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.

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 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.



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.



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.

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.

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!

Just sit back and enjoy the paradise feel of Lankayan Island

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.

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

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Stay at luxurious lodges while exploring the rainforests, reefs and rivers of Borneo! We handpicked the best lodges of Borneo to make your visit truly memorable.

Helsinki Railway Square filled with craft beer thirsty crowd

Local’s Guide to the Craft Beer Festivals in Helsinki, Finland

We had an amazing weekend soaking in the sun and the brews of Craft Beer Helsinki Festival. Small Finnish breweries together with some fierce competitors from the rest of the Europe took over Helsinki’s central landmark, Railway Square, offering a myriad of creative craft brews to sample. The best news: there still two other beer festivals coming up in Helsinki, in the same unique setting!

Craft Beer Helsinki Festival (the end of June/beginning of July)

Picture a long, sunny summer night (the sun sets in Helsinki in July around 11 PM) and a central square filled to the utmost with microbrew connoisseurs checking off their exhaustive tasting lists, combined with other loosely beer loving crowd, families, sun-seekers, odd dog walkers and tourists coming after the bubbling atmosphere. In its core, Craft Beer Helsinki is a fun, summery get-together, where everyone is welcomed. Most people seemed to pop in to sample the rare brews, not to get drunk. I loved the festival so much that I visited two days in a row (making it my first two-day beer fest)!

In 2017, there were more than 20 breweries and up to 200 brews (if I remember right, the list was exhaustive). Our favorites were found at the stand of the Swedish Omnipollo. Their Noa Pecan Mud Cake Stout (scoring 100 at is simply divine and I couldn’t find any fault from Zodiak IPA (scoring 95 at We also loved the newcomers from Finnish-Estonian Sori Brewing and our new Finnish indie fav Fat Lizard Brewing. Truthfully, we concentrated more on foreign brews, as the other summer beer festivals feature solely Finnish beers. This year, the entrance was free, but you had to buy a beer glass (4 to 5 €) to sample the brews.

Whereas Craft Beer Helsinki Festival is a charming newcomer, the other craft beer happenings of Railway Square offer similar vibes. You can even spot many of the Finnish microbreweries in all of them!

Helsinki Railway Square filled with craft beer thirsty crowd
The stand of Finnish craft brewery Pyynikin Panimo at Craft Beer Helsinki festival
The sours and slushes of Finnish CoolHead Brew were popular at Craft Beer Helsinki fest

Suuret Oluet – Pienet Panimot “Great Beers – Small Breweries” (July)

Suuret Oluet – Pienet Panimot festival serves microbrew-thirsty citizens already during the next weekend (from 26th to 29th of July). It’s the biggest microbrewery festival in Finland and showcases solely Finnish brewing talents and ingredients. Suuret Oluet – Pienet Panimot festival is held also in five other cities during summer, check out the dates and details from here (in English) » This summer, there are still beer fests coming up in Turku and Oulu. The entrance is free until 6 PM.

Syysstober Beer Festival (August)

One of our long-standing favorites is the mouthwatering combo of “Delicacies of Finland” and “Syysstober Beer Festival”. Again, a variety of Finnish breweries gather to the very same Railway Square at the beginning of August, but this time spiced up with prime food stalls and free samplings. The last summer festival has the strongest focus on food, serving an array of local delicacies from the different provinces – plenty of organic treats, of course! Beers are all Finn and mostly from microbreweries.

We love to walk through the food tastings and order something small to eat on the side of those noble brews. Usually, we also find nice sauces, pickles, jams, organic honey and such to take back home. This year, Syysstober will quench your thirst from 3rd to 5th of August, check out the details from here (in English) »
The entrance is free.

Craft Beer, Microbrew, or Just Another Great Beer?

Some puritans might argue that Craft Beer Helsinki is the only craft beer festival, while Suuret Oluet – Pienet Panimot (Great Beers – Small Breweries) is the only microbrewery festival in Helsinki. In a way, that can be true, if you agree that not all micro-brewed beers are craft beer, but we’re entering a war-zone here.

Suuret Oluet – Pienet Panimot (Great Beers – Small Breweries) is organized by The Finnish Microbreweries’ Association, so the beers are strictly Finnish microbrews. According to the Finnish definition, a microbrewery can produce only a limited amount of 15 million litres of beer per year.

Craft beer, on the other hand, might be trickier to define. Some claim that craft brewery follows craft brewing standards, for example, the brew must contain at least half of traditional malt instead of oats or wheat. Personally, I Iabel my beer “craft” when it has been brewed with great craftsmanship, using high-quality ingredients and sometimes creative recipes (and I love oatmeal stouts). I know, what a punk. Leaving that discussion aside, you can find both high-quality Finnish craft beer and creative microbrews at all events listed above.

