As the capital of the Malaysian state of Sabah on the island of Borneo, Kota Kinabalu is a gateway to the island’s rugged natural wonders. Visitors to the island usually fly in from Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Hong Kong, Manila and other regional hubs to explore the cultural highlights both within the coastal city and in the sprawling national park beyond.
Colourful street markets and relaxing beaches dot Kota Kinabalu, and beyond the city, you’ll find secluded hot springs and dense rainforests – home to some of the world’s most endangered animals, such as orangutans and clouded leopards. Make the most of your time here with one or more of these tours and activities.
Kota Kinabalu Venture City Tour
Kota Kinabalu, known as 'KK' to the locals, is a city of colonial architecture and urban design, making it feel more like a bustling metropolis than a tropical island. Capitalising on this unique charm, the Venture City Day Tour will have you visiting KK’s major architectural and cultural sites.
You’ll visit the impressive and traditional Sabah State Mosque and the modern Wisma Tun Mustapha – a 30-storey building towering over the city. Pause to take in the view out to the islands at Signal Hill and learn a bit about the history of the city at the Sabah Museum.
Kinabalu Park and Poring Hot Springs
On this full-day tour, you’ll visit tiny traditional Malaysian kampongs (villages) to experience the local lifestyle firsthand. You’ll take a nature walk through UNESCO World Heritage site Kinabalu Park, home to Borneo’s tallest mountain, Mount Kinabalu.
End your day at Poring Hot Springs, where sulphurous water rises naturally from below the ground. Here, more adventurous visitors can venture on to the treetop canopy walk 41 metres above ground, or simply relax and fulfil your fantasy of soaking in the curative natural mineral springs surrounded by dense Borneo rainforest.
House of Skull Village Tour
Nearly 200 years ago, warrior Monsopiad lived in the village of Kuai in the Sabah wilderness, where he led his tribe to hunt humans. Today, you can visit the Monsopiad Cultural Village, a living museum just outside Kota Kinabalu.
In this immersive cultural tour, your English-speaking guide will introduce you to the tribe’s dark history, traditional dancing and artefacts. You’ll even have the chance to see the tribal trophies: 42 human skulls that hang from the rafters.
Explore the rest of the country: A First-Timer's Guide To Malaysia
While you're in the neighbourhood: Gaya Island, Borneo's Wildlife Treasurehouse
Lok Kwai Wildlife Park Tour
Come face to face with several of the world’s most endangered animals – orangutans, Malayan tigers, Borneo pygmy elephants, monkeys and Sumatran rhinoceroses – on the Lok Kwai Wildlife Park Tour. On this morning tour, you’ll visit the 97-hectare wilderness park, home to these special creatures.
The park is also home to lush native botanical gardens. The Herbal and Ginger Garden is a must-see – it showcases some of Borneo’s most extraordinary plant species, including the fascinating carnivorous pitcher plant, which traps and eats insects.
Kinabalu Glitter with Dinner & Cultural Dance
Begin your evening tour at Kota Kinabalu’s vibrant night markets, where locals sell everything from popular souvenirs to colourful jewellery, homewares and exotic foods. Follow your guide up to popular Signal Hill, where you can drink in the pretty lights of the city below before enjoying a delicious Malaysian banquet dinner, complete with traditional Sabah dancers and musical entertainment.
After dinner, you’ll be well-placed in the heart of KK’s lively nightlife district to party the night away.
Mamutik & Manukan Islands
Just over an hour away from Kota Kinabalu by boat is the picture-perfect paradise of Manutik Island. The island is surrounded by coral seas and white sandy beaches, which makes it ideal for water sports lovers (kayaking, snorkelling or parasailing, anyone?) and sunbathers alike.
Enjoy a barbecue lunch on nearby Manukan Island, after which you can either stay put to enjoy some more sun and surf or hop aboard a boat to explore the surrounding flora and fauna.
Kiulu River Rafting
Just an hour’s drive from Kota Kinabalu, the Kiulu River and its rushing waters make for a special whitewater-rafting adventure the whole family can enjoy. The rafting route has a grade between 1 and 2 on the International Scale of River Difficulty – the lowest grades of difficulty – and measures approximately seven kilometres at a normal water level and as long as 15 kilometres at a high water level.
The rapids are gentle enough for both children and elderly passengers, so everyone can enjoy the ride.
Tunku Abdul Rahman Park
The Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park, a must-visit on any Kota Kinabalu itinerary, comprises five tropical islands nestled just off the coast of Sabah. Getting there is an easy 15- to 20-minute speedboat ride from KK.
On shore, barbecue stalls and alfresco restaurants line the park's stunning beaches. Or take to the water for kayaking, parasailing, snorkelling and scuba diving; the park features massive coral reef grounds and abundant marine life. Don’t forget the underwater camera!