Seeing orangutans in the wild is one of the most magical experiences in Borneo.
Starting early in the day, you set out into the jungle before the mist has risen. Trudging through wet soil, peeling back the bright green vegetation as you go, you venture into the wild to search for orangutans. At this time in the morning, these incredibly human-like creatures are setting out in search of breakfast, occasionally daring to come down to the forest floor to pick up fallen fruit. You may hear the odd hoot or call, but not the overwhelming chatter experienced when tracking chimpanzees.
It takes expertise and patience to find these mesmerising and peaceful animals in their natural habitat, but luckily you are with just the person. Your expert guide leads you in the right direction, and before you know it, you are looking straight up at one of these charismatic apes. At home in the treetops, they are comfortable sitting above you, feeding on fruit. They are often just as curious about you as you are about them. Throughout Borneo, there are various areas where you can track wild orangutans, including the incredible Danum Valley and via river safaris down the Kinabatangan.
There are only two places left in the world where orangutans can be found in the wild. These are the northern parts of Sumatra in Indonesia and throughout the island of Borneo, which is made up of Sabah and Sarawak (both Malaysian states), Kalimantan (Indonesian) and the small State of Brunei Darussalam.
The Malaysian state of Sabah is our preferred destination for wildlife safaris as it has some fantastic national parks and protected areas. There is an abundance of wildlife, making the chances of seeing some of Borneo’s incredible flora and fauna very high. Areas such as the Kinabatangan River and the Danum Valley make for perfect wildlife safaris, as these areas are teeming with wildlife and provide the best places to see orangutans in the wild. Sabah also has a fairly good road system which keeps travel times between destinations down and makes for a more comfortable journey. There is also a wide variety of accommodation ranging from standard lodges to your more luxurious eco-friendly hotels.
Either on the mainland or a short boat trip to an offshore island provides you with a great place to relax or explore the many coral reefs.
Sumatra is quite a different experience; road systems are often very bad and can make journeys very long and uncomfortable and the levels of accommodation are normally of a poorer quality, but still at similar prices.
The Gunung Leuser National Park is the last remaining area in Sumatra where you can find orangutans and although they are definitely there, population figures are very low. It is reported that the park is home to between 2,000 – 3,000 orangutans but with the size of the park nearly 8,000 sq km it should hold closer to 7,000 apes.
Once you have worked out where you want to go, now check out the best time to see orangutans in the wild.