A three week Borneo itinerary for nature lovers

A three week Borneo itinerary for nature lovers

With this three week Borneo itinerary under your arm you should be all set for a trip to Borneo – one of the most wonderful, wild and interesting places on this planet. I’ll give you a short overview of our trip (how long, when and why) and then we’ll get to the good stuff: Things to do and see when in Borneo for three weeks. I’ll give you an itinerary full of activities covering:

  • Bako National Park
  • The best place to see orangutans
  • Skywalking and exploring Deer Cave, Lang Cave, Clearwater Cave and Cave Of The Winds in Mulu National Park
  • Island hopping and snorkeling in Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park
  • Staying at Manukan Island
  • A 3D2N cruise on Kinabatangan River

But before we dive into this Borneo itinerary you should have some basic knowledge about our trip to see if you can identify with our way of traveling. We are a family of four, our boys were 4 and 7 when we went to Borneo, and we had a limited travel budget. That meant no luxury resorts or private tours for us, but we chose not to let our budget get in the way of any tours or activities we wanted to take part in. We went in July 2016 and traveled from east to west – meaning from Kuching to Sandakan. We chose to go to Borneo because it offers some pretty unique nature and wildlife experiences. It is also a safe place to travel with kids – and then it is cheap.

Our Borneo itinerary:  Kuching, Bako National Park and orangutans (4 days)

Like many others traveling to Sarawak, we landed in Kuching, the capital of Sarawak. Being a “nature-crazed” family we only saw the city as a gateway to Borneo’s nature and wildlife and quickly made it to Bako National Park. The Park is situated 22 km from Kuching and can be reached by bus or taxi. The wildlife in the park is absolutely incredible, and I would highly recommend that you spend a night on the peninsula. This gives you time to try a couple of the 16 different trails in the park. Bako National Park is a perfect way to be introduced to Sarawak’s forests and wildlife. In this post: Hiking the Bako National Park trails – you can read more about how to get to the park,  accommodation, and prices.

A three week Borneo itinerary for nature lovers
At Bako National Park you get very close to the animals. Just remember not to pull any snacks out!!!

About half an hour outside of Kuching you find Semenggoh Wildlife Centre where you can see orangutans in their own habitat. In Sabah, you’ll find a center just like it – just a little bit better. You can read about the two centers here: The best place to see orangutans on Borneo

If you spend 4 days in and around Kuching, you’ll have plenty of time to go to Bako National Park as well as Semenggoh Wildlife Center.

Mulu National Park – a must-see (6 days)

Mulu National Park is situated in the middle of nowhere close to Brunei. To get there you either fly from Miri, Kuching or Kota Kinabalu. When you arrive at the park, you have to go to Mulu Park Head Quarters and register. Before you go, please remember to book the tours and activities you want to take part in. A lot of people come through Mulu National Park, and if you haven’t booked your tours in advance you risk having to wait for a few days to do them.

Mulu with children

Can you go with children? Yes, you certainly can. There are things you can’t do if you choose to bring your kids, but that’s the name of the game. Without kids, you can climb the summit of Gunung Mulu and try to reach The Pinnacles (jagged limestone blades rising up to 50 m/164ft into the air) but there are also a lot of great things to do with kids.

We went on two different tours to see Deer Cave, Lang’s Cave, Clearwater Cave and Cave Of The Winds. To get to the caves you either walk, take a boat or do a combination. You walk on raised planks through the jungle, but it is a long walk for small legs. The trail to Deer Cave and Lang’s Cave and home again is 10km/6miles. But the caves are worth the disgruntled comments, namecalling and what else you get from tired kids. And they absolutely love the wildlife. We were lucky enough to see snakes, huge insects, and spiders while walking to the caves.

Deer Cave and Lang’s Cave

To get into Deer Cave you have to enter one of the largest cave passage in the world, and the sheer size of it combined with the cool air and shrieks form millions of bats makes you feel like an extra in a Jurassic World movie. Deer Cave is awesome! And it should be with just over 2km/1,2miles in length and 90m/295ft in height and width. The main chamber, which is partially lit by sunlight, is 174m/570ft wide and 122m/400ft high.

A three week Borneo itinerary for nature lovers

What Deer Cave has in size Lang’s Cave has in beauty. It’s a small cave, but the cliff walls are beautifully decorated with long shawls and spectacular stalagmites and stalactites.

Clearwater Cave and Cave Of The Winds

We cheated on this trip. First, you go see Cave Of The Winds and then you visit Clearwater Cave. The hike to Cave Of The Winds is pretty steep and the humidity was killing us, so we decided to drop Clearwater Cave and go swimming in the river instead. My god, it was great! So cool, refreshing and fun.


