Where to see orangutans in Borneo

Joanne Owen

written by
Joanne Owen

updated 26.05.2023

Love nature and wildlife? Borneo deserves to be shifted to the top of your travel wish-list. Located in Southeast Asia’s Malay Archipelago, the island is blessed with a bounty of unique plants, birds and animals, among them orangutans. Given that these endangered great apes are only found in two parts of the world, wildlife watchers will want to optimise opportunities to encounter them. With that in mind, read on to find out where to see orangutans in Borneo.

The ideal destination for orangutan sightings 

Politically divided between the Malaysian states of Sabah and SarawakIndonesia, and Brunei, Borneo is the third largest island in the world.

It’s also home to one of the world’s oldest rainforests, which is the ideal habitat for orangutans.

Asia’s only great apes, and the world’s largest arboreal mammal, orangutans spend pretty much their entire lives in the trees. This is reflected in their name — in Malay, orangutan means "man of the forest". 

Overview of orangutans in Borneo

Orangutans, the island’s most famous forest residents are only found in two areas of the world  — Borneo and the Indonesian island of Sumatra

Orangutans live largely solitary lives in Borneo’s lowland forests. They make nests in trees to sleep and rest up in, between feasting on wild fruits. 

Around a century ago, it’s thought there were over 230,000 orangutans in the world. These days, estimates put Bornean orangutan numbers around 104,700, making it an endangered species. The number of Sumatran orangutans is around 7500, which means they're critically endangered.

In more positive news after reading these sobering numbers, a number of foundations in Borneo are working to protect orangutans. 


Orangutans in Borneo © Shutterstock

What other wildlife can I see in Borneo? 

Borneo is home to 222 mammals (44 of which are endemic), 420 species of bird (37 endemics), 100 amphibians and 394 species of fish (19 endemics).  

In addition to orangutans, Borneo's other primates include proboscis monkeys, macaques and gibbons.

Borneo is famed for its endangered pygmy elephants, and the elusive, endangered Sunda clouded leopard. Found in the mountainous interior, experts put their numbers between 5000 and 11,000. 

Then there’s the Bornean sun bear. The world’s smallest, most arboreal bear, and the second rarest bear species (after the giant panda), sun bears have been given an “vulnerable” status. 

Borneo’s birdlife is impressive, too. Notable species include hornbills, brahminy kites, crested serpent eagles, egrets, exquisite blue-banded and stork-billed kingfishers, and oriental darters. 

Many of these wildlife wonders can be seen in the vicinity of the three best places to see orangutans in Borneo. Namely, Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, Tanjung Puting National Park, and Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation.


Orangutan in Borneo ©Shutterstock

Best places to see orangutans in Borneo

Borneo is one of the best places to see orangutans in the wild, bit it's also the world's third-largest island. So, where should you go? Three main locations in Borneo offer opportunities to see these amazing animals.

  1. Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre  
  2. Tanjung Puting National Park
  3. Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation (BOSF)

#1 Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre  

Sepilok in the Malaysian state of Sabah is a rural, partly forested area that clings to some of Malaysia’s most celebrated wildlife, among them rhinoceros hornbills and, famously, orangutans.  

A 3km turning south off the main road — 22km west up the main road from Sandakan — gives access to the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre.

Located at the end of the Sepilok road, the centre is open daily from 9am–noon and 2–4pm, with feeding times at 10am and 3pm. 

Occupying a 43-square-kilometre patch of lowland rainforest, this is one of just a few such sanctuaries. Most of the orangutans here are victims of forest clearance. Many have been orphaned, injured or traumatized in the process.  

While other orangutan residents have been illegally kept as pets, resulting in stunted survival instincts, the centre trains them to fend for themselves. This has led to many successful reintroductions to the wild. 

The centre offers visitors a few different opportunities to observe orangutans. Firstly, a glass-fronted viewing gallery allows you to see them hone their climbing skills on a rope.

You can also walk trails through the trees, where guides will point out their nests.

Lastly, you can see them at a feeding station, where they’re offered only bananas to ensure they keep foraging. Don’t be alarmed if you see a poor turnout at the station – this can point to the health of the forest and its food sources. 

Travel tip: our customisable Dazzling Kuching trip includes Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre.

Other attractions near Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre

The same turning off the main road also gives access to the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre, and the Rainforest Discovery Centre. 

Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre  

Like orangutans, sun bears are vulnerable – either because their adorable, teddy-like appearance makes them attractive as pets, or because traditional medicine calls for their body parts.

Given that rescued bears need to relearn life skills, the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre plays a vital role in protecting the species.

Opposite the Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre is open daily from 9am–3.30pm and houses around forty bears in woodland enclosures. A small number of these can be viewed by the public. 

Spotting scopes on the elevated boardwalks capture great close-up footage of the bears — ask staff to hold your camera against the eyepiece.

 Closeup of Malayan Sun Bear (Helarctos malayanus) © Shutterstock

Sun bear © Shutterstock

Rainforest Discovery Centre

Located 2km down the Sepilok road and then 700m west along Jalan Fabia, the Rainforest Discovery Centre is open daily 8am–5pm.  

At first sight, while the Rainforest Discovery Centre is a somewhat disappointingly landscaped version of the jungle, with an immaculate lake in the middle, its canopy walkway is impressive.  

Here 347m of aerial bridges offer opportunities to see brightly coloured trogons and other birds.

If you sign up for the guided night walk (Mon–Fri only), you might just see flying squirrels, slow lorises and (more rarely) tarsiers.


Get lucky, and you might see a tarsier in the Rainforest Discovery Centre, Borneo © Shutterstock

#2 Tanjung Puting National Park

Located in Kalimantan, Indonesia’s name for its two-thirds share of Borneo, Tanjung Puting National Park’s orangutans are the region’s biggest tourist draw.

Your starting point is Pangkalanbun, which is accessible by air. Scheduled arrivals and departures ply routes to and from Pontianak, Ketapang, Banjarmasin, Jakarta, Semarang and Surabaya.

Once in Pangkalanbun, you need to obtain an entry permit at the park office. From there, hire a taxi for the 20-minute drive to Kumai. This riverside village serves as the entry point to the park, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.

At the harbour, either hire a klotok (local motorised boat) or a speedboat to go upriver. 

A highlight of visiting Tanjung Putting National Park is the orangutan feeding sessions at one of three park outposts.  

The first, Tanjung Harapan – directly opposite the Sekonyer River Ecolodge – cares for orphaned infants and new arrivals and has a visitor information centre.  

Be aware that the most famous of the three, Camp Leakey, can be something of a circus during high season (June–August), with visitors who are less conservation-oriented clamouring to walk down jungle paths to see the red apes in action.  

Older orangutans, sometimes with their offspring, can be found at Pondok Tanggui. During the feeding sessions at Camp Leakey and Pondok Tanggui, orangutans that hover near the stations are offered bananas and milk to supplement seasonal lack of food in the forest.  

Allowing tourists the experience achieves an additional benefit — raising awareness of the plight of orangutans and the shrinking forests. 


Orangutans in Kalimantan, Borneo © Shutterstock

Other activities in Tanjung Puting National Park 

Unsurprisingly, Tanjung Puting National Park is all about the wildlife. Aside from orangutans, It’s home to the proboscis monkey and seven other species of primate, along with clouded leopards, civets, sun bears and several species of deer. 

It also boasts over 230 species of bird (including hornbills, and many wetland species), two species of crocodiles, dozens of snakes and frogs, and the endangered Arwana (bony-tongue) fish. 

The best viewpoints are from the river. At sunrise, proboscis monkeys begin their day’s foraging, occasionally belly-flopping into the water.

Dawn also sees birds especially active along the river.  

Come late afternoon, groups of proboscis monkeys — one male and his female harem per tree — settle in for the night and are easy to spot. 

Travel tip: for a sublime jungle river experience, ask your boatman to stop the engine for a while to allow the boat to drift quietly.

Things not to miss: Wild proboscis, long-nosed, monkeys, Sungai Kinabatangan, Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia.

As well as orangutans, keep your eyes peeled for proboscis monkeys in Tanjung Puting National Park © Shutterstock

#3 Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation (BOSF)

The Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation has a rehabilitation centre at Nyaru Menteng, 28km north of Palangkaraya, which can only be visited with a permit acquired in advance.  

Home to over 300 orphaned and displaced orangutans, the visitor centre here is open on Saturdays and Sundays, from 9 am-5pm.  

While visitors aren’t allowed to come into close contact with the orangutans at this site, you could opt to stay at Samboja Lodge to experience encounters while supporting BOSF’s work — all revenue goes to BOSF conservation projects. 

