Wherever else you've been lucky enough to travel, there's nothing quite like a holiday in Borneo. The superstar wildlife in this rainforest paradise will knock your leech-socks off, and the opportunities for adventure will have you gleefully stepping out of your comfort zone! To top it all off, there’s the superb snorkelling, beautiful beaches, and wildlife-focused resorts that stand in a class of their own.
Wildlife watching & conservation sites
In Borneo, we can get you conscientiously close to some of the world's most thrilling wildlife in its natural habitat. You can head into the Danum Valley and Tabin conservation areas, which offer sanctuary to Bornean orang-utans, gibbons, sun bears, wildcats, and the rarely seen pygmy elephant, clouded leopard and Bornean rhinoceros. Rainforest lodges offer accommodation deep in the jungle, with expert rangers on hand to help you spot the animals. Boat trips along the Kinabatangan River also offer great wildlife opportunities, plus the chance to visit tribal villages and join in their reforestation efforts. We also enjoy visiting ethical orang-utan rehabilitation centres for an insight into the challenges faced by those who depend on the jungle.
Paradise beaches & island snorkelling
Even on the outskirts of Kota Kinabalu, the capital of Sabah state, there are stunning beaches with clean white sand, warm tranquil waters and luxurious resorts. Head offshore, and you’ll find idyllic tropical islands, marine parks protecting turtles and many other exciting species, and responsible resorts that combine conservation with just the right level of luxury. We particularly enjoy snorkelling around Gaya Island, where the protected waters throng with colourful marine life, and resort guests can help out at a coral reef restoration nursery.
Spend time with Dayak tribes
The Dayak people (a name encompassing Borneo's indigenous groups) have thrived within the island's habitats for thousands of years. They still uphold many traditional ways of life, albeit whilst sporting football shirts and enjoying a spot of karaoke. The most authentic tribal longhouses are now built of concrete (a few old-style wooden ones are kept for show) but their communal approach to living persists, with a number of families living in each longhouse and sharing resources. You can stay in a longhouse for a couple of nights, joining the tribespeople on their daily activities, and even camping in the rainforest if you’re feeling particularly adventurous!
Caves, mountains & trekking
Malaysia’s highest mountain, one of the largest cave systems in the world, thrilling treks deep into the rainforest — Malay Borneo offers some excellent opportunities for light adventure, most of which can be tailored to your ability level. Many walking trails criss-cross UNESCO World Heritage site Kinabalu National Park, ranging from an hour or two along a river valley to the strenuous overnight climb to the peak of Mount Kinabalu itself. You can embark on adventurous hikes into the Maliau Basin, sleeping overnight at research camps, or perhaps you’d rather venture underground into the Mulu caves, one of which is the largest known cave chamber in the world.
Things we love in Borneo
What to do in Borneo: discover our hand-picked experiences & highlights
Borneo's rich wildlife and biodiversity is unlike anywhere else on the planet. For most it's the reason you're reading this page and certainly the driving force behind your plans to visit Borneo on holiday. Whilst in Borneo, you have the opportunity to see a breath of wildlife: find out more with our guide to Borneo's wildlife.
Staying at the outstanding Borneo Rainforest Lodge allows you to fill your time looking for orang-utan and rare Bornean pygmy elephants, trek the sepulchral ‘Coffin Trail’, and enjoy a dip in one of the forest’s natural pools. The canopy walk gives you a special opportunity to get a little closer to wildlife, whilst the lodge's premium villas will leave you wanting for nothing.
Visitors to Sarawak's Batang Ai region will soon find themselves in Iban territory - this is real rainforest living, a contemporary tribal lifestyle that has evolved here for millennia. Facilities are simple - think local longhouses and camping beneath the rainforest canopy - but if you keep your mind open to the unexpected, this trip guarantees an unforgettable rainforest experience.
The Kinabatangan River is the second longest river in Malaysia, winding its way through 560km of stunning scenery, spectacular limestone caves, placid oxbow lakes and mangrove swamps. The soothing rhythms of the water provide a timeless backdrop to a rich web of plant and animal life - it’s an intoxicating blend of peace and thriving life. You’ll glide through Kinabatangan’s backwaters to the sound of hooting gibbons and exotic birds, keeping a look-out for rare pygmy elephants on the tangled banks.
Perfect straight ‘off the peg’ or as a source of inspiration allowing us to start with blank canvas. You decide.
The Selective difference
With us, you are taken care of from enquiry until your reluctant homecoming. Your holiday is designed by a specialist who knows your destination first-hand. Throughout your travels, you'll have expert personal guides where requested & our full logistical support. And, it goes without saying, we'll be waiting to hear all about it once you're home.
Our Brighton-based Destination Specialists spend each day working closely with colleagues and partners across Asia. This ensures we stay several steps ahead when designing inspiring holidays, staying up to date and overcoming obstacles, which means your holiday will be crafted using both local and international expertise.
