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Explore the best of Borneo on the ultimate 2-week itinerary around Malaysian Borneo – or squeeze the highlights into an adventurous one-week route. Spot orangutans and pygmy elephants on river cruises and rainforest hikes, visit the best national parks in Borneo and world-famous wildlife sanctuaries, indulge in Bornean cultures and cuisines, snorkel with turtles or unwind on paradise islands, and explore the charming colonial cities of Borneo!
The Ultimate Borneo Itinerary Packs in All Highlights!
Our adventurous one-week and two-week Borneo itineraries include all the highlights: the best wildlife experiences in Borneo, most famous colonial cities, stunning beaches and remote island getaways, cultural tours, and culinary treats.
Along the way, you can choose between world-class day hikes, snorkeling or scuba diving, and wildlife watching – or just opt to sit back and enjoy the beautiful Bornean nature. Our ultimate two-week Borneo itinerary maximizes the chances to find funny-looking proboscis monkeys, orangutans and rare Borneo pygmy elephants in the wild – astonishingly, we saw the latter three times!
The pace is laid-back, so following this 2-week itinerary will set you to relaxed vacation mode. But at the same time, you’ll pack in a lot in terms of truly experiencing all the different flavors of Borneo. If you have less time to spare, pick the best out of our route and craft an adventurous one-week Borneo itinerary.
These Itineraries Cater to Luxury and Budget Travelers
The routes on our Borneo travel blog can be tailored to all budgets and timeframes. If you’re short on time but wish to see as much as you can, you need to invest in internal flights. If you have more time and wish to save money, choose land transports and budget lodges, which are available in all destinations (excluding Lankayan Island that can be switched to island hopping in Kota Kinabalu). If you’re looking luxury vacation on Borneo, our 2-week itinerary is a perfect choice for you!
Sandakan (1 night/2 days): Small Bornean Colonial Town With Exciting Day Trips
Lankayan Island (2 nights/3 days): Secluded Paradise Island with the Best Snorkeling in Borneo & World-Class Diving
Kinabatangan River (2 nights/3 days): Spot Bornean Wildlife on River Cruises
Danum Valley (3 nights/4 days): The Last Primary Rainforest in Borneo with Orangutans, Pygmy Elephants, and Astonishing Birding
Kuching (3 nights/4 days): Culinary and Cultural Treats of Borneo in Colonial Setting & Bako National Park
Kota Kinabalu (1-2 nights/2-3 days): Colonial City With Island Trips
A Bornean Sun Bear climbing to a tree in the rain in BSBCC, Sabah, Malaysia.
All photographs by Piritta
Sepilok: Introduction to Borneo with Orangutans, Sun Bears, and Giant Flying Squirrels (2 Nights/3 Days)
Sepilok is a perfect spot to launch your journey into the heart of Borneo. Staying the first night in Sepilok allows you to avoid starting and ending your trip in Kota Kinabalu: a perfect option for those who’d like to see as much as they can on a short vacation in Borneo. When time is short, every night counts!
Why Sepilok is a Perfect Starting Point to Your Borneo Itinerary?
Internal flight from Kota Kinabalu (where your international flight lands) to a nearby coastal city of Sandakan takes just 45 minutes, and from there it’s less than 30 minutes’ taxi drive to Sepilok. Easy and smooth start for your Borneo trip!
In Sepilok, you’ll get a perfect foretaste of Borneo – the orangutans, sun bears, and rainforest – in just one day! Get inspired and read our separate article: 11 Exciting Things To Do In Sepilok.
Choose a resort that is tucked away from it all and a room facing the rainforest and sleep away your jetlag. Wake up to the sounds of exotic birds and enjoy breakfast outdoors while spotting monkeys in the trees. Then head to the world-famous orangutan sanctuary to witness semi-wild red-furred cousins swinging to the feeding platforms for their lunch. Still not completely charged up? What about visiting orangutan nursery and watching babies wrestling and chasing each other?
We also loved the nature walks in the rainforest, on the elevated platforms just behind our hotel. The additional perks included watching giant red flying squirrels glide upon us during the evenings.
