The iconic Mostar Bridge in its evening gown

Legendary Train Journey to Mostar from Sarajevo and Capljina (near Croatian Coast)

I had dreamed for ten years of taking the train through the picturesque Bosnian countryside to see the bridge of Mostar. After being suspended for years, the train traffic between Sarajevo, Mostar, and Capljina near the Adriatic coast is now running with new, comfortable trains. Expect craggy peaks, turquoise rivers, dark tunnels and ancient viaducts – welcome aboard!

The scenic journey from Sarajevo to Mostar takes around 2 hours. The train meanders between mountains, popping in tunnels, traversing viaducts, and passing a series of small towns, farmhouses, and crops. The best countryside idylls and mountain sceneries fall between Sarajevo and the small town of Konjic, whereas the most beautiful views, to my likings, are between Konjic and Mostar. About 10 minutes after departing Konjic, we were blessed with a turquoise river on our left side, with craggy peaks looming upon it. The rails traverse the mouth of the beautiful Jablanica Lake (Jablanicko jezero) and follow the lake for its whole length until it narrows into Neretva River, which will entertain your eyes on the left side of the rails all the way to Mostar. The last leg between Mostar and Caplina lasts only 30 minutes, and the views don’t rival with the rest of the journey, so if you’re coming from the Croatian coast, plan on visiting Sarajevo, as well!

But why was I longing to see Mostar? I could probably continue pouring praise song for days, but in short, it was the famous bridge that has been captivating me since I saw the first pictures of it more than 10 years ago. The old, Ottoman-infused stone bridge of Mostar was built by Suleyman the Magnificent in the 16th century but demolished in 1993 during the war. The bridge was finally reconstructed in 2004, stone by stone and according to the original architecture, even honoring the original flaws. Nowadays it stands as a symbol of peace and hope – and holds Unesco World Heritage status. During summertime, it’s the spot of the daily show as local daredevils jump from the bridge towards the turquoise Neretva river below.

The legendary Mostar Bridge, Bosnia and Hertzegovina. Photo by Piritta Paija
Admire views to the mountain tops on your train journey from Sarajevo to Mostar
Follow this mountain range from restaurant car's window while the train takes you from Sarajevo to Mostar in just 2 hours!

Whether to Travel to Mostar by Bus or Train

My answer is clear: pick the train firstly for the better sceneries and secondly for faster and more comfortable journey. Before 2017, many people recommended bus because the trains were slow, worn, and cramped with chain-smoking locals.

The Sarajevo-Capljina route was launched with the new, fast Talgo trains in summer 2017. The trains are similar than in Europe; they have a restaurant car, spotless toilets and strict no smoking policy in passenger carriages. There’s even free wifi, which worked perfectly for us. Another praising review from us with problematic backs: the seats were more comfortable than in most international trains in Europe. Train journeys hardly ever get better than this: enjoy the stunning views while sipping cold or hot drinks and clogging your friends’ Facebook feed with mountain sceneries!

The Talgo trains are called fast, and I believe the trains could be fast, but the rails are not up to par, which leads to 2,5-hour travel time between Sarajevo and Capljina and around 2 hours between Sarajevo and Mostar. Still, it’s much quicker than with the fastest bus!

Seasonal Train Connection Between Sarajevo, Mostar and Croatian Coast

In addition to the year-round daily train (check out the next chapter), during the tourist season, there’s one extra connection between Sarajevo and Capljina. Specially crafted for the needs of tourists, it comes with a handy perk: the Bosnian train company offers shuttle transfer from Capljina to the Bosnian and Croatian coast! The shuttles are conveniently waiting at Capljina train station so that you can minimize your travel times.

The shuttle buses run to Neum on the Bosnian side and Makarska on the Croatian side. So if you’re heading to Split or northern Croatia, book your ticket all the way to Makarska – and of course, Makarska itself is a pleasant option for relaxing beach time or island hopping. If you’re heading to Dubrovnik, book your ticket to Neum and continue your journey from there with one of the hourly passing buses. For Dubrovnik, you can also take a bus from Capljina, but it will still run through Neum. I wouldn’t spend my precious holiday time on Neum, the only coastal town in Bosnia-Herzegovina: it’s overflowing with Bosnian tourists and not as pleasant as the surrounding Croatian towns.

Please note that the shuttle service is only offered from Caplijna to the coast. If you’re coming from the coast, you have to organize the transfer by yourself.

The seasonal train runs during the summer season. In 2018, the summer train will operate from 15th of June until 31st of August. We happened to take the last seasonal train last year (the dates were same in 2017) – and were grateful that it was still running, as we had already crafted our schedule around it.

The summer train departs Sarajevo at 7.01 AM and arrives in Capljina at 09.35 AM; from Capljina it leaves at 7.25 PM arriving at Sarajevo at 9.59 PM.

Year-Round Daily Trains Between Sarajevo, Mostar, Capljina and Konjic

Good news for off-season travelers: from now on the fast trains are supposed to run daily around the year! In addition to the daily Sarajevo-Caplijna-Sarajevo connection, from last summer onwards there has also been a local passenger train operating between Sarajevo and Konjic (working days only). For your convenience, we’d recommend taking the faster Talgo train, which leaves Sarajevo 4.26 PM and arrives in Capljina at 7 PM. The same train departs Capljina at 05.52 AM and reaches Sarajevo at 08.32 AM.

Still, many locals were hesitant in September that all train traffic between Sarajevo and Mostar/Capljina would be suspended for the off-season. So please double-check from the railway company or your accommodation before planning around it. Luckily, buses cover all the Sarajevo-Konjic-Mostar-Capljina-Neum/Dubrovnik legs year-round.

The early morning departure from Capljina to Mostar – together with harder to hassle transfers on the side – made us twist our itinerary so that we could travel from Sarajevo towards the coast. We took the daily evening train from Sarajevo to Mostar: it left on time but arrived in Mostar a bit late. From Mostar, we took the seasonal connection to Capljina. The trains were the same, comfortable Talgo trains on both legs. The Neum–Capljina bus connection left about 20 minutes after the train had arrived. In Neum, the bus drops you next to the bus stop, where you can wave down any bus heading to Dubrovnik or north towards Makarska or Split. Croatian buses pass Neum every hour.

How to Book Tickets to Sarajevo-Mostar-Capljina Train

At the time of our visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina, not even our hosts knew how to book the tickets. We ended up taking a taxi to the Sarajevo Railway Station the day before only to hear that it’s only possible to book tickets on the same day. Nevermind the fact that their own website tells that train tickets can be bought 30 days in advance. The officers assured that there’s no need to worry though since there will always be seats left. We paid around 10 KM (5 €) for one-way tickets from Sarajevo to Mostar. If you hop off in Konjic, like we were initially supposed to do, the price will be around 3 KM less. Return tickets come 20% cheaper. 

Please double-check all train schedules and prices from www.zfbh.ba (the official website of The Railways of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, ŽFBH).

We are also happy to update the article: please help fellow travelers and let us know if something has changed.

How to Survive Sarajevo Railway Station

Firstly, you need a taxi, and most taxi drivers don’t speak English. Unless your hotel calls a taxi and gives directions, please show your driver the railway station from Google Maps, Maps.me or whatever map you happen to use, with the text “zeleznicka stanica” (meaning railway station, comes handily with Maps.me) and you’ll get there. There’s only one railway station in Sarajevo: next to the central bus station, about 5 km from stari grad (old town).

The railway station looks pretty abandoned, as there are currently only a couple of trains running. The huge building has certainly seen better days, nowadays it’s almost in ruins, and empty platforms feel surreal. All in all, it isn’t a pleasant place to wait for your connection. There are two cafeterias selling drinks if you’d need to stock up for the journey. 

