6 Incredible Adventures Near Kota Kinabalu
Did you know there are many hidden gems beyond just Mount Kinabalu in Sabah? Read on to find out more!
When you hear Kota Kinabalu (KK), the first thing you will probably think of is Mount Kinabalu. However, there are many other uniques adventures you can consider if mountain climbing isn’t your thing. Here, we shortlist Sabah’s greatest treasures, all accessible from the little town of Kota Kinabalu.
Note: Activities are sorted according to distance from Kota Kinabalu City Centre
1. Snorkelling and Diving in Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park
KK has no shortage of photogenic beaches. Tunku Abdul Rahman Park (TARP) consists of 5 islands — Gaya, Manukan, Sapi, Sulug and Mamutik. The islands are easily reached on ferry from Jesselton Port (in Kota Kinabalu town centre) - depending on which island you're going to, the ferry ride will take 15-20 minutes.
Sapi island has its fair share of visitors — from beach wanderers, to aspiring divers.
We had a chance to explore both Sapi and Gaya islands. The islands were beautiful — clear skies, blue waters, amazing sunsets. The only catch is that both were crowded with tourists while we were there. Thankfully, our guides from Borneo Scuba Academy knew the ocean like the back of their hands and brought us to Coral Garden to snorkel. There, we practically had the whole ocean to ourselves. Immerse yourself into the world of colourful coral reefs, schools of fish and if you’re lucky, an occasional turtle (we weren’t that lucky).
First-time divers from Borneo Scuba Academy signalling "I'm okay".
Your local operators may recommend you which island to go depending on your activity. However, if you're planning on island hopping on your own, here's what we gathered. The two more popular islands are Gaya island which focuses more on diving activities and Sapi island, which has the most watersports (banana boat, zip line, snorkel etc). However, for just relaxing and lazing around the beach, Manukan is your choice — it's the biggest island and is a lot less hectic. Mamutik and Sulug islands are less travelled to, and may be good options if you are looking to escape the crowds!
Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park
Price: Snorkelling from USD$30 | Diving from USD$71 for 2 leisure dives
Getting there: Your guide will pick you up at Jesselton Port, a 10-minute walk from the city centre. From there, you will take a 15-20 minutes speedboat into the park.
2. Conquer Borneo’s Highest Peak — Mount Kinabalu
Mount Kinabalu stands tall at 4,095m, the highest peak in Southeast Asia.
Of course, no trip to KK is complete without hiking the famed UNESCO World Heritage Site of Mount Kinabalu. Notice the landscapes around you evolve as you hike your way up to the peak — from the dense Borneo rainforest to the dramatic moonscape at the summit. You’ll feel like a NASA explorer stepping foot on the moon for the first time.
Keep your eyes peeled for the pitcher plant as you make your way up.
Besides the challenge and thrill of hiking the highest peak of Borneo, keep your eyes peeled for the many flora and fauna species along the way. Our guide made it a point to point out all the unique plants that make this mountain so special, and it made us appreciate this mountain even more. Do note that Mount Kinabalu often gets booked up quickly because it limits the number of climbers to 135 per day. Make sure to make your booking at least 3-6 months in advance to get a spot! Also, read up on the 10 things we wished we knew before we climbed Mount Kinabalu so that you are more prepared for this experience of a lifetime.
If you don't like climbing but want to visit the UNESCO heritage site, you can also take a walk around Kota Kinabalu park. It is a 1.5 - 2 hours' drive each way, so do start early!
Mount Kinabalu Climb
Price: From USD$356 for 2 day hike option
Getting there: 1.5 - 2 hours' drive away from the main city center of Kota Kinabalu. Transport is provided from your accommodation in KK.
Website: Mount Kinabalu Climb
3. Jungle Survival Course
Put aside the stresses of your daily life and recharge in the jungle.
If you’re looking for something unique, why not try out a 2 day jungle survival experience? Disconnect from your usual life as you enter the remote wilderness — no reception, no internet, just pure survival. We can’t promise the same for everyone, but we felt a sense of contentment living the simple life without any worries (our only worry was whether we'd have sufficient food for dinner) and an even stronger sense of accomplishment completing the tasks set by our experienced guide, Hanry.
Being handy with a machete will definitely increase your survival chances.
