Are you planning your first trip to Borneo and not sure where to visit? No doubt, you want to include all the best things to see and do in Borneo, but not sure which order to see them in. If so, this could be the perfect 12-day Borneo itinerary for you.
I spent many hours planning this Borneo itinerary, to ensure that we could enjoy the highlights of Sabah and best spend our 12 days in Borneo.
If you are on a quest for adventure and love nature and wildlife, Borneo is the perfect holiday destination. Borneo has ancient rainforest, unique wildlife, golden beaches and great diving. This 12-day Borneo itinerary will give you the ultimate travel guide on things to do and see, accommodation and places to eat. It will show you the best route for your journey and give top tips on day trips and excursions.
Borneo is in South-East Asia and is the world’s 3rd largest island. Therefore, it is important that you plan your itinerary carefully, so that you make the most of your time in Borneo and experience the best this island has to offer.
Borneo has been at the top of my bucket list forever. This is mostly because I have a deep love for orangutans, so all my dreams came true this year when my family and I were lucky enough to go. For this reason, we chose to go to Sabah in the North of the island, as this is where Sepilok Orangutan Centre is.
See below for the full details of our 12-day Borneo itinerary.
All accommodation and trips were booked independently in the UK before we left.
Facts about Borneo
- Borneo is the largest island in Asia.
- It is made up of 3 countires; Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei
- Borneo’s official currency is the Malaysian Ringgitt (RM).
- Borneo is home to South-East Asia’s highest peak, Mount Kinabalu.
- Borneo has a tropical rain forest climate, so is hot and humid all year round, with lots of rainfall.
Travelling to Borneo
To start the 12-day Borneo itinerary, we flew in to Kota Kinabalu from Singapore with Singapore Airlines . The journey took 2 hours 35 minutes, so on arrival at 20:40 we just checked in and went out for food.
HotelSixty3 is a clean, safe hotel which has a family room and is fairly close to the airport. There are a few basic restaurants opposite HotelSixty3. We ate at Fook Yuen, where the Chimptrip boys had bowls of noodles at a very reasonable price.
Day 1: Sepilok & Bornean Sun Bear Centre
Getting to Sepilok
Early next morning we flew from Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan on the East coast of Borneo. This only took 40 minutes with Malaysian Airlines.
On arrival at Sandakan airport, we went directly by Grab (Malay equivalent of Uber) to Sepilok Forest Edge Resort, where we had breakfast.
Sepilok is about 17km from the airport and took about 30 minutes by road. You could also take a bus.
Top Tip: You need to get a new sim card for Malaysia if you want to make use of Grab here. It’s easy to buy them at the airport.
Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre and the Sun Bear Centre
Here you can see the orphaned orangutans and sun bears in their own natural environment. Sepilok is an unmissable visit for any animal lovers and was one of the highlights of our 12-day Borneo itinerary.
Day 2: The Rainforest Discovery Centre
The Rainforest Discovery Centre (RDC) is about 20km away from Sandakan and just a short distance from the Sepilok Centre. It is set in 4,300 hectares and is managed by the Sabah Forestry Department. The Rainforest Centre is primarily an environmental education centre, where you can learn about the jungle habitat and wildlife. It offers a number of jungle trails, which are marked with signboards. It also has a 347m canopy walk with 2 observation towers, where you can observe more wildlife and tropical flora. The Rainforest Centre also offers night hikes.
Days 3-4: Jungle Safari, River Kinabatangan
On the 3rd day of our 12-day Borneo itinerary we headed to the jungle!
A minibus collected us from Sepilok Forest Resort and transferred us to the Nature Lodge, by the River Kinabatangan. We had booked for a 3-day 2-night safari adventure.
Over the course of 3 days, we did 4 river cruises, 2 night walks and a guided jungle walk. Of course, this was an unforgettable experience. We saw orangutans, proboscis monkeys, macaques, an elephant, crocodiles and many more in their natural environment.
What to wear on the Kinabatangan River Cruise
For the river cruises, we wore shorts and tops (and a life jacket). There was a fairly cool breeze from the boat.
In the evenings, it is essential that you wear long trousers and long sleeve tops. If you go on a jungle walk, you need to wear wellies, as it can get very muddy. We hired our wellies from the Nature Lodge. They have plenty to suit all feet sizes. You also need to wear plenty of good quality insect repellent.