Train Travel in Bosnia-Herzegovina is Improving in 2018-2019

After years of suspending all international and domestic train traffic, the train connections in Bosnia are slowly improving. Initially, ŽFBH informed that Sarajevo-Zagreb trains would start running in December 2017, but at the time of writing, there’s still no direct connection between the two cities. There have also been plans for extending the current Sarajevo-Doboj route all the way to Banja Luka. Until further notice, all international train traffic from Bosnia (instead of Sarajevo-Capljina route with shuttles to Croatia) remains suspended.

Have you crossed the countryside of Bosnia with a train – or would you like to take the legendary train journey from Sarajevo or Croatian coast to Mostar?

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#Mostar #Sarajevo #train #Bosnia Listed among the most epic train journeys in the world, the leg between Sarajevo and Mostar is filled with craggy peaks, turquoise rivers, dark tunnels and ancient viaducts.


Jauniela is one of the prettiest cobblestone streets in the Riga Old Town

The Best Cafés in Riga – Top Picks from Specialty Coffee Geek

Riga’s specialty coffee scene took off as late as 2015, but new third-wave coffee shops have been popping up ever since. Nowadays there are several lovely cafés to choose from in the center (Centrs) – and it’s possible (though harder) to find some prime beans also in the old town. Check out our specialty coffee guide for the best brews in Riga!

Best Specialty Coffee Shops in Riga

Rocket Bean Roastery: Roastery & Coffee House

29/31 Miera iela & Dzirnavu iela 39 (Centrs) 

Rocket Bean Roastery deserves to come first, as it’s the trailblazer of Riga’s specialty coffee. Their atmospheric roastery café lies in the old sock factory, slightly of the center and the old town. The same street, called Miera, also hosts other lovely spots for craft beer, snacks (also vegan!), and tea, together with Laima Chocolate factory.

This first real specialty coffee joint in Riga was opened in 2015. If you visit only one specialty coffee shop in Riga, let it be Rocket Bean Roastery for the history, worldly roaster atmosphere, and of course the coffee itself!

Rocket Bean Coffee House is a roastery side-kick in the center, a perfect spot for a slow lunch or long break from a hectic day.

The food, including cakes, is really delicious in both branches; the chef Artūrs Taškāns has Michelin experience. Weekly public cuppings.

Side notes to Specialty Coffee Geeks

They also have the machinery here: Loring Smart Roast Kestrel35 and LaMarzocco Strada, the only one in Latvia.

Don’t forget to stock on the beans! I fell in love with them online: you can spot them occasionally on specialty coffee delivery services. At the time of our visit, they had some prime beans from Ethiopia, Kenya, Honduras, and El Salvador.

Magic Pussy is their seasonal flagship espresso from Yirgacheffe, Ethiopia. We bought Burtukaana Lot 11. It’s full of sweet tones of chocolate and apricots, with notes of bergamot and grapefruit. As you can see from the pics, the baristas wear Magic Pussy shirts!

Check out Rocket Bean Roastery’s website and Facebook page for upcoming cupping sessions, opening hours, and further information.

Rocket Bean Roastery is the the first specialty coffee shop in Riga

Zvaigzne Café: Specialty Coffee & Books

Krišjāņa Valdemāra iela 6, 1010 Riga (Centrs)

Zvaigzne Café is my other favorite in Riga. This bookshop café is located near old town, making it the best option for specialty coffee thirsty tourists. Just cross the northern bridge over the city canal (Krišjāņa Barona Street) and walk straight for a couple of hundred meters!

Zvaigzne spoils you with high-quality beans from Atkinsons Coffee Roasters (also retail packs available). The son of famous Zvaigzne ABC book publisher, Kristaps, lived nearby the roaster café while he was studying in Lancaster University (UK), and decided to open his own café in Riga serving his favorite coffee.

Check out Zvaigzne Café’s Facebook Page for their opening hours and further information.

Zvaigzne brings cool bookshop café concept to Riga
Riga's Zvaigzne Cafe serves specialty coffee from Atkinsons roastery

MiiT Coffee: Specialty Coffee & Vegetarian Treats

Lacplesa iela 10, 1010 Riga (Centrs)

MiiT blends our love for the small roasteries and vegetarian food. Beans are available both from locals and my European favorites: Five Elephants (Berlin) and DaMatteo (Gothenburg). They love it poured and hand-pressed: your brewing preferences for AeroPress, V60, Chemex and French Press are skillfully catered.

Vegetarians and vegans are spoiled here with cakes, together with healthy choices for breakfast, lunch and dinner. They even have home-made almond milk to go with your coffee. Try the popular pancake brunch on Saturdays and Sundays! MiiT also arranges “public cuppings” open to everyone.

More Specialty Coffee Shops in Riga

Miera

Miera Iela 9 & Meza iela 4a, 1001 Riga (Miera/Centrs) 

The name tells it all: this small café is located on Miera street. The word miera means peace and the atmosphere lives up to it. Beans come from the nearby Rocket Bean Roastery, and brewing options include La Marzocco GB5, V60, and Chemex.

Mute

Tērbatas iela 63, 1001 Riga (Centrs)

Yet another peaceful oasis in the center, Mute offers bean from Rocket Bean and international roasteries. Mute means mouth in Latvia: together with the adjacent restaurant and cocktail bar Mute offers a mouthful of flavors. Brewing methods include La Marzocco GB5, V60, French Press, and Chemex.

Kuuka Café

Grēcinieku iela 5, 0150 Riga (Old Town)

Whereas all specialty coffee shops listed above are located in “the new city”, Kuuka is your best bet inside the old town. This tiny spot is perfect for an afternoon cake, which comes with strong wifi. The best news: Kuuka serves its own special blend from Rocket Bean Roastery!

Other Cafés in Riga for Atmospheric Coffee & Cake Breaks 

Parunasim

Mazā Pils iela 4, 0150 Riga (Old town) 

Self-claimed as the most romantic café in Riga, Parunasim feels like a hidden gem in the midst of old town. Signs on the street ask if you can find it: venture in the quiet inner yard and look for the bicycle on the wall.

Fat Cat

Jauniela iela, 0150 Riga (Old town) 

Perfect location just off the House of the Blackheads, at the beginning Jauniela, one of the old town’s prettiest streets. Relax awhile munching their famous eclairs and cupcakes before returning to the picture-perfect cobblestoned streets Riga’s Old Town.

Pasedet

Stabu Iela 10, 1010 Riga (Centrs)

Pasedet is yet another cozy café in the center to idle for hours. The name means ”to sit down” and implies for hanging out with friends. Food is especially deliciously plated here for a café. Try their famous Napoleon cake!

Apsara Teahouse surprises even the coffee aficionados with its tea selections and casual feel

Bubbling Under: Tea Houses of Riga

Tired of all that mocha? Riga also has a couple of lovely teahouses. Apsara Teahouse charms with its unique tea house atmosphere and canal views. A perfect location just off the old town (Krišjāņa Barona iela 2A), inside the park surrounding the city canal (Pilsetas Kanals). Look for a charming Chinese style pagoda hut just off the bridge crossing the canal (in Krišjāņa Barona Street). Check out Apsara’s website for more inspiration and information.

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Riga’s specialty coffee scene charms coffee lovers with local roastery cafés, bookshop cafés, prime beans, and special treats. Check out our guide to the third wave coffee shops of Riga!


Lankayan Island is an unspoilt paradise off the coast of Sabah, Malaysian Borneo

Searching the Best Snorkeling Spot in Borneo? Go to Lankayan Island!

Looking for a tropical paradise island in Malaysian Borneo, with world-class snorkeling right from the shore but without the crowds? Search no more: the remote Lankayan Island offers total seclusion with just one dive resort and blissfully empty stretches of powdery sand. Water is so clear that you can spot turtles, rays, and other creatures already from the beach.

