oriental darter and the large buffy fish-owl.

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Wildlife Holidays

Accommodation

Featured Places To Stay

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Your Very Own

Borneo Specialist

Jonathan Morris

Area Specialist

Jonathan has been visiting South East Asia for over twenty-five years and has travelled extensively in Borneo since first visiting in 2001. His favourite area is the Danum Valley: “The Danum Valley is really such a special place and is huge in all respects with impossibly tall dipterocarp trees stretching upwards as far as the eye can see. This is best appreciated by visiting the canopy walkway at dawn: being 90 feet up in the forest canopy watching the rainforest wake around you is an unforgettable experience: hornbills fly from tree to tree and orang-utans emerge bleary-eyed from their overnight nests. It is incredible to think that the whole island was once forested in this way.”

If you have any questions regarding travel to Borneo, please feel free to contact me on +44 (0)1803 866965