Dive deep in the rainforests of Kalimantan. Trekking trails in National Parks and visiting the indigenous villages rich with traditional culture is something that only few backpackers have discovered yet. Experience the pristine Kalimantan before others do!
Want to go off the bated track? Then Indonesian side of Borneo called Kalimantan is your journey. It covers about 3 quarters of the island of Borneo. The Malaysian Borneo is much more visited than Kalimantan, which is less developed, but also more pristine. People won’t be speaking much English and moving around might take more time, but if you’re looking for something authentic, Kalimantan offers more than Malaysian Borneo. You’ll see traditional culture flourishing and experience the local’s friendliness while the big tourist business atmosphere hasn’t landed here yet. Just meeting the indigenous people in the villages, often totally self-sufficient is an experience. You’ll end up saving money too as everything is cheaper than on the Malaysian Borneo.
The Kalimantan area is divided into four provinces: Central, West, South and East Kalimantan.
Central Kalimantan is rarely visited by tourists. Its unique feature is the Dayak culture. Even if they don’t wear the traditional customes anymore, their traditional music and dance culture is still alive. Best time to see this is during festivals and ceremonies, but of course you have to be either lucky or plan your trip well to be able to witness these festivities. Central Kalimantan is known for the ecologically rich and dense rainforests said to be the "Lungs of the World".
West Kalimantan is many times used just as a transporting stop, but West Kalimantan has really lots to offer: many huge size National Parks, historical Malay palaces (e.g. Sintang and Ketapang), Longhouses and the best roads. Chinese culture can be seen in this province and especially in the town of Singkawang. The Chinese festivals are worth experiencing!
South Kalimantan is the smallest of the provinces. Its capital Banjarmasin, is really nice with its fascinating floating market – definitely one of the best in Asia. This province is known for the Malay culture and its beautiful handcrafts as well as former royal palace buildings.
The most popular travel destination is East Kalimantan. Its advantage is the offshore islands and virgin forest areas. It has National Parks good for trekking and wildlife spotting. The longest river in Kalimantan is located here. Also, check out the Dayak festivals on this province.
If you’re pondering what to do during your journey to Kalimantan, the trips up the Mahakam River are a good option. The river is home to freshwater dolphins. There are large public boats with sleeping places running up to Long Bagun daily, and longboats upriver from there to Tiong Ohang. Public boats are cheap too, charters more expensive.
In the North of West Kalimantan, Pasir Panjang near Singkawang, are the only good beaches as the rest of the coastline is much covered with mangroves. You can find nice beaches in islands though.
National Parks and reserves
In Kalimantan, there are national parks, but their size is much bigger than on Malaysian Borneo ranging from 900 in Gunung Palung to 16.000 sq kilometers in Kayan-Mentarang! There is also a variety of other nature reserves, which are really big too, such as Gunung Niyut. Coastal parks like Gunung Palung, Tanjung Puting and Kutai are easier to access, but unfortunately the illegal logging is visible. However you can see some wildlife such as orangutans. The WWF supported Orangutang Rehabilitation Center is in Tajung Putting Park. The inland parks like Kayan Mentarang, Betung Kerihun and Bukit Baka Bukit Raya are more difficult to get to, but these forests are more authentic. The Dayaks have been hunting a lot of the wildlife though. Note that in these parks, there are almost no facilities for tourists, so you’ll have to have an adventurous attitude as well as be well prepared.
You can go trekking in the National Parks such as Kayan Mentarang, Betung Kerihun and Bukit Baka Bukit Raya. Ask for guides in the local park offices.
There are walking trails between villages in East Kalimantan Krayan district around Long Bawan, and in South in the Loksado district in the Meratus Mountains. People say trekking in Kayan Mentarang is excellent and there are no tourists at all! Remember to check for the trail conditions before you head to the forest and be prepared to get muddy meaning-take the rubber shoes.
There are some challenging rivers for those who are into rafting. The stretches from Loksado to Muara Hatip and from there to Batu Laki as well as Gohong Rawai seem to be good for rafting. Check out the grading though.
Head to the offshore islands like Derawan-Sangalaki archipelago off Berau in East Kalimantan. It is known for fantastic scuba diving! You can see colorful coral reef, large Manta Rays, turtles and even an inland lake. Watch out for jellyfish though. In the West Kalimantan the Karimata group is also known for great coral reefs, as well as in South the Pulau Laut and Sebuku. These are worth exploring.
The roads in Kalimantan are in poor shape, so traveling is slow. You can use Becas, tricycle taxis made for two in bigger cities of Kalimantan, or normal taxis or boat rides.
Most international flights arrive and depart from Jakarta, and there are flights to Kalimantan too. There are quite fast ferry connections between Indonesia and Malaysia and different parts inside Indonesia. Traveling from Malaysian Borneo, it is possible to cross the land border between Sarawak and West Kalimantan. You can also catch a speedboat from Tawau in Sabah to Tarakan or Nunukan in East, but remember that you need a visa in advance.
When to go
It is not easy to predict exactly when is the best time to go, but usually the driest season is from July to August, this is when the trekking trails are in best condition. It is also dry in November and March. January and December seem to be bad times to go to Kalimantan because of the wet season.
If you only have limited time, pick a region and explore that without a rush, because Kalimantan as an area itself is huge!
If you travel independently make sure you know some basic terms in Bahasa Indonesian language, because in many regions English is not spoken and you will miss all the good stories and myths if you don’t get the language at all.
Also, note that Indonesia is ecologically rich with humid tropical forests, but nowadays the forests are vanishing rapidly because of illegal logging and overexploitation. Be a responsible traveler and don’t contribute to this by buying tropical wood products!