Kota Kinabalu Travel Guide

Kota Kinabalu enjoys a picturesque location on the island of Borneo in Sabah. It boasts natural beauty, a fascinating history and a number of stunning buildings which attracts tourists from all across the world.

It is the capital of Sabah and is quickly becoming one of the most popular remote travel destinations in Asia. Mount Kinabalu and its surrounding lush rainforests are major attractions although the nearby deserted islands and the manmade attractions around Kota Kinabalu are also popular draw cards. Local budget airlines have helped open this destination to people from all across the world.

The capital is mainly used as a base from where tourists explore the close by coral reefs and secondary jungle. These outdoor activities are naturally much more popular than sightseeing around the city itself. However, there are many sights in Kota Kinabalu which should be explored.

The State Museum houses a historically important collection of relics, photos and human skulls while the Sabah Museum is another popular attraction. The botanical gardens are stunning and the Heritage Village showcases many of Sabah’s tribes.

The five islands which make up the Tunku Abdul Rahman Islands’ Park are just 10 minutes away on a boat from the shore. These islands are excellent places for snorkeling and also house restaurants, accommodation, water sporting opportunities and beautiful sandy beaches.

Travel to Kota Kinabalu - Getting There

Most visitors fly into Kota Kinabalu Airport from Kuala Lumpur as the city is located in a very remote area. Flight times from Kuala Lumpur are just over 2 hours and many daily flights make the journey. It is also possible to arrive by ferry, with five ferries a day serving to two main destinations, which are Labuan (2 to 3 hours) and Brunei (3 to 4 hours).

  • Worth it? It may be off the beaten track, but it is well worth the extra effort to reach Kota Kinabalu.
  • What to do: island hopping, sunbathing, jungle trekking, scuba diving and mountain climbing.
  • Best time to go: the weather is consistent all year because of its proximity to the equator.
  • How Long? Anything from two days to two weeks.
  • Trivia: the city was all but destroyed during WWII; only three buildings survived.

Kota Kinabalu Attractions

  • State Mosque: located in between the airport and the city centre, this mosque is the central place of worship for the Muslim community in Sabah. It comes complete with impressive domes and golden decoration. It is a prime example of contemporary Islamic architecture.
  • Sabah Museum: is located in the city centre and displays a number of totemic figures as well as historic photographs, pottery and antique Korans. There are a number of life-size replicas of ancient houses in the Heritage Village as well as a botanical and zoological garden.
  • Atkinson Clock Tower: is one of the most famous landmarks in Kota Kinabalu. It dates back to 1905 and was built by Mary Edith Atkinson as a memorial to her son, Francis George Atkinson, the first district officer of Kota Kinabalu. The tower is one of just three structures that survived the bombings of WWII and therefore one of the oldest buildings in the city.
  • Kota Kinabalu City Bird Sanctuary: with its surprise location in the centre of the city, this bird sanctuary is home to many species of Asian birds and is famous across Malaysia.
  • Mount Kinabalu National Park: is one of the best national parks in the country. Mount Kinabalu is the highest peak in Southeast Asia and offers panoramic views across the island. The park is also home to a number of walking paths, campsites and an abundance of plants and wildlife.
  • Monsopiad Cultural Village: was built by the 6th and 7th direct descendants of Monsopiad and pays tribute to these ancient ancestors. It was intended to be a link between the past and the present and comes complete with its own information center and museum.