Borneo Overview

Despite having opened up greatly to visitors in the past few decades, Borneo remains a road less travelled, where new species continue to be discovered each month. The Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak are now well equipped for visitors, boasting wildlife sanctuaries, world-class dive resorts and mountain treks. But to get truly lost in this remote island, it’s worth heading into Indonesian Kalimantan, whose jungles must be navigated by river. Its landscapes and people remain largely untainted by tourism, and are home to most of the island’s remaining orangutans. Read more in our Borneo travel guide.

Our top Borneo vacations

Borneo orangutan vacation

From US $2950
13 days ex flights
Trekking, wildlife and beach adventure vacation to Borneo

Borneo tour, Great Apes and Beach escapes

From £1658
9 days ex flights
Explore bustling cities, lush jungles and paradise beaches.

Best time to go to Borneo

A true tropical island, Borneo hovers between 27-32°C year-round, with frequent rains replenishing its green jungles. Those here to hike, bike or volunteer should be aware that they’ll be doing so in a near-sauna – although Mount Kinabalu’s chilly summit provides some respite. April to September are the driest months, and generally considered the best time to visit Borneo, but showers can occur at any time. The island is sheltered from the worst of South East Asia’s weather, so although monsoons occur, cyclones don’t. Read more about the best time to visit Borneo.
Borneo temperature and rainfall chart

Map & highlights

The best things to see in Borneo are its wildlife and ecosystems, and the communities that preserve them. Meet rescued orangutans at Sepilok, sea turtles on Selingan Island, proboscis monkeys at Bako National Park, and thousands of bats in the caves of Kinabatangan. Iban and Ulu Ai communities look after Batang Ai National Park, where you can stay in traditional longhouses. And if you don’t fancy the full hike up Mount Kinabalu, stick to the national park at its foot that’s spritzed with over 500 species of orchids and giant Rafflesia flowers.
Bako National Park

1. Bako National Park

Bako has been protected for over half a century, meaning the wildlife found here is less fearful of humans. Pendulum-faced proboscis monkeys are its most famous inhabitants, but keep an eye out for monitor lizards, otters, bearded pigs and macaques. The golden sands of the nearby Santubong Peninsula are a welcome retreat at the end of your Borneo adventure, or Sarawak Cultural Village - a fantastic "living museum".
Batang Ai National Park

2. Batang Ai National Park

A wonderful example of community-led conservation, the Iban are the custodians of this remote national park and its rare wildlife, along with the nearby Ulu Ai - a fantastic partnership between the tribes and a local tour company. Transport is via boat along the rivers and accommodation is in traditional longhouses. Volunteers can work in the orangutan rehabilitation centers here, learning from the Iban.
Kinabalu National Park

3. Kinabalu National Park

This UNESCO World Heritage Site protects half of all Malaysia’s bird, mammal and amphibian species in the forests beneath the mighty Mt Kinabalu. Nature trails reveal a wonderful diversity of plants, including 500 orchid species and the world’s largest flower – the rafflesia – as well as waterfalls, a canopy walk and the revitalising Poring Hot Springs, all against the backdrop of the mountain.
Kinabatangan

4. Kinabatangan

The lakes, mangrove swamps and lowland forests of this wildlife sanctuary comprise one of the planet’s richest ecosystems, and river cruises are a tranquil wildlife experience. Ten primate species live here, along with proboscis monkeys, orangutans and pygmy elephants. Don’t miss the Gomantong Caves, home to two million bats and over a million swiftlets, whose nests are used to make bird’s nest soup.
Lankayan & Selingan Islands

5. Lankayan & Selingan Islands

Selingan is known as "Turtle Island" thanks to the endangered green and hawksbill turtles that arrive most nights to lay their eggs on its beaches. Tourism contributes the local conservation programme - but you need to stay overnight. Turtles can be seen on nearby Lankayan Island from June to August, and the surrounding Marine National Park protects a marine menagerie, ideal for snorkelling and diving.
Tanjung Puting

6. Tanjung Puting

Orangutans, proboscis monkeys, gibbons and 200-plus species of birds roam this road-free national park. Exploration takes place on foot or on a traditional Klotok boat – where you can sleep on deck at night. The Orangutan Foundation has several rehabilitation and release sites here, as well as Camp Leakey Research Centre; volunteers can help construct enclosures and are given exclusive access to wild orangutan habitats.