Fat Lizard Brewing's Raspy Mary is among my favorite Finnish IPAs
The beer list of Fat Lizard Brewing
Finnish National Theathre guards the railway Square – and the summer beer festivals of Helsinki

Why to Visit Summer Beer Festivals in Helsinki?

Passionate craft beer scene is – finally – booming in Finland. While there are many excellent brewpubs, the beer festivals still remain the best opportunity to sample through hundreds of brews and chat with the brewers.

If you’re not into beer, you can still enjoy the festive atmosphere and sample the street food, which is plentiful at all beer fests. In Craft Beer Helsinki, head to the awesome Craft Cider Stand – cider is usually served also at the other festivals. Even better, collect your bravery and give a try to the Finnish fruit beers and sours. Some of my favorite Finnish sours and gruit ales come from Hopping Brewsters, Humalove, and Hiisi.

As a Finn, I dare to state that these festivals offer tourists a rare chance to chat with a Finn. We Finns are a peculiar tribe, slightly reserved and often introverted. We tend to avoid small talk and stay silent. For example, in public transport, we avoid sitting by a stranger and while waiting a bus or at the elevator, we consider it weird to talk to fellow passengers. After a long and dark winter, the light-filled summer makes us more playful, and after a drink we might open for a casual small talk. I might be exaggerating a bit, come and judge yourself. But I can almost guarantee that at the beer festivals it’s possible to find new Finnish friends.

The Beer Festivals of Helsinki Outside Summer

Two other yearly beer festivals make you smile outside the Finnish summertime. Both of them are held indoors in Kaapelitehdas, an old cable factory turned into the largest cultural centre in Finland. The oldest beer festival in Finland, called plainly Helsinki Beer Festival, takes place in April, and OlutExpo (“BeerExpo”) in October.

Is that the ultimate grilling experience? It looks cool!
Yet another street food stall at Craft Beer Helsinki

Bizarre Facts: Finland & Beer

The national epic of Finland, the Kalevala, describes the creation of the beer in 400 lines, whereas the creation of the world and man is summarized in 200 lines. The Finnish God of beer was called Pekko.

Finnish sahti is among the oldest surviving beer styles in the world. Homebrew-like sahti is brewed with barley malt and rye, but without hops, using junipers in the fermentation process.

Only beer weaker than 4.7 % can be sold in regular retail stores. Stronger alcohol products are only available in government-owned Alko stores, restaurants and bars.

Finnish alcohol legislation is strict and weird. For example, you have to be careful to use women, athletes, Santa Claus, or animal mascots in beer labels. Finnish government agency Valvira even asked Facebook to remove Like button, so that people wouldn’t be able to like alcohol related posts.

Ever heard about beer floating? Yes, it’s an annual festival in Finland, where thousands of participants float down a river in make-shift rafts and inflatable dinghies while getting drunk.

Beer consumption is 85 litres per capita (scoring as 12th highest in the world)

If you’ve visited the beer festivals in Helsinki, which is your favorite and why?

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Small craft breweries take over Railway Square of Helsinki, Finland. Sample creative brews and binge on street food!

The gate to the walled, old city of Cartagena, Colombia

The Best Cafés in Cartagena, Colombia – Picks from a Specialty Coffee Geek

While roaming the colorful streets of Cartagena de Indias, stop by to one of the best cafés in Colombia to sip some serious espresso or cold-brew. The café scene in Colombia is developing fast: today you can drink the best coffee in the world in the country that produces it!

I’m an irritatingly picky coffee drinker who approves only prime, high-grown beans and prefers to skip the average coffee. So, I usually end up being a tea-drinker during our holidays. We’ve visited several coffee producing countries, such as Tanzania, Rwanda, and Nicaragua – and I’ve got used to getting just one good cup of coffee (or none) during those trips. Luckily, Colombia turned the tables. I’ve already listed our favorite cafés in Bogota, so now is time to look at the quirky coffee houses of Cartagena!

Café San Alberto

Calle Santos de Piedra #3-86, Cartagena (diagonal to the cathedral)

If you take your coffee extremely seriously, there might be only one place that will cater your specialty coffee needs in Cartagena: Café San Alberto inside the old town. But one perfect little café is more than enough! We ended up getting our caffeine fix there every day. Their take on the science of coffee is humbling.

The coffee of San Alberto claims to be the most award-winning coffee in Colombia. They call it super-premium: the single origin beans are produced under their 5-step selection process, in the spirit of French wine-making. The coffee comes from their own Hacienda de San Alberto, located in Buenavista region. The beans meet my strict coffee geek criteria: they’re grown high enough (1500–1800 meters above sea level) and wet-processed.

