When should I visit the orangutans in Borneo?
June or September – To avoid the rush of visitors coming to see the orangutans in Borneo in July and August visit during shoulder season. There will be way less people, with a maximum of 15 boats at each feeding station instead of over 30. The weather is still fairly dry, although it has been a touch more unpredictable in recent seasons, not that this puts the orangutans off coming for their bananas!
July or August – For the best weather visit during July or August, the driest months in Borneo, however this is also the most popular time to visit. Expect much more crowded feeding stations as everyone tries to see the orangutans.
How do I get to Borneo?
The easiest way to get to Tanjung Puting national park is to fly into Pangkalan Bun airport. There are a few direct flights each day from Jakarta (1 hour flight) and other Indonesian airports. Be aware that these flights tend to be operated by small airlines without a website, therefore you will have to book via an online agent such as Nusa Trip. If you have booked a tour prior to arriving in Borneo your tour operator may be able to assist in booking your flights. In peak season these flights get booked up quickly so make sure you are ahead of the game!
The airport is a 25 minute drive from Kumai pier, where you will board your kelotok ready for your rainforest adventure. If you have a pre-booked tour, the tour operator will likely meet you at the airport and take you to the pier by private car, with the opportunity to stop off enroute for any supplies. If you arrive into Tanjung Puting without a tour you can easily find several companies at the airport selling spots on their boats leaving later that day (sometimes this is not the case in peak season if all the kelotoks are full).
What should I pack to take to Borneo?
Aboard the kelotok your luggage is stored on the top deck of the boat alongside where you eat, sleep and chill. It is essential to be able to easily access anything you will need during your trip without unpacking your entire suitcase across the floor of the boat (sometimes cheeky monkeys might try to steal your belongings!), therefore I recommend using packing cubes. You can easily organise the clothes you need for your orangutan experience without getting your other clothes dirty.
Although tours to visit the orangutans in Borneo are often phrased as jungle trekking, the walk to the three feeding stations in Tanjung Puting is along a well-trodden, relatively easy path. You do not need to bring serious walking shoes, a comfortable pair of trainers will suffice, along with a pair of flip flops to wear on the boat so you don’t spread dirt across the deck!
With humidity levels often exceeding 80% in the rainforest, I recommend wearing very thin, breathable clothes that will also dry quickly if you get caught in a downpour. The baggy trousers you can pick up at night markets in Asia are perfect! If you opt to partake in the night trek (arachnophobes beware) make sure you can tuck your trousers into your socks to avoid blood sucking leeches.
Packing Essentials for your Borneo trip:
How many orangutans will I see?
No tour company will be able to guarantee that you will spot these amazing orangutans during your time in Borneo however at each feeding station we saw around 10 orangutans including some adorable babies. We were also lucky enough to spot two very large males during our visit. The rangers call for the orangutans as they walk towards the feeding platforms carrying large sacks of bananas and sugar cane; and 99% of the time the orangutans will come swinging through the trees to get their free lunch!
Apart from the orangutans there’s a wealth of other wildlife to spy including the peculiar looking Proboscis monkeys that can often be seen hanging out in the trees beside the river at dusk, macaques, crocodiles, hornbills and a plethora of creepy crawlies.
What is life aboard a kelotok in Borneo like?
The best way to see the orangutans in Borneo is by staying aboard a kelotok. Luxurious they may not be but you won’t care where you’re staying once you’ve seen you first orangutan!
The main deck of the kelotok is your home for the duration of your trip. The usual layout will include a dining table and seating area towards the back of the boat where all your meals will be served, mattresses piled in the middle of the deck to make a comfy bed for the evenings, and sun loungers out the front of the boat for enjoying the river passing by (and catching some rays). Downstairs there will be a small bathroom complete with a toilet, sink and small fresh water shower head (if you’re lucky), be aware that all waste water flows back into the river so remember not to flush any toilet paper.
Your meals will be freshly cooked onboard by a dedicated chef and there’s plenty of food to go around. Breakfast is a feast of bacon, eggs, toast, pancakes and fresh fruit; and lunch and dinner each consist of a meat or fish dish, noodles, a local starch or vegetarian protein (for example tempeh) and a selection of vegetables. Alongside the meals snacks are also served following your visits to the feeding stations so you’ll never go hungry!
There is no typical day aboard a kelotok as each day brings new sights to see and a journey to a new feeding station. The key dictator of your schedule is the feeding times of the stations you will visit that day, with your spare time spent relaxing as the kelotok cruises along the river.
How much does an Orangutan kelotok tour in Borneo cost?
Prices of orangutan kelotok tours vary dependent on the quality of the kelotok and the number of people you are sharing your kelotok with. We were the only two guests on our private kelotok (which was one of the best boats we saw during our travels) and paid IDR 8,000,000 (around £440 or $600) between us for a 3 day/2 night adventure to see the orangutans in Borneo. This includes transfers to/from the airport, all food and refreshments while on board, national park permits, visits to three feeding stations and a night trek with a knowledgeable guide.
My Five Top Tips for the Perfect Orangutan Experience
1. Orangutans live in the rainforest, even if your tour is booked during the dry season, it still rains (a lot!) Dependent on your tour operator they are likely to provide either umbrellas or thin plastic ponchos to shelter you from sudden downpours. We were lucky enough that Orangutan Applause provided both and always had them to hand, including a waterproof bag to store any cameras – an absolute lifesaver.
2. Be prepared to lead a simple life for two days. The majority of orangutan tours involve living and staying on a kelotok for the duration of your trip to Borneo. These wooden boats have all the necessary facilities but not many of the luxuries you would have at home. We had a fresh water shower on board (no hot water) and seating areas at the front and back of the boat; which compared to some of the others was quite a luxury. You will be sticky, sweaty and smelly by the end of your few days but that’s the way of the jungle!
3. Enjoy disconnecting from the outside world. Mobile signal is very patchy within the national park so take the time to switch off from social media for two days and take in your surroundings fully. You don’t want to miss out on seeing a rare Proboscis monkey because you were updating Instagram.
4. Detox from alcohol for a few days. Alcohol is forbidden within the national park therefore as much as the perfect afternoon would be spent sitting out on the front of the boat in the sunshine with a chilled beer, unfortunately you’ll have to settle for a bottle of Diet Coke instead! I’m sure this government imposed detox is very good for you though.
5. Always keep your eyes peeled! Away from at the feeding stations we saw orangutans on our trek to the station, and also swinging in the trees alongside the river. There’s also a myriad of other interesting and unusual animals to spot as you cruise along the river, including the endemic Proboscis monkeys. Keep your camera and binoculars to hand so you don’t miss anything.