Whereas tourists flock the snorkeling and diving sites nearby the world-famous Sipadan Island, the jewel-shaped Lankayan remains a remote tropical paradise. Snorkel or dive with turtles and shoals of jazzy fish upon bright and healthy coral reefs, spotting intriguing – and rare – species such as jawfish and nudibranchs!

The best news for snorkelers: just plunge into the turquoise Sulu Sea in the front of your chalet or from the stairs of the dive shop. Snorkeling is fantastic right at the Lankayan jetty, where you can spot turtles and sharks, together with clownfish, pufferfish, lionfish, and herds of huge fellows like grouper and tuna. We loved the convenience of snorkeling at the jetty and the variety of species, so for two days, we didn’t even feel the need to take a boat to the nearby reefs – which are, by the way, even more stunning!

Snorkeling around Lankayan Island Jetty

But what did we see, then? The list is endless, and the species evade my memory. But I could start with a dazzling lionfish, which we saw already from the pier, before plunging in. Maybe luckily so, as I suddenly remembered how venomous those beauties are. Various butterfly fish, parrot fish, gobies, and angelfish were our loyal companions; they were everywhere. “Nemos” a.k.a. clownfish (or anemones) were also easy to find at the jetty.

I remember a couple of close encounters with the blazingly yellow blue-spotted common rays when we got spooked by those sneaky creatures, quietly slipping from the sand and gliding just beside us. We also spotted a couple of scorpionfish, pufferfish, and stonefish right at the shore; the latter is so common here that you should use water shoes – or fins – when plowing through the shallow water. Crocodile needlefish were plenty below the pier – I wasn’t so happy to hear that they could spear people! Sea cucumbers are easy to spot on the sand, between the jetty and the shoreline. We also loved to observe several giant clams, which are listed as threatened due to climate change and fishing.

We couldn’t get enough of the stunning blue sea stars, which for our luck were omnipresent. We also saw some “cut” versions and learned that these starfish can do self-amputation to escape from predators. Crown-of-thorn starfish are also so common that their population needs to monitored, as they feed on coral.

Then there were groupers, jacks, and tunas together with several other big fish beyond our recognition, mostly hiding below the dive center or swimming under the pier. We also managed to see a couple of (harmless!) black-tip reef sharks in the shallow waters, both near the pier and further away, where the reef slopes down. The edge of the reef was also the best spot to swim with the turtles, though we saw several green turtles even just beside the pier. Mornings were the best time to spot sharks and turtles in the shallow waters.

We also had several other memorable moments right at Lankayan jetty, floating upon vast stretches of various corals, watching fish getting together and whirl up dust, as they were ferociously eating their way through the corals. Vast, unspoiled stretches of staghorn and lettuce corals hide shy residents, and delicate feather stars, sea fans, and whips entertained our eyes. I just couldn’t get enough of it – Piritta had to drag me out for lunch and dinner.

Micro and Macro Diving Sites around Lankayan

Lankayan is famed as a macro diving destination: many divers come here for nudibranchs and small creatures that we haven’t even heard of before. But it’s not the whole story, as you can guess from my snorkeling hype. Divers praise the pristine reefs, as well, and the combination of macro and micro diving. More than 30 dive sites surround Lankayan, and there are some fascinating wrecks nearby – the first being right at the jetty with some resident frogfish.

The rare species abound, also jawfish can be spotted already at the jetty (also while snorkeling, though we missed it!). The macro treats include, for example, ghost pipefishes. Leopard sharks are rare, but possible to spot here. Though the internet pours stories about annual whale shark migration, the last sightings are from 2004. But there are so many wonders to unfold that you probably won’t even remember hearing about the whale sharks!

Approaching Lankayan Island Dive Resort with a boat, after 2-hour trip from Sandakan, Borneo
Snorkeling with turtles in the shallow waters of Lankayan Island, Borneo
It's easy to spot turtles even from the pier of Lankayan Island, Borneo

Swim with the Turtles in Lankayan – And Support Turtle Conservation!

Floating silently upon the sea turtles was utterly the highlight of snorkeling for us. Our respect for those graceful creatures is immense, so observing them in their natural habitat feels magical. We even lost the count during our underwater explorations at the Lankayan jetty, but I’d bet we saw turtles more than 20 times during the two days. Of course, we must have seen the same turtles many times. I cherish the moments, when we followed a turtle for several minutes – it felt eternal. The turtles didn’t mind our presence as long as we didn’t splash, but just silently swam beside them.

Lankayan is a nesting site for hawksbill and green turtles. The island has its own conservation center, which monitors the health of coral reefs, protects nesting and breeding of sea turtles, and fights against illegal activities. You can visit Reef Guardian’s House to learn more about marine conservation – and if you’re lucky, you can even witness turtle nesting and hatching! By visiting Lankayan, you will support the conservation of these beautiful creatures. 

Sea turtle hatchery in Lankayan Island, Malaysian Borneo
Sea turtles' egg buried in the sand in Lankayan Island's turtle hatchery

Why Snorkelers Should Head to Lankayan Island Instead of Sipadan

The world-famous diving destination Sipadan has gained some reputation among snorkelers, as well. The tiny island of Sipadan lies in the north-eastern corner of Borneo, on Malaysian side. It’s ringed with a reef, which suddenly slopes down steeply more than 500 meters, creating a channel for thousands of big fishes. Picture, for example, tornado-like shoals of barracudas and everything from hammerhead sharks to turtles, tunas, manta and eagle rays – mostly huge, pelagic fish.

Sipadan is ranked among the top 5 diving destinations in the world. To make this even more clear, Sipadan is a scuba dive destination, and thus the operators here cater divers, not snorkelers. Entering the overly popular marine reserve is restricted by daily permits, which are nowadays hard to gain. The daily 120 permits are divided between 12 nearby dive resorts. During the high season, all resorts are full, accommodating altogether 600 guests, all avid to dive at Sipadan. Naturally, the resorts favor divers staying multiple nights (at diver’s packages) while allocating those permits among their guests.

Another nuisance is getting to Sipadan. Firstly, you need to fly to Tawau (from Kota Kinabalu) and then proceed to the village of Semporna (1,5 hours by a taxi or minivan). Semporna itself is recommended only for budget travelers: another leg in a speedboat whisks you to nearby islands of Kapalai or Mabul, which offer more pristine surroundings and a shorter boat trip to Sipadan. Sipadan used to have one, exclusive dive resort (owned by the same company, which owns Lankayan Island Dive Resort), but it was closed to minimize the footprint of tourism in 2005 – daily permits were introduced at the same time.

Still anxious to snorkel in Sipadan? Our tips: avoid high season (diving in Sipadan is excellent all year round, as there’s no monsoon), book early, stay long enough, and try to secure your permit at the time of booking to avoid disappointment. If you’re “only” snorkeling, I’d still recommend avoiding the hassle and choosing Lankayan. But if the spell of Sipadan remains irresistible, choose nearby Kapalai Island, which is known for its turtles and has superb reefs for snorkeling. Kapalai Island Resort holds 14 daily permits for Sipadan (which is the maximum for one resort) – I wish you the best of luck!

How Long to Stay in Lankayan and How to Get There

Fly, drive or take a bus to Sandakan, a coastal town in Sabah area of Malaysian Borneo. If Sepilok and its world-famous orangutan and sun bear sanctuaries are in your Bornean itinerary, worry no more, as Sandakan is just 30 minutes away. Check out our separate articles on Sepilok and its sun bear sanctuary. Get even more inspiration for your adventures from our 2-week itinerary around Malaysian Borneo.

Lankayan Island Dive Resort will pick you up from airport or hotel inside the boundaries of Sandakan. Pick-up and speedboat transfers are included in the prices. The speedboat to Lankayan leaves from Sandakan at 10 AM (and departs from Lankayan at 7 AM). The trip takes typically 1,5–2 hours depending on sea conditions (and it might be a rough ride). If you arrive at Sandakan airport after 9 AM, you have to stay the first night in town.