The Mulu Skywalk is not for the timid or people with a fear of heights. The skywalk is the worlds longest tree based canopy walk with 480 meters of walkway hanging 20 meters above the ground. Normally you are not allowed to bring kids under 6 years, but they were nice and made an exception for us. While doing the canopy walk you can normally see and hear birds and other wildlife, but we ran into some serious jungle rain so all sounds were drowned out by the thundering rain. We got really wet, and we didn’t see a single animal, but it was fun to be outside when that jungle rain really starts pouring down.

A three week Borneo itinerary for nature lovers

Where to stay in Mulu

Being on a budget we stayed at Mulu Village, a primitive longhouse close to the Mulu Park Head Quarters. And by primitive I mean no air conditioners and only hot water and power at certain times of the day. In the sweltering heat of the jungle that can be a bit of a challenge, but I wouldn’t think twice about going again. The hosts, Benda and James, are the nicest, most helpful, warm and sympathetic people in the world, and that’s what you remember when you come home.

A three week Borneo itinerary for nature lovers

If it all gets a bit too primitive for you, you can hop over to Mulu Marriott Resort & Spa, a luxurious oasis only 200 meters away. Here you can enjoy cold drinks, sit in soft sofas and order fancy food from a menu card.

What to pack for Mulu National Park

  • Cash! Very important. If you run out it is hard, close to impossible, to get your hands on some more.
  • Hiking shoes
  • Rainwear
  • A flashlight
  • A good camera
  • Patience (if you bring kids)

Snorkeling in Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park (2 days)

Sipidan Island west of Borneo is by far the most famous and sought-after place for divers and others who are fascinated by underwater life. However, the area has been plagued by kidnappings, terrorism, and crime-related events in the past so we chose to spend some time in Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park instead. Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park is a small group of islands close to Kota Kinabalu in the Sarawak region. The marine park is a popular destination for local tourist so it can get quite crowded during the weekend, but if you go during the week you should be ok. The water is crystal clear, and there a big spools of colorful fish, but the coral reefs have been damaged somewhat.

We only went snorkeling close to the beach so it could be better if you go diving further out, but I’m not sure I heard anyone who was super impressed by the condition of the reefs. If you want to go snorkeling there are a lot of different tour operators to choose from, and you find most of them in a building on Jesselton Point. We bought our snorkeling trip and river cruise on Kinabatangan River (more about that later) from Borneo Dream Travel & Tours and were very satisfied. Because Rasmus, our youngest son, had never tried snorkeling before we got to bring him to the marine park for free.

A three week Borneo itinerary for nature lovers

In Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park, we did some snorkeling and the kids were thoroughly impressed by the fish. We brought life jackets for the boys so they could float around in the water like two corks. Big success! Out of the three islands we visited, we enjoyed Sapi Island the most, but it is crowded, and you must never ever use the public bathroom – the experience will scar you for life!

Relaxing on Manukan Island (4 days)

After roughing it in Mulu National Park we needed a bit of pampering and booked three nights at Manukan Island Resort on Manukan Island. There you get some nice beaches, friendly staff, clean rooms, a couple of pools, and the choice of a few restaurants. We enjoyed it, but the experience could have been a whole lot better if the beach had not been littered with trash. I know the staff went to the beach every morning and sometimes during the day to pick up trash, but the ocean just brought a never-ending stream of plastic bottles, wrappers, plastic bags etc. to the beach. I found it really disturbing to see this pristine environment littered with all kinds of trash, but at least it presented a good opportunity to talk to our boys about littering.

Wildlife spotting on Kinabatangan River (3 days)

The Kinabatangan River is the longest river in Sabah and offers a very unique opportunity to see animals such as crocodiles, kingfishers, snakes, proboscis monkeys, macaques, gibbons, the Bornean ‘Pygmy’ Elephant, and orangutans in the wild. To get there you have to drive for a few hours from Sandakan, but just leave that to the tour operators. When you go to Kinabatangan River it is all about spotting wildlife, and you do two river cruises a day: one in the morning before breakfast and one in the late afternoon. We didn’t see any crocodiles or elephants, but we saw a lot of other wildlife, and spotting wildlife with two young children is just such a cool thing. They get just as excited as yourself! This is definitely a tour you want to make time for when putting your Borneo itinerary together.

You have two more days

As you may have noticed this itinerary only covers 19 days. I promised a 3 week Borneo itinerary, and I think you have that in the above. The two extra days are traveling days – days where you fly from Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan or from Kuching to Mulu National Park.

I really hope this itinerary has helped you in your planning. There are so many things to do and see when you visit Borneo, and it is all about prioritizing. If you have any questions or comments don’t hold back.

