Home Borneo Hidden Gems of Borneo: Bako National Park & Santubong Peninsula

Hidden Gems of Borneo: Bako National Park & Santubong Peninsula

by James Wilmshurst

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. Our new Borneo travel specialist, James, he gives his insights into his hidden gems of Borneo – an idyllic region in the western state of Sarawak.

Mt. Santubong in Sarawak behind rainforest and ocean

Mt. Santubong looming over the coast 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!

Beach at bako national park malaysia borneo with the peninsula in the background

What a way to arrive…the landing point for your adventure into Bako National Park

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.

Map of the coast of Sarawak close to Kuching showing how you get to Bako National Park

The journey is part of the adventure!

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 monkeys endemic to Borneo without wasting more time on travelling to some wild area miles away.

A Proboscis Monkey sitting in a tree with its tail hanging down


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.

Coastal landscape of Bako National Park with beach in the foreground and forests, rocks and hills in the background

The rugged landscape of Bako National Park, only accessible by boat

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.

Bearded pig digging up the beach of Bako National Park looking for food

Keep digging!

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.

Bako Sea Stack in the south china sea just off Bako National Park

There are incredible rock formations just off the coast of Bako

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!

Treehouse looking out onto the ocean from Permai Rainforest Resort

Fancy a couple of nights in the forest?

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.

travellers eating at the restaurant of Permai Rainforest Resort which overlooks the ocean

Not a bad view…

For those wanting to climb Mount Santubong, 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.

Mount Santubong at sunrise across the estuary

Mount Santubong at sunrise

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.

What are your hidden gems of Borneo?

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: 

Beach and Wildlife: The Classic

Borneo Adventure 

Family Wildlife & Beach

Borneo, Java and Bali Adventure

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 me about your Borneo holiday you can always phone on 020 7924 7133 . 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.
Guide to Borneo

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