But how does it taste? Think of dark chocolate and caramel, juicy and balanced acidity. I loved every cup I had there: from espresso to cold brew and siphon – and Piritta loved their mochaccinos, as well. Yes, they provide all the brewing methods you could think of. And the interior is lovely, as well, pouring the story of the coffee with images and fact sheets. The upper floor feels more private than buzzing (and hot!) street level and wifi might lure you to stay longer than planned. And don’t worry, if you’re not a coffee geek, the knowledgeable baristas are happy to explain the different brewing methods if you’d like to taste something else than a cappuccino. They offer coffee tasting sessions, as well!

My only regret was that Cartagena was the first stop during our 4-week tour in Colombia, so it made no sense to drag the coffee bags for one month – and the beans wouldn’t have been at their best when we finally returned home. Maybe next time I’ll travel with my beloved AeroPress and Hario Skerton Coffee Mill – I’ve been thinking about it for years since they take such a little room in luggage!

Café San Alberto has catered the coffee aficionados of Cartagena since 2015. You’ll get your fix cheaper elsewhere, but it’s hard to match their standards. They’re even the exclusive distributor of Hario and Chemex in Colombia. Praise the beans!

Roaming the streets of Cartagena in search of the best cafés – can't blame the views!
Café San Alberto inside the old town of Cartagena caters your specialty coffee needs with their super premium, wet-processed beans
Café San Alberto inside the old town of Cartagena caters your specialty coffee needs with their super premium, wet-processed beans
Café San Alberto in the old town of Cartagena provides all the brewing methods needed to showcase their specialty coffee beans

Café de las Novias

Calle 25 #8B-126, Cartagena

Hidden on the quiet street in Getsemani, Café de Novias is a pleasant spot for a cake. Compared to Café San Alberto, their coffee is just average, but the cakes and weird wedding themed interior make it up. Go for the cakes and wedding planning if you are in the need! Yes, it’s a wedding planning shop turned into bakery slash coffee house (novia translates into bride).

Café del Mural

Carrera 9a (Calle San Juan) #25-60, Cartagena

Another praised café in Getsemani, which takes their beans seriously. Based on what I’ve heard, I’d highly recommend tasting their take on the specialty coffee of Colombia, though many seem to prefer San Alberto. In my eyes, Café de Mural appears to have more experimental and underground coffee lab feel. To my regret, they open at 3PM after which I limit my caffeine intake. If you’ve visited Café de Mural, please share your experience in the comments below!

Época Espresso Bar

Calle de Arzopispado, Carrera 5 #34-52, Cartagena

Not far from Plaza de Bolivar, Época Café quenches your thirst of espresso in the historical center. The coffee is roasted on the spot and they sell a variety of beans. Época’s signature drink is Carajillo Ahumado (espresso with Aguardiente, sugar cane and cassia).

Ábaco Café y Libros (Bookstore Café)

Calle de La Iglesia #3-86, Cartagena (on the corner of Calle de La Mantilla)
Visit this charming bookstore café for the love of books and coffee cocktails: cold brew or espresso-based drinks.

Boundless Mezcal Café

Plaza de los Coches, Calle 34, #7-33, Cartagena

One more exciting venue to the bucket list, if you love mezcal and coffee. Weird combination to me, but why not!

Juan Valdez Café

There are several branches on Juan Valdéz Café in Cartagena (and other big cities of Colombia). If they’re on your route, feel free to get your fix. Long story short, Juan Valdéz Café isn’t my favorite, and you can read more my opinions about them in the article on the best cafés of Bogotá.

If you’ve sampled great coffee in Cartagena, please share your favorite café in the comments below!

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Taste the best coffee beans in Colombia inside the walled old city of Cartagena. Browse the best cafes for a specialty coffee geek!

An Orangutan Thinking in Semenggoh Orangutan Center, Malaysian Borneo

The Best of Borneo in 2 Weeks: Itinerary for Orangutans, Pygmy Elephants, Snorkeling, and Jungles

Squeeze the highlights of Borneo into an adventurous 2-week itinerary. Explore the last stronghold of Bornean primary rainforest – the real jungle – in Danum Valley, make a record in orangutan spotting on tranquil river cruises along Kinabatangan, unwind on a secluded paradise island snorkeling with turtles, visit orangutan sanctuaries, and indulge in Bornean cuisine and cultural treats in the charming cities.

Along the way, you can choose between world-class hiking, snorkeling, and wildlife spotting – or just opt to sit back and enjoy the sceneries. This two-week route 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. Let’s take off!