Would you pick Lankayan Island for your snorkeling adventures in the turquoise waters of the Sulu Sea?

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#Lankayan Island in #Borneo offers world-class snorkeling right from the shore – without the crowds. Swim with the turtles, spot rays and sharks and marvel colorful, healthy coral reefs!


The boiling lava lake of the Nyiragongo volcano in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Mouth of Hell: Mount Nyiragongo Lava Lake, DRC

Molten lava bubbles and flows continuously creating captivating patterns into the surface of Mount Nyiragongo lava lake. Viciously glowing lava lake astonishes the rare visitors, who dare climb on top of the Nyiragongo stratovolcano in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Spending a night at the crater edge is an adventure of a lifetime and a photographer’s dream come true.

World’s Largest Lava Lake

Currently, there are only six lava lakes in the world, which are ranked as “persistent” or “nearly persistent”. Mount Nyiragongo lava lake is the biggest on earth with a maximum diameter of 700 meters. The size and depth of the lava lake vary, because every eruption changes the surroundings. In 1977, the lava lake drained catastrophically in less than one hour, flowing down and choking villages. Technically, the current Nyiragongo lava lake activity is still part of the eruption, which started in 2002. Lava terraces on the crater walls mark the levels of previous lava lakes.

At the Nyiragongo volcano rim, you can observe the churning lava lake at the bottom of the collapsed crater. To me, the lava lake resembled an interactive world map, where the borders were constantly changing and blending into each other. You can see – and hear – how the lava lake boils and spits fire as the hot gases explode.

ATTENTION! Virunga National Park is unfortunately closed to tourists until the end of 2018!

Because of the various incidents that have happened in Virunga in the last 10 months, the park authorities have decided to close Virunga from tourists for now.  Hopefully, Virunga will reopen to tourism again at the beginning of 2019, as planned, as it is a magnificent place!

The boiling lava caldera of Nyiragongo volcano, Democratic Republic of the Congo

Getting to the Lava Lake by Nyiragongo Volcano Trek

Nyiragongo volcano lies inside the oldest national park in Africa, Virunga, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The nearest town Goma is a 20-km drive away. Goma is Congolese border town by the banks of explosive Lake Kivu, which DRC shares with Rwanda. Goma can be reached by road from the Rwandan border town of Gisenyi. When Mt Nyiragongo erupted in 2002, a lava stream covered the runways of the international airport of Goma. As of today, commercial flights are still out of operation.

Mount Nyiragongo summit is reachable by a 4- to 6-hour guided hike, which starts at Kibati ranger station inside Virunga National Park. Only one hiking group is allowed to visit Nyiragongo summit a day. All groups are accompanied by armed rangers.

Nyiragongo volcano hike starts at the altitude of 1989 meters (Kibati ranger post). Since the trekkers ascend to the summit (elevation of 3470 meters) in just 4-6 hours, there’s a threat of acute mountain sickness (AMS). Temperatures frequently drop below freezing, so remember to pack warm layers. You can read our complete guide on Nyiragongo volcano trek here – with packing tips and of course some amazing images throughout the hike!

The lava lake lies deep in the Nyiragongo summit crater. During the night, the visibility is usually good. Scientists have descended from the summit to the bottom of the caldera, but that’s, of course, out of reach for ordinary travelers.

Our guide Tresor at the Nyiragongo volcano rim, Congo DR
At the edge of the Nyiragongo volcano rim, Congo DR

Safety Issues: Eruptions and Hazards of Nyiragongo Volcano

Due to the low silica content, Nyiragongo’s lava is more fluid than in any of the other lava lakes in the world. Steep stratovolcano cone and the fluid lava pose hazardous eruptions: Nyiragongo’s lava flow is fastest in the world: it can reach speeds up to 100 km per hour!

Last deadly eruption happened in 2002 when more than 15% of the city of Goma was destroyed and 147 people were killed. The debris is still visible everywhere on the streets of Goma: check our photo essay on Goma. Nyiragongo and its (little) sister volcano Nyamuragira make up staggering 40% of Africa’s volcanic eruptions.

Nyiragongo volcano treks are considered safe for healthy travelers taking part in guided hikes. However, the constant volcanic activity causes health risks for the surrounding communities. Carbon dioxide has caused deaths also recently.

Nyiragongo Facts

  • Altitude of the Nyiragongo volcano: 3470 m
  • Maximum elevation of the lava lake 3250 m and maximum depth 600 m (prior 1977 eruption)
  • Altitude of the cooled lava benches (marking former lava lakes): 3,175 m and 2 975 m
  • Erupted at least 34 times since 1882
The steep last leg of the Nyiragongo volcano trek

How to Visit Nyiragongo Lava Lake and the DRC

We’d recommend prebooking the Nyiragongo trek through a Congolese travel agent, who can also arrange your Congolese visa, meet you at the border and offer transport to the starting point of Nyiragongo trek. Before entering the DRC and Goma, please check the current security situation.

Have you visited Nyiragongo or some of the other lava lake – or would you dare to take this kind of fiery adventure?

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Fiery Nyiragongo Lava Lake astonishes the rare visitors, who dare climb on top of the active Nyiragongo volcano in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.


Powdery paradise beach called Bwejuu, at the paradise island of Zanzibar

10 Romantic Destinations in East Africa

East Africa will spoil you with exquisite options for romantic getaways – from secluded beaches to private safaris and UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Pamper your sweetheart at the luxurious safari lodges, hold hands while jumping off the epic Victoria Falls Bridge, or share the magic of game drives in Africa’s best national parks. Arouse your wanderlust with our list of 10 romantic destinations in East Africa!

For the Epic Moments Together

Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania

A morning game drive in the Ngorongoro Crater is straight from the fairytale. Even pronouncing the word Ngorongoro implies the excitement and brings memories from childhood geography books or acclaimed magazines. In Maasai language, ngorongoro means Gift of Life. Celebrate your love in one of the luxurious lodges located right on the edge of the rim, witnessing the unbelievable sunset over the caldera with skillfully prepared sundowners.

The sheer volume of wildlife makes the Ngorongoro Crater feel like a cradle of all species. Ngorongoro Conservation area is also considered as the cradle of humanity: the earliest shreds of evidence of mankind are found from the Olduvai Gorge.

Photographing Ngorongoro Crater from the viewpoint
Endangered black rhinos in Ngorongoro crater

Victoria Falls, Zambia & Zimbabwe

“The Seventh Wonder of the World” melts even the hearts of seasoned travelers. Adventurous couples can share the adrenaline kick of jumping off Victoria Falls Bridge and freefalling 110 meters towards the crocodile-infested Zambezi River. The activity called “Gorge Swing” lets you jump together, holding hands. The falling phase is slower – and more enjoyable – than in bungee since you just take a long step from the platform instead of jumping. After the fall, you will be swinging above the tremendous Zambezi Gorge in a sitting position with plenty of time to cuddle. The bungee and related activities appear to be surprisingly popular among honeymooners – and why not to propose in the air? Check out our separate article on Victoria Falls bungee and gorge swing to get excited!

Naturally, Victoria Falls offers also more serene romantic activities. Simply walking by “The Smoke That Thunders” is fanciful. A sunset cruise on the Zambezi River showcases the Victoria Falls from a different perspective, and as an added bonus you can spot hippos and crocodiles. Also at sunset, a steam train dating back to 1952 takes lovers cross the Victoria Falls Bridge. Then there are helicopter flights and the world-famous “Devil’s Pool”, where you can soak right on the edge of Victoria Falls! If you’d consider canoeing (pretty dangerous on the rapids) or white-water rafting on the Zambezi romantic, they’re on the list, as well.

To crown your romantic holiday in Victoria Falls, stay at the unique Islands of Siankaba. Secluded cabins are scattered among the tree canopy and connected with hanging walkways. The lodge occupies a tiny island in the middle of the Zambezi River, offering prime Zambezi views from each cabin. As Victoria Falls lies on the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe, you can enter the falls from both sides.

