The Best Ecotourism Experiences in Borneo

Proboscis Monkeys take a drink in Labuk Bay
Proboscis Monkeys take a drink in Labuk Bay | © blickwinkel / Alamy Stock Photo
Sam Bedford

With vast areas of primary rainforest, endemic species and an abundance of marine life, Borneo is a haven for ecotourists. We round up the best experiences you can have, from seeing orangutans and proboscis monkeys to hiking Mount Kinabalu.

Planning a trip to Borneo and want all the details taken care of? Book yourself onto Culture Trip’s 10-day Bornean adventure, which includes a visit to an orangutan sanctuary, organic tea farm and a snorkelling trip in Kota Kinabalu.

See the striking proboscis monkeys

Proboscis monkeys are some of nature’s strangest-looking mammals. With a big potbelly and a long floppy nose, these rare primates help drive ecotourism in Borneo. For a chance to see the monkeys in the wild, take a river cruise along the Kinabatangan River in eastern Sabah, or visit Beaufort near Kota Kinabalu where you can be guided on a wildlife safari.

Proboscis Monkeys stand out thanks to a prominent nose

Meet an orangutan

Borneo and Sumatra are the only places in the world where you can still see wild orangutans in their natural habitat. Lucky visitors might catch a glimpse of the rare primates, with their characteristic orange hair, in Danum Valley Conservation Reserve or along the Kinabatangan River. Travellers can also visit rehabilitation centres at Sepilok in Sabah or Semenggoh Nature Reserve in Sarawak, too.

Orangutans are a prominent symbol of Borneo

Spend time in protected rainforest in the national parks

Malaysian, Indonesian and Bruneian Borneo has dozens of alluring national parks and protected areas. A range of biomes and ecological niches in the lowlands, highlands, mangroves and swamps hold tens of thousands of different species, from primates to rare birds. Danum Valley sits approximately two hours from Lahad Datu in eastern Sabah and contains relatively undisturbed primary forest. Tourists can stay in the ecolodges and trek through the jungle with expert guides. Kinabalu Park, at the foot of Mount Kinabalu, was Malaysia’s first Unesco World Heritage site.

Climb Malaysia’s tallest mountain

Featuring on the state of Sabah’s flag and having deep cultural ties to local indigenous tribes, Mount Kinabalu stands proud at 4095m (13,435ft) above sea level. Hiking to the summit takes two days with an overnight stay at Laban Rata. After an early start the next day, climbers continue to the top to watch the sun rising out of a sea of clouds. Limited hiker permits mean that spaces often fill up months in advance.

Trekking through the breathtaking Mount Kinabalu in Sabah

Experience world-class diving and snorkelling

From snorkelling in the crystal clear waters of Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park near Kota Kinabalu to visiting the world-class diving sites in Kalimantan’s Derawan Archipelago, Borneo is an underwater paradise. Expect vibrant coral, countless species of fish and the occasional shipwreck.

Explore Sarawak’s famous caves

Sarawak’s archaeological claim to fame is its network of caves. Human remains, believed to be 40,000 years old and the oldest in Asia, were found inside Niah Cave in Niah National Park, approximately 100km (62mi) from Miri. The Unesco-listed Gunung Mulu National Park combines steep limestone cliffs with an impressive network of passageways, including the second-longest cave tunnel in the world, Clearwater Cave, and the largest cave chamber by area in the world, Sarawak Chamber. Caving activities range from walking through the caverns to spending several days on an extended exhibition.

Stalagtite formations in Clearwater Cave

Watch the majestic hornbills

Anyone who has seen a hornbill is immediately mesmerised by the bird’s unorthodox beauty. With big eyes and a long protruding horn above their beak, the birds resemble something out of a cartoon. Sarawak, aptly named The Land of the Hornbills, houses eight of the world’s 54 types and features the rhinoceros hornbill on the state emblem.

Smell the world’s stinkiest flower

Borneo’s Rafflesia (Stinking Corpse Lily) has the unenviable title of the world’s smelliest flower. The giant plant has just five petals and releases a fetid odour resembling rotting flesh to attract particular insects. Rafflesia is endemic to both Borneo and Sumatra and can be found inside Sabah’s Rafflesia Forest Reserve near Kota Kinabalu and Kinabalu National Park.

A rafflesia, known for its foul odour, opening in the Borneo rainforest
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