Experience the wonders of nature
In Borneo, not only will you be fascinated by untouched primary rainforests and diverse wildlife, with many endemic species. You can also experience unique underwater worlds, breathtaking caves, unmissable mangrove forests, white sandy beaches, and barren high mountains. Furthermore, Borneo is characterised by its cultural diversity and various indigenous peoples.
As you can see, there are so many reasons to travel to Borneo. On borneoguru.com you will find a lot of helpful information. We hope our travel reports will inspire you for your next trip!
The island is blessed with untouched tropical rainforests.
Hardly anywhere else on earth can such diverse wildlife be found.
The diving areas off the east coast are among the best in the world.
There are cave systems unlike any others in the world just waiting to be discovered.
Country & People
The hustle and bustle of the cities, culinary diversity, and traditional peoples await you.
Fine sandy beaches with clear, warm water invite you to come and relax.
The best of Borneo
Don’t want to miss any of Borneo’s natural highlights? We reveal our eight favourites: from Bako National Park in the northwest via Mulu National Park and Mount Kinabalu to Sipadan in the east of the island. Enjoy impressive landscapes, unforgettable encounters, and amazing adventures in all of these places.
Bako National Park
Sepilok Orangutan Centre
Semenggoh Wildlife Centre
Mulu National Park
Tips for your trip
What to experience on the island of adventures
When you think of Borneo, you immediately think of fascinating wildlife, and the diverse fauna is indeed one of the main incentives for a trip to this natural paradise. But there are many other reasons why you should spend your vacation here.
Diverse wildlife with orangutans, proboscis monkeys, sun bears, and more
Hardly any other region of the world offers such a diverse wildlife adventure. The main highlight is orangutans, which, with a stroke of luck, you will see in the wild. But catching sight of proboscis monkeys, Malayan bears, or Borneo pygmy elephants, to name but a few, is also an amazing experience.
All of these animals are rare, and some have long been extinct in other parts of Asia or, indeed, the world – a fate which has already befallen the Sumatran rhinoceros in Borneo and which is also threatening these four. Due to poaching and the deforestation of their natural habitats, they are severely threatened with extinction. The best chance to see Malaysia’s largest animals in the wild is on a river safari along the Kinabatangan River.
In addition to these, there is an enormous number of other animal species. The WWF reports 222 mammals, 400 amphibians, and 394 fish species that are found in Borneo. The island is also well-known for birdwatching. According to the WWF, 622 bird species live here, many of which are exotic and endemic to Borneo.
See how orangutans released from captivity are prepared for life in the jungle
In addition to sightings in the wild, you can also see orangutans in sanctuaries. Animals that have been released from captivity or found injured are first rehabilitated in these facilities and then trained for life in the wild.
If the programme is successful, the apes are returned to the wild. Some are released into forest areas directly adjacent to the facility, where they are still supported through feeding. Other animals are released further away into the rainforest and are then entirely self-sufficient.
Near Kuching, there are two conservation facilities with different focuses: the Semenggoh Wildlife Centre and the Matang Wildlife Centre. The Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre is a further facility, located near Sandakan. In all of these facilities, you can watch the animals being fed. You will also gain insights into the efforts of the keepers to prepare the orangutans for life in the wild. A visit is highly recommended and an absolute must.
Pristine Rainforest - On Foot Or By Boat
Borneo is one of the spots on earth blessed with tropical rainforests. Its proximity to the equator and heavy rainfall provides the fundamental conditions for the development of the jungle. You can experience it through extensive hikes in various national parks – and it’s worth the effort, because rainforests offer the world’s greatest diversity of animal species. You can also discover many exotic plants and fruits.
Some areas even have accommodation so you can spend the night in the jungle, sometimes even in a tent under the open sky. In Malaysia, the jungle can perhaps be experienced at its most beautiful in Danum Valley and Bako National Park. You can also do a river safari through the jungle on the Kinabatangan River, a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Unfortunately, the rainforest areas are severely threatened by clearing. Until the middle of the last century, the island was almost completely covered in jungle; then things took a turn for the worse and massive deforestation began. The extent of this deforestation is visible wherever you travel. If you leave the cities or nature reserves, palm oil plantations regularly frame the landscape.
Unique Dive Sites
Malaysia’s diving spots are among the most beautiful in the world – and the country owes this primarily to Borneo. You will find diving paradises in the waters east of the island and north of Kota Kinabalu.
The best known is Sipadan. The name of this island comes up again and again amongst experienced divers when talking about the world’s most beautiful diving areas – and rightly so. The variety of marine life and the sheer numbers of large and small fish are highly impressive. Amazing visibility will also play its part in making diving in Sipadan a highlight of your trip.
There are also other diving destinations that are equally exciting: one of these is Layang Layang, a small island far off the north coast in the middle of the South China Sea. The diving spots around Layang Layang are among the best in the world for hammerhead shark sightings, but the island is also known for many other shark species, including whale sharks.
