Orangutans swing from tree branches and pygmy elephants lurk in the foliage. An almost mystical mist bathes the early morning valleys as visitors wake up to the constant buzz of jungle life. Throw in countless trails, night safaris and a research centre attracting the world’s best conservation scientists. Welcome to Danum Valley, Malaysia’s must-see spot.
Danum Valley’s ancient rainforests are a primate playground. There is unmatched biodiversity combined with world-class research facilities and mysterious pagan burial sites. Culture Trip uncovers how to get to Danum Valley, the wildest part of Borneo.
Why you should visit Danum Valley
Danum Valley is Malaysia’s wildest, most untouched jungle paradise. The 130-million-year-old dipterocarp forest sits far from civilisation with exceptional biodiversity. Hairy orangutans watch curiously from the branches as the gibbons’ echoing chants reverberate around the forest. Visitors will also find a world-class ecological research facility and guides with decades of experience. Danum Valley not only offers the best of Borneo’s rainforest, but it also gives a once-in-a-lifetime chance to stay deep within the jungle.
What you need to know
Danum Valley’s location is both a blessing and hindrance. From Lahad Datu, the nearest town, it’s another two to three hours driving along logging roads. There are three ways to get from Lahad Datu to the field centre: self-driving, private transfers and the shuttle bus. Anyone with a car needs a permit from the Lahad Datu Office.
Arranging a trip to Danum Valley can be challenging. Travellers should arrange accommodation (and book transfers) through their official website. Or visit Danum Valley’s Head Office in Kota Kinabalu.
Pro tip: Visitors usually report difficulties when using their website. Culture Trip advises consulting TripAdvisor to read about travellers’ recent experiences. Book the trip at least a month in advance.
Forms of transportation
Before even considering how to get to Danum Valley, you’ll first need to reach Lahad Datu in Eastern Sabah. Daily flights connect from the capital Kota Kinabalu, or visitors can take the express bus. It’s also possible to drive the 400 kilometres (249 miles) from Kota Kinabalu, an option that allows travellers to pass through Ranau, Sandakan and the Kinabatangan River.
Renting a car and driving is the fastest way to get to Danum Valley, but this option can be difficult. From Lahad Datu, it’s approximately 81 kilometres (50.3 miles) to Danum Valley Field Centre and the first 15 kilometres (9.3 miles) follow the main highway towards Tawau. Turn onto the Yayasan Sabah Group logging road and continue to the checkpoint located at 6 kilometres (3.7 miles), then present the pre-bought permit from the Lahad Datu Office. Drive an additional 57 kilometres (35.4 miles), then turn left and drive 10 kilometres (6.2 miles) to Danum Valley Field Centre. Visitors can register at the Reception, Information & Shop Building near the main entrance.
Pro tip: Logging roads are uneven, muddy and shared with heavy goods vehicles that are often overloaded with timber. You’ll need a 4×4, experience driving off-road and confidence.
Danum Valley’s shuttle bus operates on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. This takes passengers between Lahad Datu and Danum Valley Field Centre. Journeys take two hours along bumpy dirt roads. Tickets cost RM65 (about $15.71 USD) per passenger. Finding out the exact schedules can be challenging, and unpredictable weather (heavy rains and landslides) might disrupt travel. Culture Trip suggests contacting Danum Valley directly for an up-to-date timetable.
Not everyone arrives in Lahad Datu in time for the shuttle bus. Organising a private transfer from the airport is expensive, but sometimes it’s the only option. Organise private transfers when you book the trip. If you’ve arranged a tour through one of the many agencies, they’ll meet you at Lahad Datu Airport. Transfers to and from Danum Valley Field Centre will be included in the price.
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