The Borneo Rainforest is one of the world’s last great bastions of biodiversity. With over 400,000sq km (154,440sq mi) of rainforest divided between Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei on the third largest island on the planet, the number of unique species of plants, trees, mammals, reptiles, insects and birds here is immense. This rainforest ecosystem might be ancient, but with an ever-growing human population exceeding 20 million people and increasing worldwide pressure on Borneo’s untapped resources, this wild, remote island is under threat from deforestation, poaching and habitat destruction. It’s still possible to see this remote Southeast Asian island sustainably though – here’s everything you need to know about visiting the Borneo Rainforest.
Explore the wilds for yourself by joining Culture Trip’s thrilling 10-day adventure in Borneo. Led by our Local Insider, you’ll head out on safari and visit conservation centres to encounter the local wildlife.
Borneo is best known for being home to the Orangutan. These large, intelligent, ginger apes are genetically similar to humans – although they spend much of their time building nests in the trees. You’ll also see the long-nosed Proboscis Monkey, as well as Gibbons, Macaques, Langurs and the tiny, wide-eyed, nocturnal Tarsier.
Other mammals you might spot include the Bornean Sun Bear, the world’s smallest species of bear, the Bornean Elephant, the world’s smallest species of elephant and – if you’re extremely lucky – the Sumatran Rhino, which is sadly the most endangered rhino in the world.
Then there are as many as 90 species of bats, countless species of tropical birds and, best of all, the majestic Red Flying Squirrel, which glides seamlessly between treetops. In the rivers, you’ll find the mighty Saltwater Crocodiles, while hundreds of species of snakes, lizards and other reptiles inhabit the forest.
The flora is just as diverse as the fauna – you’ll find the Borneo rainforest is home to the tallest tropical trees in the world. There are at least 3,000 different species of tree, but you might be more interested in the Big Five Flora of Borneo. These are five huge plants native to Borneo – including the infamous Rafflesia – which can grow the largest flowers ever recorded.
And, don’t forget – you’ll also need to be prepared for insects and spiders, too. Ants, termites and millipedes are everywhere, as are arachnids, beetles, flies and mosquitos.
Borneo is an enormous island and the most remote areas of rainforest in the interior are almost impenetrable – unless you’re launching a multi-month overland jungle expedition. If your time is limited and you don’t have much experience visiting Borneo, then the best way to learn more about the rainforest is at the Rainforest Discovery Centre in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo.
The Rainforest Discovery Centre is next to the Sun Bear and Orangutan conservation centres, close to the city of Sandakan. You’ll find accessible walking trails through the forest, rope bridges through the trees and a large lake designed for boating. There are information boards and trail makers, but you’ll still be surrounded by the sights and sounds of the Bornean Rainforest.
This unique learning experience is also the gateway to a larger area of protected rainforest known as the Kabili-Sepilok Forest Reserve. You can stay in jungle lodges and jungle retreats and hike off deeper into the forest, with local guides leading the way.
Borneo is hot and humid all through the year, so no matter which month you decide to visit the island, prepare to get sweaty. Borneo is cut in half by the equator, so you can expect average temperatures and daylight hours to be fairly consistent. It never gets much hotter than 32ºC – or much colder than 27ºC.
The main consideration is the rain. The best time to visit Borneo is in the dry season when you’ll have the best weather for jungle trekking and the best chance to spot wildlife in the rainforest. April to September are the driest months of the year – but always pack the raincoat. You’re visiting the Borneo jungle, after all.
The Bornean Rainforest is a wild destination. Even if you’re travelling on a tour with experienced local guides to the island’s more accessible areas of jungle, you’ll need to be prepared for this unforgiving, natural environment. Make sure you stock up on insect repellent, pack lightweight, long-sleeved, breathable trekking gear plus lightweight waterproof walking boots and consult your GP or a travel nurse about vaccines – including antimalarials.