Kota Kinabalu Island Hopping: Find The Best Island In Kota Kinabalu

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With so many stunning beaches and islands to explore in the Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park, it’s no wonder that Kota Kinabalu Island hopping is so popular. Whether you decide to spend a few days on each island or join a Kota Kinabalu Island hopping tour so you can visit a few islands in the one day – there is a range of ways to go island hopping in Kota Kinabalu.

If you’re thinking of doing an island hopping Kota Kinabalu tour, then this is a great guide for you. In this guide, we cover everything you need to know including information about each of the islands, how to do a DIY tour, the best Kota Kinabalu island hopping package options as well as the best island in Kota Kinabalu to spend a few days.

Manukan Island Cottages, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah
Manukan Island Cottages, Kota Kinabalu

After reading this island hopping Kota Kinabalu blog post, you’ll know exactly which islands you’ll want to visit as well as how best to visit them.

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Which is the Best Island in Kota Kinabalu?

Within the Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park, there are 5 different islands to explore namely Gaya, Sapi, Manukan, Mamutik and Sulug Island. The islands are just a few kilometres from the mainland, making them easily accessible from downtown Kota Kinabalu. 

While each of the islands in the Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park have stunning beaches and spectacular diving and snorkelling sites, they are all slightly different in terms of what they offer. To help you decide which islands to visit while island hopping at Kota Kinabalu, below is a brief overview of each of the islands.  

We’ve also provided a map so you can see where the islands are located as well as the different accommodation options we talk about later in this guide.

Kota Kinabalu Island Hopping map
Click the Map to open in Google Maps. You can then access directions to each of the locations discussed in this article.

Gaya Island, Kota Kinabalu

Gaya Island is the largest of all the islands in the Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park and after Sapi and Manukan Islands is one of the most developed islands. It is also the closest island near Kota Kinabalu, Sabah.

Gaya Island is covered with dense tropical forest and includes over 20 kilometres of light jungle hiking tracks, making it the best island around Kota Kinabalu for those who enjoy hiking. During these walks, you might even be lucky enough to spot animals such as bearded pigs, proboscis monkeys, long-tailed macaques, monitor lizards, hornbills and even a few snake species.

Gaya Island Beach
Gaya Island Beach

The island is also fantastic for swimming and snorkelling. For those interested in diving, be sure to stop by the Downbelow Dive Centre.

In terms of accommodation, Gaya Island offers the most island resorts near Kota Kinabalu out of all the islands. Guests can stay at one of two five star resorts, either Gayana Island Resort or Bunga Raya Island Resort. Another option is the Gayana Marine Resort.

Sapi Island, Kota Kinabalu

Known as “Cow Island”, along with Manukan Island, Sapi is located just 200 metres off the tip of Gaya Island. Sapi Island is said to be the best island near Kota Kinabalu for beaches, as well as some of the best snorkelling and dive sites. Other beach activities include parasailing, banana boat ride and sea walking.

Sapi Island In Kota Kinabalu, Sabah
Sapi Island, Kota Kinabalu

Perhaps one of the more unique things to do on all of the islands is here on Sapi Island – and that’s to zipline on the Coral Flyer 235 metres from Sapi to Gaya Island! Unfortunately, this is currently closed but hopefully it opens again soon.

While the island features a jetty, picnic shelters, BBQs, changing rooms and toilets, the island doesn’t have any accommodation. However, people are welcome to camp after obtaining permission from the park warden.

Manukan Island, Kota Kinabalu

Beach On The Manukan Island, Sabah, Malaysia.

Manukan Island is one of the most developed islands and is the second largest island after Gaya. It is also one of the most popular islands to visit on an island hopping tour Kota Kinabalu offers, with some of the best coral reefs for swimming, diving and snorkelling and the island also has some great hiking tracks too.

Of all the islands, Manukan Island has some of the best facilities for visitors including luxury accommodation at the Manukan Island Resort, restaurants and a dive centre.

