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Borneo and Sulawesi Photography Tour

South Asia

Greg Downing
Photography Tour with Greg Downing
8 people maximum
14 days

Dates

Main Trip, 8 people maximum

  • September 14–28, 2019 (5 openings)

Cost Per Person (USD)

Price from $11,995
Full details

Want to talk first?

Call 1-888-667-0559 or 410-239-8025, Monday–Friday, 8:30 AM–4:30 PM Eastern Time. You can also send an email to editors@naturescapes.net.

Some of the world’s most unique wildlife!

Join NatureScapes’ founder Greg Downing for a new and exciting itinerary in Borneo, a wildlife photographer’s dream on a large island with steamy jungles and waterways that play host to some of the strangest creatures on Earth. From the “Old Man of the Forest”, or Orangutan, to the portly, bulbous-nosed, Proboscis Monkey, to large flashy hornbills with bright orange casques, Borneo has plenty to offer those that explore the island with camera in hand.

This tour visits the Malaysian state of Sabah in northern Borneo, which has a wealth of high-quality eco-lodges, and which rightly prides itself on its substantial ecotourism potential, excellent facilities and unprecedented wildlife viewing. Sulawesi is a nice complement to Borneo, as it adds a different set of fabulous and photogenic primates to see and photograph.

Orangutan, Borneo

Trace the steps of the renowned naturalist and explorer, Alfred R Wallace, in “Wallace’s Wonderland”

As we adventure through the deep jungles on the Islands of Borneo and Sulawesi we will explore some of the world's most amazing wildlife. Primates will be a large focus of this tour but birds, reptiles and other wildlife are abundant here too. We will have ample time and resources to see and photograph many of these unique and fascinating animals.

Danum Canopy Walkway, Borneo

Itinerary

Day 1, September 14

Arrival in Kota Kinabalu (Borneo)

After arrival in Sabah’s capital, the sleepy city of Kota Kinabalu, you will be transferred to a local hotel for the night. The tour starts with a welcome dinner on this night. Sepilok is renowned by wildlife photographers.

Day 2, September 15

Kota Kinabalu to Sepilok

From “KK” we will travel southwest by plane to the mid-sized town of Sandakan, which is near Sepilok, a tourist center, with great lodges that serve the main tourist attraction nearby, the famous Orangutan rehabilitation center. However, our focus will be the ground-breaking Rainforest Discovery Centre, which comes with wide open trails for easy access to the rainforest for seeing canopy birds and for photography; and a world-class canopy walkway. The latter is the centerpiece of this reserve, which allows eye level views of birds such as hornbills, trogons, kingfishers, woodpeckers, and broadbills. The quality construction of the walkway means that there is plenty of space for enjoying the canopy birds. We will be hoping for some fruiting trees to be present in the area, as these can attract a procession of frugivorous birds, as well as mammals like squirrels and sometimes even Orangutans. The night will be spent in Sepilok, just a short walk from the Rainforest Discovery Centre.

Days 3–4, September 16–17

Sepilok Rainforest Discovery Centre

Two full days will be spent at the centre so that we have plenty of time to explore the many easy trails, and especially the canopy walkway, which is the reserve’s most heralded facility. The walls of the restaurant on site are decorated with many fantastic images taken right within the reserve, and illustrate the enormous potential of the place. Both nights will be spent in Sepilok.

Proboscis Monkey, Borneo

Day 5, September 18

Sepilok to Sukau (Kinabatangan River)

From Sepilok, we will travel back to Sandakan, where we catch a speedboat for a several-hour cruise to our lodge. This segment of the trip is perhaps the best part of all; a visit to the primate and bird-rich Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary. The Kinabantangan River is flanked by lowland rainforest, interspersed with ox-bow lakes, mangroves and swamps, and is home to some of the most desirable photo subjects of the tour: Orangutan, Proboscis Monkeys, and Crab-eating and Pig-tailed Macaques, as well as all 8 species of Bornean hornbills. This is also the best area on the island for the rare Bornean Pygmy-Elephant. We will be staying at a high-end lodge, right on the banks of this enormous river. The choice of accommodation has been made not only for the comfort of the lodge, which has won a number of eco-tourism awards, but also for the transport available. We will be mostly traveling around by motorized canoe to traverse the various waterways in the sanctuary. The canoes crucially come equipped with electronic motors to allow a quiet approach when needed, vital when on a photography tour to get those incredible, intimate close-ups of subjects such as Proboscis Monkey families, a Blue-eared Kingfisher fishing along the river bank, or a fish-eagle standing sentry above. At night, there will also be the option to take a night cruise to search for roosting birds such as Stork-billed Kingfishers, and photograph the local Buffy Fish-Owls, which are surprisingly abundant and approachable near the lodge.