A highlight of staying here is visiting the orangutan sanctuary islands — man-made islands where un-releasable orangutans live in a semi-wild environment.  

The lodge also offers opportunities to enjoy thrilling canopy walks and jungle treks, boat trips up the wildlife-rich Black River, and visits to a sun bear sanctuary.

This is travel at its most rewarding, and responsible.

Orangutan in the jungle of Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia ©  jaiman taip/Shutterstock

Orangutan © jaiman taip/Shutterstock

Other destinations for orangutan encounters 

Danum Valley

About 90min from Lahad Datu by 4WD, the Danum Valley is “perhaps the last area of primary lowland forest in SoutheastAsia which remains truly pristine”.  

That glowing description isn’t from a tour operator brochure, but from the South East Asia Rainforest Research Partnership, an international scientific collaboration that’s been based here since the 1980s.

Wildlife here includes bearded pigs, proboscis monkeys, elephants, over 320 species of bird and (you’ve guessed it) orangutans.  

Although orangutan sightings are not guaranteed, there are several walking trails and a suspended walkway.   

Batang Ai National Park

Located near Lubok Antu, an hour by boat from the dam, the little-visited Batang Ai National Park preserves an important area of rainforest that merges with the Lanjak Entimau Wildlife Sanctuary. 

Only accessible with an official guide, who can be hired in Lubok Antu, orangutans are occasionally spotted on various trails. 

Note that booking a boat to these trails will set you back a fair whack from the HQ, the park holds no residential or other facilities, and all visitors must be accompanied by a guide. 

Matang Wildlife Centre, Kubah National Park 

Some 20km west of Kuching, Kubah National Park is a rainforest reserve that’s considered to be one of the world’s richest sites for palm species. 

Crisscrossed by trails, waterfalls and streams, with three modest peaks emerging from the lush forest, the park is home to Matang Wildlife Centre.

Here injured, sick or orphaned wild animals such as orangutans, gibbons and hornbills are rehabilitated before being returned to the wild. 

Bohorok Orangutan Centre, Gunung Leuser National Park

Northwest from Medan, some three hours by road, a narrow road winds up the Alas River Valley to Gunung Leuser National Park.  

Covered in dense jungle, this 8,000-sq km park is a UNESCO Biosphere Site. 

In Bukit Lawang, on the eastern edge of the Gunung Leuser reserve, the Bohorok Orangutan Centre welcomes visitors. 

Although the centre no longer rehabilitates the red great apes, you’re welcome to take a one-hour hike through the jungle to platforms used for the early-morning and afternoon feeding of wild and semi-wild orangutans.  


Orangutans doing their thing in Borneo © Shutterstock

    Practical tips for seeing orangutans in Borneo

  • Do your research and book trips or tours well in advance.
  • Travelling independently? Check if you need a permit before visiting national parks.  
  • Wondering when's the best time to visit Borneo to see orangutans? Anytime between March and October should deliver decent sightings.
  • When the rain lets up in April and May, and fruiting season kicks off, you have an increased chance of seeing orangutans at their most active.
  • Borneo is hot and humid, so keep well hydrated when you’re out in the jungle.
  • It’s advisable to wear long sleeves, trousers, and insect repellent. 
  • Leeches live in the lowland jungles, so you might want to tuck trousers into socks. 
Borneo, Indonesia

Borneo © Shutterstock

Inspired to see orangutans in Borneo for yourself? Get yourself The Rough Guide to Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei to help plan your trip. 

Alternatively, if you’d prefer to forgo the hassle of planning, browse our customisable itineraries to Malaysia and Indonesia. For example, our Nature in Borneo trip includes incredible orangutan experiences.

Header image: orangutan in the jungle of Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia © jaiman taip/Shutterstock

Joanne Owen

written by
Joanne Owen

updated 26.05.2023

Joanne is a Pembrokeshire-born writer with a passion for the nature, cultures and histories of the Caribbean region, especially Dominica. Also passionate about inspiring a love of adventure in young people, she’s the author of several books for children and young adults, hosts international writing workshops, and has written articles on the Caribbean and inspirational community initiatives for Rough Guides. Follow her @JoanneOwen on Twitter and @joanneowenwrites on Instagram.

Planning your own trip? Prepare for your trip

Use Rough Guides' trusted partners for great rates

Ready to travel and discover

Get support from our local experts for
stress-free planning & worry-free travels

Plan my trip ⤍