The welfare of our destinations and their communities is incredibly important to us. We are focused on ensuring that your money makes a positive impact, as often as possible, by supporting communities and wildlife conservation through dedicated initiatives and by very carefully choosing our partners in Asia.
We may be partial to the occasional bad pun, but we don’t joke around when it comes to designing first class travel experiences. Over 90% of our clients rate us 5/5 after their holiday, and we're not ashamed to crack a proud grin on behalf of our award-winning teams in the UK and Asia.
We know your time is precious, before and during your trip. We want you to have a smooth and relaxing experience so that your main concern on holiday will be whether to order noodles or rice. There will be no hidden extras, and your holiday will be orchestrated seamlessly by your Destination Specialist plus our local guides and behind-the-scenes crews in your destination.
Where to go in Borneo?
Sabah for wildlife, adventure & tropical beaches
Sabah is a natural paradise for wildlife and nature enthusiasts, with Kinabatangan River, Danum Valley and Tabin Wildlife Reserve all offering near-guaranteed sightings of wild elephants and orang-utan, while Sepilok Orang-utan Sanctuary is a lovely chance to see conservation in action. For the more adventurous wanting to escape the crowds, the Maliau Basin promises remote trekking opportunities on a multi night camping programme.
Gaya Island & TKR Marine NP
Kota Kinabalu, Sabah’s capital, is often overlooked in favour of the nearby National Parks - both on land and offshore - and has first-rate beaches within easy reach. The pick of the bunch is the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park and in particular Gaya Island, the latter the home two of our favourite Borneo resorts. Enjoy fine dining, turquoise waters and plenty of activity.
Danum Valley Conservation Area protects 170 square miles of primary rainforest, and it’s teeming with wildlife. With logging and palm oil industries kept at bay, a group of lodge owners and local operators work with organisations like the WWF to protect and revive Borneo’s endangered species.
Floating between the forested banks in small, open-top boats perfect for wildlife spotting. Kin River connects a broad variety of fascinating habitats, from mangrove swamps, with their population of saltwater crocodiles, to the lowland rainforest, which is home to orang-utans (and plenty of conservationists).
Sarawak for culture & adventure
Often overlooked in favour of its wildlife-rich neighbour, Sarawak delivers a range of markedly different experiences. Share rainforest camps with Iban tribesmen in Sarawak's Batang Ai region, explore record-setting caves in Gunung Mulu National Park and look for primates and other wildlife in Bako National Park near the capital of KK. Sarawak is no second fiddle.
Responsible Travel in Borneo
There's precious little left of Borneo's rainforest, with much of it now removed to make way for oil palm and other crops. What remains is generally protected, and home to tribes who've lived there for millennia, along with endangered species — the orang-utan, of course, the most famous of these.
The island's biodiversity is the stuff of legend, and there's no exaggeration — one rainforest dipterocarp tree supports up to 1,000 species, and 40% of the island's 15,000 plant species can be found nowhere else on the planet. It's not limited to the rainforest, either — Borneo sits in the 'Sea Turtle Corridor', a protected area of ocean recognised as vital to marine life, with several turtle species laying eggs on Borneo’s offshore islands.
For first-time visitors, we like to combine a stay in the rainforest (including a few short treks accompanied by expert trackers) with a visit to an ethical orang-utan rehabilitation centre, a wildlife-spotting boat trip along a jungle-clad river, and a few days at an island resort with a sound conservation policy. Participating in these activities and through your stay in our carefully selected, conservation focused lodges and resorts helps to ensure that part of your holiday spend makes it back to the wildlife, environment and communities that needs it the most.
Only found in the rainforests of Borneo and Sumatra – literally translated as ‘man of the forest’.
Borneo is home to Asia’s highest peak, the world’s most voluminous cave system and its oldest rainforest.
The Dayaks are the main tribe – and they have over 200 ethnicities.
A breakfast plate of rice topped with four kinds of curries – days don’t start better than this!
The Malaysian call it ‘Borneo’, the Indonesians say ‘Kalimantan’.
The Malaysian call it ‘Borneo’, the Indonesians say ‘Kalimantan’.
Borneo is administered by three different countries – Indonesia, Brunei and Malaysia.
In 2007, Brunei, Indonesia & Malaysia signed a declaration to conserve 85,000 square miles of irreplaceable rainforest, known as the 'Heart of Borneo'.
Scientists discover an average of three new species a month here, and of Borneo's 220 mammal species, 20% are unique to the island
Looking for more?
Stories from our latest Borneo blog
26th April 2018
Borneo wildlife: looking beyond the orang-utan
The critically endangered orang-utan has become the poster-child for vulnerable species in Borneo, but when asked to explain why its habitat should be protected, many people struggle for logical reasons. We looked to some of Borneo's other species for the answers...