For such an unknown part of the world when it comes to tourism, it is important to put Kalimantan up on its rightful pedestal. This is the Indonesian part of Borneo and makes up two thirds of the island. It is 580,000km2 – the same size as Botswana. It is way up there in terms of beauty as well as in wildlife, so it really is time to welcome Kalimantan onto the world stage.

Kalimantan is divided into East, South, West and Central, and the majority of its 12 million inhabitants live in the regional capitals which tend to be around the coast. The largest city in Kalimantan is Banjarmasin in the south, which is famous for its magnificent floating market and villages due to the fact that it is an island at the confluence of the Barito and Martapura Rivers. As a result, Banjarmasin is sometimes called the “The City of a Thousand Rivers”.

Wildlife & wilderness

Most people come to Kalimantan for the rivers, waterways and rainforests, and these are slowly but surely opening up to tourism. Most Kalimantan holidays start out in Pangkalan Bun, the administrative centre and also home to its airport. It is also the gateway to one of the region’s most iconic places when it comes to wildlife: Camp Leakey. A conservation centre built in 1971 by pioneering Lithuanian anthropologist and primatologist Dr. Biruté Galdikas, who is considered the world’s leading expert on orangutans, the reigning monarchs of these vast jungles.

Accessible by traditional ‘klotok’ houseboast along the Sekonyer River, and part of Tanjung Puting National Park, Camp Leakey is an extraordinary place to start your day. And finish it too because, after trekking through the surrounding jungle with an expert local guide in search of orangutans, proboscis monkeys, gibbons, wild pigs and many different birds, you can return to the camp for feeding time of their semi habituated residents. Another such camp exists at Pondok Tangguy where tour operators also organise wild camping in the jungle for a serious Kalimantan cool.

Conservation & care

The name 'Kalimantan' comes from the Sanskrit Kalamanthana which means “burning weather island”, which pretty much sums up its tropical climate. Sadly, the burning of rainforest has also been an issue in Kalimantan as local people slash and burn the forest in order to, for example, grow grass which attracts the wild deer or pigs for pasture, and which are then hunted down. Organisations such as the Lamandau River Wildlife Reserve, also in Central Kalimantan, have worked tirelessly with local communities to teach them other ways of making a living, and wildlife tourism is one of these ways.

Lamandau Reserve is home to at least 700 orangutans, with camps such as Pangkalan Bun and Camp Bulu where they are monitored, treated and cared for if injured or orphaned and then hopefully released back out into the wild. The reserve has also been responsible for replanting ‘ubar’ trees in the forest, following a serious fire in 2015. These are top habitats for orangutans that eat their leaves and fruit and so reforestation is a major part of the work undertaken by such charities.

Our top Borneo Holiday

Tanjung Puting orangutan holiday, Borneo

Tanjung Puting orangutan holiday, Borneo

Orangutan Adventure Holiday, Tanjung Puting, Borneo

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East Kalimantan

East Kalimantan is also open to visitors, with trekking and orangutan tracking taking place in Kutai National Park, although these usually take place on fixed date expeditions, organised in partnership with the park as part of a fundraising initiative to aid conservation. Kutai is a coastal park, with low lying rainforest, mangrove swamps and plains which then lead to deeper jungle inland. Home to not only the much loved orangutan, you have chances to spot the proboscis monkey, macaques, sun bears, freshwater dolphins, pangolin anteaters, crocodiles and even the clouded leopard, as well as the most stunning birdlife. Stay in a national park camp or ecolodge, and be led through these remote, pristine landscapes by expert naturalists.
Even more accessible in East Kalimantan, and just an hour from Balikipapan city is Samboja Lestari, a restored area of rainforest saved by the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation (BOS). At over 20 sq km, this is a safe zone for rehabilitated orangutans and a place that works hand in hand with the local community, with the creation of forest schools as well as employment opportunities. Tourists can stay at an ecolodge here and have the chance to watch experts work closely with orangutans, as well as other endangered species such as sun bears. You can read more about wildlife in Borneo here, to give you an idea of just how important it is to keep this incredible region up there on its pedestal. High up there, in fact, in the canopies of some of the most magnificent rainforests in the world.
Written by Catherine Mack
Photo credits: [Page banner: Stephen Kennedy] [Intro: Muhammad Haris] [Wildlife & wilderness: Budi Nusyirwan] [East Kalimantan: Siew Te Wong, Thye Lim Tee, and Lin May Chiew, BSBCC]