Things to do in Borneo
The most pristine tracts of jungle are unspoiled even by roads – so to really explore, you'll need to get on a boat.
Get on the water
Tours along Sabah’s Kinabatangan River allow you to cruise through a forest filled with monkeys, elephants, hornbills and orangutans – kick back and watch it all float by. In Kalimantan, wooden klotoks – named after the sound they make – provide floating accommodation, with mattresses and mosquito nets on deck, allowing you to get deeper into the national parks.
Our Borneo Vacations
When it comes to things to do in Borneo, you can’t come all the way here and not see an orangutan. Rehabilitation centers are dotted around the island - sightings are likely during the daily feeding sessions. Sepilok, Semenggoh and Camp Leakey are the better known centers, but numerous others exist – especially in Kalimantan, which shelters the majority of Borneo’s remaining orangutans, but which receives just a tiny fraction of its visitors.
Nothing compares to witnessing these shaggy primates in the wild, however, so come prepared for forest treks or river cruises in Sabah and Indonesia to glimpse them in their natural habitat. Sightings are rarer, but this only emphasises the precarious position they find themselves in. A good guide will not only allow you to spot a whole menagerie of other wildlife, but also help you understand the forest ecosystem and the importance of protecting this precious, dwindling environment.
Take your wildlife vacation one step further and spend a few days volunteering at a rehabilitation center.
The work is physical and can be tough – especially in the tropical heat – but it is universally rewarding. Daily tasks include cleaning enclosures, constructing climbing frames for orangutans, clearing pathways and building new enclosures. You won’t get to cuddle an orangutan, but you will get to learn an awful lot about them, and know that your trip has contributed to their survival.
If you'd like to chat about Borneo or need help finding a vacation to suit you we're very happy to help.
Stay in a longhouse
Nicki Hollamby, from our tailor made vacation specialists Audley Travel, shares her favourite things to do in Borneo: “We visit a small Iban community in Sarawak. Their longhouse has 12 families under one roof. You stop off at the market on the way and get food, then you meet the tribe and the chief. You spend the evening with them, cook with them, sit on the floor in their local area of the longhouse, and the other families come in and share in the food, so it becomes a bit of a free-for-all party. You sleep in the communal area of the longhouse, on a mattress under a mosquito net. You get up the next morning when they get up at 5am with the chickens to go and see how they cook and how they used to hunt.
“Considering it is set up for tourists, it’s really good, and you overcome that awkwardness you feel about entering their home. You have a guide who will translate, and they laugh and joke and you get your hands dirty and cook – I loved it.”
More about Borneo
The best time to visit Borneo is during the drier months of April to September, but as our month by month guide reveals, there are a number of things to take into consideration.
Borneo has enticed travelers, biologists, anthropologists and photographers for decades. Our Borneo travel guide takes you to the world's third largest island.
Borneo is divided between the Malaysian provinces of Sabah and Sarawak, Indonesian Kalimantan and the Kingdom of Brunei. Read our guide on where to go in Borneo.
Sabah is sublime. One of the most bio-diverse regions in Asia, it boasts mountain ranges, rainforests, marine national parks and a vast cultural heritage.
Sarawak is one state among many in Borneo, but it is one where the stories - from orangutan rescue to indigenous tales - just keep coming.
Kalimantan is Indonesian Borneo. The same size as Botswana, it is most famous for its rainforests and resident orangutans. Read more in our Kalimantan guide.
With so many untouched areas of rainforest, mangroves and mountains, there are primates and predators, elephants and birds everywhere. Read more in our Borneo wildlife guide.
Borneo is certainly suited for the more intrepid family - but you don't need to be hardened jungle adventurers to enjoy a family vacation in Borneo.
First time travelers to Borneo might find themselves overwhelmed with options - where to go, what to do and see.
Here's our Borneo travel advice - for fans of turtles, wannabe volunteers and those who want to get that bit further off the beaten track...
There's bad news (immense deforestation) and good (volunteer placements). Read more about responsible tourism in Borneo to find out how to make the most of your vacation.
Find all our Borneo guides in one place, from volunteering to luxury vacations and travel guides on Sabah and Sarawak.