Last Updated on September 9, 2022
A trip to Kalimantan offers some of the best adventures you can have on earth, from trekking through the jungle to swimming with jellyfish, the island has a lot to offer to nature lovers and adrenaline junkies.
Even if a good part of the island has been destroyed by palm oil and paper industries, there’s plenty of wilderness left to explore. There you’ll find some of the most remote national parks in Indonesia, plenty of opportunities to see wildlife, and the incredible chance to discover the local traditional cultures.
Read on to discover all the adventurous things to do in Kalimantan and the best places to visit and add to your itinerary.
When traveling in Borneo keep in mind that distances between two destinations are usually huge and that most activities are quite expensive. You can travel to Borneo on a budget but you’ll be missing a lot of great adventures.
HELPFUL WEBSITES TO HELP YOU PLAN YOUR TRIP
HELPFUL WEBSITES TO HELP YOU PLAN YOUR TRIP
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Map of the best places to visit in Kalimantan
Kalimantan Travel Tips
- Kalimantan sees few international tourists, try to dress appropriately (shoulder and knees covered for both men and women). At the beach, it’s recommended to keep your clothes on if you go swimming. Most locals have probably never seen someone in a bathing suit, they won’t say anything but you’ll definitely look out of place.
- Distances are huge and sights are far apart, if you don’t have three months to spend in Kalimantan, you’ll have to pick only a couple of places and probably fly between them.
- Stay flexible and expect to have to make changes to your itinerary along the way. It’s hard to find information online about boat schedules, for instance, so you’ll just have to show up and ask for the schedule, and there might not be another boat going for a week.
- Don’t rely on Google Maps, many roads are not on it and many places are not at the right coordinates. Just ask your hotel for directions if needed.
- If you don’t speak Indonesian, download Google Translate and download Indonesian, so you can always communicate with locals even if you don’t have wifi.
- You can easily buy a sim card and some data, just note that the data and minutes you buy will only work in Kalimantan.
Best places to visit in North Kalimantan
Bunyu Island is a small island consisting of three villages, home to the indigenous Tidung tribe. There you’ll find a laid-back atmosphere and nice beaches to relax on, the main ones are Nibung Beach and Sungai Kura Beach. You can also hire a boat and go island hopping for the day.
Make sure to try Salak, a tasty fruit that is typical of the island.
To reach the island, you can take a speed boat from Tarakan. It takes around an hour.
White Mountain, Tanjung Selor
The white mountain is a popular tourist attraction among locals. You can climb on top for stunning panoramic views and explore the cave at the base of the mountain.
There are also a couple of waterfalls and places you can swim in the river outside of town, as well as nice beaches nearby.
Malinau in itself has nothing much to offer but is a good base to explore the Sesayap River Protected Forest and hike to a couple of nearby waterfalls.
Semolon waterfall is a popular attraction among locals, on the way you can stop by Desa Wisata Setulang, a Dayak traditional village, if you’re lucky you might witness a traditional dance show. Gunung Rian Waterfall is also a must-see with stunning scenery along the way.
Kayan Mentarang National Park
Kayan Mentarang National Park is Indonesia’s largest and most remote National Park, it’s also home to many endangered and endemic species. Getting there is an adventure in itself, as it’s only reachable by a 6-hour boat ride (on good days) along the Mentarang river from Tarakan.
You might also find flights from Samarinda or Tarakan, but you’ll still have to take a boat.
The park is great for hiking and wildlife watching. At the headquarter, they can direct you to a couple of guesthouses to spend the night and you can hire a guide there.
Best things to do in East Kalimantan
Travel up the Mahakam River
Going up the Mahakam river in East Kalimantan is truly a unique experience, the farther you get from the coast the deeper you enter Kalimantan’s wild rainforest. Traveling along the Mahakam river up to the heart of Borneo is the best way to observe the lush jungle and the Dayak culture. It’s also the place where you’ll see the last few remaining Irrawaddy pink dolphins, almost extinct now.
If you are in the area in August, you might want to get tickets to the Erau International Folk and Art Festival. Tribes from all over the world perform during this festival.
Derawan Island and Archipelago
Derawan archipelago is where you switch your hiking shoes for some well-deserved relaxation time, visiting the island is one of the best things to do in Kalimantan.