Mamutik Island, Kota Kinabalu

The Mamutik Island, Sabah, Malaysia.

Mamutik Island is the smallest island in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah marine park and also doesn’t offer much in the way of facilities for visitors.  However, the island still has some gorgeous beaches and incredible coral reefs for snorkelling.  Amenities on this island in Sabah, Kota Kinabalu include changing rooms, toilets, picnic shelters, tables and BBQs.

Sulug Island, Kota Kinabalu

Sulug Island

The furthest island from Kota Kinabalu, Sulug Island is also the least developed out of all the islands.  Sulug offers excellent coral reefs and is the best island to visit in Kota Kinabalu for visitors wanting to escape the crowds.

DIY Island Hopping in Kota Kinabalu 

Jesselton Pt

If you’re wanting to arrange your own island hopping Kota Kinabalu package, then you’ll need to make your way down to the Jesselton Point Ferry Terminal in downtown Kota Kinabalu – where all the ferries to the islands depart from.

Boats to the islands start leaving at around 7.30 am and leave quite frequently – in most cases every hour until around lunchtime. Given the islands are so close to the mainland, regardless of which island you visit the ferry ride is not more than 15 to 20 minutes.

There are multiple tour operators to choose from, with each charging the same island hopping Kota Kinabalu price (around RM30). Then add around another RM10 for each additional island you wish to visit.  

Jesselton Point Ferry Terminal, Kota Kinabalu
Jesselton Point Ferry Terminal

In addition to the Kota Kinabalu island hopping prices, you’ll also be required to pay a marine park entrance fee of RM20 (RM10 for Malaysians) on arrival at your first island.  Be sure to keep your ticket to show on arrival at other islands you visit during the day.  

If you’re not joining a pre arranged island tour Kota Kinabalu offers, it’s recommended to hire your snorkelling gear from the terminal before reaching the islands as this is cheaper than renting on the islands.  

It may also be worthwhile purchasing some food to take with you from the terminal as there are more options here then what you’ll find on the islands – and cheaper.

Most island trip Kota Kinabalu boats depart the islands around 4 pm at the latest.

Click here for the latest ferry schedules and ticket prices.

Kota Kinabalu Island Hopping Tour Options

If you only have the one day available for island hopping, then you may well be best to join a day tour.  The tour operators know all the best spots to take you and you can sit back and relax without worrying about how the day unfolds.

Below we’ve briefly outlined some of the tours you can pre book for island hopping in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah.

Snorkelling Trip

Snorkelling Trip

If you’re looking for the best island snorkelling, Kota Kinabalu offers then join this guided snorkelling tour.  Your tour guide will pick you up from Kota Kinabalu hotel and transport you to the Sutera Harbour Marina Jetty so you can board the modern double deck catamaran.

Throughout the day you’ll make a range of snorkelling stops and no need to bring your own gear because it is all provided for you.  The snorkelling stops will be chosen by your guide on the day to ensure the best conditions.

You will then be transported to Gaya Island, where you will enjoy an included buffet style lunch on the beach.  Throughout the day, other snacks and drinks will also be provided.

After lunch guests can relax on the beach, visit other islands at their own expense or take part in optional extras such as banana boat rides, sea walking, or parasailing

The tour duration is 7 hours and includes return hotel transfers, guide, all fees, snorkelling equipment, meals and water.

Click here to book this tour.

Scuba Diving Trip

Scuba Diving in Kota Kinabalu

Scuba diving is one of the top activities that you can do in Sabah. If you’re looking forward to diving in Borneo’s crystal clear waters and discovering its beautiful marine site, then you should definitely join this tour. 

This tour allows for two dives, the locations which will be Manukan, Mamutik, Sapi or Gaya island depending on the weather conditions.  After your two dives, you will then be transported to either Gaya or Mamutik Island for lunch.  After lunch, you’ll have some free time to relax by the beach or enjoy some water activities. , and at the end of the dive you’ll enjoy a filling lunch. 