Stunningly beautiful beaches
Would you like to spend a relaxing few days on the beach during your vacation? Borneo has beautiful beaches with fine white sand and turquoise-blue water. These can mainly be found in Sabah. Sarawak, on the other hand, has only a few, less beautiful beaches.
A particular beach highlight is the islands in the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park. This group of islands is located directly off Kota Kinabalu. Some are inhabited and boast excellent hotels, and even the uninhabited islands can still be reached by boat. The beaches here are often a bit calmer – perfect for relaxing!
Moreover, the famous diving islands in the east also have some impressive beaches. Lankayan is especially worth mentioning. There are some beautiful beaches on the mainland too, for example Tanjung Aru Beach near Kota Kinabalu. The northern tip around Kudat is also known for its beautiful beaches.
Cave systems unparalleled anywhere in the world
Borneo has some impressive caves and cave systems. You can find the biggest, best-known caves most worth a visit in Mulu National Park in eastern Sarawak. The park appears multiple times in worldwide „best“ lists.
It is home to the world’s second-largest cave and largest underground chamber not supported by pillars. You can also discover one of the world’s ten longest cave systems in Mulu Park. Stretching for a scarcely-believable 137 miles (220 kilometres), the Clearwater Cave System is one of the largest caves in the world. And its complete dimensions have not even yet been determined. More chambers are discovered every year, so it’s hard to know how extensive the system truly is. Various tours allow access to the different caves.
There are also exciting caves to discover in other parts of the island, such as Fairy Cave and Wind Cave near Kuching, the Niah Caves south of Miri and the Gomantong Caves at the Kinabatangan River. These caves are also open to tourists.
The plant with the world's largest flower
Giant rafflesias are unique plants. After all, who can claim to have seen a plant with flowers of up to one metre in diameter? Rafflesias are classed as parasites, which means they attach themselves to other plants and feed on them.
It can take up to a year for their red flowers to reach their full size. By this stage, they are up to a metre wide and weigh over 10 kilograms. Once the flower reaches this pinnacle, however, it lasts only a few days before it starts to decay and decomposes into black slime.
You have a great chance of seeing them in Kinabalu National Park.
The highest mountain in Southeast Asia
Mount Kinabalu is the highest mountain in Southeast Asia at 4,095 metres and is located in the Malaysian part of Borneo. Trekking enthusiasts can climb it on a two-day tour. The sunrise and the view from the summit are breath-taking and make it more than worth the hardships of the trek.
If you are an inexperienced climber, Mount Kinabalu is a real challenge. There are steep climbs to cover, thin air to deal with and only simple accommodation to stay at overnight.
However, it is not only the view from the summit that makes it worth the effort. On the way there, you will cross various climatic zones, each with distinct vegetation. And if luck is on your side, you might even spot some exciting animals along the way.
Information about Borneo
The island of Borneo is located in Southeast Asia. It is the third-largest island in the world; only Greenland and New Guinea are larger. Borneo is surrounded by Vietnam to the northwest, Malaysia and Indonesia to the west, Indonesia to the south and southwest, and the Philippines to the northeast. Four seas surround the island: the South China Sea to the north and northwest, the Sulu Sea to the northeast, the Celebes Sea to the east, and the Java Sea to the south and southwest.
Many people think that Borneo is a country. However, the island is divided between the three states of Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei. It measures 290,000 square miles (751,936 square kilometres) in total. About 73% of the island belongs to Indonesia, comprising the five provinces of Central Kalimantan, East Kalimantan, North Kalimantan, South Kalimantan, and West Kalimantan. 26 % is shared by the Malaysian states of Sarawak and Sabah, while the sultanate of Brunei occupies only 1% of the area.
Located directly on the equator, Borneo is over 800 miles (1,300 kilometres) in length from southwest to northeast and almost 620 miles (1,000 kilometres) wide. The island is of volcanic origin and predominantly mountainous. The highest peak is Mount Kinabalu, at 4,095 metres. From there, a mountain range extends from the northeast to the southwest. Larger flatland plains only exist in the northwest and in the south.
At 710 miles (1,143 kilometres), the Kapuas River in West Kalimantan is the longest river on the island. Other significant rivers include the Mahakam in East Kalimantan at 609 miles (980 kilometres), the Barito in South Kalimantan at 547 miles (880 kilometres), the Rajang in Sarawak at 349 miles (562 kilometres), and the Kinabatangan in Sabah at 348 miles (560 kilometres). While some rivers are navigable and thus crucial for local trade, the Kinabatangan is primarily important for tourism.
Flora and fauna
The island’s volcanic origin provides perfect conditions for diverse flora. As many as 15,000 different species of flowering plants have been identified on the island, many of which are endemic. One particularly noteworthy example is the largest flower in the world, the Rafflesia, with its blossom of up to one meter in width. Borneo is, though, better known for the dense rainforest that covers most of the island. Approximately 140 million years old, it is indeed one of the oldest rainforests in the world.