Days 6–7, September 19–20

Sukau and Gomantong Caves (Kinabatangan River)

We will continue coasting the waterways of the Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary, tracking down the many avian and mammalian targets in the area. On at least one night, there will be an option to go out at night for further night cruises. On one afternoon we shall visit the Gomantong Caves, home to millions of bats, and thousands of nesting swiftlets, which use echolocation, like bats, in order to navigate within the dark recesses of the caves. We might wait until dusk on this day to ensure we take in the awesome sight of the emerging “funnel” of bats, which often fall prey in these photogenic moments to a handful of waiting Bat Hawks.

White-crowned Hornbill, Borneo

Day 8, September 21

Sukau to Borneo Rainforest Lodge (Danum Valley)

On this day we’ll drive several hours in order to visit the Danum Valley Conservation Area, where we will spend two nights in one of the best lodges in all of Asia, the famous Borneo Rainforest Lodge, perched on the edge of the Danum River, and surrounded by tall, pristine primary rainforest. We will be hoping that some of the large fig trees are bearing fruit at this time, as they can attract some of Borneo’s most famous residents, notably the Red Ape, or Orangutan, as well as an array of fruit-eating birds, such as the dramatic Rhinoceros Hornbill. Two nights will be spent at this fantastic lodge, where we will seek out a variety of subjects in this large conservation area.

Crested Fireback, Borneo

Day 9, September 22

Borneo Rainforest Lodge

Early morning right around the lodge can be good to take in the resident group of ‘Bornean’ Crested Firebacks (a stunning pheasant), as they patrol the grounds at this time. At night there will be options to take night walks and put your macro to use, as a myriad of rainforest bugs and frogs, such as Wallace’s Flying Frog, can be found by prowling the jungle with an experienced local guide. There will also be opportunities to take part in one of the famous night drives out of the lodge for larger subjects, such as Thomas’s and Red Giant Flying Squirrels, “Flying Lemur” (Malayan Colugo), and Bearded Pig. During the daytime, your guide will also use playback to attract in some of the flashier rainforest birds like Black-and-yellow and Black-and-red Broadbills, trogons, or one of the attractive blue-and-red flycatchers that occur in the area, to name but a few. This night will again be spent at the Borneo Rainforest Lodge.

Day 10, September 23

Borneo Rainforest Lodge to Lahad Datu to Kota Kinabalu

This is a travel day, in which we drive about three hours to the small town of Lahad Datu, to connect with a short domestic flight across Sabah back to Kota Kinabalu, where we spend the final night of the Borneo sector of the tour.

Bornean Gibbon, Borneo

Day 11, September 24

Kota Kinabalu to Manado to Tangkoko

Today is pretty much a travel day. A couple of flights will bring us from KK to Manado, on the island of Sulawesi. From Manado, we travel a couple hours to the coastal reserve of Tangkoko where we will spend the next three nights.

Days 12–13, September 25–26

Tangkoko National Park

This reserve on the eastern tip of the Minahassa Peninsula is one of Sulawesi’s flagship parks. The excellent lowland jungle and mangrove forest provide superb birding, and great mammal- watching and photography opportunities. The reserve is especially famous for kingfishers, and with the assistance of the skilled local park guides, we will be search for Sulawesi Dwarf, Lilac-cheeked, Green-backed, Great-billed, and Ruddy Kingfishers. There are a few highly charismatic mammals that this area is well known for. First and foremost, among these is Celebes Black Macaque, a character-filled primate that roams the forest in large groups. Once found they are tame and cooperative, and conveniently photogenic. We will spend a few happy hours with them until we are satisfied with our photos. Maybe we can even convince one to take a “selfie”?!

Another charismatic primate is the Spectral Tarsier, a tiny and extremely cute nocturnal primate. We know where they hang out and so can get great daytime views and photos of them. We may need to return a couple times to ensure the kinds of shots that work well! All nights will be spent in a simple lodge just outside the park, which will provide tasty and large meals throughout our stay.

Day 14, September 27

Tangkoko to Manado

After a last morning in the Tangkoko area we return to Manado where we will spend a night at a comfortable city hotel, with all the modern conveniences.

Day 15, September 28

Departure from Manado

Today we catch our outbound flights from Manadao and connections home.

