Kalimantan is part of Indonesia and is located on the island of Borneo (which incidentally is Kalimantan in Indonesian). 73% of Borneo is covered by Indonesia and the rest is made up of Malaysia and Brunei. Kalimantan actually means ‘Burning Weather Island’ and derives from the Sanskrit for Kalamanthana as it is located close to the equator and as a result you can expect it to get pretty hot here. If you want to check out the equator in person, then make your way to the city of Pontianak which lies directly over the equatorial line.
The island is the third largest in the world and you will find acres of lush jungles here as well as snaking rivers and rugged countryside. As you would expect, trekking and hiking in the unspoilt rainforests are a favorite pastime here and you can check out all the local flora and fauna such as proboscis monkeys as you do so. Certainly if you want to get back to nature and check out a part of Indonesia that is far less visited by travelers, then Kalimantan is an excellent choice, and is also one of the most beautiful islands in this part of the world.
Here are the best places to visit in Kalimantan:
1. Derawan Island
Derawan Island is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Indonesia and lies off the coast of the main island of Kalimantan.
It is part of its own small archipelago and is one of the best places to dive in and around Kalimantan.
The waters here teem with marine live such as blue ring octopus and scorpion fish, and you can also find bobbing seahorses as well as ghostpipe fish.
There is a famous rock here named the Blue Trigger Wall which is some 18 meters long and sits at 10 meters below the surface of the water and this is one of the top dive spots in Derawan.
Located in Eastern Kalimantan is the city of Balikpapan which is where you will find a more modern side to the island.
As such this is a great place to come if you want to ease into Kalimantan slowly and there are a good range of amenities here as well as a large shopping mall where you can check out how the youth of Kalimantan spend their weekends.
You will also find a number of museums and other attractions here to enjoy and it is also close to more rural areas if you want to explore outside the city.
It is also a good jumping off point if you want to fly within Kalimantan or explore some of the neighboring dive sites.
3. Maratua Island
Maratua Island lies between Indonesia and the Malaysian part of Kalimantan and also belongs to the Derawan Archipelago.
One of the main reasons to come here is to check out the two famous lakes that are found in the area in the form of Tanah Bamban Lake and Hajj Buang Lake.
There is a resort here that is known for its rooms that sit on top of water and the visibility is so good that you can see fish and turtles swimming underneath you.
As you would imagine, water sports abound here and you can enjoy snorkeling and jet skiing, or just rent a boat and check out the scenery from the water.
Banjarmasin is on Southern Kalimantan and it is also the place where you will find the mighty Meratus Mountains.
The city is bisected by long waterways that you can explore using small local canoes, and this is the perfect place to enjoy a city experience coupled with a strong local culture and traditions.
One of the best things to do is take a canal tour, or you can also visit the main mosque in town called Mesjid Raya Sabilal Muhtadin to check out the gorgeous Islamic architecture.
5. Danau Sentarum National Park
The Danau Sentarum National Park is a large area of wetland that stretches for 132,000 hectares.
Much of the park is made up of low level rainforest as well as large peat swamps and this is the place to come if you want to find a large amount of indigenous flora and fauna in one picturesque place.
Some of the wildlife that you can expect here includes orangutans, proboscis monkeys, and crocodiles, or you can also check out pheasants and storks.
As if that wasn’t enough, some of the indigenous groups of Kalimantan also live in the park so you can visit their camps and see how people have lived on this island for centuries.
6. Kakaban Island
Kakaban Island is one of the most famous in Kalimantan and is known for its majestic lake that sits in the center.
The lake is full of graceful jellyfish although they are not poisonous, which means that you can swim with them and take in this amazing spectacle of nature close up.
The jellyfish are made up of two species called Golden Jellyfish and Moon jellyfish and the only other place in the world with a similar phenomenon is in Micronesia, so if you get the chance to visit Kakaban Island then make sure to take a trip to this amazing lake.
7. Kutai National Park
Another one of Kalimantan’s national parks is Kutai National Park which is covered in pristine ironwood forest.
