Sabah may be most famous as home to the tallest mountain in Malaysia, but those who venture further will discover that its landscape is extremely varied, offering experiences such as diving along its coastline, wildlife trekking in its virgin rainforests at conservation areas like the Maliau Basin and Danum Valley, and experiencing its diverse tribal culture.
Kota Kinabalu is a resort destination due to its proximity to several offshore islands, rainforest parks and Mount Kinabalu. Overlooking the South China Sea on a narrow flatland, it’s bordered by the hills of the Crocker Range, which is home to Mt. Kinabalu.
Sabah has 392 islands spread around its coastline, providing plenty of opportunities for island hopping and diving.
Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park is just a 15-20-minute boat ride from KK’s Jesselton Point Ferry Terminal. Consisting of 5 islands within sight of each other, the park is a protected area that’s popular for day-trippers visiting from KK. With a mixture of rocky coastline and white sand beaches, Gaya is the largest of the islands. In addition to wildlife on the islands, you can also dive here – the Gaya wreck is within the park.
Situated 300km north of KK (1-hour flight) is the island of Layang Layang (occasionally known as Swallow Reef), which is part of the disputed Spratly Islands. Situated in very deep waters, the drop-offs fall to 2kms, and given its isolation and the fact that fishing is prohibited, the waters are clear and unpolluted. Divers can spot deep water marine species such as hammerhead sharks as well as whale sharks.
Just offshore from Kuala Penyu (120km from KK), you can hop on a ferry to Pulau Tiga, a group of islands with coral reefs and sandy beaches. The surrounding waters are ideal for diving or snorkelling, as well as kayaking. The island is also known for its therapeutic volcanic mud pool.
Located about 40km northwest of Kota Belud, Pulau Mantanani consists of 2 islands fringed by white sand beaches, ringed by colourful coral in shallow waters. Dugongs can occasionally be spotted in the seagrass beds and many species of rays (ie. blue-spotted and marbled) flutter amongst large schools of fish.
The World Heritage Site of Mount Kinabalu (4,095m) is located within the Crocker Range and is the most popular destination for visitors to Sabah. The mountain and surroundings are home to a staggering amount of flora and fauna, where you can spot the Rafflesia. There are 2 main starting points for the climb: Timpohon Gate (1,866m) and Mesilau Nature Resort, both of which meet 2km before the Laban Rata resthouse (3,270m).
Tambunan is a hilly plain that’s isolated from Sabah’s west coast by the knife-edged mountains of the Crocker Range. This tranquil region is peppered with verdant rice fields as well as fruit plantations, surrounded by lush forest. Homestay options allow you to explore the area, which is also known for its beautiful waterfalls.
The Rafflesia Centre is another attraction, where you can spot the rare flower which blooms for only 3-5 days.
Kota Kinabalu is accessible by direct flights on AirAsia and SilkAir, with a flight time of 2.5 hours.