The wildlife is exceptional too and, for many tourists, the reason for making the trip. First and foremost, of course, Borneo is particularly well-known for its orangutans. But dwarf elephants, proboscis monkeys, and sun bears are additional highlights. Lesser-known and extremely rare species include the clouded leopard and the Borneo bay cat. More than 220 land mammal species live on the island, and around 420 bird species are also native to the area, many of which are endemic. The Sumatran rhinoceros is unfortunately no longer one of them, as it has been considered extinct on the island since 2019.
Borneo has an unpredictable tropical climate. All year round, humidity is extremely high at 80% or more. Temperatures remain consistently warm throughout the year at around 30 °C (86 °F).
Rain showers, some of them heavy, are to be expected almost all year round. Annual rainfall is about four times higher than in the UK. However, there are considerable differences according to the season and region. For example, there is relatively little rain around Kota Kinabalu in February, while in Kuching, it is a very rainy month.
Borneo has a population of about 18 million people. This makes the island very sparsely populated compared to other parts of Asia. By comparison, Thailand is about 30% smaller but has almost four times as many inhabitants. The north, with the Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak and the sultanate of Brunei, is more densely populated than the larger Indonesian part of the island.
The population consists mainly of non-Muslim Dayaks, Muslim Malays, and Chinese. Furthermore, there are still many distinct indigenous tribes with diverse cultures and languages, especially in the sparsely populated areas further away from the big cities.
As the population structure is so heterogeneous, there is no official national language in Borneo. As such, various different languages are spoken. Malay (Bahasa Melayu) is the most widespread in the Malaysian north. The dialect spoken in Sarawak differs from that of mainland Malaysia and Sabah. In the south, Indonesian is spoken, and there are also distinct dialects here according to the region and tribe.
Borneo has had a turbulent history and has been ruled over by many different powers. What are now the Malaysian states, in particular, have been claimed by many countries at various points in the past. The island also played an important role in the Second World War. For detailed information about Borneo’s history, we recommend Wikipedia.
The biggest economic sectors are oil and coal production, timber and tourism. The extraction and exporting of palm oil is also becoming increasingly important. The timber industry has been in the spotlight, primarily because of unsustainable logging practices. Indeed, the clearing of large areas of rainforest is, unfortunately, part and parcel of everyday life in Borneo. The cleared areas are then used for palm oil plantations.
Since Borneo is divided between three countries, there is no single currency. In Malaysia, the Malaysian Ringgit (MYR or RM) is used, in Indonesia the Indonesian Rupiah (IDR or Rp), and in Brunei the Brunei Dollar (BND or BR$).
Current exchange rates (as of December 2022) are:
1.00 GBP = 5.37 MYR
1.00 GBP = 18.897 IDR
1.00 GBP = 1.63 BND
1.00 MYR = 0.186 GBP
100.000 IDR = 5.30 GBP
1.00 BND = 0.612 GBP
1.00 USD = 4.43 MYR
1.00 USD = 15.599 IDR
1.00 USD = 1.35 BND
1.00 MYR = 0.226 USD
100.000 IDR = 6.40 USD
1.00 BND = 0.742 USD
1.00 AUD = 2.99 MYR
1.00 AUD = 10.550 IDR
1.00 AUD = 0.91 BND
1.00 MYR = 0.334 AUD
100.000 IDR = 9.50 AUD
1.00 BND = 1.098 AUD
1.00 SGD = 3.29 MYR
1.00 SGD = 11.576 IDR
1.00 SGD = 1.00 BND
1.00 MYR = 0.304 SGD
100.000 IDR = 8.60 SGD
1.00 BND = 1.00 SGD
Conduct & dress code
As in every part of the world, it is important to respect the local culture of Borneo. The north, which is particularly popular with tourists, has a predominantly Muslim population (about 60 %). You must therefore observe Muslim rules of conduct in Borneo.
The dress code requires women to wear clothes covering their shoulders and knees. Bare midriffs, uncovered backs and low necklines are inappropriate. When visiting cultural sites, women and men must wear clothing covering their arms and legs. Shoes must also be removed when entering places of worship.
However, there is no such dress code within hotel areas or at pools and beaches. In these places, you can dress as you would in your home country.
The majority of the island, namely the Malaysian north, Brunei, and the Indonesian regions of North, East and South Kalimantan, is in the UTC+8 time zone. The Indonesian provinces of West and Central Kalimantan are in the UTC+7 time zone. There is no daylight-saving time.
Due to the size of the island, transportation plays an important role. There is a wide choice in the larger cities and the more touristy areas, including cars and cabs, buses, and airplanes. Even boats are sometimes used.
Longer distances are best covered by plane. Alternatively, you can take buses. In northern Borneo in particular, there is a well-developed long-distance bus network. Bus, cab or Grab (the Southeast Asian alternative to Uber) are the best options for getting around in cities. Rental cars are also available, of course. Unfortunately, there is no rail network, so train transportation is not an option.