At just under an hour’s drive from Borneo’s Kuching International Airport, Bako National Park and the Santubong Peninsula offers an authentic jungle experience as soon as you’re off your flight. A favourite place for our new Borneo travel specialist, James, he gives his insights into visiting this idyllic region in the western state of Sarawak.
Walking along a trail, on my way to one of Bako National Park’s beaches, there came the most stunning view of Mount Santubong and the south China sea beyond. It’s moments like these when you know you’re on a good holiday!
As the oldest and smallest national park in Borneo, Bako is often forgotten by travellers who are drawn to the more famous Mulu National Park, Kinabatangan and the Danum Valley. Similarly, the Santubong Peninsula, just west of the park itself also offers various outdoor activities, stunning beaches and wild swimming pools to boot, although not many travellers visit. This is a blessing and a curse; whilst the remote jungle atmosphere is helped by the fact there are few tourists, it also means people are missing out on a true hidden gem.
Bako National Park and the Santubong Peninsula is just under an hour’s journey by car from Kuching International Airport, so you can step off your flight and be spotting the big nosed Proboscis monekys endemic to Borneo without wasting more time on travelling to some wild area miles away.
Bako National Park can only be reached by an additional 20 minute boat ride from the road. This has helped protect the wildlife inside and the journey offers stunning views of the landscape: Mount Santubong, various beaches and even mangroves. The park boasts some of the most varied habitats in the whole of Borneo: from rainforest, to sandy beach, to mangroves, to rocky outcrops. You can essentially see any species found in Borneo in this park, except Orangutans – but there’s plenty of opportunities for you to spot them later on your holiday. For example, just a 20 minute drive from Bako is the Semmengoh Orangutan Sanctuary where you can see rehabilitated Orangutans before they are released back into the wild.
Another benefit of Bako National Park are its hidden beaches, of which there are many. They are secluded in secret bays and give you a truly private experience. A personal favourite is Teluk Pandan Kecil beach which has the feel of a desert island. The trail to this beach is also the one that gives brilliant views over Mount Santubong and the South China Sea. Animal lovers – watch out for the characterful bearded pigs that make the sandy shores their home. They’re very relaxed and like noseying the area for bites to eat.
When visiting Bako National Park, you can stay overnight in simple accommodation in a lodge. There are some rooms with ensuites which I’d recommend for extra privacy, but they get booked up fast. So, book early to make sure you get your preferred type. There is usually a basic canteen attached to the lodge with food, drinks and beer.
Staying overnight in the park also means you get the benefit of dawn treks, when lots of animals are at their most active. These include silver leaf macaques, otters, over 150 bird species, wild pigs, water monitors and around 280 resident Proboscis monkeys. There are around 16 trails along the national park suitable for all levels of fitness, so plenty to choose from. One of the treks lets you see the famous Bako Sea Stack – an islet off the peninsula eroded into the shape of a cobra ready to pounce!
In the Santubong Peninsula, there is the option to stay at the Permai Rainforest Resort, accessible by car. It offers jungle lodge and treehouse accommodation at the foot of Mount Santubong. Rustic with a bouldered private beach and natural rock pools, it’s a fantastic option for those wanting plenty of outdoor activities available.
For those wanting to climb Mount Santobong, you can do so from the Permai Rainforest Resort with a guide. It’s quite hard work and involves steep cliffs and rope ladders but the views from the top are stunning. The trail ascends through the rainforest and offers fantastic wildlife spotting opportunities as well as a nice waterfall for some wild swimming to cool off.
All in all, Bako National Park and the Santubong Peninsula are my favourite hidden gems of Borneo. The area is wild, easy to get to, inspiring, intriguing and ultimately a fantastic place to immediately unwind after arriving in Borneo. I’d thoroughly recommend the experience to nature enthusiasts wanting to begin their adventure soon after landing in Kuching.
Updated: October 2017
If you’d like to see how Bako National Park and the Santubong Peninsula could be tailored into your Borneo holiday, have a look at these suggested itineraries:
Remember, these are just a starting point. All our Borneo holidays and experiences are tailor-made to suit your preferences, so we can tweak activities and hotels wherever you’d like. If you wanted talk to myself about your Borneo holiday you can always phone on 020 3627 6970. There are absolutely no obligations and I’m here to offer advice for any stage of your holiday planning. You can always email me if that’s easier to do here.