How to Get to Sepilok, Malaysian Borneo
There are multiple daily flights between Kota Kinabalu and Sandakan. One-way prices start at 13$ (AirAsia), so there’s absolutely no reason to take the road. That’s also a total bargain for the one most scenic aerial views: you’ll be flying past Mt. Kinabatangan and weather-permitting the peak is fully visible. Be sure to book left side seat from Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan!
Taxi drive from Sepilok to Sandakan takes less than 30 minutes. It’s worthwhile to check if your hotel offers return transfers – ours did. I wouldn’t bother thinking about the bus. Local buses leave hourly from ‘Batu 14’, by the highway (Sepilok doesn’t have a center, so you’d need a taxi to Batu 14).
Sandakan: Soak in the Small City Charm (1 Night/2 Days)
Spend a day in the authentic Bornean small-town vibes mingling with locals. Zigzag between the hawker and fruit stalls of Sandakan Central Market and stock on everything you’d possibly need from the nearby Harbour Mall, which alone would be a justifiable reason to spend a night in Sandakan before heading off the grid.
We enjoyed a great lunch at a quaint café, lovely rooftop drinks, and authentic Malay dinner at the waterfront with locals. Sandakan offered us a welcome city break before spending a week in the remote corners of Borneo!
Note: If you’re crafting one-week Borneo itinerary, you might need to skip Sandakan to maximize time in Kinabatangan River and other destinations. We loved our short stay in Sandakan, but I’d trade it with one night in Kinabatangan River, Sepilok, or Lankayan Island if I needed to.
How to Get to Sandakan, Malaysian Borneo
When traveling from Sepilok to Sandakan, use either a taxi or bus – or ask the transfer from your hotel, as specified above (check out the previous section, “How to Get to Sepilok”).
Orangutan at the feeding platform of Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, Malaysian Borneo
Lankayan Island: Paradise Island with World-Class Diving and Snorkeling (2 nights)
Welcome to paradise! Lankayan Island is straight out of the tropical daydream: a tiny jewel-shaped, coral-ringed island far off the coast and crowds, in the turquoise Sulu Sea. Imagine chalk-white sand beaches and a magical underwater world, which bewitches divers and snorkelers alike. Then add an exquisite luxury resort, with just 26 seafront chalets, all facing the endless, turquoise ocean. This uninhabited island offers ultimate seclusion – a perfect spot for romantic getaways. Just look at the pictures, the words are not enough.
The best thing is that you don’t need to be a diver to see rare creatures, like jawfish, explore colorful coral reefs, and swim with turtles or sharks. You can do it all in the shallow waters of the Lankayan jetty, even if you’ve never snorkeled before. We searched long and hard for the best place to snorkel in Borneo – and found it from Lankayan. Check out our separate article about the magical underwater world of Lankayan!
Getting to Lankayan Private boat transfer (included in the rates of Lankayan Island Dive Resort) leaves Sandakan at 10 AM and leaves Lankayan at 7 AM, so plan the rest of your Bornean itinerary accordingly. If you’re flying in Sandakan, note that your flight has to land before 9 AM.
Tiny Lankayan Island is an unspoilt paradise far off the coast of Sabah, Malaysian Borneo
The main building of Lankayan Island Dive Resort in its evening gown
Sungai Kinabatangan River: Orangutans and Proboscis Monkeys in the Wild (2 nights)
Kinabatangan River is the best bet to see wild orangutans in Borneo. Orangutan sightings could almost be guaranteed if you stay two nights in Kinabatangan area (our guides said that the likelihood is 70%). Proboscis monkeys are omnipresent and nearly impossible to miss: watching their plump bellies and funny noses will guarantee smiles at every encounter.
What we couldn’t believe was spotting a herd of endangered Borneo pygmy elephants during Kinabatangan cruise. There are only 1500 of these baby-faced forest elephants left in the world, as their population has dropped by 50% during the last three generations.
It’s incredibly hard to pick the highlight of our Kinabatangan adventure: every moment spent watching wild orangutans and proboscis monkeys felt sacred, and we were up in the clouds while trying to spot the massive gray ears and trunks of those pygmy elephants through reeds. All river cruises felt serene, although during one morning we didn’t spot any orangutans at all, but ended up enjoying jungle breakfast with cheeky macaques and wild pigs.
