Orangutans in the wild are a sight to behold. These marvelous apes, the closest living relatives to humans have safe havens in Borneo that belong on everyone’s must-visit list.
by Donna Peck
Borneo’s rare animals, virgin rainforest and coral reefs deserve the number one spot on your must-see list. The Borneo rainforest is one of the orangutan’s few remaining natural habitats. On this Southeast Asian island, you glimpse a world that is all but lost.
Begin in the south in Indonesian Borneo with a visit to Tanjung Puting National Park—home to numerous species of birds and monkeys, and its most famous residents: the endangered orangutans.
Tanjung Puting National Park
In 1971 Biruté Mary Galdikas arrived to a park decimated by loggers, rhinoceros hunted into extinction and wildlife protection laws held in derision. Despite pressure from illegal logging and mining interests, Galdikas, a protégé of paleontologist Louis Leakey, safeguarded one of the orangutans’ last havens in Borneo.
Local boatmen take you on full-day river cruises through the forest where feeding stations bring these arboreal apes into close range. You also see hornbills, crocodiles, and the proboscis monkey while gliding on narrow channels. Guides lead hikes into the forest in search of barking deer, rhinoceros hornbills, and Bornean wild pigs.
In western Borneo in the Malaysian state of Sarawak, the Iban, formerly headhunters, now reside in longhouses along the Rejang and Baram rivers. Their longboats and dugout canoes pass through the jungle on large river systems. You learn about the indigenous culture by hiking the headhunters trail and staying overnight in an Iban longhouse where tales of headhunting are heard.
Bako National Park. Gunung Mulu National Park.
Bako National Park in Sarawak has thick rain forests, secluded beaches, sea arches, and colorful sea stacks. In Gunung Mulu National Park, explore the caves and hike up the razor sharp limestone pinnacles. The dense rainforest covering most of Sarawak is 140 million years old. Trekking through the virgin rain forest on jungle trails, you sense its significance. In Borneo’s rain forests 15,000 species of flowering plants; 3,000 species of trees, 221 species of terrestrial mammals and 420 species of birds have evolved.
Kinabatangan Rainforest and Danum Valley
The adventure continues in Malaysian Sabah in northern Borneo. Locals lead guided expeditions through the Kinabatangan Rainforest and Danum Valley to observe the orangutan, pygmy elephant, Malayan sunbear, proboscis monkey and Borneo rhino.
Snorkel over an impressive underwater world at Lankayan Island. The coral reefs are home to sea turtles and whale sharks. Colonies of green and hawk-billed turtles live on Turtle Island National Park.
Hiking up Sabah’s Mount Kinabalu at 13,435 feet (4093 m), you may encounter the Bornean ferret-badger, the small-clawed otter and the leopard cat.
Borneo has the best wildlife viewing in all of Asia. Encountering wildlife in their natural habitat makes the journey worth it. Lindblad Expeditions has an 11-day cruise to Borneo aboard the National Geographic Orion, which accommodates 106-passengers in 53 staterooms.
World Expeditions is a global adventure travel company with four itineraries for Borneo and several scheduled departure dates throughout the season.
—Photography courtesy of World Expeditions.