The Victoria Falls Bridge seen from Livingstone, Zambia
Islands of Siankaba is a stunning safari lodge on a private island near Livingstone

Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, Uganda

The third UNESCO World Heritage Site on our list, Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, is a perfect location for the adventurous couples seeking both luxurious retreat and thrilling wildlife encounters.

Bwindi is one of the last places on earth, where you can meet the rare giants of the forest – mountain gorillas. Trust me; Bwindi’s gorilla trekking experience will be among the most memorable moments in your life. If you’re looking for a truly unique proposal, do it after the sweaty hike, in the middle of a gorilla family. But remember to whisper, as you’re not allowed to speak!

Bwindi Impenetrable Forest has a handful of upscale lodges, from which we recommend the lovely Mahogany Springs. Enjoy a spectacular view straight to the hills of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest from your private terrace and cuddle in the warmth of your own fireplace – the nights are chilly in the mountains.

Sun sets with the mists hanging low, in Bwindi Impenerable Forest National Park in Uganda.
A huge mountain gorilla looking at us in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park in Uganda.

For Beach Lovers

Zanzibar, Tanzania

The remote Bwejuu beach resembles paradise island day-dreams with white, powdery sand and endless shades of turquoise and azure. Bwejuu has been selected among the top 30 beaches in the world by Conde Nast Traveler – we cannot disagree. There’s only a handful of hotels, and a couple of them offer intimate luxury getaways for couples.

Time travel to the era of sultans by staying at the luxurious Baraza Resort & Spa. The palace-like architecture celebrates the magic of Zanzibar and views to the turquoise Indian Ocean are so paradisiac that it’s hard to enjoy your private plunge pool when there’s whole ocean (and reef!) to explore. Check out our complete article on Bwejuu here.

Mafia Island, Tanzania

If you’re looking for a castaway romance, tiny Mafia Island caters those fantasies with crystal-clear waters and secluded beaches. The mass tourism is pleasantly absent, leaving room for rustic and romantic, “barefoot luxury” retreats. World-class snorkeling, whale shark watching and search for authentic paradise island experiences are the main reasons, which whisk couples into this crescent-shaped jewel off the coast of Tanzania.

Mafia Island Marine Park offers the highest diversity and some of the healthiest coral reefs in the Indian Ocean. Shallow reefs of Chole Bay are perfect for snorkeling and provide an exceptional variety of marine life from soft to hard corals and clouds of colorful fish. The best part is the lack of other tourists, which make the experience sublime. Check out our complete article on snorkeling in Chole Bay.

Powdery paradise beach called Bwejuu, in the southeastern corner of Zanzibar
Mafia Island has the most perfect sunsets over the Indian Ocean

For Wildlife Lovers

Serengeti National Park, Tanzania

Another of Seven Natural Wonders of the World, Serengeti leaves you breathless. Sunsets and sunrises upon the endless plains are to die for – share them with the love of your life. Stay at one of the private tented camps, right in the middle of Serengeti and away from the civilization. Let the sounds of nature lull you to sleep, wake to the roars of lions, and sip your morning coffee watching wildlife passing by on the horizon. The game drives in the Serengeti National Park offer more wildlife sightings than you can imagine. Many people claim that this is the best place in Africa to spot the famous Big 5 – and in record time.

Masai Mara, Kenya

In Masai Mara, we witnessed the epic Masai lions mating at sunset. Can it get any more romantic?

The Serengeti ecosystem expands from Tanzania (Serengeti National Park) to Kenya, where it’s called Masai Mara. Both Tanzanian and Kenyan sides of Serengeti host the world’s biggest wildlife migration – and the most abundant lion population in Africa.

Already excited and ready to take an African safari? Check our tips on how to plan the best safari in Tanzania from here!

Before the rain in Serengeti National Park, Tanzania
Sleepy lion on the branches of a tree in Masai Mara, Kenya.

Lower Zambezi National Park, Zambia

Lower Zambezi is the dream destination for wildlife enthusiasts, where the abundant wildlife roams through the unfenced, luxurious safari camps. The Lower Zambezi National park is remote and unspoiled, but the lodges and guides here will make their best to spoil their guests for good.

Royal Zambezi Lodge is on our list of the safari best lodges we’ve ever visited and would be our suggestion for the romantic honeymoon splurge. The private, 5-star safari experience is honed to perfection with highly trained naturalist guides and exciting activities, intimate atmosphere and gourmet meals. Choose daily between private game drives, canoe safaris, fishing trips, sundowner cruises, bush walks, or even mountain hikes. Still, the most romantic moments are spent at your private terrace and pool, watching elephant herds slowly passing by the riverfront and plowing through the shallow waters – or taking a swim below the starry sky. Check out also our list of the best safari lodges in Zambia!

View towards the Zambezi river from our private terrace and plunge pool in Royal Zambezi Lodge, Zambia
Elephants crossed the premises of Royal Zambezi Lodge every day we stayed there

Tsavo National Park, Kenya

Split into East and West, the colossal Tsavo National Park is known as one of the largest game reserves and biodiversity strongholds in the world. The vast savannah of Tsavo East unwraps private encounters with elephants, the famous Tsavo lions and other wildlife, as there are rarely other vehicles on sight. Imagine bright red dust roads swirling between green, thorny bushes and swampy marshland, with sudden gray tones of an elephant herd peeking through the thick vegetation. The area is also rich in history, with archaeological sites dating back to Late Stone Age and the ancient Yatta Plateau, the longest lava flow in the world, which has been reshaped by erosion over the millennia.

High on stilts upon these wild plains rises Sarova Salt Lick Game Lodge, one the most photographed lodges in the world. Unique architecture lets you observe wildlife from above, as the lodge stands upon a popular watering hole. An underground passage leading to the camouflaged observation bunker just beside the watering hole put the finalizing strokes to the exceptional experience. Descend through the darkness with your loved one during the dinner time to have it all by yourselves.

Strictly speaking, Salt Lick lies inside the boundaries of Taita Hills Wildlife Sanctuary, bordering Tsavo West National Park. The sanctuary has only two lodges, both operated by Sarova Hotels.

Nairobi, Kenya

The last one took us by surprise, as well. But what would be more romantic than adopting an elephant together? Or staying at the famous Giraffe Manor, where the resident Rothschild giraffes might poke their head at your breakfast table? While Nairobi isn’t a romantic city, it’s probably on your route if you’re doing a safari in Kenya. And who wouldn’t mind a night at a classy hotel, great dinner, and a visit to the adorable elephant or giraffe sanctuary? What a perfect way to end a romantic East African safari!

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These romantic destinations in East Africa will spoil you with secluded beaches, private safaris and UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Enjoy the luxurious safari lodges and let East Africa steal your heart!


Kuching Waterfront lines the south bank of Sarawak river, offering scenic views towards Fort Margherita and the Astana

What to Eat and Drink in Kuching - And Where!

The atmospheric city of Kuching is known for its food, so why not to eat and drink your way through Bornean cuisine? Between meals, take a rest by strolling through the well-preserved Chinatown and the historic waterfront with locals – and taste small street food delicacies from the stalls if you still have a stomach left. Here comes our list of where to find best upscale, highland and street food dinners in Kuching.

Upscale Asian Fusion Dinner:

Bla Bla Bla

27 Tabuan Street

Go there for an upscale dinner that won’t break the bank. One of their signature dishes, Pandan Chicken, won our bellies. Also noodle dishes were great. Interior is just as fresh and full of flavors as the dishes: walk upon an enormous koi pond to reach your table.