Read our top Borneo travel guides

We dig deeper into the whats, wheres and hows of seeing Borneo’s old man of the forest in our orangutan watching guide. Discover why Sabah is one of the best places in the world to see primates, and learn about its mountain treks and top-notch scuba diving. We explore more family-friendly routes in our Sarawak guide – an introduction to Malaysia’s biggest state. Meanwhile, our Borneo volunteering guide is for travelers who’d like to use their time to support the wildlife sanctuaries that splatter the island.

Track orangutans

Orangutans are native to just two places in the world – and one of them is Borneo. The biggest sanctuary is Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, although it often has the visitor numbers to match. You can also see Matang Wildlife Centre or Nyaru Menteng as a volunteer or visitor. It’s a lucky traveler who gets to see orangutans in the wild in Borneo. Your best chance is to travel with a local guide who knows the orangutans’ haunts – and who’ll encourage you to widen your focus to the pygmy elephants, sun bears and monkeys that share the forest. Read more about orangutan watching vacations.

Culture in Borneo

Borneo’s cities offer a snapshot of the many cultures that have wound up on the island. Explore the spice markets and snack stalls on a food tour in Kuching, where Malay, Indonesian, Chinese and Indian dishes are scratched onto whiteboards. Kota Kinabalu (or KK), the capital of Sabah, is a jumble of museums, Filipino markets and British colonial architecture. To really get to know the people who live in Borneo, stay in a floating wooden klotok in Kalimantan or a longhouse with the Iban in Sarawak. They’re usually homestays run by hosts who’ll take you to the market and show you how to cook using bamboo.

More vacation ideas

Sarawak multi activity vacation

From MYR 5690
8 days ex flights
Discover the Best of Borneo Outdoor
Tailor made

Sarawak family vacation

From £1088
9 days ex flights
An action-packed vacation got the whole family to enjoy!

Orangutan photography in Borneo

From £2175 to £2565
10 days ex flights
Develop your photography skills in Borneo
Small group2020: 7 Nov, 22 Nov

Borneo wildlife tour

From £5395
15 days ex flights
Orangutans, Sumatran rhinos, elephants & bat exodus
Small group2021: 30 May, 29 Aug

Family vacation in Sabah

From £2155
10 days ex flights
Discover the best of Borneo in just under 2 weeks

Borneo Mount Kinabalu Climb Vacation

From US $2960
13 days ex flights
Adventure vacation to see wildlife and climb Mt Kinabalu
Tailor made
Quote. The secret to a great holiday is that it's great for everyone - you, local communities and nature.
Tourist and Masai

More about Borneo

Traveling to Borneo with kids

A family vacation to Borneo is smooth sailing – especially if you head for Sabah, in Malaysian Borneo, with its kid-friendly hotels and reliable infrastructure. Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre is your chance for near-guaranteed orangutan sightings, especially at feeding time. English is also spoken more widely in Sabah, making everything that little bit more accessible. Sarawak, meanwhile, is an adventure for older children happy to tackle more challenging jungle hikes and sleep in no-frills accommodation. Either way, you’ll need to be a family with an adventurous spirit – and a rucksack full of insect repellent.

Types of vacations

Despite its struggles with uncontrolled deforestation, Borneo remains a pocket of incredible biodiversity. Wildlife vacations headed up by incomparable guides show you how to look for the orangutans, proboscis monkeys, pangolins, sun bears and clouded leopards that live within the jungle. Borneo is vast and its activities are many, so most travelers opt for a tailor made vacation designed by experts who factor in your individual needs. Small group vacations are great if you’d like to explore with a group (often no bigger than 12) of fellow adventurers – especially tempting if you’re going solo.

Where to go

Most travelers make a beeline straight for Malaysian Borneo. Orangutans live in the northern jungles of Sabah, where you can spend your pennies on sanctuaries instead of the palm oil industry levelling their rainforest. Mount Kinabalu is a peak for serious hikers; wanderers can follow the pristine nature trails at its foot. Sarawak, the largest state in Borneo, rolls together some of the world’s most diverse and ancient rainforests in its 30 national parks. Kalimantan sits over the border in Indonesian Borneo. Despite taking up most of the island, its longboat markets, jungle treks and orangutan sanctuaries haven’t yet hit the well-trod tourist trail.
[Track orangutans : Jorge Franganillo] [Culture in Borneo : sunriseOdyssey] [Traveling to Borneo with kids : wugolicious] [Types of vacations : VanZonneveld] [Where to go : CEphoto, Uwe Aranas]
Photo credits: [Page banner: Fish Ho Hong Yun] [Track orangutans : Jorge Franganillo] [Culture in Borneo : sunriseOdyssey] [Traveling to Borneo with kids : wugolicious] [Types of vacations : VanZonneveld] [Where to go : CEphoto, Uwe Aranas]
Convert currencies