Kinabatangan River attracts loads of tourists, so pick your lodge wisely. I’d recommend spending at least one night upriver, far from the cluster of lodges in Sukau village, where riverboat traffic disrupts the jungle fantasies. We loved the privacy of the Abai area combined with one night in Sukau, where wildlife spotting was excellent. Get more inspiration for your trip from our separate article on Kinabatangan River!
One word of warning for Kinabatangan River: there is a devastating reason for the massive numbers of orangutans and other wildlife. The palm oil industry has left only a narrow corridor of the jungle for animals to move around. As splendid as it feels to visit Kinabatangan, it isn’t a real, untouched wilderness – and that’s the perfect reason to venture deeper and add our next destination into your Borneo itinerary!
Getting to Kinabatangan River, Malaysian Borneo
Either book a Kinabatangan tour beforehand, negotiate a tour with the tour operators in Sandakan, or book an all-inclusive 2-night stay in Kinabatangan area lodges. Nowadays, many of the lodges offer all-inclusive prices at booking.com (including all activities and transfers), so prebooking a Kinabatangan River tour isn’t necessary anymore.
Proboscis Monkeys by Kinabatangan River, Malaysian Borneo
Danum Valley: The Luxurious Bornean Rainforest Vacation (3 Nights/4 Days)
If I’d have to pick only one destination in Malaysian Borneo, it would be Danum Valley. It’s the last stronghold of primary rainforest in Borneo, where you can hike along marked trails gazing to the immense, untouched jungle where no man has set foot.
Remote Primary Rainforest With Authentic Wildlife Encounters
Danum Valley is a naturalist’s paradise: before these 438 square kilometers of lowland dipterocarp forest was declared a conservation area, there were no human settlements, meaning no hunting or other interference with wildlife. More than 340 species of birds and 124 species of mammals call this their home – count in orangutans and Borneo pygmy elephants, both of which we were lucky to see more than once.
The Best Rainforest Lodge in Borneo
There’s only one lodge inside the Danum Valley Conservation Area, boasting ultimate seclusion and luxury. The award-winning Borneo Rainforest Lodge offers a gateway to the real jungle of Borneo on its private hiking trails inside the conservation area, along with the iconic, 300 meters long treetop canopy walkway, open exclusively to the guests.
All-inclusive rates of Borneo Rainforest Lodge cover exciting activities – choose between nature walks with a naturalist guide, fun river tubing, versatile day hikes, birding, and night drives. Check our separate article on Danum Valley and get inspired!
If you can afford the rates of Borneo Rainforest Lodge (nearing US$1000 per person per night), don’t hesitate to book it. But worry no more if you’re looking for more affordable options: check out the accommodation options at the nearby Danum Valley Field Center.
Experiencing the wilderness of Danum Valley is among the highlights of Borneo: please try to include it in your Borneo itinerary!
Getting to Danum Valley from Kinabatangan River (or Lahad Datu)
All-inclusive rates of Borneo Rainforest Lodge include 2-hour transfer from the nearest town of Lahad Datu. MasWings has several daily flights from Kota Kinabalu to Lahad Datu.
If you’re coming from Kinabatangan, ground transport is the quickest option (appr. 1-1,5 hours from Sukau to Lahad Datu). Either your lodge in Kinabatangan River or Borneo Nature Lodge can organize the transfer.
Danum Valley's Canopy Walkway is a dream come true for nature photographers
Kuching: Bustling Colonial City with Exciting Day Trips (3 Nights/4 Days)
After exploring the Sabah area for more than a week now, venture into another side of Malaysian Borneo: Sarawak. Kuching offers a convenient – and exciting – shortcut to the vast Sarawak.
The day trips are the draw of Kuching: you can visit even the far-flung corners of Sarawak on a day trip from Kuching. The hardest part is to choose between the several options and still leave enough time to feel the beat of Kuching.
We visited Bako National Park and Semenggoh Nature Reserve – both spellbinding in their own way. For us, the encounters with semi-wild orangutans in Semenggoh Wildlife Center felt more personal and special than in Sepilok, as the orangutan sanctuary is both smaller and less visited.
Bako National Park offers unbelievable versatile trails for short and long day hikes. The sceneries are otherworldly: think of untamed jungle beaches where bearded pigs grub sand and thick forest where proboscis monkeys play upon you. The vegetation is an incredibly versatile with seven different eco-systems – from mangrove to majestic cliffs and weird rock formations, swamp to mixed dipterocarp forest and keranga (a heath forest with acidic, sandy soil). The jungle beaches in Bako National Park among the best beaches in Borneo.