Highland Jungle Food:

Tribal Stove

No.10, 1st Floor, Block H, Jalan Borneo, Taman Sri Sarawak (directly opposite Hilton)

Tiny Tribal Stove lives up to its name bringing Dayak home cooking and highland’s atmosphere into Kuching. Try traditional indigenous dishes like bamboo chicken or cheviche-like fish (or prawn) umai.

Everyone seemed to order midin, a jungle fern, so we followed the tip, and still continue to praise it. Here, midin is perfectly cooked and spiced – the best we had in Borneo.  I also liked strong, spinach-like jungle vegetable called cangkok manis (star gooseberry leaves).

The favorite of expats and tourists alike: Drunk Monkey Old Street Bar
Sarawak Laksa at Borneo Delight, Kuching

Cheap Local Eats:

Borneo Delight

13 Wayang St

Cheap local eats in a simple restaurant (or outdoor tables) instead of hawker stalls. If you haven’t yet tried the local favorite, Sarawak Laksa, do it now. The laksa here is sumptuous and appropriately spicy, slightly sour and sweet. Yellow noodles with curry is unordinary delicious, as well. We didn’t like ginger chicken, but all other portions tested were solid local fair.

 

Coffee:

Black Bean Coffee

87 Ewe Hai Street

This is your best bet for traditional Sarawak coffee, freshly roasted. Serves some solid coffee beans also from Java and traditional coffee nations. This is a local café, so don’t expect any third wave coffee snobbery, but enjoy the mellow vibes at small the terrace.

 

Beer:

Drunk Monkey Old Street Bar

68 Carpenter Street

The winning expat and tourist watering hole lurks inside the colorful Chinatown. Sip Guinness at the terrace under red lanterns while witnessing the night turn as dark as your pint (happy hour prices half/full pint of Guinness 13/19, Tiger comes at 12/18). Beer and whiskey selection is exceptional for Borneo and interior appropriately old school rock bar style.

If you have visited Kuching, what were your favorite restaurants or street food stalls? Share the gems with us in the comments below!

Don't be fooled by the humble facade of the Black Bean Coffee: step in and enjoy freshly ground coffee!

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Pick your favorite restaurant among the street eats, upscale fusion restaurants and cafés of Kuching, Malaysian Borneo!


View towards the city center of Medellín from the top of escaleras electricas, Comuna 13

Escalators to Heaven: Visiting Independently Medellín's Comuna 13, the Former Murder Capital of the World

“Comuna 13” was formerly known as a notorious slum area with the highest murder rate in Medellín. At the time, the city itself was ranked as the murder capital of the world. Now “the epicenter of the murder capital” is a growing its reputation around the world and its success story is imitated in troubled cities, such as Rio de Janeiro. Recently, a number of Comuna 13 tours have been launched, and hesitant tourists are trampling the colorful streets in the steps of the local guides. We decided to visit Comuna 13 independently to find out what’s it all about.

The Dark Past of Medellín’s Comuna 13: Drugs, Gangs, and Power Struggles

Comuna 13 used to be controlled by gangs, paramilitary groups, and infamous drug lords. Police had no control of the area because every gang had its own lookout so that they could escape well in advance if the cops even dared to enter the neighborhood through the narrow staircases. The main highway of Medellín (San Juan Highway) penetrates the slums, lifting the cartel in charge to control all illegal import and export business of Medellín.

Pablo Escobar controlled the area in the 1980s, and other gangs fought over control after his death in 1993. The murder rates in Comuna 13 tripled during 1997-2002. Police and national security forces tried to intervene violently 10 times without success.

In 2002, the Colombian military led a controversial Operation Orion with an ambitious goal to clean the most dangerous neighborhood of Medellín. The result? The left-wing guerrillas – FARC, ELN, and CAP ­– were removed. When the army, Police special forces, and air forces fought over guerrillas, 100 000 inhabitants of Comuna 13 were left in the middle of the heavy combat and siege. Innocent people, including children, were killed, injured – or officially just disappeared. Only the masters changed: Operation Orion gave control of Comuna 13 to paramilitary groups, which led to paramilitary hegemony over the whole city of Medellín. Later, paramilitary leaders have confessed an ally with the police.

What about the murder rates, then? Officially, things brightened up after Operation Orion. But we were told that instead of throwing corpses to the streets, they were more discreetly carried to the dump site of La Escombrera hill.

The Revival of Comuna 13: Paint, Escalators, and Communal Spirit

Then suddenly things started to change inside Comuna 13. Local government provided youngsters free paint to strengthen their sense of community and channel frustration into a creative force. Soon schools and shops followed their example. Then an architect suggested a creative public transport option, the world’s first outdoor escalators that would connect neighborhoods. The idea has since been copied by the several other cities, like Rio de Janeiro and Ankara.

As a result, on our visit in Comuna 13, we saw beautiful murals, tons of flowers, happy faces, and hope. Though we visited Comuna 13 independently, unlike most tourists, we felt safe. But, for sure, things aren’t that black and white. The official stories of the troubled past and current bloom of Comuna 13 seemed to be drastically different from the stories of locals. We recommend that you explore Medellín’s Comuna 13 on your own terms to draw conclusions.

The red-bricked and cement houses of Comuna 13, Medellin
The corrugated iron roofs of Comuna 13, Medellin

Riding the Escalators of Comuna 13

Medellín’s Comuna 13 is scattered upon such steep hills that it used to be accessible only by stairs. Climbing atop equals of climbing 28 stores. When the six covered outdoor escalators were assembled in 2011, the sweaty 30-minute climb was reduced to 5-minute escalator ride. What a massive improvement in life quality for more than 100 000 inhabitants – feel free to compare it yourself! We visited Comuna 13 on a hot summer day and opted to take the free ride.

The starting point of escalators offers a splendid view towards the hills filled with red-bricked houses, speckled with occasional bright walls. Comuna 13 is still one of the most heavily populated – and poorest – neighborhoods in Medellín. From the starting point, you can witness how small cement and brick houses are squeezed tightly together. At the top of the escalators, the corrugated iron roofs showcase the slum-like architecture. Some call Comuna 13 still a slum, but we saw it as a vibrant, quickly changing and creative neighborhood sparkling with hope and community spirit.

When you hop on the escalators, quickly passing glimpses of homes and backyards melt together into one, colorful canvas. The old cement stairway mirrors the escalators, offering a real-life canvas for both budding and famous street artists – and entertainment for visitors. Bright paint, skillful murals, and omnipresent flower pots make Comuna 13 a cheerful place to visit.

While changing escalators (or tramos aka sections), use the photo opportunities to capture changing views towards the center of Medellín– and upwards towards the hills. The landing areas offer splendid shots of the surroundings murals, as well.

The escalators ascent the slope for 384 meters, so naturally, the most breathtaking views are available at the top. Pose with a city view, walk around and taste local street food or enjoy ice-cream if you please.

View towards the city center of Medellín from the top of escaleras electricas, Comuna 13

How to Get to Medellin’s Comuna 13 & Escalators Independently

You can arrive at the Escalators of Comuna 13 (Escaleras electricas in Spanish) either with a taxi or public transport. It’s easy to take a metro from the city center or Poblado to San Javier, from where you can take a bus or taxi to the escalators. We chose to walk from San Javier to the escalators, as Google Maps showed the walking route and it was just 20-minute leisure walk (search Escalator Comuna 13 in Google Maps: the starting point is located at the square/crossroads, the other location on the map is the ending point). The bus line is 255 and buses even have “Escaleras” signs in their windows. Taxi trip should cost the minimum (5000 pesos) or a little bit more, depending on your luck.

The whole area around San Javier’s metro station is called Comuna 13, so feel free to explore deeper if you have time! Parque Biblioteca San Javier, a modern multi-level library and culture center, is well-worth of visiting and stands as a public sign of brighter future for the troubled area.

CHECK OUR ITINERARY!
Get inspiration from our ultimate 4-week itinerary around Colombia and start planning your adventure! The itinerary is divided into multiple one-week loops, so you can craft easily a route that fits in your schedule and preferences.