The parks sprawls for some 198,000 hectares and you will find swathes of mangroves here as well as fields of colorful wild orchids.
The park was sadly razed to the ground in 1998 as a result of a devastating forest fire but now much of it has recovered and you will be able to see it restored to its former glory.
It is also the home of sun bears, slow lorises, deer, and orangutans.
8. Mahakam River
The Mahakam River is the longest river in East Kalimantan and is the central backbone of the community here, supplying the area with water and also being one of the ways to travel around the island, much of which is covered in rainforest.
The river is also the home of a species of freshwater dolphin known as ‘pesut’ and you can come here and spot these elegant marine creatures in their local habitat and take a river cruise that will also allow you to check out a huge number of other indigenous species.
9. Tanjung Puting National Park
Tanjung Puting National Park is one of the premium national parks in Kalimantan and it is here that you will find the largest number of elegant orangutans swinging from the trees.
There is a conservation and research center based here and the park is a designated UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.
It spans 415,040 hectares of land and also has a sister park in adjacent Malaysia.
Just some of the activities that you can enjoy in the park include cruises along the river as well as boat tours where you can check out all the local wildlife and enjoy a leisurely cruise at the same time.
Just some of the animals that call the park home include clouded leopards, mouse deer, sun bears and red monkeys.
Sampit is a town that lies on the Sampit River and there are a range of attractions that you can enjoy in the town.
One of the best is the Pandaran Beach which is next to the mouth of the Sampit River and you can watch the point where the river filters out into the wider sea.
Another key attraction here is the Orchid Park at Pembuangan Hulu which is an area of forest land which, as the name suggests, is covered in pretty and colorful orchids.
11. White Mountain
White Mountain, or Gunung Putih in Indonesian, is located in the Bulungan Regency and is one of the most important peaks in Tanjung Palas.
The reason why people flock here is to hike to the peak of the mountain, and from here you can enjoy clear views across the surrounding countryside.
If you don’t like the idea of a mountain trek then you can explore the underground cave that is also found here and which you can get to via some scenic mountain slopes.
You can explore the area around the mouth of the cave and there are some 42 spotlights inside that will take you part of the way inside the main chamber.
12. Sesayap River Protected Forest
If you are in North Kalimantan then make sure not to miss a trip to the Sesayap River Protected Forest.
The best way to take in the majesty of the forest here is to go on a cruise down the river and you can see all the gorgeous scenery as well as enjoy towering lush trees and giant flowers.
There are also monkeys, snakes, and different hued birds to be enjoyed and this is a protected area of land so you know that the animals that live here are safe and not subject to hunting or poaching.
You can also look out for the Perengat trees here which have a special acidic fruit that is used in a range of natural remedies.
Pontianak is the largest city in Kalimantan and has a rather unfortunate name, as ‘pontianak’ is a kind of vampire in Malay.
There is no cause to be alarmed however, and Pontianak sits at the point where two mighty rivers called the Sungai Kapuas and Sungai Landak come together.
Some of the best spots in the city that you can visit include the Istana Kadriyah which is a former royal palace as well as the Museum Negeri Pontianak which is the national museum and a great spot to learn more about the history and culture of the area.
There is also an Equator Monument here and a traditional Dayak Longhouse.
14. Sembuku Sembakung National Park
Sembuku Sembakung National Park is the only place in Kalimantan where you will find elephants and this amazing natural forest stretches over some 400,000 hectares.
It is one of the newest areas of Indonesia to be declared a national park and runs along the border of East Kalimantan.
One of the big draws in the park is the fact that it covers six different areas of land which include mangrove swamps, rolling green hills, and lush forests.
15. Bunyu Island
Bunyu Island in Bulungan in North Kalimantan is one of the best places to see some local culture and also try the local food.
Bunyu is made up of three distinct villages which are home to the indigenous Tidung tribe of Kalimantan.
The island is also known for its famous fruit called salak which is one of the best and most delicious indigenous fruits in Indonesia, so make sure that you try some when you visit.
Other good spots to visit here include pretty Nibung Beach and you will also find beach clubs and even a golf course here, or you can island hop around the area in a speedboat.