Must-Visit Attractions in Borneo

The Labuk Bay monkey sanctuary in Borneo
The Labuk Bay monkey sanctuary in Borneo | © John Crux Photography / Getty Images
Photo of Sam Bedford
18 October 2021

Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei comprise the world’s third-largest island. And with its dense rainforest, tropical islands and indigenous culture, Borneo guarantees incredible photographs and lasting memories. Here are some of the must-visit attractions to check out.

The floating mosque at Kota Kinabalu, Sabah

Natural Feature, Architectural Landmark, Mosque
DD1R0R Kota Kinabalu Floating Mosque and Reflection
© Nokuro / Alamy Stock Photo

From a distance, the breathtaking Kota Kinabalu city mosque appears to be floating on water. In fact, that’s an illusion created by a lagoon, lending an air of intrigue. Visit by day to soak up the reflections in the crystal-clear water; come by night to enjoy the illuminations. Opened in 2000, it was designed to resemble the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina, which is the final resting place of Muhammad. It’s a remarkable site.

Island-hop at Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park, Sabah

Natural Feature
TT51ME A group of Hypselodoris variobranchia nudibranches
© Rob Atherton / Alamy Stock Photo

Here’s to a day of adventure: Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park, off the tropical coastal city of Kota Kinabalu, is surrounded by mountains and ocean. The cluster of five idyllic outcrops has been protected since 1974, when the Sabah government recognised the need to safeguard the area and its delicate marine life. Organised boat tours take you island-hopping, and you can get stuck into aquatic and land-based activities. With Culture Trip, you can enjoy snorkelling at Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park as part of our exclusive 10-day Borneo adventure, led by our Local Insider.

See baby orangutans at Sepilok, Sabah

Natural Feature, Forest
HM3XJ7 This wild young orangutan is climbing the rainforest trees to find red berries to eat.
© Lillian Tveit / Alamy Stock Photo

The Kabili-Sepilok Forest Reserve was established to protect endangered orangutans, so you can get up close and personal with these wonderful creatures in their natural environment. Heading deep into the jungle, you can witness baby orangutans being fed buckets of fruit and milk by park rangers. While they’re being rehabilitated, the animals are not fully accustomed to foraging for food, so they come to these platforms twice a day.

Marvel at the majestic Mount Kinabalu, Sabah

Natural Feature
G1E0XW Ranau,Sabah,Malaysia-Undentified group of climber move down from the peak of Mount Kinabalu
© Sharif Putra Sharif Putra / Alamy Stock Photo

Malaysia’s tallest peak, Mount Kinabalu, reaches a height of 4,095m (13,435ft). Apart from being one of Southeast Asia’s most challenging climbs for hikers, the views of this majestic peak from a distance will humble any visitor. With deep roots in Sabah’s ancient paganism and featuring on the state emblem, it is among the must-visit attractions in Borneo. Climbers should plan trips at least six months in advance; limited spots sell out fast. Alternatively, you can climb the more easily accessible Maragang Hill for superb views of Mount Kinabalu – an activity featured on our specially curated small-group Borneo trip.

Spend a night on the original 'Survivor' Island, Sabah

Gaya Island Resort
Courtesy of Gaya Island Resort / Expedia
The first location of the hugely successful TV series Survivor, Pulau Tiga (Three Islands), is near Kota Kinabalu. Join tours from the capital or visit independently for the chance to experience a desert island, see mud volcanoes and go snorkelling. Less budget-conscious travellers can spend the night at either Gaya Island Resort or Pulau Tiga Resort.

Head deep into the jungle at Danum Valley Conservation Area, Sabah

Forest, Hiking Trail
FJ5EPJ canopy walkway in the dipterocarp rainforest of Danum Valley, Malaysia, Borneo, Sabah
© blickwinkel / Alamy Stock Photo

Borneo is an ecotourism paradise. Virgin rainforest covers most of the island’s surface, and Danum Valley in northeast Sabah provides the ultimate jungle experience. Located deep in the rainforest, the area boasts accommodation, jungle activities and in-house scientists, as well as expert local guides. Lucky visitors might spot wild sun bears, orangutans and Borneo elephants.

Explore shipwrecks at Mantanani Islands, Sabah

Natural Feature
PPYAW7 Female scuba diver looks at large green sea turtle resting on shipwreck underwater at Mabul Island, Borneo
© paul kennedy / Alamy Stock Photo

For diving enthusiasts, the Mantanani Islands, 90km (56mi) north of Kota Kinabalu, are one of the must-visit attractions in Borneo. With more than 20 diving sites – of which some remain relatively unexplored – as well as three shipwrecks, visiting the islands promises a memorable experience. Divers might even see the occasion dugong.

Go caving at Niah National Park, Sarawak

J2XBRD Cave entrance in Niah National Park, Niah Cave in Sarawak Malaysia
© Lillian Tveit / Alamy Stock Photo

Sarawak’s claims to fame are their vast networks of cave systems. Niah National Park contains some of the more intriguing caves in the state, within a two-hour drive from Miri. Not only are the mystical caverns photogenic, but they are also the location of one of Asia’s oldest archaeological sites. Bones believed to be 40,000 years old have been discovered here.

See one of the world’s least visited countries, Brunei

Architectural Landmark, Historical Landmark
2AX5TD2 Jame Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque in Brunei
© Jui-Chi Chan / Alamy Stock Photo

Brunei Darussalam covers a tiny slither of land on Borneo sandwiched inside Sarawak. Its capital, Bandar Seri Begawan, has the floating Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque, the stilted Kampong Ayer and the Sultan’s opulent displays at the Royal Regalia Museum. Aside from being among the world’s least visited countries, Brunei offers a very different experience to Sabah, Sarawak and Kalimantan.

Sara Darling contributed additional reporting to this article.

These recommendations were updated on October 18, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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