Rainforest represents nature`s richest treasure houses, which boast a dazzling array of plant life and hence animals. Bornean dense tree-cover offers three major habitats in one – leafy canopy, bustling tree trunks and damp forest floor, and one species is more than happy to forage in any of them – orangutan. There are many other species that thrive on the jungle abundance. Their future is in the forest, yet precarious, under the threat of poaching and logging.
1.TANJUNG PUTING NATIONAL PARK (CENTRAL KALIMANTAN)
The starting point to the famous Tanjung Puting is Kumai where all tours and cruises can be booked, and local guides can be hired. Tanjung Puting is regarded to be the easiest place on earth to spot orang-utans and proboscis monkeys in their natural environment.
The Tanjung Puting coastal swamps and mangroves were turned into a national park in 1982. The tropical rainforest is home to diverse fauna and flora, such as 9 species of primates, clouded leopard, sun bear, barking deer, sambar deer, crocodiles and more than 200 different species of birds, including the rare hornbills. The vast wetland has such diverse fauna, and lush flora that is was given an epithet ‘Garden of Eden’.
Various eco-tours to the national park can be arranged in Kumai (typically 3-day all-inclusive klotok tour costs 400 USD+ pp). The highlight is Camp Leakey where the visitors can interact with wild orangutans.
Camp Leakey is an active research facility (since 1971) and a rehabilitation centre that studies orangutans that have been hurt or orphaned. The centre helps the apes to recover in their ‘natural habitat’ so they can be released back into the wild.
The furry primates get regularly fed to attract more tourists and often stay at the centre for good as they are not able to adapt in the tough jungle life. There has always been much controversy and question whether this kind of projects is beneficial or rather harmful.
2.SABANGAU NATIONAL PARK (CENTRAL KALIMANTAN)
Home to the largest orang-tan population on our planet, sadly, the magnificent rainforest of Sabangau River has largely been damaged by illegal forestry. There are many places where the apes are no longer able to cross rivers to move freely from territory to territory, and their pathways got cut off. On the other side of the national park, virgin forest along the Kahayan River has been home to orang-utans for centuries, too.
There are numerous tour operators in Palangka Raya that can organise an eco-tour to the Sabangau National Park (ask for information at any guesthouse).
3.GUNUNG PALUN NATIONAL PARK (WEST KALIMANTAN)
Illegal hand-logging has damaged parts of this tropical wonderland and took away homes to many endangered species in the last decades. Fortunately, the Bornean rain forest seems resilient enough, and this marvellous reserve is slowly recovering.
The national park is notable for its diverse flora, ranging from mangroves, freshwater swamps, lowland forest to montane forest, it is one of the very few places in our planet where the visitors get a chance to admire a large scale of rare species in the wild, including the king of the Bornean jungle – orangutan.
Ketapang is the main gateway to the Gunung Palun reserve where various tours can be arranged, including, river rafting, canoeing, camping, jungle trekking, eco-tours and wildlife watching. There are some accommodation options and facilities that allow the travellers to prepare for the trip. You will need a permit to enter the national park.
4.BETUNG KERIHUN NATIONAL PARK (WEST KALIMANTAN)
Covered with cloud forest, the wilderness of Betung Kerihun National Park is characterised by steep slopes and dense foliage constantly wrapped in mist, which reaches to the highest peaks of Mount Kerihun (1790 m) and Mount Lawit (1767 m).
The national park is stretching along the border with Sarawak, and it cuts through the very heart of Borneo. For poor accessibility and little tourist infrastructure, the area does not get many Western visitors. Several Dayak Tribes live in this remote area rich in diverse fauna and flora, including the endangered orangutan.
Trekking, caving, rafting, kayaking, canoeing and eco-tours can be arranged in the town of Putussibau, and if you want to save time and don`t mind spending more, you can fly directly from Pontianak.