Is It Safe to Visit Comuna 13 and the Escalators?

The area immediately around San Javier metro station is considered safe, as are the escalators of Comuna 13. There are several policemen stationed around the escalators. Nowadays, tour groups flock the area during the daytime. Though our hotel advised against visiting Comuna 13 independently, many locals claim it safe.

Though our independent visit in Comuna 13 was safe and sound, I cannot guarantee that yours will be – ask the current security situation from locals or consider guided tour (there are also private tours available). Locals advise against wandering too far from the escalators themselves.

Please note that Medellín’s Comuna 13 is still low economic zone and watch your belongings. While homicide rates have sunk, street robberies are more than common. Don’t carry expensive cameras or other valuables if you decide to wander further from San Javier metro station or the escalators.

Have you visited Medellín’s Comuna 13 and the escalators – or would you dare to explore the area on your own?

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Explore Medellín's Comuna 13, the former murder capital of Colombia, now turned into colorful neighborhood filled with hope.
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Happy Bornean Sun Bear in a tree in Sabah, Malaysia

5 Things to Do in Sepilok: Perfect Introduction to Borneo!

The tiny town of Sepilok offers an exciting prelude to the orangutans, sun bears, and rainforests of Borneo – in just two days. Get inspiration for your Bornean adventures from our favorite things to do in Sepilok! 

1. Get Familiar With Orangutans – and Their Babies!

Thanks to Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, Sepilok is the world-famous place to meet the orange-furred “men of the jungle”. Around 60 to 80 orphaned or injured orangutans live freely inside a slice of protected forest reserve.

The best thing: caretakers will bring the babies and adolescents to the outdoor nursery are just before the feeding times. You can watch mini-orangutans tumble, fight and play behind the glass of the air-conditioned observatory. Cuteness overload!

Adult sightings are not guaranteed, as the semi-wild orangutans move around freely, but here the chances are the best on earth. Daily morning and afternoon feedings seemed to draw so many orangutans to the feeding platforms that I could only think that torrential rain might keep them in the shade of the canopy. Double your chances by visiting both feeding sessions (entrance fee covers whole day) and arrive well in advance. We stumbled upon orangutans while just walking around on the elevated pathways before the feeding time. Boardwalks link the entrance, feeding platform, and outdoor nursery.

Orangutan at the feeding platform of Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, Malaysian Borneo

2. Meet the Smallest Bears on Earth: the Sun Bears

Bornean sun bears are among the cutest animals we’ve ever met. These black-furred, Paddington-sized bears have golden, horseshoe like marks on their chest, which resemble rising sun. The markings are unique, just like human fingerprints.

It’s your lucky day, as Sepilok is again the best place on earth to observe rescued sun bears climbing trees, grubbing ground in search of food, and minding their own business. Check out our separate article about visiting Bornean Sun Bear Center!

3. Take a Hike in the Bornean Rainforest

Some lodges have private walkways in the rainforest, but you can also have your introduction to the rainforests of Borneo at the Rainforest Discovery Center. They even have a 350-meters long canopy walkway, from where you can explore what happens in a rainforest at the level of the treetops. There’s also a network of walking trails and paddle boats to rent by the shore.

I’d highly recommend a mini-hike inside the orangutan sanctuary if any of the walking trails happen to be open (all trails were closed at the time of our visit until further notice). The loops vary from 250 meters to 5 kilometers.

4. Spot Giant Flying Squirrels

We were lucky to see plenty of giant flying squirrels during our Bornean adventure. After a numerous night walks, night drives and cruises at several locations, I confess with laughter that the best spot to watch these giants show off was our lodge’s terrace in Sepilok.

Flying red giant squirrels nest in a massive tree just beside MY Nature Resort. Restaurant’s terrace is aptly called the flying squirrel terrace, as it offers impeccable chances to observe these giants climb the tree and then glide upon you. Waiting for the squirrels to show off is evening entertainment at its best, accompanied by mouth-watering fried bananas.

The creatures are truly giant: from tail to head almost one meter. We got to see a perfect example of their skills, when one squirrel flew over us and the restaurant, arguably almost the 150 feet distance, which they are able to cover on one flight. 

A Bornean Sun Bear called Loki in the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Center in Sabah, Malysia.
A Bornean Sun Bear climbing to a tree in the rain in BSBCC, Sabah, Malaysia.
Stunning view to the rainforest from our private terrace in MY Nature Resort - it rains in the rainforest!

5. Spend a Day in Sandakan

After all the praise, the downside of Sepilok is the lack of town. There’s virtually just a highway crossing an area called Sepilok with a handful of lodges scattered around the highway and nearby orangutan and sun bear sanctuaries. Luckily, a small coastal town of Sandakan lies just 30 minutes away by a taxi or bus. We’ll publish soon a guide on the best restaurants in Sandakan!

Where to stay in Sepilok?

We chose MY Nature Resort for three reasons. Shortly: here you’ll experience the best that Sepilok has to offer in a unique way, with some added perks. The lodge is new and has the only pool in Sepilok (for now). Elevated pathway loops the back of the resort, offering mini jungle excursions into Sepilok Protected Forest Reserve. You’re free to explore the 1500 ft route on your own from 6 AM to 5 PM, and every night there’s an option for a guided night walk. At the time of booking, we didn’t know about the squirrels, but would recommend staying in MY Nature Resort even for the flying red giants!

MY Nature Resort is tucked away from the Sepilok highway, where most of the lodges lie. It’s a short walk from Rainforest Discovery Center, the third draw in Sepilok after the orangutans and sun bears. The accommodation package includes tickets and guided tours of orangutan and sun bear sanctuaries and shuttle transfers from the hotel (twice a day, just 5-minute ride). You’ll also get an own guide who can lead nearby nature walks. Complimentary drinking water and always hot water thanks to the backup generators. Our cottage had a huge, private terrace overlooking the rainforest canopy – ask for a view!

Getting to Sepilok
Multiple daily flights cut the distance between Kota Kinabalu and Sandakan into 45 scenic minutes. You’ll fly past Mt. Kinabatangan and weather-permitting the peak is fully visible. Be sure to book left side seat from Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan – and vice versa! One-way prices start at 13$ (AirAsia). Taxi drive from Sandakan to Sepilok takes less than 30 minutes.

Also, local buses run frequently the routes Kota Kinabalu–Sepilok and Sandakan–Sepilok. But you have to jump off by the highway at ´Batu 14´, (Sepilok doesn’t have a center, so you’d need a taxi from Batu 14, and it can be expensive).

Where to Continue From Sepilok?

Sepilok acts as a gateway to the jungle explorations and cruises on Kinabatangan River. Get inspiration for your adventures from our separate article about spotting the rare pygmy elephants, orangutans, and nosy proboscis monkeys on Kinabatangan river cruises. Above mentioned Sandakan works as a coastal base for short cruises to the nearby islands. We highly recommend a paradisiac stay on the gorgeous Lankayan Island, snorkeling with turtles and exploring the mesmerizing underwater world. Check out our ultimate 2-week itinerary from the beaches to the rainforests of Borneo for inspiration!

Special thanks for S.I. Tours for helping us to arrange our visit in Sepilok.

Have you been in Sepilok or would you love to meet the orangutans and the sun bears some day?

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Sepilok offers a perfect introduction to Borneo, from orangutans and sun bears to the rainforest hikes. Browse our favorite things to do in Sepilok!


Relax in Lankayan Island in Malaysian Borneo.

Best Lodges to Experience the Real Borneo, Malaysia

Explore the rainforests of Borneo, swim with turtles on a paradise island and spot orangutans in their natural habitat – while staying in luxurious lodges, away from the crowds. Make your visit in Malaysian Borneo truly memorable by picking exclusive lodges, which allow you to experience the real Borneo.

