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 will 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 for Bako National Park. The Park is situated 22km/13,6miles 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.
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.
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.
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.
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
- 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.
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.
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:-)