3 Must Visit Islands Near Kota Kinabalu, Borneo

So we’ve already covered how to while away your days in laid back KK but if this is your first stop on your travel itinerary or you’ve been hopping between busy cities and you’re desperate for that beach retreat then look no further! We’ve put together our top three must visit islands in KK (and surrounding area) either for a day or an overnight stay.

1. Sapi

Sapi island is one of five islands in the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park which sits just off the coast of KK. Sapi island is the second smallest of the islands and can be reached by boat in around 15 minutes. To reach the island just head to Jesselton Point, pick from one of the many agents shouting for your attention and grab yourself a ticket. The tickets are the same price no matter who you buy them from and cost 23RM (you can also pay more to hop between the different islands) plus some jetty fees and tax. Boats go from 8.30am and the last boat returns to the mainland at 4pm. We headed down early to make the most of our day and try to avoid some of the midday crowds. Sapi has one main beach which is a beautiful long stretch of sand; when we arrived at 9ish it was pretty much deserted but with boats arriving every half an hour it quickly fills up so whilst the sand is white and sea crystal blue you must also be prepared to share this little piece of paradise…..by this we mean with at least 300 other tourists. Yep, unfortunately once the crowds arrive you will be surrounded! There is another beach on the other side of the island which is a lot quieter, however, when we explored it had a lot more rubbish floating around on it so we stuck to the main beach. Sapi still is however a little slice of paradise pre 9.30am!

2. Manukan

Manukan is also part of the TAR Marine Park but is a slightly larger island with a few resorts! You can reach it in the same way as Sapi but can also chose to stay the night…if unlike us you have the money! The beach here is much much longer than on Sapi so that even when it got a little busy we managed to separate ourselves from the crowd and enjoy some peace. Top tip – most of the day trippers here come on a tour which includes lunch which means they congregate on the right side of the beach as you come off the jetty, turn left instead and the beach is much quieter – we shared it with no more than five people all day – bliss! Sitting back and soaking up the sun, it was hard to believe we were just 25 minutes from the city, the only giveaway is KK’s skyline blurry in the distance.


Now, if you follow us on Instagram you will already know that this little island is close to our hearts after we spent 5 weeks working at a little lodge here. You can get to Mantanani and back in a day (it is a two hour drive to Kota Belud and a 45 minute boat ride from here) and lots of tours do do this, however, if you have the time we recommend taking a little longer out of your trip to explore this beautiful place.

The island is 35km from the mainland and is fairly remote meaning – yes, you must learn to live without wifi or signal for a while…give it a go, it’s surprisingly refreshing! The beaches although often covered in a lot of driftwood are stunning in places, often untouched or unvisited for days at a time. The island is also home to two villages and around 1000 people, giving another side to explore during your stay, The sea here is the bluest we have ever seen and we really could have spent forever swinging in a hammock and forgetting all about the real world…Let us know if you need any more information as we got to know the Island very well!!


C & J


4 thoughts on “3 Must Visit Islands Near Kota Kinabalu, Borneo

  1. Hello Charlotte and Josh.

    We are four people who plan on going to Mantanini – can you recommend a place for accommodation? We are backpackers so luxury is not necessarily needed 😉

    Great blog btw!

    /Nadia from Denmark

    1. Hi Nadia! Great to hear from you! Very exciting that you are planning on going to Mantanani – its one of our favourite places ever! We would recommend staying at Greenhouse Lodge – it has double and twin rooms as well as dorms rooms so caters for backpackers. Its a lodge within an NGO which does a lot of fantastic work for the island. We actually volunteered there for 5 weeks and it was complete paradise. The owners Fred and SP will ensure you have an amazing time! You can see some pictures of it here http://thespindrifters.com/blog/work-5-weeks-on-mantanani-island-borneo/ and you can book it on Booking.com! Hope this helps! You will love it there for sure – let us know if you have any other questions at all! Charlotte x

  2. Hi guys,

    Your photos look great! Did you manage to go snorkeling at any of the islands? Which would you recommend we go to if we wanted to snorkel?


    1. Hi! Thanks so much! We snorkelled on Mantanani but this is also the hardest to get to! The other two islands are closest to Kota Kinabalu and both are great for snorkelling! You can even visit them both in one day! Hope you have a fantastic trip! Charlotte x

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