Day 5: Sandakan
As part of our jungle trip package, we were driven back to Sandakan, where we checked into The Four Points by Sheraton, Sandakan. We chose The Sheraton because of its waterfront location and lovely infinity pool. There are a lot of cheaper options in the town, especially for backpackers.
Sandakan is the 2nd largest town in Sabah, but is still fairly small and easy to walk round. We had some chill time at the pool and then went for a walking tour of Sandakan.
If you have time, you may wish to visit Buli Buli Sim Sim Water Village, a community of fishermen’s houses on the water.
Day 6: A visit to Turtle Island
On our second day in Sandakan we made an overnight visit to the awesome Turtle Island Park , which is a must-do if you are visiting Borneo. A visit to Turtle Island provides an amazing opportunity to see mother turtles giving birth in their natural environment. You’ll also see the hatchery and baby turtles being released to the sea.
We took our snorkel gear so that we could go snorkelling in the day. You can also hire snorkelling equipment at Turtle Island.
Top tip: It’s definitely best to pre-book your visit to Turtle Island, as they limit numbers to 50 each day. We booked directly through Crystal Quest by email.
Day 7: Sandakan, Heritage Trail & English Tea House
We spent the morning of Day 7 exploring Sandakan. We started at Sandakan Market, which has a wet and dry market and then followed the Sandakan Heritage Trail.
Sandakan Heritage Trail leads you round the town, taking in its key historical and cultural sights. After you have climbed the 100 steps, you will arrive at the English Tea House, which is good place to stop for afternoon tea.
Next door to this is Agnes Keith House, former home to the American author. On your return to Sandakan, you can see the Chinese temple, Sam Sing Kung and the Malaysian Fountain.
Day 8: Kota Kinabalu
Nexus Beach Resort is set in over 65 acres of natural surroundings. It has a great pool complex and beautiful, pristine gardens. As you wander around, you can enjoy Bornean wildlife, such as monitor lizards, birds and monkeys.
We shared a room which looked out onto the lush gardens and golden beach. Breakfast was included in our stay. For other meals you are rather limited to dining at one of the 8 eateries on site.
Alternatively, there is plenty of different accommodation in Kota Kinabalu, which makes everything more accessible.
Day 9: Snorkelling Trip at Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park
On the first morning, we took a taxi back to Kota Kinabalu (which on this occasion was cheaper than Grab) and spent a day snorkelling at the Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park.
The Park consists of a group of 5 islands off the coast of Kota Kinabalu. We booked our trip with Diverse Borneo from the UK. It included a private boat with an instructor. He took us to 3 different diving sites away from the crowds of the other boats.
Each session lasted 45 minutes in the water and we had lunch at an island. The boys had the most awesome time swimming around with the fish and even spotted a green turtle passing by.
Day 10: White Water Rafting on the Kiulu River
On day 10 of our 12-day Borneo itinerary, we went white water rafting on the Kiulu River, which is 1 hour North-West of Kota Kinabalu. We booked our white-water rafting with Riverbug and it was a great fun day out for everyone, despite the rain.
We travelled about 15km down River Kiulu. This boat trip took about 1 ½ hours, though some of this time we were actually in the water.
This trip is a stage 1-2, which means it is a ideal trip for families or beginners, as it never gets too rough. However, it is a lot of fun. There are a few zones, where it does get faster and your heart starts racing.
Additionally, there was a lot of racing against the other boats and plenty of splashing. There were stops en-route to get out and have a swim. The children were in first, but we soon joined them and found it wasn’t too cold at all.
There are more advanced white-water rafting options available in Borneo for more experienced adults.
Days 11-12: Nexus Beach Resort
Nexus Beach Resort is set in lush, landscaped grounds and has loads of recreational activities. After a very busy itinerary and lots of early mornings, we were all looking forward to some down time.
Nexus Beach Resort has amazing facilities and the Chimptrip twins especially liked the 3 outdoor pools. The resort offers a programme of activities laid on by the Recreation Club, including crafts, batik painting and tae kwondo.
For younger children, there is a kids’ club and adults can take advantage of the golf course or spa facilities. Nexus Beach Resort has its own private beach; great for those who like playing in the sand or sea.
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