The Kinabatangan is a river that runs through the east of Malaysia’s state of Sabah. It’s renowned for the abundance of wildlife that lives in and along its banks and is one of the best places to see many of Borneo’s unique animals in the wild. This guide should tell you everything need to know about tours to the Kinabatangan River and help you to plan your trip too.

When is the best time to visit the Kinabatangan River?

Although you can visit the Kinabatangan River all year round the best time to visit March – September. This is because it’s dry season, so the weather is better and there are more animals out and about on the river. We went in November and had to abandon one of our cruises because of the rain!

A guide to Kinabatangan River tours

What does a Kinabatangan River tour involve?

There’s no definitive answer to this really, as each tour is different. Though, most tours include at least 2 river cruises, accommodation is a riverside lodge, meals and transport to and from Sandakan. Most tour agents will be very accommodating to how many days you want to spend at the river but I found 1 or 2 night tours seemed to be the most popular.

The river cruises usually take place in the early morning, afternoon and evening once it gets dark. This is because different animals come to the river at different times of the day. Plus the more cruises you go on the more chance you have to spot them.

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What animals can you see on the river?

There are so many animals to try and spot on your Kinabatangan River tour. The main ones and the best time of day to see them are:

  • Orangutans – early morning, though sadly we didn’t see any!
  • Proboscis monkeys – Daytime
  • Macaque monkeys – Daytime
  • Pygmy elephants – Daytime, but the small herd that lives there is getting increasingly harder to spot
  • Sunda Leopard cats – Nighttime
  • Sunda Clouded Leopard cats – Nighttime
  • Hornbills – Nighttime
  • King Fisher – Daytime
  • Oriental darter – Daytime
  • Crocodiles – Nighttime
  • Monitor lizard – Nighttime
  • Snakes – Daytime

Don’t worry about having to spot any of the animals by yourself. On each cruise you’ll also have a guide who will be on the lookout for wildlife will point them out for you.

A guide to Kinabatangan River tours - monkey

What other activities can do you on the Kinabatangan River?

Other than the standard river cruises, there’s plenty of other activities you can add on to your Kinabatangan River tour, such as fireflies cruises and caving. You can also include visits to other top attractions in the area including Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary and the Gomantong Caves on the way to and from the river.

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What Kinabatangan River tour should I choose?

There are so many different companies offering different Kinabatangan River tours that it can be hard to decide which one to go for. Though as everyone is cruising the same stretch of river anyway, the difference between tours mostly boils down to is the standard of the accommodation. There’s plenty of lodges to choose from that vary from luxury (ish) to basic. Though if you are on a tighter budget I’d definitely shop around first before choosing to get the best deal. In the end, we went with Sukau Greenview tours which I would highly recommend as a cheaper option for budget travellers.

A guide to Kinabatangan River tours

Can I visit the Kinabatangan River without doing a tour?

In short, yes you can. But it’s a lot easier to just book an all-inclusive package. As the Kinabatangan River is so remote, it can be tricky to reach going solo. There’s no public transport connecting the area to the hubs of Sandakan and Kota Kinabalu – it’s a 3 hour drive from the former and 6 hours from the latter. Though if you do have your own transport, all you need to do is make a reservation at one of the lodges and then book your cruises and other activities once you arrive.

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What should I take with me on a Kinabatangan River tour?

Essentials for Kinabatangan River tours should include:

  • Bug spray – remember its the jungle so this goes without saying
  • A decent rain jacket – especially if you’re visiting in rainy season!
  • Binoculars – though your lodge will probably have some to lend if you don’t bring them
  • A camera with a good zoom lens – so you can capture all those animals hiding in the trees
  • Go Pro/Waterproof camera – so you can still get some good photos if it’s raining
  • Torch – for nighttime walks and river cruises
  • Leech socks – especially if you’re doing any treks around the river
A guide to Kinabatangan River tours - river cruise

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