The third largest island in the world, Borneo is a fascinating destination boasting a rich cultural history and brimming with wildlife and adventure. Located in the middle of Maritime Southeast Asia (the geographic region comprising Brunei, East Timor, Indonesia, the Malaysian states of Sarawak and Sabah, the Philippines, and Singapore), the island nation is bordered by South China Sea, the Sulu Sea, the Celebes Sea, and the Java Sea. Its position straddling the equator gives it a unique climatic and environmental profile, making it home to some of the world’s most species-rich equatorial rainforests.
A land of mountains and lush rainforests, Borneo is as wild as it gets in the contemporary world. Essentially isolated from the world until the 16th century, its fauna and flora had thousands of years to develop independently, and the result is a level biodiversity that few other destinations can match. Incredibly dense, its ancient rainforests are home to a staggering amount of wildlife including over 15000 plant species – nearly half of which are endemic – more than close to 400 bird species, more than 150 reptile and amphibian species, and an astonishing variety of mammals. It is also one of the only places on Earth where orangutans, rhinos, tigers, and elephants all roam within the same regions. Arguably its most recognisable inhabitant is the much-loved proboscis monkey, famous for its long, drooping nose.
Borneo’s beach and marine offering is no different. From tiny, private islands to resort-owned getaways, Borneo’s beaches easily compete with the best in the world. Year-round, temperatures rarely drop below the mid to high twenties (degrees Celsius), and the surrounding waters are always warm, allowing visitors to indulge in the tropical lifestyle almost 365 days a year. It also boasts excellent snorkelling and diving options, with many spots still waiting to be explored.
Like so many destinations, what truly endears Borneo to visitors is its people and their special culture. Hailing from all over Asia, and sometimes even further away, the island is a cultural melting pot that brings together an amazing variety of traditions, languages, and religions. Each region features its own unique appeal, like the Kampung villages of Sabah and Sarawak, or the fascinating Dayak groups which used to be headhunters, and each presents an opportunity for an unforgettable experience.
As is so often the case with the convergence of cultures, Borneo boasts an exceptional culinary scene. Chinese restaurants serve up fresh seafood caught in the South China Sea, while Malay night markets offer an array of Indonesian indulgences, and each of Borneo’s many indigenous groups delight visitors with their excellent cooking traditions.
Whether visiting for the sun, sea, wildlife, culture, or community, Borneo will satisfy and delight even the most discerning travellers.
*This article was first published in the World Swimsuit 2016 magazine