A fun fact about L.O.S.T. Borneo (the company we booked from) is that some of their guides used to be poachers, and decided to give up their poaching ways to use their knowledge and expertise of the jungle for good instead. You’re in for a treat as these amazing guides will tell you some great stories about their life in the jungle.
2 day Jungle Survival
Price: From USD$151 for 2D1N (meals and transport provided)
Getting there: The jungle is about a 2 hours' drive from Kota Kinabalu, but your guide will provide transport from your hotel in KK.
Website: Jungle Survival
4. White Water Rafting in Padas or Kiulu
Expect a wet and bumpy ride down the river.
This one goes out to all the thrill seekers! Imagine the spray and mist of the river water as you crash through waves in a little rubber boat, laughing along with old friends and new. Undecided between Padas and Kiulu? Locals tell us that Padas has the best rapids in Southeast Asia for the hardcore adrenaline junkies (the rapids are grade III and IV) whereas Kiulu’s rapids are more suitable for first-timers and families (the rapids are grade I - II). Either way, you can expect to have a great deal of fun!
The one and only train to Padas sticking around since the 19th century. Source
That being said, Padas is a tad further from Kiulu (about 1 hour more) but transport will be provided from your KK accomodation for both options. A bonus for the Padas option is that you get to travel there in a 19th century diesel train with the Sabahan countryside view as your company!
White Water Rafting in Padas or Kiulu
Price: From USD$41 for Padas | From USD$30 for Kiulu
Getting there: Kiulu is about 2 hours' away from KK city center; Padas is about 3 hours away. Guides will provide transport from your hotel to the river for both options.
5. Trekking through Maliau Basin
Take a step into Sabah's Lost World, Maliau Basin. Credit: L.O.S.T Borneo
Maliau Basin is also known as Sabah’s Lost World. To this day, it is known as one of the most untouched places in the world, only being explored in the 80s’. Maliau rainforest is twice the age of the famed Amazon rainforest — imagine being amongst the first stepping foot in a place with 130 million years of history!
What adventure awaits amidst the lush green canopy?
Maliau is the place to be for true adventurers — challenge yourself here to long treks and rough terrains. The hard work will be worth it in the end though, as you spot gibbons swinging from tree to tree in the canopy overhead, and deers coming out of hiding to graze and feed their young. Find your own adventure here — our founder, Jacinta realised the power of travel and how it can help conservation as she was trekking here, what story would you unfold?
Maliau Basin Trek
Price: From USD$797 for 4 day adventure (1 night drive + 3 day hike)
Getting there: 6.5 hours' drive away from KK along the Sabah countryside. Your guide will pick you up from your accomodation in KK.
Website: Maliau Basin Trek
6. Spotting the Elusive Clouded Leopard in Telupid Forest Reserve
If you're really really lucky, you may get to spot the elusive clouded leopard.
Telupid Forest Reserve is one of Borneo’s best kept secrets and a must-go for all wildlife enthusiasts. Our favourite part about this adventure? The cool nightlife. That is the prime time for wildlife sighting as most animals are nocturnal and active at night. People often go there in hopes of catching a glimpse of the extremely rare clouded leopard, but there’s more to Telupid (think civet cats, flying squirrels, elephants and more!). If you’re interested in other good places to spot wildlife in Borneo, read this article — some options aren’t accessible from KK but it’s still worth a go!
All five species of Bornean wild cats can be found in Telupid. Here you have a Sunda Leopard Cat. Source
Telupid is perfect for adventurers wanting to get off-the-beaten-track — the foliage is extremely dense and the trails are muddy and uncharted, you’ll have to explore the jungle through a 4WD jeep just to navigate the uneven grounds. Don’t worry though, you will be staying in a chalet with a hot shower so you get a little bit of comfort even in the wild.
Telupid Forest Reserve Safari
Price: From USD$501 for 3 day safari (meals included)
Getting there: 7 hours' drive away from KK city centre. Your guide will provide transport from your hotel in KK to Telupid.
Website: Telupid Forest Reserve Safari
Planning a trip to Kota Kinabalu? Feel free to ask us any questions on your itinerary and we promise we will reply within an hour! There are so many activities in Borneo that we love, and we understand that information can be hard to find for off-the-beaten-path adventures. As travellers ourselves, we want to make it easier for you to learn about these places and help connect you to the hidden unexplored parts of the world!