Getting to Kuching from Danum Valley (or Kota Kinabalu)
Cheap internal flights carry you conveniently almost from the furthest fringe of Sabah to Kuching, the capital of Sarawak. Driving from the coast of Sabah to Kuching would be insane (more than 1500 kilometers), as the flights take just a couple of hours.
We flew with Mas Wings from Lahad Datu to Kota Kinabalu: they have four daily flights with promo prices around 25$. To Kota Kinabalu–Kuching leg AirAsia proved to be a cheaper option.
Kota Kinabalu: Farewell to the Colonial Cities and Beaches of Borneo (1 Night/2 Days)
Kota Kinabalu entertained us only for one evening, but feel free to expand your stay. We enjoyed our sunset walk along the waterfront with locals, popping in the bustling – and endless – street food market. Somehow one night still felt enough for us: after the jewels of Borneo, Kota Kinabalu felt rather chaotic and dirty.
Some find Kota Kinabalu a pleasant base for day-trips in the nearby islands, but after Lankayan – or Semporna islands – you won’t find paradise here. The others end or start their holiday at the nearby beach resorts but our research drove us to ponder between Semporna Islands and Sandakan Islands (Lankayan).
The Kudat area on the tip of Sabah (accessible via Kota Kinabalu by road) sounds perfect for a budget beach stay if the all-inclusive prices of Lankayan turn you off.
An orangutan thinking in Semenggoh Orangutan Center, near Kuchin, Malaysian Borneo
Kuching Waterfront lines the south bank of Sarawak river, offering scenic views towards Fort Margherita and the Astana
Tweaks for 1-Week or 10-Day Borneo Itinerary
If you have one week or 10 days to spend in Borneo, narrow down our list of destinations according to your preferences. Personally, I’d drop visiting Kuching (Sarawak) for logistics. Thus, you could choose the best itinerary to match your likings from our Sabah itinerary article.
If you’d still like to visit Kuching, I’d skip one to two destinations of these three: Danum Valley, Lankayan Island, or Kinabatangan River. You can also save one night by skipping Sandakan.
Add-On Destinations for 3-Week Itinerary in Malaysian Borneo: Mt Kinabalu, Maliau Basin and More of Sarawak
Firstly, check out the pace of our 2-week Borneo itinerary. If you long for a more tranquil beat and have more time to spend, I’d suggest adding more days on Lankayan Island (especially if you’re a diver or an avid snorkeler) and Danum Valley (especially if you’re into hiking and wildlife). We were exceptionally pleased with this 2-week Borneo itinerary, so personally, I wouldn’t remove or add anything – other than more time to explore more destinations.
If you have 3 weeks and enough energy to spare, add extra loops for climbing Mt Kinabalu (we will return for that!), visiting Maliau Basin National Park in Sabah, or doing more day-trips from Kuching to the rest of Sarawak (Gunung Mulu caves, river cruises, Kelabit Highlands, and the longhouses of the headhunter tribe).
If you’re planning a 4-week itinerary in Borneo, consider venturing into the vast Indonesian side of Borneo called Kalimantan: there’s a lot more the explore!
It’s also easy to add Brunei to your Borneo itinerary – and tick off yet another country. For visiting Brunei from the Malaysian side of Borneo, you will need just a couple of days.
Where to Stay in Borneo
If this 2-week Borneo itinerary gets you going, be sure to check our favorite lodges around the Malaysian Borneo to get out the most of your stay! We handpicked several luxurious and affordable lodges, which will give you a real taste of Borneo with all the modern comforts, sumptuous dinners, and authentic wildlife encounters.
The high season in Borneo runs from March/May to September/October, meaning higher prices and more tourists. It’s not necessarily the best time to visit Borneo. To be honest, the high season is still the best time in Borneo to see orangutans and other wildlife in the wild, as it rains less.
We see Malaysian Borneo as an all-year-round destination, as we have learned that it will always rain in the rainforest. The weather patterns vary from area to another. Sabah is generally a better all-year-round destination than Sarawak, as it receives less rain.