The tour duration is 7 hours and includes return hotel transfers, guide, all fees, diving equipment, lunch, snacks and water.

Click here to book this tour.

Private Island Trip

Tanjung Aro Resort

Go on a private island tour, and choose one out of three beautiful islands close to the state- the Mamutik Island, Manukan Island or Kota Kinabalu Sapi Island. These places are widely known for their pristine, white sand beaches, crystal clear waters, and laid back ambience. 

Spend the day unwinding, and basking under the warmth of the sun. Snorkelling gear is provided as well, allowing you to marvel at the rich, and diverse marine life these islands have to offer. 

At the end of the tour, enjoy a picnic meal at the Shangri-La Tanjung Aru Resort and Spa. 

This full day tour returns no later than 5 pm and includes return hotel transfers, guide, all fees, snorkelling equipment and lunch.

Click here to book this tour.

Gaya Island Trekking and Lunch at Sapi Island

Sapi Island Lifeguard

Go on an unforgettable nature trip in both Gaya and Sapi Islands.

Start the tour by hiking the breathtaking mountains of Gaya Island. Hike its lush rainforest, and spot exotic plants and wildlife along the way. 

After the 2-hour trek, enjoy a brief rest at Padang Point and then sail across to Sapi Island.  Once you reach Sapi Island, you’ll enjoy a BBQ lunch on the beach.  After lunch, you’ll have two hours of free time to either unwind or do fun water activities like banana boating and fly fishing. Adrenaline junkies can also do parasailing and jet skiing. 

The tour duration is 7 hours and includes return hotel transfers, guide, all fees and BBQ lunch.

Click here to book this tour.

PADI Scuba Dive in Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park

PADI Scuba Diving
Image by xin_yu_qiu from Pixabay

On this tour, you can enrol in a PADI diving course, and enjoy a fun-filled day among the stunning islands of the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park. 

After the initial orientation and safety briefing with a professional divemaster, you’ll gear up and do a practice dive in a shallow reef area.  You’ll then travel to Padang Point where you’ll have lunch.  After lunch, you’ll have a further briefing and then do an open water dive.  

This activity is open for kids 10 years old and above, making it a great way to introduce your little one to the vastness of the ocean’s ecosystem. 

The tour duration is 4.5 hours and includes your instructor, all equipment, all fees and lunch.  Return hotel transfers are not included.

Click here to book this tour.

PADI Guided Snorkelling Tour in Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park

Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park is known to be one of the most famous snorkelling and diving destinations in Southeast Asia. On this tour, you’ll ride an open-air boat that will take you to a range of snorkelling sites. 

Your tour includes three different snorkelling stops at Mamutik, Sapi, and Gaya all under the guidance of a professional PADI instructor. After your second snorkel, you’ll enjoy a sumptuous lunch while enjoying the gorgeous views of the islands in the national park

The tour duration is 7 hours and includes your instructor, all snorkelling equipment, all fees and lunch. Return hotel transfers are not included.

Click here to book this tour.

Scuba Dive in Gaya and Sapi Islands

Hawksbill Sea Turtle, Gaya and Sapi Island Dive, Kota Kinabalu
Closeup with the Hawksbill Sea Turtle, Kota Kinabalu

If you want to experience the beauty of Gaya and Sapi Islands, sign up for an unforgettable scuba diving adventure which also allows for some free time for beach activities.

This tour includes one 30 minute dive where you’ll admire the stunning corals and the diverse marine life found in these areas. After which you’ll be transported to Sapi Island where you’ll have some free time for some beach activities like parasailing, jet skiing, banana boat rides, and more. 

After your free time, lunch is then provided before returning to the mainland.

The tour duration is 6.5 hours and includes return hotel transfers, your guide, all diving equipment, all fees and lunch.  

Click here to book this tour.

