Island hopping in Kota Kinabalu takes you to paradise beaches that are voted among some of the best in the sub-continent. Take yourself away from the internationally renowned destinations and into a little-known part of the world in the heart of Sabah on the island of Borneo.
One of the largest islands in the world, Borneo is known to be nature’s bounty, home to many national parks, some of the last remaining orangutans in the world and some of the best diving opportunities in the oceans.
Kota Kinabalu itself is the capital city of the state of Sabah and known as the gateway to some of Borneo’s most well-known jungles and of course, Mount Kinabalu. From local markets to little snippets of Borneo’s history, Kota Kinabalu is also rapidly rising as a culinary and artistic hub in Malaysia; the perfect place to start your trip to the islands.
Tungku Abdul Rahman National Park is made up of five islands all easily accessed from Kota Kinabalu on an island hopping tour. Adding something different to the national parks of Borneo; the park is made up of little islands that offer a slice of the tropics.
Hopping between the islands of Sabah, the most popular from Kota Kinabalu are Gaya and Manukan where you’ll find lots of activities to enjoy. From parasailing to banana boats and snorkel hire, these islands offer a fun-filled day out that is worth waking up early for.
On the quieter islands, particularly Sulug, there is nothing but sand and trees. While this might not sound great for some, beach bums will revel in the clear waters and sound of nothing but the sea to keep you company.
Escape for the day with the island-hopping trip in Sabah that is all you want it to be! Here’s how to get started;
- Where to Start Island Hopping in Kota Kinabalu?
- Kota Kinabalu Islands to Hop to
- Choosing a Hotel for Island Hopping in Sabah
- General Tips for Island-Hopping in Kota Kinabalu
- How to get to Kota Kinabalu?
- Want to Create Your Own Island Hopping Experience?
Where to Start Island Hopping in Kota Kinabalu?
To start your Kota Kinabalu hopping tour, look no further than Jesselton Point where you can see Gaya Island, the largest in Tungku Abdul Rahman National Park, from the ferry terminal.
Regular ferries and easy-to-follow timetables make island hopping from Jesselton very straightforward; simpler yet, ask one of our Local Designers at Designer Journeys to arrange it for you. All of the islands are between 15 minutes and 20 minutes away by boat.
The national park is open from 8.30 am to 5 pm; however, the last boat leaves at 4.30 pm. If you want to beat the crowds, it’s recommended that you leave earlier. If you miss this boat, you will have to find accommodation on the islands!
Kota Kinabalu Islands to Hop to
The largest of the islands, Gaya is just moments from Kota Kinabalu and the most popular of the islands to hop to for the day.
Gaya is a balmy island you should take your time with. Well-facilitated yet still bursting with natural beauty, Sabah’s spectacular marine ecosystem is balanced out by the dense rainforest that Gaya is home to, with many hiking trails sitting top of the list among Gaya’s activities to enjoy.
The main village of Gaya is Koya Gaya, a fishing village that you can see from Kota Kinabalu that is worth a visit while island hopping from Jesselton point to meet the locals. If you are interested in marine conservation, there is an information centre just off of Malohom Bay, one of the islands finest beaches, however, for pristine beauty, look no further than Police Beach.
As the most developed of the islands when hopping around in Sabah, Manukan Island has a plethora of activities to keep you entertained. From thrilling water sports and snorkelling opportunities to hiking and even volleyball; its seamless beauty only heightens the Manukan Island experience.
It’s easy to see why Manukan Island is popular among domestic and international tourists looking for Sabah island hopping package; it has to be one of the most pristine islands in the South China Sea! With endless beaches, even on the island’s busiest days at the weekend, you’ll still find a secluded spot to enjoy the beach.
The middle child of the islands that make up the national park, Sapi Island welcomes fewer travellers than its neighbour Gaya. The islands are connected during low tide, when a sandbank appears, paving a path of powdered sand.
During the day, Sapi Island is an adventurous island of parasailing and some of the best snorkelling around! At night, when the day-trippers leave, adventurous types will revel in the chance to camp on the island, which becomes deserted with nothing but a restaurant and a souvenir shop to keep you company.
Mamutik and Sulug Islands
The quieter, more remote islands of Mamutik and Sulug are the smallest of the islands you can go to from Kota Kinabalu.
Mamutik Island draws in crowds to its main beach, however, this is easily escaped by walking a little further away. There is also a restaurant that offers some facilities, making it more suitable for families.
If you really want to feel like you are the only one there, head to Sulug where there are no facilities and very few people. No matter which one you choose, you’ll feel like you are in a bubble as you watch life from the other islands circle around you.
Choosing a Hotel for Island Hopping in Sabah
Kota Kinabalu Accommodation
As the capital of Sabah, there are lots of options in Kota Kinabalu. It’s a big city that skirts along the coast, offering a plethora of options that range from seafront hotels to budget hostels just moments from the terminal. No matter where you stay, you’ll be within easy reaching distance of your Jesselton point island hopping.
Gaya and Manukan
While Gaya Island has three stunning five-star resorts to choose from, Manukan has just two options for accommodation. So, as you can imagine with limited spaces they fill up fast. You must book far in advance to stay on the islands. Once you see what is waiting for you at sunset after everyone leaves, you’ll be glad you did!
General Tips for Island-Hopping in Kota Kinabalu
Plan ahead: go to Jesselton pier the day before you want to go island hopping to get the ferry times.
Wake up early in the morning to make the most of your day and leave the island at 4.30 pm or earlier if you are not staying overnight to avoid big crowds.
The islands are part of a national park which has a ticketed conservation fee, you will need this for every island on your day trip, so keep hold of your ticket.
Bring enough cash for activities, perhaps a little extra if you have to arrange private transport back to Kota Kinabalu or get a room. There are no ATMs on any of the islands.
Take snacks or a packed lunch if you are going to the more remote islands.
How to get to Kota Kinabalu?
As the state capital, Kota Kinabalu is well-connected.
Flying into Kota Kinabalu
There are regular flights arriving to and leaving from Kota Kinabalu every day from anywhere in Asia. For the cheapest flights, go to Kuala Lumpur first and then fly to Kota Kinabalu. If you are coming from another part of Borneo, you can find cheap and regular flights from other cities such as Sandakan.
Driving to Kota Kinabalu
As the city is surrounded by Borneo’s beautiful rainforest, arriving in Kota Kinabalu from another destination in Borneo will require a long journey that might be a little bumpy. For example, if you wish to take a taxi from Sandakan it will take around five hours. If you wish to take the bus, you can expect a seven-hour journey – welcome to the jungle!
Want to Create Your Own Island Hopping Experience?
With this guide under your arm, you are one step closer to island-hopping in Kota Kinabalu. To make the leap, connect with one of our Local Designers in Malaysia who are waiting to create the trip of a lifetime in Borneo.
To extend your trip further and see what else is possible in Malaysia, browse our range of fully-customisable trips and check out our places to visit in Malaysia in 7 days guide! If you don’t quite like what you see, design your own trip and our Local Designers will create a trip based on your requirements – it’s that simple!