Kinabatangan river at sunset, Borneo
Vacations to Sandakan, Borneo
On the northeast coast of Borneo, Sandakan is a city worthy of exploration and handily, it has a self-guided heritage trail to direct you to the main sights. Among other highlights en route, you’ll visit the 100-year old Masjid Jamek, a beautiful mosque, and the Stairs with a Hundred Steps that leads you to a panoramic view of Sandakan town and bay. But a visit to Sandakan mostly serves as the gateway to the natural wilderness. Your very own Jungle Book adventure awaits.
Southwest of Sandakan, the murky Kinabatangan River winds through the Sabah region. Sure, the chocolate-colored water may not look too enticing, but the magic of the river is found on its banks. Hop aboard one of the tin boats and keep your eyes peeled and your fingers crossed - you might just be lucky enough to get a heart-skipping glimpse of wild orangutans, gibbons, macaques and monkeys, small herds of pygmy elephants, crocodiles and even a clouded leopard.
The region’s star attraction, the Sepilok Orangutan Centre is a short journey from Sandakan and is the world-renowned sanctuary for Kings of the Swingers. It was founded to help primates recover from capture or injury and is one of the best ways to see orangutans close-up and watch wide-eyed youngsters playing in the purpose-built nursery section. It’s also home to other species like the endangered Bornean pygmy elephant. The Rainforest Discovery Centre, not far from the Sepilok Orangutan Centre, is an excellent introduction into the importance of rainforests to Borneo and the life it supports. Be brave and try a night walk. Sure, it’s a little spooky, but provides the rare opportunity to spot nocturnal animals like tarsiers and wild cats. And it makes a great story to tell back on home soil too.
The aptly named Turtle Island, a 40-kilometer boat trip north of Sandakan, is where endangered hawsksbill and green turtles live and breed. Its official name is Selingan Island and is one of three Turtle Islands, but is the only one accessible to visitors. An overnight stay on the island is possible, and is the best way to witness the turtles laying their eggs on the beaches at dusk.
Float up the majestic Kinabatangan River
Climb the Stairs with a Hundred Steps
Sandakan trip ideas
Here are some trip ideas in Sandakan. All of our trip ideas shown below are examples, and we’ll amend, adapt or start from scratch, until we’ve created the perfect trip for you. See one you like, or have a trip in mind? Call us now to book: 020 3510 5777
Map of Sandakan
When to go to Sandakan
Sandakan's climate is split between the dry season from February to August, and the rainy season from September to January, although the rainfall can be unpredictable throughout the year. With high humidity, temperatures remain around 86°F year round.
In January, the winds can bring occasional stormy weather across Sabah, with high rainfall expected. If you fancy climbing Mount Kinabalu you should wait until later in the year when the paths will be drier.
February sees less rainfall, with the beaches enjoying the best weather.
The rain eases off throughout March with sunnier, drier days. It's a great time to visit forests and jungles without the crowds.
April is a great time of year to visit with warm, dry days and minimal rainfall.
May is another great month to visit, with ideal weather conditions for relaxing on the beaches or trekking in the jungle.
The great weather continues with hot and dry conditions.
July is typically one of the driest months with blue skies and sunshine, meaning hotels get booked up quickly so it's best to plan your trip well in advance.
Early booking is highly recommended in August as the favourable weather continues.
The dry season continues into September, although increased rainfall is expected towards the end of the month.
Rainfall increases but there are still plenty of dry days to enjoy.
Rainy season hits in November with a strong chance of thunderstorms and grey days. It's a great time to visit the lush jungles when the wildlife is thriving.
December is one of the wettest months with regular rainfall and thunderstorms, making trekking and wildlife spotting difficult.