Kalimantan travel guide

If you were to slice the top third off Borneo, removing Malaysian Sabah and Sarawak, and tiny Brunei, you would be left with Indonesian Kalimantan. Far less visited than Malaysian Borneo, wilder and with less tourism infrastructure, Kalimantan is slowly developing a reputation that draws adventurous travellers like moths to a flame.
Sparsely populated, but incredibly biodiverse, the rainforest of Kalimantan’s interior is one of the oldest on the planet – twice the age of the Amazon.
Its natural resources have been liberally plundered, threatening the survival of many species but most particularly orangutans, as well as traditional tribal ways of life. Yet there remains much here for the cultural traveller as well as the trekker, or the conservation-minded. There are more than 70 living languages spoken on Kalimantan, but of course ‘wow’ is universal…which is lucky, as you’ll be saying it an awful lot.

Read our Kalimantan travel guide for more details.

Kalimantan is…

where you go when ‘off the beaten track’ starts getting too busy.

Kalimantan isn’t…

solely about orangutans and rainforest – it’s also an exceptional diving destination brimming with tribal culture.

What does a Kalimantan
holiday entail?

Kalimantan holidays can be either tailormade tours, which will span other islands as well such as Bali and Java, or small group trips with fixed itineraries, and usually focusing entirely on Kalimantan. Trip lengths vary between one and two weeks, but if you’re volunteering at an orangutan sanctuary you can be there for up to a month to ensure both you and the project get the maximum benefit of your time.

In most respects Kalimantan is far less developed than Malaysian Borneo, so it has a generally poor road network. For that reason you will likely either focus on one specific area, such as Tanjung Puting National Park in Central Kalimantan, or Samboja Lestari in the east, or get around by internal flights. Kalimantan is a destination for the adventurous traveller: you can expect basic (though comfortable and welcoming) accommodation, and you’ll hear very little English spoken outside the cities. Guides are pretty much essential, and they will normally be recruited from local communities.
Trekking in Kalimantan is usually combined with boat cruising, as many communities are found along riverbanks. Longer treks can be hard-going, especially during the rainy season, but they’re not essential if you want to see orangutans, as there are several more accessible locations in both Tanjung Puting National Park and Samboja Lestari.

Holidays in Kalimantan may focus on the wildlife, the culture, a mix of both, or diving in the idyllic Derawan Archipelago. If you want to make a seriously positive difference to your trip, you can volunteer at an orangutan sanctuary in Samboja Lestari. Expect it to be full-on, ‘hands dirty’ work, with long days – but immensely rewarding. You won’t need any particular skills (let the tour operator know beforehand, though, if you do have any), but enthusiasm, a passion for conservation and a willingness to get stuck in are essential.

Our top Kalimantan Holiday

Kalimantan tour, hidden Borneo

Kalimantan tour, hidden Borneo

Rugged jungle, enchanting wildlife and intriguing tribes

From £3099 14 days ex flights
Small group travel:
2020: 15 Feb
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about Kalimantan or need help finding a holiday to suit you we're very happy to help.

Kalimantan map & highlights

Making up the majority of Borneo, Kalimantan sees fewer visitors than the Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak that make up the northern third of the island. Most Kalimantan holidays concentrate on one or two areas: Tanjung Puting National Park, Samboja Lestari, both of which are renowned for orangutan-watching, the Derawan archipelago off the east coast for diving, with internal flights used due to a pretty basic infrastructure. Depending on your itinerary there are various points of entry such as those in Balikpapan or Palangka Raya served by other Indonesian islands with international airports. On trips where you do explore a little overland, expect to move around by 4x4 vehicle to cope with roads that are often unpaved.
1. Derawan Archipelago
2. Palangka Raya
3. Samboja Lestari
4. Sabangau National Park
5. Tanjung Puting National Park
6. Village visits
Derawan Archipelago

1. Derawan Archipelago

Highly regarded among the diving community for its warm, clear waters, reefs and diverse marine life, the Derawan Archipelago that lies off Kalimantan’s east coast is part of the Coral Triangle that includes neighbouring Sulawesi. Expect to encounter sea turtles, rays, passing sharks and countless species of colourful tropical fish on Kalimantan diving holidays that skip between islands and resorts.
Palangka Raya

2. Palangka Raya

The capital of the Central Kalimantan province makes an excellent base for river wildlife cruising and visits to nearby Dayak villages. The city is a likely favourite in the long-mooted plan to replace Jakarta as capital of Indonesia. While here you can tour the old town (a floating, stilted village), take a ride in a three-wheeled becak, and visit the markets to source some traditional handicrafts.
Samboja Lestari

3. Samboja Lestari

Samboja Lestari is an area of restored rainforest close to Balikpapan that serves as a sanctuary for rehabilitated orangutans and sun bears, established by the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation. Stay in a lodge on-site to explore the centre’s manmade orangutan islands, watching as feeding and enrichment take place, take nature walks and more challenging hikes, or jump aboard a boat up the ‘Black River’.
Sabangau National Park

4. Sabangau National Park

Massively degraded by illegal logging, Sabangau National Park is also home to most of Kalimantan’s wild orangutan population. Explore it by motorised river canoes and on foot, guided by park rangers. Beyond the great orange apes, you may see hornbills, monitor lizards and proboscis monkeys – plus every visit here will hopefully encourage conservation and reforestation efforts.
Tanjung Puting National Park

5. Tanjung Puting National Park

Tanjung Puting National Park provides habitat for a diverse range of wildlife. Its most famous residents are the orangutans that are studied and often rehabilitated at four research sites here, including Camp Leakey. Boat trips and trekking in the park will also reveal everything from crocodiles to hornbills, and – more rarely, but you never know – sun bears and clouded leopards.
Village visits

6. Village visits

Away from the wildlife on Kalimantan there is huge potential for cultural interaction. You can stay in a Dayak longhouse, meeting with village elders; see ancient sandungs (part of ceremonial burial rites); walk in the forest with a Ngaju expert to look for traditional medicinal plants; and learn about the process of tapping rubber from trees.

Responsible tourism

The orangutan and sun bear sanctuary at Samboja Lestari serves a vital role in both rehabilitating orangutans ready for a return to the wild, and providing a safe environment for those that can never go back. As with other such sanctuaries and research centres around Kalimantan, day visits and overnight stays, as well as orangutan volunteer holidays, provide vital funds to support their work. National park entry fees are also often used to fund reforestation that creates habitats for endangered species.

There are numerous opportunities to engage with indigenous tribal communities in Kalimantan, such as by staying in a Dayak longhouse, village visits and simply travelling with local guides. Not only does this ensure that money from tourism reaches often impoverished economies, but it also helps to keep traditional customs alive. But it’s a two-way street, and by travelling responsibly you’re also likely to get a more honest, insightful and enjoyable holiday to Kalimantan.

Remember that you are visiting people in their homes, so it’s respectful to ask permission whenever you want to snap a photo, especially of women or children. In practically every case you can expect a smile and a nod, but to avoid causing offence it’s best to either learn a few simple phrases or ask your guide to interpret.
Written by Rob Perkins
Photo credits: [Page banner: attiarndt] [Is/Isn't: pxhere] [What does a Kalimantan holiday entail?: Marc Veraart] [Derawan Archipelago: consigliere ivan] [Palangka Raya: Midori] [Samboja Lestari: Marc Veraart] [Sabangau National Park: Josh Estey/AusAID] [Tanjung Puting National Park: Thomas Fuhrmann] [Village visits : Johannnindito Adisuryo (Yohanes Nindito Adisuryo)]
Convert currencies