The third-largest non-continental island in the world, Borneo lies in Southeast Asia’s Malay Archipelago, shared by Indonesia, Brunei and Malaysia. It’s famous for its biodiverse rainforest, pristine beaches and resident orangutans – in fact, many travelers visit for the chance to spot these intelligent, critically-endangered animals that are native to the island. The best way to see them is to join a guided tour, but there are a number of other excursions to consider while visiting too – these are our top picks for the most unforgettable experiences.
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Sepilok Orangutan, Bornean Sun Bear and Rainforest Discovery Center Tour
This private, full-day eco-tour brings visitors into the diverse, tropical Bornean rainforest, home to 10 primate species and more than 350 bird species, along with at least 15,000 different types of plants, 6,000 of which can be found nowhere else on the planet. You’ll visit three conservation centers, learning about how the locals are fighting to preserve this remarkable natural environment, returning native fauna to their natural habitats, and enjoy close encounters with the unique wildlife, including man’s closest relative, the orangutan.
Kinabatangan River Cruise
One of the best and most easily accessed ways to see Borneo’s wildlife is to join a cruise on the Kinabatangan River which has a population density of animals that’s second to none. Just a few of the creatures you might spot include pygmy elephants, wild cats, orangutans, crocodiles, proboscis monkeys and a wealth of birds. A three-day trip will bring you onto the water and into jungle, including unforgettable night walks with nature guides that will point out the wildlife that you’d probably miss. The excursion is likely to be a highlight of your time in Borneo and includes accommodation in chalets and meals.
Climb Mount Kinabalu
One of the highest mountains in Southeast Asia at more than 13,435 feet above sea level, the shortest option for climbing Mount Kinabalu takes two days, requiring overnight accommodation. While it doesn’t require a high level of climbing skill, you will need a climbing permit, insurance, and a mountain guide, as self-guided treks aren’t allowed. Your reward will not only be a big sense of accomplishment, but legendary views. Kinabalu tours include meals and a private guide that allows you to benefit from their insider knowledge and experience having climbed numerous times.
If you’re looking for another kind of thrill, consider whitewater rafting in Kota Kinabalu, one of the top-rated travel destinations in Malaysia. One of the best destinations for rafting in Southeast Asia, the Kiulu River is the perfect area for beginners. There’s no experience necessary but it brings plenty of excitement combined with incredible natural scenery. Trips include all your gear, a safety introduction and lunch as well as pick up and drop off from your accommodation in Kota Kinabalu. You’ll get to enjoy two hours of riding the rapids to the endpoint at Kiulu Town, covering around 4.5 to 5 miles.
Kota Kinbalu Snorkeling
Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park is a breathtaking underwater tropical paradise, made up of five islands and spread over nearly 5,000 hectares, two-thirds of which are under the sea. A snorkeling tour from Kota Kinbalu can bring you to the crystal-clear, warm water to experience the vibrant coral reef and countless colorful fish. Everyone from beginners to experts can join this excursion that includes a PADI professional guide and all the necessary gear. You’ll also get to enjoy a tasty lunch on one of the park’s islands.
Survivor Island Experience
Once an unknown desert island, Pulau Tiga became famous after being the first filming location on the global hit television series “Survivor,” the place where contestant Richard Hatch emerged victorious in “Survivor: Borneo.” It’s situated near Kota Kinabalu and is popular among fans of the show as well as being a great destination for adventurers who can explore its pristine wilderness, hike trails through the jungle and witness rare mud volcanoes. A day tour, with pick up and drop off from your hotel in Kota Kinabalu, includes snorkeling, the short trek to the mud volcano to indulge in therapeutic skin pampering, and lunch.
Weston Fireflies River Cruise
In many places around the world, fireflies have been disappearing due to habitat loss and toxic chemicals, but in Borneo, they continue to illuminate the river banks after dark, creating a dazzling spectacle. A jungle river cruise and firefly experience also bring the opportunity to glimpse the island’s remarkable wildlife and enjoy a delicious Malay dinner at a local eatery. Cruises head out in the late afternoon which is an ideal time for spotting, birds, primates and crocodiles, crocodiles, and then you’ll have dinner and marvel at all the tiny flying lights.
Proboscis Monkey Tour
The proboscis monkey is one of the world’s most unusual looking animals, named for its massive pendulous nose. It can only be found in the riverine forest, lowland forest, mangroves and peat swamp of Borneo, making a tour to see them while you’re on the island truly a must. Cruises can bring you along the Brunei River from the jetty in Bandar Seri Begawan, passing Kampong Ayer and the Istana Nurul Iman as well as stopping in the forest where you’ll be able to watch for these elusive creatures that often come to the water to drink. If everyone is quiet and still, you might see them swinging through the treetops, and you’re likely to spot other exotic species like birds and reptiles too.
Clouded Leopard Safaris
Clouded leopards are wild cats that live in Southeast Asia’s cloud forests, and while they are rare and endangered due to habitat loss and poaching, populations are some of the healthiest in Borneo due to the absence of tigers. The ultimate wildlife vacation, a 15-day excursion offered by Responsible Travel will bring you to explore Sabah’s forests to search for the enigmatic clouded leopards and other rare species on the island, like the pygmy elephants, Bornean orangutan, proboscis monkeys, and eight species of hornbill. It includes most meals and a variety of accommodations in everything from wildlife eco-lodges to guest houses and chalets that are nestled deep within privately run forest reserves.