Sepilok: Introduction to Borneo with Orangutans, Sun Bears, and Giant Flying Squirrels (2 nights)

Sepilok is a perfect spot to start your journey, as it allows you to avoid starting and ending your trip in Kota Kinabalu. When time is short, every night counts! 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.

But why 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?

Still, the highlight for us was visiting Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre, where you can watch the pint-sized bears climbing up the trees and minding their own businesses. We also loved the nature walks in the rainforest, on the elevated platforms just behind our hotel, MY Nature Resort. The additional perks included watching giant red flying squirrels glide upon us during the evenings. 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: 5 Things To Do In Sepilok!

Getting to Sepilok
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)

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!

Getting to Sandakan
Use either a taxi or bus – or ask the transfer from your hotel, as specified above (check out “Getting to Sepilok”).

A Bornean Sun Bear climbing to a tree in the rain in BSBCC, Sabah, Malaysia.
Orangutan at the feeding platform of Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, Malaysian Borneo

All photographs by Piritta

Lankayan Island: Ultimate Paradise Island with World-Class Diving and Snorkeling (2 nights)

Welcome to the 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. A separate article about the magical underwater world of Lankayan is coming out soon!

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 your 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 – the sightings could be almost guaranteed if you stay two nights at the river (our guides said that the likelihood is 70%). Proboscis monkeys are omnipresent and nearly impossible to miss, still 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. 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. Still, all river cruises felt serene, though during one morning we didn’t spot any orangutans, and I enjoyed 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 itinerary!

Getting to Kinabatangan River
Either book a tour beforehand or negotiate with the tour operators in Sandakan. Some of the lodges also allow straight bookings (though many are owned by tour companies), but you’ll need river transports anyway. Sukau village is also reachable by car, but we’d recommend venturing further for more authentic Kinabatangan experience. We recommend a tour as then all transports and activities are included – and even the transits become exciting chances to spot wild orangutans and proboscis monkeys!

Proboscis Monkeys by Kinabatangan River, Malaysian Borneo

Danum Valley: The Real Bornean Rainforest and Wildlife with Luxury (3 nights)

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. 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.

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 cover exciting activities – choose between nature walks with a naturalist guide, fun river tubing, longer hikes, birding, and night drives.

Getting to Danum Valley from Kinabangan River (or Lahad Datu)
All-inclusive rates of Borneo Rainforest Lodge include 2-hour transfer from the 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 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)

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 city itself needs to be felt: roam the riverfront and the colorful streets of Old China Town with locals, pop in the acclaimed fusion restaurants and local eateries and eat your way through the highland and tribal cuisines. Check out a separate foodie guide for the best restaurants in Kuching!

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).

Getting to Kuching from Danum Valley (or Kota Kinabalu)
Cheap internal flights carry you conveniently almost from the furthest fringe of Sabah to the capital of Sarawak. Driving 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 in Bornean Style (1 night)

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 it a pleasant base for daytripping 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.

An Orangutan Thinking in Semenggoh Orangutan Center, Malaysian Borneo
Kuching Waterfront lines the south bank of Sarawak river, offering scenic views towards Fort Margherita and the Astana

Our Tweaks for 1-Week, 10-Day and 3-Week Itinerary in Malaysian Borneo: Mt Kinabalu, Maliau Basin and More of Sarawak

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 avid snorkeler) and Danum Valley (especially if you’re into hiking). If you have only 7 to 10 days to spend, I’d drop visiting Kuching (Sarawak) and narrow down the nights in Sepilok/Sandakan area.

We were exceptionally pleased with this 2-week itinerary, so personally, I wouldn’t remove or add anything – other than more time to explore more destinations. I’d happily add extra loops for climbing Mt Kinabalu (we will return for that!), visiting Maliau Basin National Park in Sabah and 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). And of course, we will return for the vast Indonesian side of Borneo called Kalimantan – there’s a lot the explore!

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 four luxurious lodges, which will give you to a real taste of Borneo with all the modern comforts, sumptuous dinners, and authentic wildlife encounters. 
Check out our list of the best lodges in Malaysian Borneo!

Excited and ready to book your trip to Borneo? Would you follow our steps tracking the beat of Borneo on this 2-week itinerary? If you’ve visited Malaysian Borneo, what were the highlights for you and would you change something in our itinerary?

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The best of Borneo squeezed into a 2-week itinerary: orangutans, proboscis monkeys, pygmy elephants, and turtles; Danum Valley, Kinabatangan, Lankayan Island and more!