From the 31 islands you’ll find there, 4 are equipped to welcome tourists. Derawan Island is the most accessible and also the most crowded, mostly by local tourists coming over the weekend.
Maratua Island is more of a peaceful paradise and Sangalaki and Kakaban are wilder, with dense forests.
The Derawan archipelago is one of the best spots in Indonesia for diving and snorkeling. The reefs are incredibly well preserved and the marine life really diverse. Among the most common marine wildlife, you might see barracudas, sharks, mantas, and turtles.
The archipelago is also famous for its jellyfish lake in which you can swim.
Getting to Derawan Island is easy, there’s a regular boat service from Tanjung Redeb in Berau for 100k RP. To other islands, you’ll need to charter a boat and the price can be quite expensive. Same, once you’re in Derawan, the price of island hopping is pretty expensive.
Some hotels offer packages with lower prices, but you’ll still need to have a comfy budget if you want to fully experience the archipelago.
Labuan Cermin Lake
Unknown to most international travelers, Labuan Cermin is a beautiful lagoon known for its mirror effect. The place is surreal and quite unique. You can swim and snorkel in the lake.
Getting there is hard, some operators offer the tour from Derawan Island. Otherwise, you’ll need to get to BitukBituk district and then hire a boat to take you there.
Kutai National Park
Home to many sun bears, slow lorises, deer, plenty of small monkeys, and orangutans, among others, Kutai National Park sprawls for some 198,000 hectares of ironwood forest, lakes, and mangroves.
The two main entrance points are Sangkima and Prevab, you can arrange for transportation into the park from both towns. It’s best to arrange the trip via a local travel agency as once you get there you’re more or less in the middle of nowhere.
Beras Basah Island
Just a boat ride away from Bontang, the small island of Beras Basah is a nice place to visit if the weather is nice and you have a couple of hours to kill. The white sanded beach, crystal clear water, and palm trees make for a nice relaxing afternoon.
Balikpapan is one of the larger cities in East Kalimantan and makes a good starting point as you can easily fly there from most places in Indonesia. There, you’ll find several museums, malls, mosques, and natural attractions.
Kemala, Manggar, Lamaru, and Melawai Beaches are popular places to grab a bite, have a drink, and just chill at the beach.
Outside of town, you can visit the Sun Bear Sanctuary and the Samboja Lestari Orangutan Sanctuary.
Things to do in South Kalimantan
Nestled in the mountains in southern Borneo, Loksado is the best and most accessible place for trekking. It’s also a good place to observe Bukit Dayak’s culture and traditions, and of course, do some bamboo rafting down the river. While trekking, expect to see numerous waterfalls and several remote Dayak villages.
Floating market in Banjarmasin
Banjarmasin is home to several important floating markets, another unique experience, especially as floating markets are becoming rarer and rarer. You’ll need to leave early morning and arrange for a boat in advance. It’s surprisingly untouristy and the sellers are not all over you. It’s also a good opportunity to try some local fruits.
From Banjarmasin, you can also visit Kaget Island, a protected area known to be home to proboscis monkeys.
Candi Laras Margasari
From Banjarmasin you can take a day trip to visit Candi Laras Margasari. One of the few Hindu temples left on Kalimantan island, dating back to the 12th century.
Pulau Sambergelap is known for its pristine beach and beautiful coral reef. The island is a popular weekend day trip destination among locals. You can snorkel there and just relax on the beach or arrange for a diving trip.
To get there, take a speed boat from Kotabaru.
Pelaihari makes a nice stop along the way or day trip from Banjarmasin.
Don’t miss the iconic Rimpi Hills, believed to look like the Windows XP original wallpaper. Gunung Kayangan and Teletubbies Hill also offer nice viewpoints.
Things to do in Central Kalimantan
Sebangau National Park
One of the last remaining peat swamp forests in Borneo, Sebangau National Park is home to around 6000 wild orangutans. The park offers plenty of hiking opportunities, with most trails leading to stunning viewpoints. There are also a couple of lakes to enjoy.
There are 2 ways into the park, driving from Palangkaraya to Kareng Bangkirai, or through the Katingan river.