Borneo Rainforest Lodge, Danum Valley

The award-winning Borneo Rainforest Lodge is the only lodge in Borneo, which lies inside primary rainforest and conservation area. You’ll be surrounded by the vast, untouched rainforest, where no modern man has stepped. Think of ultimate luxury and seclusion combined with unique nature excursions with a personal naturalist guide. I’d pick Borneo Rainforest Lodge for our “10 Lodges to Stay Before You Die” list.

Obviously, Borneo Rainforest Lodge is the best spot in Malaysian Borneo for authentic wildlife sightings. Hiking is allowed on private trails, which can take you to mesmerizing waterfalls, natural jacuzzi pools, dizzying viewpoints, and an ancient burial site. It’s possible to trek for a whole day chasing wildlife in their natural habitat. We loved our early morning walks (up to 4 hours) and were lucky to spot several orangutans. In addition to various trails, you can swim and tube down the clear waters of Danum River, take night safari drives, or just admire the unique views towards the home of truly wild orangutans. Don’t forget to visit the breathtaking canopy walkway, which has multiple viewing platforms! It’s simply the best canopy walk we’ve ever stepped on – and you can experience it in the privacy of your own hiking group.

Borneo Rainforest Lodge has only 30 rooms, built with locally sourced and sustainable materials. Deluxe rooms open to the ravishing Danum river (with private jacuzzis!), whereas standard rooms face the jungle with the best chances of spotting wildlife from the comfort of your bed. Orangutans had nested right above our cabin just a day before we arrived!

How to Get to Borneo Rainforest Lodge

All-inclusive rates cover 2-hour transfers from Lahad Datu (the nearest town and airport) – and daily activities with a professional naturalist guide. Driving through the vast secondary rainforest bordering the conservation area is an adventure as well: we spotted the rare Bornean pygmy elephants on both drives!

Borneo Rainforest Lodge is the only lodge in Borneo, which lies inside primary rainforest and conservation area
Danum Valley's Canopy Walkway is a dream come true for nature photographers
The relaxing lounge area of Borneo Rainforest Lodge
Dining hall of Borneo Rainforest Lodge, Malaysian Borneo
The deluxe chalet with a river view in Borneo Rainforest Lodge, inside the gorgeous Danum Valley

Lankayan Island Dive Resort

While most other islands in Borneo are already crowded, Lankayan remains a remote paradise for snorkelers and divers, or anyone seeking a secluded tropical island. Lankayan has just one exclusive dive resort and blissfully empty stretches of powdery sand. The Sulu Sea glimmers in the most perfect shade of turquoise, mixing with the hues of blue, inviting you for a refreshing dip. Float quietly to witness the paradisiac scene, wondering if you’re really there, before exploring the underwater treasures, which include healthy reefs, clouds of colorful fish, playful turtles and exciting rarities like jawfish.

On Lankayan, you can feed you Robinson Crusoe fantasies with all the modern comforts. All the cottages are right on the shore. We stayed in #25, the second last one, which stands on stilts, both upon water and sand, and boasts unobstructed views of the turquoise ocean. For the ultimate win, I’d recommend #26, but in Lankayan, you always win. Here you can read our separate article on snorkeling in Lankayan Island.

How to Get to Lankayan Island

Fly, drive or take a bus to Sandakan, a coastal town in Sabah area of Malaysian Borneo. The all-inclusive rates of Lankayan Island Dive Resort include transfer from the airport or Sandakan city to the port and 1,5-2 hours’ speedboat trip to Lankayan Island.

Just sit back and enjoy the paradise feel of Lankayan Island
The main building of Lankayan Island Dive Resort in its evening gown
Tiny Lankayan Island is an unspoilt paradise far off the coast of Sabah, Malaysian Borneo

Kinabatangan Riverside Lodge & Abai Jungle Lodge

It’s hard to pick just one lodge from the Kinabatangan River, which snakes for more than 500 kilometers from the Sulu Sea, through rainforests towards the mountains and “the lost world” of western Sabah. One of the richest ecosystems in the world is home to orangutans, proboscis monkeys, and countless of other exotic species – even the elusive pygmy elephants. Most of the lodges are clustered around the village of Sukau, where wildlife sightings are great, but constant boat traffic hinders jungle daydreams.

If you yearn to experience the real magic of Sungai Kinabatangan, start your exploration by cruising from the port of Sandakan to the mouth of Kinabatangan river. Glide quietly downstream while spotting wildlife in the thick vegetation hanging over the river, stopping to admire a herd of proboscis monkeys or even orangutans if you’re lucky. Spend a night at the simple Abai Jungle Lodge upstream. There are no roads and no other tourists in sight, just fairy tale river vistas. Take private walks with your loved one on the elevated pathways at the back of the lodge and share the experience of living in a National Geographic document.

The next day, wake early to sip coffee admiring the magical morning mist upon the river. Take a cruise to the Pitas Oxbow Lake spotting wildlife and zigzagging through a narrow channel and strangling fig-trees. Enjoy an exclusive jungle breakfast in the company of macaques and wild pigs. To experience all that Kinabatangan River can offer, cruise all the way down to Sukau village and spend the other night in the eco-chic Kinabangan Riverside Lodge.

We loved the true wilderness feel of Abai Jungle Lodge. Combining it with Kinabatangan Riverside Lodge made our river adventure just perfect. During our transit day from Abai to Sukau we saw 6 orangutans and a herd of rare pygmy elephants! Both lodges have gorgeous terraces looking the river and private, elevated pathways for exploring the jungle.

How to Get to Kinabatangan River: Sukau and Abai Villages

The best and the easiest way is to take a tour, as also many of the lodges are owned by the tour companies. In theory, you can get either drive or negotiate a transfer to Sukau village and most lodges offer cruises. There are no public boats. We loved to explore the Kinabatangan River from its mouth to all the way to the Sukau and Bilit areas – one of the advantages of traveling with SI Tours and staying at their two separate lodges.

A beautiful view from the Abai Lodge's deck to the Kinabatangan River in Borneo
A view from the Kinabatangan Riverside Lodge's deck in Borneo
Abai Lodge at the Kinabatangan River in Malaysian Borneo
Abai Lodge at the Kinabatangan River in Malaysian Borneo
Rare Bornean Pygmy Elephants at the Kinabatangan River in Malaysian Borneo

MY Nature Resort, Sepilok

MY Nature Resort was our first base in Borneo, offering just a perfect introduction to the treats of the rainforest. MY Nature Resort is tucked away from the other lodges and the Sepilok highway, offering an authentic jungle feel. Still, it’s a short walk from Rainforest Discovery Center, the third draw in Sepilok after the orangutans and sun bears.

The additional perks: the property is new and has the only pool in Sepilok (for now) and you are free to explore the surrounding rainforest on the elevated pathways. Flying giant squirrels show off at the restaurant’s terrace every evening: watching them glide past while munching fried bananas is evening entertainment at its best! Our cottage had a huge, private terrace overlooking the rainforest canopy – ask for a view.

The accommodation package includes tickets and guided tours of orangutan and sun bear sanctuaries and shuttle transfers from the hotel (twice a day, just 5-minute ride). You’ll also get own guide who can lead nature walks. Check out a separate article on visiting the sun bear sanctuary in Sepilok to get excited!

How to Get to Sepilok

This one is easy: just fly into nearby Sandakan from Kota Kinabalu or take a bus. Taxi from Sandakan takes less than 30 minutes.

Special thanks for these handpicked lodges for helping us arrange our adventures in Borneo.

If you are planning a trip to Borneo, check out our detailed 2-week itinerary for inspiration!

If you have visited Malaysian Borneo, which were your favorite lodges and why?

The cabins of MY Nature Resort, Sepilok
The swimming pool of MY Nature Resort - the only one in Sepilok
Stunning view to the rainforest from our private terrace in MY Nature Resort - it rains in the rain