Lilac-cheeked Kingfisher, Borneo

Includes

  • Tips to drivers and lodge staff
  • Accommodation from the night of day 1 to the night day 14
  • Meals from dinner on day 1 (unless you arrive too late for dinner service) to breakfast on day 15
  • Safe drinking water and/or juice, tea and coffee during meals
  • Arrival and departure airport transfers
  • Ground transport to all sites in the itinerary from day 1 to day 14 in a suitable vehicle
  • Entrance fees to birding sites, parks and reserves mentioned in the itinerary
  • One night drive at Danum
  • Several boat trips on the Kinabatangan River at Sukau
  • Domestic flights on day 2 and day 11

Does Not Include

  • Optional tips to Greg’s assistant leader
  • Tips for luggage porters (if you require their services)
  • International flights (arrival, departure and one-way international flights on day 11)
  • Snacks, additional drinks apart from those included
  • Alcoholic beverages
  • Travel insurance
  • Excursions not included in the tour itinerary
  • Extras in hotels such as laundry service, minibar, room service, telephone calls, and personal items
  • Medical fees
  • Excess baggage charges
  • Other items or services not specifically mentioned as being included

Pig-tailed Macaque, Borneo

Trip Considerations

Pace

Moderate. Early starts are necessary (typically around 6:00 am) on most days since we need to take advantage of the best light and bird activity, and we also will be active in late afternoons and evenings where possible, however there is almost always some downtime in the middle of the day (when it is often hot, and the birds are less active). There is relatively little travel on this itinerary and only two long driving days (days 8 and 10).

Physical Difficulty

Moderate. At Danum Valley, Sepilok, and at Tangkoko, there can be a lot of walking involved, on roads and hilly forest trails – you should be prepared to walk 1-2 miles (1.6-3.2 km) on some days (with your camera gear). Along the Kinabatangan, we will be in boats much of the time, which does not require much physical exertion.

Climate

Hot and humid throughout (mostly 74°-88°F, 23°-31°C). Rain is likely, often in the afternoons in the form of thunderstorms, but one can also have tropical systems that create rain for longer periods.

Accommodations

Good to excellent on Borneo and moderate to good on Sulawesi. Sabah is one of the best-developed areas in Asia for eco-tourism. All accommodations have private, en-suite bathrooms, full time hot water, and 24-hour electricity. Air-conditioning is not available for the two nights at Borneo Rainforest Lodge, though the rooms have good fans. The accommodation at Tangkoko is basic and simple though comfortable, with air conditioning, private en-suite bathrooms and hot water.

Photographic Expectations

Although this part of the world is rich in wildlife, photography can be a challenge, as the light in the forest interior is dim, and the forest is some of the world’s tallest. Most of the wildlife is rather shy, though many of the primates are habituated to visits by eco-tourists. With that said, it’s the best place in the region for photography, and has many spectacular species that aren’t found elsewhere. It’s just important to understand that it’s a destination where you often work for a while to get good photo ops of a single subject, not one like an African safari where there is always wildlife in view. For a forested destination there is plenty of wildlife and we can expect to see many mammals, reptiles and insects, some of which are very photogenic. We can expect to see a couple hundred species of birds on this trip, and are likely to be able to photograph a few dozen. Sabah is a fun province to travel in, with a good transport network and good food.

Gear

Binoculars are essential. Because the light is low, and we’ll be spending times in forests, a faster lens is best, as is a full-frame camera. Using a prime 300 f2.8 or f4 (with and without teleconverter) works well, and a 100-400 mm zoom can also be great for both birds and mammal photos. There are also opportunities to do macro and nocturnal photography. A full gear list will be provided.

Travel Requirements

A valid passport is required; the passport must be valid for at least six months past your intended stay. Visas are not currently required for citizens of the US, Canada, the UK, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. Visas are currently required only of a few nationalities, mainly in Africa and the Middle East. Travel requirements are subject to change and we will inform you of such.

Dates and Cost

Dates

Main Trip, 8 people maximum

  • September 14–28, 2019 (5 openings)

Cost Per Person (USD)

  • Trip: $11,995
  • Deposit: $1,000
  • Single Supplement: $1,195

Trip Details

Dates

Main Trip, 8 people maximum

  • September 14–28, 2019 (5 openings)

Cost Per Person (USD)

  • Trip: $11,995
  • Deposit: $1,000
  • Single Supplement: $1,195

Single Supplements

Single supplement fees reflect our actual cost and are subject to availability. If you're a single traveler and we're unable to place you with a roommate, we will need to place you in a single room and charge a single supplement.

Leaders and Guides

Greg Downing

Greg has been traveling the world teaching professional and amateur photographers for more than 15 years hosting his instructional workshops and...Continue reading

Photo Gallery

Registration

To register for this trip fill out and submit your registration form. A non-refundable deposit (above) is required to reserve your spot. See the About Our Trips page for cancellation/refund policies and other important information.

Want to talk first?

Call 1-888-667-0559 or 410-239-8025, Monday–Friday, 8:30 AM–4:30 PM Eastern Time. You can also send an email to editors@naturescapes.net.

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