Don’t just visit Sabah, live and breathe it! Eco tourism doesn’t mean simply mean being green – it is, in fact, one of the best ways to truly experience a country and help protect its habitats.
Whether you’re heading into the jungle, living in a farm stay, working with communities, enjoying barefoot luxuries, learning to cook like a local or visiting the fantastic wildlife sanctuaries, Sabah has some of the top eco tours in Borneo.
From rural community projects to conservation work and jungle stays, eco tourism enables travellers to immerse themselves in the true beauty of this Malaysian gem while also helping to provide a crucial new source of income for remote communities.
Off the beaten track
Looking to go off the beaten track? Look no further; Sabah’s immersive experiences are now a calling card for travellers looking for a real escape and fantastic natural encounters. From the ancient rainforest, staggering marine parks and tiny jungle villages, activities are on offer to suit all tastes and ages.
Areas rich in natural beauty and heralding the eco-tourism development include Kadamaian in Kota Belud, Keningau, Kuala Penyu, Beaufort and Sungai Kinabatangan in Sandakan.
True Cultural Experiences
Many home stays and camps provide great cultural experiences that are entirely run by the local communities. So whether you’re out in the jungle with local wildlife guides, planting trees with community initiatives, fishing with locals or rafting along the rivers and spotting rare water birds, home stays offer a unique perspective into Sabahan life and are sure to make a big impact.
If you want to learn how to use native fruits and vegetables and cook mouthwatering Malaysian delicacies, a farm or home stay is the perfect place to spend afternoons over stoves and learning from the local community. Often, the whole group will congregate in the evenings to enjoy the food together and swap stories.
Sabah is often referred to as the ‘Land Beneath the Wind’, a nickname coined thanks to its location below south-east Asia’s typhoon and monsoon belt. This ideal geographical position means it is protected from extreme weather fronts, thus allowing its wildlife to thrive all year round. It’s no wonder, then, that Sabah is a treasure trove for wildlife lovers. Animal sanctuaries are crucial to the protection of Sabah’s animal population, with the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center remaining one of the most popular excursions in Sabah.
Sandakan’s barefoot paradise of Turtle Islands Park includes the island of Selingan, the largest isle on the west shore and a popular place to stay to see the endangered Green Turtles and Hawksbill Turtles. Visitors can attend in small guide-led groups and watch the female turtles laying their eggs on the beach and visit the hatcheries on the island – when they’re not enjoying the far-flung island vibes and beaches, of course. The best time to visit to see the turtles is between April and October.
Danum Valley Conservation Area
With so many natural wonders, it can be difficult to choose what to do next but with more than 500 species of mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians including orangutans, red-leaf langurs, gibbons, and hornbills and even the elusive clouded leopard, the 438 square kilometer Danum Valley Conservation Area catapults to the top of most itineraries with good reason. The reserve is also home to 30 of the world’s tallest tropical trees and along with canopy walks, night safaris and wildlife treks, trips can include a visit to the Danum Valley Field Center where scientists work to document this bio-diverse wonderland.
The Kinabatangan River is another magnet for naturists; Malaysia’s second longest river boasts one of the most diverse concentrations of wildlife in Borneo with Proboscis monkeys, crocodiles and the iconic Bornean pygmy elephants and orangutans all in situ. Along with river cruises and night river walks with local guides, visitors can also head to the forest restoration areas where local communities, tour operators and conservation areas work to protect the forests and retard the effects of deforestation in the region.
If you’re looking for more than a fly and flop destination, the search is well and truly over. Rural tourism, eco tourism and heritage and conservation projects not only provide a fascinating insight into Sabah’s natural world but also help protect the legacies of this stunning region and provide an invaluable new source of income to the local population.
From adventure tours and agro tourism to rural farm stays, the experiences on offer are almost as diverse as the Sabah landscape itself.
*The above fares are per person from London Heathrow/Manchester and include the price of the air ticket, as well as associated taxes and surcharges, correct as at 19 December 2018, subject to seat availability and currency fluctuations. Tickets are non-refundable and date changes are allowed but may be subject to an administration fee. Other terms and conditions apply.