Top Things to See and Do in Borneo

Borneo is home to a huge variety of landscapes
Borneo is home to a huge variety of landscapes | © RooM the Agency / Alamy Stock Photo
Sam Bedford

Borneo, split between Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei, is the third-largest island in the world, not to mention a nature lover’s paradise. Many come for the chance to spot the Borneo sun bear or orangutan in their natural habitat, but there are plenty more opportunities for a wild adventure. To help you plan your perfect escape, here are the top things to see and do in Borneo.

Eager to explore Borneo but want someone else to do the planning? Join Culture Trip’s 10-day adventure to Borneo, which includes a visit to an orangutan sanctuary, organic tea farm and a snorkelling trip in Kota Kinabalu.

Island hop in Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park

Just off the Kota Kinabalu coast are a series of five islands forming the Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park. It’s rated as one of the best destinations to visit in Borneo and makes for an excellent day trip. You could either visit one island or hop from one to the next. Manukan is the most popular and has a reputation for having paradisiacal beaches and top snorkelling. The other islands are Gaya, Sapi, Mamutik and Sulug.

Manukan Island attracts plenty of beach lovers visiting Borneo

Visit the Tip of Borneo in Kudat

The Tip of Borneo in Kudat, in the far-north of Borneo, sits approximately 170km (105mi) from Kota Kinabalu, providing stunning views of the South China Sea. Steps lead down to the rocky outcrop which forms the end of Borneo. Most people stay the night in Kudat and enjoy the sunset and unobstructed views of the stars on a clear night. Nearby Kelambu Beach rates among the best beaches in Sabah.

Enjoy the beautiful views in Kundasang

Most Sabahans view mountainous Kundasang as a retreat from the stifling heat. But the small town in Ranau, around two hours from Kota Kinabalu, provides some of the most spectacular scenery in Borneo. Surrounded by mountains and rainforests overlooking Mount Kinabalu, the region offers several opportunities to take scenic photographs and admire the mountain views. Many tourists spend the night in one of the homestays overlooking Kinabalu in the near distance. Other activities include relaxing in the Poring Hot Springs and experiencing the biodiversity of flora and fauna in Kinabalu Park.

The town of Kundasang sits just below Mount Kinabalu

Learn local legends at the Monsopiad Cultural Village

A short drive from Kota Kinabalu in Penampang sits the Monsopiad Cultural Village, named after a renowned warrior who lived more than 200 years ago. Several legends surround Monsopiad, the headhunter, who eventually became addicted to killing and collecting heads. Today, the Cultural Village, constructed from traditional material, acts as a living museum.

Climb Mount Kinabalu

The best-known and most-sacred attraction in Sabah: Mount Kinabalu. It stands at 4,095m (13,435ft) above sea level and is a Unesco-listed site, so attempting to scale the peak often features among the best things to do in Borneo. Climbing to the summit is a challenge and includes an overnight stay at Laban Rata, or base camp. On the second morning, climbers rise at 1.30am to reach the top for sunrise. However, places sell out fast, and tourists often need to book several months in advance to secure a spot.

Sunrise on Mount Kinabalu is a treat when seen from near Low’s Peak

Explore the underwater world at Sipadan

Off Semporna, in the Celebes Sea, Sipadan Island has a reputation for being one of the best diving locations in the world. Rising more than 600m (1,969ft) from the sea bed, the world beneath the waves features underwater caves, hard and soft coral along with incredible marine biodiversity. You can expect to see both green and hawksbill turtles, manta rays and huge schools of barracuda.

Visit the caves at Gunung Mulu National Park

The state of Sarawak in Malaysian Borneo is best known for its caves. The Unesco-listed Gunung Mulu National Park is home to the largest natural chamber in the world, the Sarawak Chamber, along with the largest cave passage, known as Deer Cave. There are also three mountains with an altitude higher than 1,500m (4,921ft) here, creating a mesmerising environment.

Deer Cave is the world’s largest cave passage

Discover ancient human history at Niah National Park

Around 100km (62mi) from Miri in Sarawak lies the mysterious Niah National Park. Inside the cave systems here, archaeologists discovered human remains dating back 40,000 years, which they believe to be among the oldest ever found in Asia. Cave paintings, traditional wooden coffins and geological wonders are also highlights. Daring locals often climb the cave walls to harvest the prized bird’s nest.

Tour the islands of Labuan

Labuan, also called the Pearl of Borneo, is the largest of seven islands off the Sabah and Brunei coast. It’s best-known by locals for its duty-free status, and with divers for being home to four shipwrecks. The state also has a bird park, water villages, beaches and golf clubs.

Discover the Sultanate of Brunei

The tiny Sultanate of Brunei, one of only two remaining sultanates in the world along with Oman, nestles between Sabah and Sarawak. It was once a dominant regional power, occupying large areas of Borneo, but is now a wealthy, oil-rich nation on the coast. While Brunei isn’t touristy and the country practices Sharia Law (which means a total ban on alcohol), it’s still worth visiting for the experience. Bandar Seri Begawan, the capital of Brunei, features a floating village, an opulent Royal Museum and a very different atmosphere to Malaysian and Indonesian Borneo.

Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque is the crown jewel of Bandar Seri Begawan

Culture Trips launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes places and communities so special.

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