Best Island Resort Accommodation in Kota Kinabalu

While day trips to the islands are very popular, there are a few resorts in the marine park, making this a great place to relax for a few days.  However not all of the islands have accommodation, in fact, only Gaya, Manukan and Mamutik islands do and even then accommodation is somewhat limited to a few properties.

Accommodation on offer ranges from basic campsites to luxurious resorts – so regardless of your budget you’ll be able to find something that’s perfect for you.

Sutera Sanctuary Lodges at Manukan Island, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah

Nestled on the second biggest island in Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine National Park, Sutera Sanctuary Lodges is just a quick 15-minute boat ride from Kota Kinabalu. 

Guests can stay in one of the accommodation units that overlook the breathtaking South China Sea, soak in the crystal clear waters, and discover the breathtaking corals of Manukan Island. 

Recreational activities include hiking, boating, diving, snorkelling, and other water sports activities. 

The lodge also features a poolside bar and restaurant, WiFi, swimming pool for kids, and a souvenir shop. Daily housekeeping and airport transfers are also available. 

Click here to check current pricing and availability.

Manukan Island Resort, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah

Found off the coast of Kota Kinabalu, this excellent island resort offers luxurious accommodations for guests. The resort is on the second biggest island of Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine National Park and is just a quick 10-minute boat ride from Kota Kinabalu.

Guests can either stay in standard rooms, ocean view rooms, or suites. Facilities include an outdoor pool, bar/lounge, free WiFi, a restaurant that offers free breakfast, poolside bar, meeting rooms, gift shop, and private access to the beach. Fun activities like hiking and boating can be enjoyed at the resort.

Gayana Marine Resort, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah

Nestled on a breathtaking coral reef island off the Borneo Coast, reaching this resort requires a 20-minute boat ride from Jesselton Point Ferry Terminal.

Guests can either stay in one of the airy thatched villas or upgraded villas that are found over the water.  Other facilities include a seafood restaurant, open-air eatery, and a bar, as well as a spa, private beach access, an outdoor pool dive centre, free  WiFi, and a marine ecology centre.

Click here to check current pricing and availability.

Bunga Raya Island Resort, Kota Kinabalu

Bunga Raya Island Resort is a luxurious beach spa resort located on Gaya island.

At Bunga Raya Island Resort, guests can either stay in one of their villas or suites. On-site facilities include a hilltop spa, two restaurants, underground wine cellar, outdoor infinity pool, gym, and a PADI diving centre. 24-hour front desk, full service laundry, and WiFi are also available. 

Click here to check current pricing and availability.

Gaya Island Resort, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah

Gaya Island Resort is a beautiful, lush property which can be found on the idyllic Gaya Island.  This is a stunning property offering guests the perfect tropical getaway.  This 5-star resort has 121 well-appointed rooms, and for transfers, there’s a speedboat offered to guests. 

It also includes 4 bars and restaurants, including an impressive rooftop eatery, and a swim-up bar. For those who want a little more privacy, dining is also offered in the secluded private beach as well.  Other facilities include free WiFi, an outdoor pool, fitness centre, spa. Fishing and outdoor walks are also offered to guests. 

Click here to check current pricing and availability.

So there you have it! Hopefully, you’ve enjoyed this guide on island hopping around Kota Kinabalu. You can read our full Kota Kinabalu itinerary guide here, all the best Kota Kinabalu tour here as well as exactly how to get to Kota Kinabalu from KL here.  Otherwise, all our Kota Kinabalu guides are here

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By Sharon Gourlay

Sharon is a certified Malaysia travel expert and can't get enough of travelling and talking about Malaysia since she first visited 21 years ago. She travels around Malaysia multiple times a year both alone and with her kids. She used to call Penang home and especially loves this food paradise. Sharon also has a Bachelor of Arts in Asian Studies, a Certificate III in International Travel Sales and has been certified by Tourism Malaysia as a Malaysia Travel Expert. Through this site, she'll help you have the perfect trip to this amazing destination.