• Orangutan seen on Borneo vacation

Everything you need to know about orangutan safaris

As the jungle awakens with wild calls and chatter, you glimpse bright orange hair wisp through the emerald green rainforest, covering lithe and dextrous limbs and a pensive face that lives up to the name "person of the forest". Some swing Jungle Book style from branch to branch, others rest lazily in the trees while the daring scour the ground nearby for fallen fruit. Witnessing these endearing primates is so much more than just something to tick off the list and is a true highlight of your Bornean safari.

 

Starting as World Primate Safaris in 2005, we have years of experience designing itineraries that put you in the right place, at the right time for the ultimate Bornean orangutan safaris. We also support the Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary, which rehabilitates baby orangutans and those found in captivity with the aim of getting them back out into the wild. Visiting the sanctuary is the highlight of many peoples' visit, offering a great opportunity to witness these great apes in a beautiful setting, where they can comfortably coexist.

 

Borneo's animals, with their varying shapes and sizes, protruding noses or whooping calls, really do serve to amuse and entertain.

 

Travelling to Borneo to experience orangutans in the wild, you can also search for noisy proboscis monkeys, ferocious crocodiles, astounding bugs and even clouded leopards.

Orangutan Grid

Orangutans in the Wild

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.


Spotting orangutans in the wild can be hard work, but it is always worth it to see them in their natural habitat. We also give clients the opportunity to visit the Sepilok Rehabilitation Centre, where injured and orphaned orangutans are nursed back to health so they can be reintroduced into the wild. Seeing orangutans here may not match the thrill of spotting them in the wild, and we wouldn’t suggest it as an alternative, but the opportunity to see them in close proximity is not to be missed. Visiting the Centre will contribute to this vital conservation project and complement your encounters with wild orangutans.


Borneo is an untamed and exciting island, full of surprises and wonderful experiences for people of all ages. Here you can trek jungles, relax on beaches, dive in turquoise oceans and travel down wildlife-rich rivers. Big safari vehicles are unnecessary, as you can explore on foot, by bike or by boat, experiencing intimate wildlife encounters like no other.

We have used the same guides in Borneo for years, simply because they are the best at what they do. They have expert local knowledge which they will share with you, teaching you all about your surroundings, from the topography and wildlife to the local peoples and cultures.

Top places to stay whilst searching for orangutans

There are some incredible lodges to stay in whilst searching for Orangutans, and below are just some of our favourites.

One of our favourites, Borneo Rainforest Lodge, is set in the fauna and flora-rich Danum Valley with its own tree-top canopy walkway and close to all of the wildlife that the Damun Valley has to offer, particularly orangutans. 

Located along the Kinabatangan River, Abai Jungle Lodge is a basic but comfortable, well-maintained lodge. Langur, orangutans and birds frequent the area, sometimes coming very close to the lodge

Sepilok Nature Resort is hidden amongst a veritable treasure trove of tropical plants and grasses, huge trees and spectacular orchids in bloom, the quaint bungalows of the Sepilok Nature Resort are within walking distance of the world-famous Kabili-Sepilok Forest Reserve. The adjoining Orangutan Sanctuary has feedings at 10am and 3pm daily.

Orangutan Grid 2

About the orangutan

There are just three orangutan species left in the wild, the Bornean, Sumatran and Tapanuli. This "person of the forest" is the largest arboreal mammal and the only great ape in existence in Asia. With long arms that may reach two metres in length, shaggy reddish-brown fur and grasping hands and feet, the orangutan swings slowly through the tree canopy of Borneo. When night approaches they make nests of vegetation to sleep in and occasionally smaller ones during the day to rest.

Male orangutans are evident by their large size (weighing up to 90 kilos, compared to 50 kilos for females), their cheek pads and throat pouch. Generally antisocial apes, their primary social structure consists of solitary males and subadults of both sexes and adult females with one or two juveniles. They are not territorial animals; however adult males are usually quite hostile towards one another.

Males in Sumatra sport moustaches and beards, as well as prominent throat sacs which they use to bellow and roar. The Sumatran species is also a little thinner, with longer faces and longer, paler hair on their bodies.Bornean and Sumatran orangutans are definitely very similar, but there are some differences. Sumatran orangutans have a closer social network than those in Borneo, gathering together to feed.

The discovery of the Tapanuli orangutan in 2017 marked the first time a new great ape species was introduced to science in almost 90 years. They have thicker, curlier hair than the other two species of orangutan, with males identified by their noticeably flatter cheek pads. Their “long call” – used to communicate with other orangutans when it is time to mate - is also noticeably distinct, as is their diet.

Borneo Orangutan

Why book your orangutan safari with NWS

NWS originally started as World Primate Safaris back in 2005; when it comes to primates we are the experts with a long history of sending clients on transformative expeditions.

Working closely with conservationists, we can offer the change to join habituation safaris and more. Our exclusive network on the ground links us to all the best lodges in the region and we are often able to add that little NWS twist to your trip, transforming it into something really special.

Orangutan, Borneo

Your Next Steps

Download our orangutan travel guide, or talk to one of our specialists for more details on tracking orangutans in the wild. Please note we recommend a budget of from £7,000 / $10,000 USD per person for our style of trip to this destination.