12-day Borneo itinerary: the ultimate travel guide

by Jan

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.

We stayed at the HotelSixty3 which we booked through Hotels.com. This hotel was ideal for an overnight stop, as we arrived late and were flying out the next morning.

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.

forest edge lodge communal area
forest edge lodge communal area

Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre and the Sun Bear Centre

Mother and Baby Orangutan Sepilok Rehabilitation Centre in Borneo

From the resort it was only 10 minutes’ walk to Sepilok’s main tourist attractions, The Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre and The Bornean Sun Bear Conservation 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.

For more information on our visits to Sepilok Orangutan Centre or Sun Bear Centre, read:

Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre

Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre

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.

Three monkeys in the rainforest in Borneo

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.

For full details of our stay in the jungle, read our post:-

A trip to the Borneo rainforest

Day 5: Sandakan

Family standing in front of I love Sandakan sign

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

view of Turtle Island in Borneo from the sea

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.

Turtle laying eggs at Turtle Island, Borneo

You can read full details of our visit in this post:-

A trip to Turtle Island

Day 7: Sandakan, Heritage Trail & English Tea House

English Tea House Sandakan, Borneo

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

Jesselton Point Kota Kinabalu, Borneo

After 3 days in Sandakan, we flew back to Kota Kinabalu and checked into the Nexus Beach Resort, which we booked through Hotels.com.

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

snorkeling at the Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park, Kota Kinabalu, Borneo

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

family of four on white water rafting adventure on Kiulu River, Borneo

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 jumped in first, but we soon followed.  In fact, the water was lovely.

There are more advanced white-water rafting options available in Borneo for more experienced adults.

For more information on our white-water rafting trip, read our post:-

White water rafting on the River Kiulu

Days 11-12: Nexus Beach Resort

Nexus Resort Beach Sunset, Borneo

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.

Are you planning your own trip to Borneo?  Find all the information you need in our

Borneo Travel Guide

Thank you for reading.

We hope you enjoyed reading our 12-day Borneo itinerary.  It really was a trip of a lifetime.  If you have any questions or tips of your own, please comment below.

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Avatar for Jan
Wendy White 17th June 2020 - 7:53 am

Borneo is on our list to do and this itinerary looks incredible. I’m definitely going to save this! Did you take malaria tablets?

Avatar for Jan
Jan 18th June 2020 - 12:09 am

We were advised that we didn’t need malaria tablets for the areas we were visiting. We did use a lot of insect repellent though!

Avatar for Jan
Lannie Travels 12th June 2020 - 8:13 am

Amazing itinerary! I would love to go to Borneo :). Thanks for sharing such a detailed post!

Avatar for Jan
Jan 12th June 2020 - 4:42 pm

There’s such a lot to do there. We just wanted to cram in as much as possible in the time we had.

Avatar for Jan
Visit50 6th June 2020 - 7:21 pm

Borneo was such a highlight for my SE Asia trip! Loved the wildlife and diving, oh wow!

Avatar for Jan
Jan 7th June 2020 - 6:37 pm

I agree – the wildlife was amazing.

Avatar for Jan
Clare (Suitcases and Sandcastles) 13th March 2020 - 7:53 pm

Oh this looks absolutely brilliant! No wonder it was the trip of a lifetime. We did something similar last summer when we went to Vietnam. Borneo is very much on our wishlist too – the snorkelling, the orangutans, the sun bears. This is a really helpful guide, thank you for linking it up to #farawayfiles. I had no idea that Borneo was such a big island.

Avatar for Jan
Jan 13th March 2020 - 8:04 pm

Yes, I am sure there is plenty more to explore too.

Avatar for Jan
Keri | Ladies What Travel 13th March 2020 - 6:30 pm

This makes me want to go to Borneo more than ever! We keep talking about it but still haven’t done it. Might go off and remind my other half how amazing this place looks… #FarawayFiles

Avatar for Jan
Jan 13th March 2020 - 7:25 pm

It really is a great trip. So much to see and do.

Avatar for Jan
Nancy | MapandFamily 13th March 2020 - 1:11 pm

This sounds like a hugely memorable trip! I’ve already clicked through to read about your visit to the Sun Bear Conservation Centre too. What a fabulous experience for all of you. #FarawayFiles

Avatar for Jan
Jan 13th March 2020 - 7:26 pm

Yes, it was fantastic. We all had a great time.


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