Other guides

If you are not bringing kids and feeling adventurous, check out this great travel guide from Cycloscope: 21 things to do in Borneo – off the beaten path.

And if you wish to get some inspiration to other destinations in Southeast Asia, you should check this post from A Mary Road out: Backpacking in Southeast Asia – Costs, Itineraries and Tips.

If you liked my itinerary – why not pin it? You have to do the hover-thing:-)

A three week Borneo itinerary for nature lovers. Borneo travel | Borneo what to see | Gunung Mulu | Borneo sights | Borneo must see | Borneo sightseeing | Borneo guide | Borneo pictures |

23 thoughts on “A three week Borneo itinerary for nature lovers”

  1. Great post! I have always wanted to go to Borneo! It looks amazing. I love a good cave and I’m told that the ones there are a must see. Thanks for the wonderful itinerary!

    1. Line

      Thanks, the caves really are amazing!! Go – you’ll love it.

  2. First off, hats off to you both for showing this amazing adventure to your kids. Your itinerary looks fantastic and you were able to see so many wonderful things. I hope that this will help inprint a love of nature in their spirit that will last a lifetime. It seems like you were able to see a little of everything from jungle, to ocean, and even under the ground. What a fabulous trip. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Line

      Thank you! It is my hope as well – that our kids will keep being amazed by our earth and will look after it. And that they see there are many different ways of living.

  3. I went to Borneo to hike Mt. Kinabalu several years ago. It is a magical place. I also snorkeled at Tunku Abdul Rahmen marine park and found that the reef was covered in trash much like many of the streets and rivers in Kota Kinabalu. I hope they can soon improve their litter problem so people can enjoy the beautiful natural world there even more.

    1. Line

      I know. It is such a shame with all that trash floating around in the streets and ocean. I wish they took better care of their environment.

  4. The Deer Cave looks unreal! It really seems quite large with those tiny people highlighting the perspective. I’ve never been inside a cave that high.

    1. Line

      It is so big it doesn’t even feel like a cave sometimes. It is wildly impressive, but it reeks of batshit.

  5. I don’t like this post: It shows me everything I’ve missed when I was in Malaysia since I’ve travelled only the Peninsula.
    Just kidding: It’s a great inspiration for coming back – which I’m planning on, anyways.
    Terima kasih banyak.

    1. Line

      Ha, ha – but you can always come back😊😁

  6. Borneo is such a bucketlist item for me! The skywalk looks lovely. Unfortunate that it rained and you didn’t get to see animals. The cave looks big! Look at how tiny people are in the picture! I will bookmark this itinerary for future reference. Thanks.

    1. Line

      I hope you get to go. If I had to pick one thing that really sticks out in my memory – it has to be Mulu National Park.

  7. Great post which has brought back lovely memories for us! Borneo was definitely one of the highlights of our travels through SE Asia and somewhere we would love to go back to and explore more! Bako national park and Mount Kinabalu was our favourites but we sadly missed out on Mulu which looks incredible! We will definitely return one day though!

    1. Line

      I looooved Bako!! You have to go back and visit the caves in Mulu, though😊

  8. Wow I would love to do this!!! Immersing yourself fully into nature!!

  9. YUKTI Agrawal

    Wow Borneo looks like a nature’s paradise. Before reading your post, I was actually not knowing the exact location of this place. But thanks to your article which has introduced me to such a beautiful offbeat destination. I loved the Mulu National park.

  10. Hi there, wow, this sounds amazing. I am starting to plan a trip to Borneo in September. Realistically we will only have 7-9 days on the ground. Is this long enough to explore one particular area? What was your absolute favourite and what would be your recommendation (kids will be 5 and 7 and good little travellers). Cheers, Amber

    1. Hi Amber,
      That sounds great. I’m jealous:-) I absolutely loved Gunung Mulu. You can still get a sense of what it was like before “man” ruined everything. But Gunung Mulu is also a bit demanding for small kids – they will get some miles in their legs:-) But if they are used to walking, it shouldn’t be a problem. If I had 7-9 days I would try to fit in Gunung Mulu and a river cruise on Kinabatangan River (probably spelled wrong). I would skip all cities! I hope you have a great trip. If you have any further questions – don’t hold back. Best regards, Line/NordicTravellers.

  11. Veronika

    Amazing post! 🙂 We’ve traveled around SE Asia countries but we haven’t visited Borneo yet. Pls can you advice what is the best time to visit these places? Thank you 😉

    1. Thank you! We really loved Borneo. We went in July wich was fine. I think the best time to go is between Marts and September. In Sabah we experiences heavy afternoon rain, but it was nice – cleared the air. I hope you will go once – it’s a beautiful place!

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