The dry season in Sabah is from February to August. It rains a lot in Kuching and the inland of Sawarak (these areas receive the highest rainfall in the whole Malaysia), where the driest months are June and July.
Diving high season in Borneo runs from April to December. The best visibility for diving and snorkeling is during the summer months, from July to August. Whale shark season in Borneo is March–May. The best time to see turtles on Lankayan is June-September.
Please don’t let the rain stop your plans to visit Sarawak – or Sabah – during the wetter months. Borneo is a stunning destination – and it’s supposed to rain in the rainforest.
We visited both states, Sabah and Sarawak, during low season and saw little to none rain. We had amazing wildlife encounters in Sabah (orangutans, proboscis monkeys, pygmy elephants, rare birds, and many other exciting species in the wild). Snorkeling in Lankayan Island was splendid, although it was low season for snorkeling and diving, as well.
We only advise to plan your itinerary in Borneo very carefully if you’re visiting during December or January, which are labeled as the worst months to visit Borneo. Consider changing your destinations in Sarawak to Sabah area to avoid the wetter areas.
Travel Safety in Borneo: Is It Safe to Travel to Borneo in 2019?
Traveling to Malaysian Borneo is considered generally safe in 2019, although some areas at the eastern coast of Sabah are still listed as possibly dangerous.
We felt completely safe on Lankayan, as there’s also a military post. We’d visit any of the islands without a doubt, but as always, be vigilant and ask about the current security situation from the tour companies and lodges before booking.
Bako National Park near Kuching has some of the best beaches in Borneo
Visiting Borneo FAQ
Check our answers to the most frequently asked questions about planning a trip to Borneo. Please let us know if you have any other questions on visiting Borneo – we’re happy to help!
Do I Need a Visa to Borneo?
Most tourists don’t need to apply for a visa beforehand to visit Indonesian or Malaysian Borneo. Citizens of the US, Canada, EU, Australia, and many other countries are permitted to stay in Borneo for 1-3 months.
Do I Need Yellow Fever Vaccination for Borneo?
There’s no risk of yellow fever in Borneo. However, if you’re coming from a country with yellow fever risk, you need to show your yellow fever vaccination certificate to enter Malaysia.
If you’re coming from the US or EU, you don’t need yellow fever vaccination or certificate, unless you have more than 12 hours stopover in high risk area.
Which Vaccinations Do I Need for Borneo?
If you already have the usual travel vaccinations, MMR and diphtheria-tetanus-polio, you don’t need other injections to enter Borneo. We also have hepatitis A and B, which are recommended to all frequent travelers.
Is There Malaria in Borneo and Do I Need to Take Malaria Tablets?
Malaysian Borneo has low-risk malaria areas. Please talk with your doctor to find out your individual needs for malaria tablets. If you’re staying several days in the forested inland of Sabah and Sarawak, it might be wise to take preventative malaria medication. Indonesian Borneo is also low-risk malaria area.
We didn’t take antimalarials during this 2-week itinerary, but it was our own choice and against our doctor’s recommendation.
What Should I Pack for Borneo?
Your optimal Borneo packing list depends on where you’re planning to go and what you’re planning to do in Borneo, when you’re traveling, and where you are staying.
Generally, we’d advise to pack light and breathable clothes, a torch (if you’re staying off the grid), rain gear (it rains in the rainforest), swimming gear (and a snorkel if you have one), sandals and hiking boots or sneakers (depending on your planned activities), insect repellent and leech socks (also available in Borneo), and camera gear.
Casual clothes are fine allover Borneo. Most people come either to the beaches or the rainforest, and dress accordingly. Weather is hot and humid, so light and breathable clothes are your best bet. For hiking, we recommend convertible pants and quick-dry t-shirts and tops. For city breaks, ladies might want to pack a casual dress or skirt and gents a pair of casual trousers if you’re eating out in fancier restaurants.
Generally, there is no dress code in Malaysian Borneo. As Brunei and Indonesian Borneo represent more strict Muslim culture, it’s polite to dress accordingly. Women should cover their knees and shoulders.
Excited and ready to book your trip to Borneo? Would you follow our steps tracking the beat of Borneo on this 2-week itinerary – or tweak a one-week or even one-month itinerary of your own? If you’ve visited Malaysian Borneo, what were the highlights for you and would you change something in our itinerary?
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