Kota Kinabalu is one of the underrated travel destinations in Asia. When we booked our flight, we really had no idea what to do in the place. Surprisingly, there are a lot of activities you can enjoy here. From island hopping to immersing yourself to a rich culture, you can easily weave your own travel goals for Kota Kinabalu.
- 1 Day 0: Fly to Kota Kinabalu
- 2 Day 1: Island Hopping + Night City Tour
- 3 Day 2: White Water Rafting + Mari Mari Cultural Village
- 4 Day 3: Kinabalu Park + Souvenir Shopping
Day 0: Fly to Kota Kinabalu
If you got a late night flight to Kota Kinabalu and you’ll arrive during the wee hours, make sure you have a Malaysian Ringgit with you for taxi fare. If not, you can withdraw from the ATM machine.
Day 1: Island Hopping + Night City Tour
Explore Sapi, Manukan, and Mamutik Islands
Visit the islands of Tunku Abdul Rahman (TAR) Marine Park: Sapi, Manukan, and Mamutik. There are actually two more, Gaya and Sulug. But for a day tour, the first three islands mentioned are recommended.
You can choose to avail an island hopping tour or you can go on your own (DIY). Yes, it’s feasible to do the island hopping by yourself because the jump-off point or Jesselton Point Ferry Terminal is easily accessible within the city. Jesselton Point offers island transfer service to all five islands. But if you want a hassle-free island hopping tour, you can opt to get a tour package.
Sapi, the first island, is just 30 minutes away from the ferry terminal. The other islands, Manukan and Mamutik, are also pretty close. All three have white sand beach with crystal clear, turquoise water. You’d really enjoy water activities like swimming, snorkeling, and parasailing.
There are operators offering water activities (e.g. parasailing, banana boat ride, flying fish, etc.) in the islands, no need to book online as they offer cheaper rates.
Night City Tour
After island hopping, you can still go on a short city tour. You can just take the taxi to get from one place to another. In our case, we hired a taxi where we agreed on a fixed fare price to bring us to our destination.
Atkinson Clock Tower
You can quickly drop by at the Atkinson Clock Tower, the oldest structure in Kota Kinabalu. The clock tower was built in memory of Francis George Atkinson, Jesselton’s first district officer.
Signal Hill Observatory
Signal Hill is the highest point in Kota Kinabalu where you can get a nice view of the city. It’s also a perfect place to watch the sunset.
Kota Kinabalu City Mosque
Kota Kinabalu City Mosque is the second main mosque in the place after State Mosque in Sembulan. It looks even more spectacular at night!
Day 2: White Water Rafting + Mari Mari Cultural Village
White Water Rafting at Kiulu River
White water rafting is one of the thrilling activities you can enjoy in Kota Kinabalu. There are actually two popular white rafting sites, Kiulu and Padas river. For novice rafters, Kiulu River is recommended as it offers an introductory rafting challenge that is safe even for kids. Travel time to Kuliu River from the city center is around two hours.
Mari Mari Cultural Village
If you want to immerse with Borneo’s ethnic culture, visit Mari Mari Cultural Village located at Inanam, Sabah. It’s a village serving as a one-of-a-kind museum preserving Borneo’s ethnic culture. Five ethnic tribes can be found here namely Bajau, Lundayeh, Murut, Rungus, and Dusun.
With a guided tour, you’ll get to interact with these tribes and see their way of life. You’ll get around traditional houses, try local food, dance and play with tribesmen, get tattoo, and more!
Tanjung Aru Perdana’s Fountain Show
If you still have some energy to spend the night away, you can take a taxi and visit Tanjung Aru Perdana and watch the fountain show.
Day 3: Kinabalu Park + Souvenir Shopping
Around three hours away from Kota Kinabalu city is Kinabalu Park or Taman Kinabalu. This park is Malaysia’s first UNESCO World Heritage site. Covering an area of 754 square kilometers surrounding Mount Kinabalu, there are several sites you can marvel at the park for some refreshing nature retreat including Canopy Walkway, Poring Hot Spring, and Botanical Garden.
You need to hike a little to get to the canopy walkway. The canopy walkway is a suspended bridge supported by sturdy ropes. The bridge is more than 150 meters long and about 40 meters above the forest floor.
Poring Hot Spring
At the end of the canopy walk, you will trek down going to Poring Hot Spring. Poring is a Kadazan word for “bamboo” and you’ll find lots of bamboo in the place. There are hot tubs available but it can get a bit crowded. You can enjoy a more private, enclosed tub for an additional fee.
The botanical garden located in Kinabalu Park is home to a variety of plant and animal species. If you are lucky, you can see a rafflesia here, the largest flower in the world that only lives for a few days.
Souvenir Shopping at Filipino and Handicraft Market
Visit the Filipino and Handicraft Market for some affordable souvenirs you can take home.
Seafood Dinner at Filipino Night Market
What a better way to spend your last night at Kota Kinabalu than to indulge in a mouthwatering seafood dinner! Since seafood is abundant here, you can get it fresh at really affordable prices. Yum!
Departure from Kota Kinabalu
Take a taxi from your hotel to the airport.