English Tea House is a surprising find in Malaysian Borneo. Tucked away upon a hill overlooking Sandakan Bay, English Tea House boasts a croquet lawn and spectacular views towards the Sulu Sea and islets guarding the coastal town.

Sight of the Week: English Tea House, Sandakan (Borneo)

Authentic English Tea House with a croquet lawn is a surprising find in Borneo. Tucked away upon a hill overlooking Sandakan Bay, English Tea House boasts spectacular view towards the Sulu Sea and islets guarding the coastal town.

Haven for History Buffs and English Tea Lovers

The colonial-style villa casts long, history filled shadows also upon the well-manicured garden and shady terrace. American writer Agnes Keith used to live in the adjacent British colonial house, which serve now as a museum presenting author’s life. Her book “Land Below The Wind” has nicknamed Sabah area according the title. The book was written in 1939 in this very house, now aptly named Agnes Keith House.

English Tea House serves local Sabah Tea, which took me by surprise me exceeding my usual expectations towards local tea. Grown without pesticides at the mouth Mt Kinabalu and manufactured without added colorings, Sabah Tea is chemical-free and naturally flavorful. Flavored versions English Breakfast Tea and Earl Grey are developed together with English Tea House. Authentic afternoon tea sets served at the terrace of English Tea House crown the deal.

We loved to walk around the croquet lawn photobombing chickens, stopping by at the lovely gazebos to pet the friendly dogs. Food and service lived up to the expectations, as well. Visit English Tea House for the colonial atmosphere and the best view in Sandakan and stay for a lunch or afternoon tea!

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English Tea House is a surprising find in Borneo. Authentic tea sets, fish'n'chips, and a croquet lawn are crowned with an incredible view towards the Sulu Sea and the coastal town of Sandakan.

Enjoying the warm winter terrace of T-Anker, Prague

Best Craft Beer Pubs in Prague for Tasting Czech Microbrews

When we visited Prague in January, craft beer tasting was at the top of our bucket list. Beer is so essential part of Czech culture that I recommend microbrewery tour for anyone spending a weekend in Prague. Before it was all about mass-produced brands, like locally brewed Pilsner Urquell, but nowadays Prague has become a mecca for microbreweries and craft beer pubs, which stand proudly against international comparison. Visit our favorite microbrew venues and get lost in their exhaustive craft beer menus!

U Kunstatu

We popped in U Kunstatu right after arriving in Prague, which proved out to be an excellent choice. The atmosphere and the craft beer selection were the best we found on our weekend getaway in Prague.

Beer sampler with 6 glasses (350CZK, appr. 13€) means 2 pints of liquid, but don’t worry, you can share it just like we did. The ubiquitous list covers 100 beers. If feeling overwhelmed, leave your faith into the loving hands of the savant bartenders. We enjoyed the tough call and careful negotiation about the chosen ones, ending up with 2 porters, 2 IPAs, one ale, and one stout. The clear winners were the flavored porters from Kocour Brewery. Both cherry and strawberry porters amazed us with crisp berry tones: just like you’ve sliced fresh berries among your beer. I also liked a lot Sherpa IPA from Czech Permon Brewery.

If you need to limit your beer exploration in Prague into one craft beer pub, let it be U Kunstatu. Their unique selection, homey vibe, and candle-lit tables fit even for a romantic night out and give a perfect introduction to the Czech microbrewery scene.

You are also free to explore the well-preserved Romanesque palace at the cellar level of the pub. The former palace of King George of Podebrady is a UNESCO protected monument dating back to the 1200th century, and you probably have the site all to yourself. What un unforgettable add-on to the beer tasting in Prague style!

Address & Opening Hours of U Kunstatu
Retezova 3, Prague 1
Open: Daily 2PM­–11PM, guided beer tasting sessions at 6 PM

Nota Bene

Nota Bene requires a short hike off the tourist trail, behind Wenceslas Square. The “craft beer point” located at the cellar serves 12 draft beers, while the restaurant at the next door had four beers on tap during our exploration. Good news is that all of them are from a local microbrewery called Unetické pivo, located just behind the borders of Prague. We sampled a truly excellent Zitná IPA and velvety Black IPA, both highly recommended.

Since you’ve made it this far, indulge in the treats of the kitchen, as well. We had fantastic fillet mignons, mine accompanied with three different mushrooms and delicious sauce with cauliflower puree; Piritta requested ginger sauce with mashed potatoes. We usually share the dessert, but Nota Bene’s espresso cheesecake was so yummy that we had to order a second one. Go for a craft beer and stay for a meal!

Address & Opening Hours of Nota Bene
Mikovcova 4, Praha 2
Open: Mon-Fri 11AM-11PM, Sat 12PM-11PM, Sun closed