5.BUKIT BAKA BUKIT RAYA NATIONAL PARK (CENTRAL & WEST KALIMANTAN)
Named after the mountains of Bukit Baka (1620 m) and Kalimantan`s highest peak Bukit Raya (2278 m), the national park reaches to the Schwaner Mountains on the border of Central and West Kalimantan.
Apart from the iconic orang-utan, the park takes pride in an exceptional eco-system, including clouded leopards, helmeted rhinoceros, sun bears, rare birdlife and various species of primates. On the top of that, the Ot-Danum Dayak tribes occupy the dense tropical jungles of the park, and this is the place to be if you want to experience the authentic native culture without having to join a paid tour.
The reserve is one of the most isolated parts of Borneo with pristine nature and spectacular trekking opportunities albeit if you don`t like it out of your comfort zone, you should rather stick to Tanjung Putting.
Various multiple-day tour packages are available for the adventurers, and jungle expeditions can be booked either in Palangka Raya – if starting in Central Kalimantan, or in Sintang (via Sanggau) – if based in West Kalimantan. NOTE You will need to purchase a permit to enter the national park at the local tourist office.
6.KUTAI NATIONAL PARK (EAST KALIMANTAN)
Although East Kalimantan suffered severe damage of its rainforest during the extensive logging and deforestation back in the 1970s the area is successfully recovering and the Kutai National Park, established in 1982, welcomes the visitors at two different entrance points: Sangkima (access by vehicle) and Prevab (access by boat), and they all come for one reason: orangutan.
The reserve lies on the Mahakam River, and it includes numerous lakes, e.g. Lake Maau, Sirapan, Besar and Satan. The lowland rainforest, mangroves and freshwater swamp forest are home to more than 100 species of mammals and 300 species of birds, including orang-utans, proboscis monkey and other primates.
Kutai National Park is getting increasingly popular with wildlife lovers. It is less developed than Tanjung Putting, but there are boat tours, eco-lodges and fantastic jungle trekking opportunities in the conservation area.
The starting point to the Kutai National Park is the coastal city of Bontang. You can either arrange an organised tour from Bontang (at any guesthouse) or visit the reserve independently and hire a local guide directly in the national park who will lead you around the park (entrance and guide fees apply).
7.KAYAN MENTARANG NATIONAL PARK (NORTH KALIMANTAN)
One of the least accessible places and one of the last wilderness areas on Earth, the Kayan Mentarang National Park is the newest destination in Borneo that has opened to tourism. Its isolation contributed to the area`s outstanding perseverance. It is right here where the last surviving Pygmy elephants hide in their natural habitat and few remaining individuals of the Bornean rhinoceros have survived, sadly only in captivity.
Besides, the indigenous Dayak communities have persisted in their ancestral way of life for centuries. This is still an authentic and pristine region in Borneo, with rivers at their cleanest, the forest at its healthiest and life at its purest.
The only way to visit the Kayan Mentarang National Park is booking a river tour from Tarakan or Samarinda. There are numerous expedition providers who offer multiple-day tour packages, including river rafting, jungle trekking, wildlife spotting and Dayak eco-tours.
THE DILEMMA OF ECO-TOURISM
National parks of Kalimantan have often been an object of discussion due to the past logging and still present illegal forestry. Borneo was gifted with some of the most biologically diverse habitats on earth and also the world`s oldest rainforest.
The extensive deforestation, caused by rapid industrialisation, started in the 1960s. Since then, Borneo has undergone a dramatic transformation, and even though there were several attempts to stop these activities, illegal logging is still a big topic.
Naturally, the fast-growing tourism, especially the eco-tourism industry, does not help to prevent this from happening. Eco-tourism not only indirectly encourages the deforestation (building new facilities, providing tours into the previously untouched areas) but also contributes to disappearing of the indigenous Dayak culture and their traditions, and it ultimately affects the future of orang-utans and other endangered species.
Therefore, every visitor is strongly advised to do some research and re-consider the concept of eco-tourism before travelling.
Subscribe to our email newsletter to receive useful articles and special offers. This monthly email is sent out on the first of every month.