The best time to visit Borneo varies from destination to destination—it’s a big island, after all! Local variations aside, the islandwide dry season takes place between May and October. “Dry,” though, is relative; rains fall on Borneo all year round.
Given that the weather varies little in heat and humidity from month to month, Borneo is actually good to visit all year round, whether you’re headed to the tiny country of Brunei Darussalam, climbing the magnificent mountain ranges of Malaysian Borneo, or plunging into the sprawling jungles of Indonesia’s Kalimantan Provinces.
You’ll get a more definitive answer once you’ve nailed down your Borneo itinerary, having decided where you’ll spend the most time, and how you plan to get around.
Weather in Borneo
Despite its massive size (more than 287,000 square miles—it’s the world’s third-largest island), Borneo has a uniform climate pattern due to its location right smack on the equator.
“Seasons” lose all meaning in a climate like Borneo’s. The warmest day of the year is only 10 or so degrees hotter than the coolest, and the humidity stays near-constant all year round. Wherever you go on the island, you’ll find temperatures at the lowlands hovering between 77 to 95 degrees F (25 to 35 degrees C) year-round, with a relative humidity of 80 percent.
Cooler temperatures prevail only in highland areas like Kelabit in Sarawak, ranging from 60.8 to 77 degrees F (16 to 25 degrees C) in the daytime, and plunging to 51.8 degrees F (11 degrees C) in the evenings. Sabah’s Mount Kinabalu experiences below-zero temperatures after dark.
Borneo’s rainfall experiences more than a trivial variation month by month; the rains generally hit their peak from November to April islandwide, bringing an average of 9 inches of rain. That said, Borneo’s tropical rainforest climate means rainfall is a weekly constant, varying from short bursts to days-long deluges of water.
Best Times to Visit by Interest
Each spot in Borneo has its own peak season, depending on the kind of activity popular in the area.
Scuba diving: Dive season depends on the Borneo diving site you aim to visit. If you’re planning a diving trip off Sipadan on the east coast of Sabah, schedule your dives between the months of August and September. The months of February to April are egg-laying season for hawksbill turtles around Sipadan.
On the west coast, scuba divers visiting Tunku Abdul Rahman Park should go between January and April to see the whale sharks frequenting the shallows.
Climbing Borneo’s tallest mountain: The dry season around Mount Kinabalu takes place between March and September. Climbing Mount Kinabalu is best done on these months, though climbs can also be scheduled between October to January, despite the increased rain.
Exploring Kota Kinabalu: Go out and explore Kota Kinabalu’s laid-back urban charms during the dry months of October and November.
Seeing the orangutans: The year-round rain and heat means a visit to Borneo’s top orangutan spots can be scheduled at any time. But if you aim to avoid getting excessively drenched by the rain, or if muddy trails put you off, visit during the islandwide dry season between March and October.
Visiting National Parks: The national parks on the island tend to be open all year round; the Sarawak park Gunung Mulu, for instance, is greener in the rainy season, and looks more magical in a tropical mist. If you don’t want to get rained on, schedule your trip in the dry months; mind you the temperatures will be slightly warmer, with no breeze to moderate the stifling humidity.
Advance booking is still necessary, as the park only allows a maximum of 90 visitors at a time from the Headquarters.
Seeing Rafflesia: The Rafflesia flower only blooms briefly in the year, so timing your visit is essential to seeing one. National Park rangers can tell you when the local rafflesias bloom and where to find them; the months between November and January are peak Rafflesia flowering season in Gunung Gading, Sabah.
Dry Season in Borneo
While the dry season varies from place to place, the islandwide dry season takes place from May to October, give or take a few weeks. The dry season coincides with some of Borneo’s biggest festivals; expect peak-season prices if you visit during these months.
The weather will be sunnier with the occasional rain showers during the dry season. The relative lack of rain also brings with it the danger of haze, as small-scale farmers burn down jungle and overgrowth to clear land for planting.
If you find your destination blanketed with haze, you should stay inside to reduce exposure to the noxious air; or reschedule your plans if the haze makes them impossible (the orangutan reserves, for instance, may stop operations if the haze gets too bad).
Events to check out: Sabah and Sarawak’s capitals throw their biggest festivals during the dry season. In Sabah, Pesta Kaamatan celebrates Kadazan-Dusun tribal culture with a month-long party in May, featuring dance, theater, handicrafts, and cuisine.
In Sarawak, the two biggest events take place in July, both in the capital Kuching: Gawai Dayak, a celebration of the local Dayak tribes and their culture; and the Rainforest Music Festival, Borneo’s biggest world music event, which takes place in the middle of the month.
The dry season is also an ideal time to go out and explore Borneo’s great outdoors, from climbing Mount Kinabalu to visiting the orangutans in the Borneo jungles—so long as the haze doesn’t get in the way!
Rainy Season in Borneo
The rains in Borneo escalate between the months of November to April, occasionally interrupted with a mini-dry season (a dip in rainfall levels) in the middle of the season. A monumental amount of rain falls on Borneo during the rainy season—the city of Kuching in Sarawak, for instance, receives rainfall of more than 160 inches annually; it’s the rainiest city in all of Malaysia.
These months represent low tourist season in Borneo, as the constant flooding makes land travel more difficult. Be prepared to change your plans on a moment’s notice, if you’re planning to visit during the rainy months.
Events to check out: The city of Singkawang in Indonesian Kalimantan celebrates Chinese New Year with a spectacular parade. Their Chap Goh Meh festival is worth visiting during the rainy season.
Despite the rainfall, some tourist destinations are hardly affected. Don’t be afraid to schedule a diving trip to Sipadan off Sabah or explore the national parks to find the Rafflesia during their blooming season.
Crowds and Peak Prices in Borneo
Prices for transportation and accommodations can go higher in the dry season, and may be a little exorbitant during festivals like Gawai Dayak, where Malaysian locals fly in from the rest of the country to party down with the locals. Book your plane tickets and hotel stays several months in advance of your trip, if you’re going to arrive during festival season.
Ramadan and Eid’l Fitr (Hari Raya Puasa) is another peak travel period worth noting. During Eid’l Fitr, the locals “balik kampung” (return to their hometowns) for family reunions. Plane and bus tickets during Eid will be exorbitantly priced, and generally unavailable to the last-minute traveler.
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