Palangkaraya is the perfect place to take a cruise up into Central Kalimantan on a traditional ‘rangkan’ river boat to see the local fauna and flora.
The city is also home to the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation’s Education Centre at Nyaru Menteng, and a couple of great hiking trails leading to stunning viewpoints.
A nice stop along the way, Sampit is known for Pandaran Beach (considered one of the best beaches in Kalimantan) and the Orchid Park at Pembuangan Hulu.
You can also hire a boat and explore the river a bit, locals like to do that to watch the sunset, or head to Danau Salju, a blue lake surrounded by white sand.
Tanjung Puting National Park
Tanjung Puting NP is one of the most famous attractions in Central Kalimantan. There, you’re guaranteed to see semi-wild orangutans. They rehabilitate the babies and after, free them in the jungle. They have feeding time where the orangutans are free to come if they want to or not.
The park is only accessible by boat, the boat ride is epic with many chances to spot wildlife. It’s also a good place for trekking (it’s mandatory to hire a guide). It’s recommended to spend at least two nights at the park if you don’t want to rush.
Beware that the price is relatively high. The cheaper way, if you’re not a large group, is to go through an agency. If you’re planning on going to Sumatra or to the Malaysian part of Borneo you’ll find way cheaper options to see orangutans. Count at least 300 USD for a 3-day 2-night trip.
Places to visit in West Kalimantan
There are plenty of interesting sights to see in Pontianak, the capital of the West Kalimantan province. Don’t miss the Palace of Kadriyah Sultanate from the 18th century and the West Kalimantan Museum to learn more about the local culture.
Pasir Panjang Beach
One of the nicest beach destinations in West Kalimantan, Pasir Panjang Beach is ideal to relax and unwind for a couple of days. You’ll find a couple of bungalows and small hotels nearby.
Betung Kerihun National Park
Betung Kerihun National Park is located near the border with Malaysia and is part of the Transborder Rainforest Heritage of Borneo. The park is mostly interesting if you want to witness the local Dayak culture and go bird watching.
To get there, head to Matalo where you’ll find one of the park’s offices, they’ll help you arrange for transportation to the park (most of the park is only accessible by boat). It’s better if you go as a group to share expenses.
Danau Sentarum National Park
Danau Sentarum National Park is one of the best places to see wildlife in Kalimantan. The park is mainly constituted of swamps, lowland forests, and seasonal grassland, and is the home to 237 bird and 143 mammal species.
There are two entrance points: Lanjak in the north and Simitau in the south, you’ll need to register at one of them (150k/day). You’ll also need to arrange for a guide (150K/day) and for a boat (400k to 700k/day). The park is inhabited and counts about 20 villages, it’s a good opportunity to do a homestay in one of the longhouses there.
Experiences in Kalimantan
Join the Cap Goh Meh festival in Singkawang
This busy Chinese town holds a colorful ceremony each year during the 15th day of the lunar new year. Famous for its huge night market, classic shophouses and about 1000 temples, the city lighten up for the ceremony where Chinese dragons and lions mix with Dayak holy men.
Surpass yourself with the Cross Borneo Trek
This is the ultimate jungle trekking experience, you’ll need time, money, and strength to achieve this 15-day trek across the Bornean rainforest. It’s a challenge, you’ll need to be physically prepared for this. You’ll also need a good budget since you’ll need to hire a guide and go through an agency.
After going up the Mahakam river, you’ll start the trek at Tiong Ohang, trek across the Muller Mountains, and take a boat down the Kapuas River. The Kapuas Hulu area is great to immerse yourself in the Dayak culture and visit some of the few remaining longhouses in Kalimantan.
A 15-day trek costs about 4000 USD per person (including transportation by boat from the east coast to the starting point and to the west coast from the finish point).
A good idea would be to focus on one area only, unless you have a few weeks.
Banjarmasin would be a good base, you can spend a few days exploring either Tanjung Puting National Park or Sebangau National Park then head to the Derawan Archipelago.
You can also fly to Pontianak and focus on West Kalimantan.
If you can afford it and are short on time, going through an agency would be a good option. They’ll take care of everything for you and things will be less stressful. They’ll adapt to where you arrive and to where you want to go.
If you have a full month, you can just follow the main road that goes along the coast and visit some of the places listed above.
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