Destination Guide Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia

If you want to explore rare wildlife in remote valleys, hike sacred mountains, go island hopping and relax on a beach, all on one trip, than Kota Kinabalu in Northern Borneo is a great base to explore all that Sabah has to offer! You can see orang utans in the wild, hike Mount Kinabalu and explore the remote Danum Valley, while based in a lively city with great airport connections. It’s a lot easier and less expensive than it sounds. Find out all you need to know in my Destination Guide Kota Kinabalu!

Why you should go: Seeing exotic wildlife is usually difficult and expensive and many consider Borneo the “final frontier”. But Kota Kinabalu makes it easier and less expensive than many other remote destinations. You can see Orang Utans at the Sepilok wildlife center close-up or hike through the jungle of the Danum Valley to spot them with a guide! Or you can hike up to the sacred Mt Kinabalu before dawn to enjoy fantastic views. And between those wildlife adventures, you can relax and recover on sandy beaches or have fun in Kota Kinabalu’s nightlife!

Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Center

And while Borneo feels like a world removed, it’s very easy to reach with frequent and inexpensive flights from most major Asian airports. There is a great selection of hotels for any budget, with 5-star hotels for less than a roadside motel in California!
Need more convincing – check out Nature and Wildlife Adventure in Sabah, Borneo

Where to stay: As an independent traveler, I suggest to stay in downtown where you have plenty of hotels, restaurants, shops and tour operators or travel agents to assist with your exploration of Sabah. It’s only a 15 minute ride to the airport, so flights. are easy to catch.
If you want to spend more than a day on the beach, consider the Shangri-La – it sits on one of the nicest beaches and you might never want to leave!

Tanjung Aru Beach

If you only care about the wildlife and just need a bed at night, an independent 3-star hotel will cost less than $40 and be perfectly adequate.
For the ultimate experience, I recommend the Borneo Rainforest Lodge in the Danum Valley – it puts you right in the middle of one of the last rain forests and is an incredible experience!

Marriott Oceanview Suite

Kota Kinabalu offers a lot of choice of inexpensive hotels – with Western 5-star hotels often for under $100, it’s easy to splurge and be pampered. I consider those hotels the “sweet spot” for Kota Kinabalu – you loose a lot of comfort and amenities with little savings! 
You can find my recommendations in the table below:

HotelCategoryLocationChain/RewardsGreat for
Shangri-La's Tanjung Aru Resort & Spa5*BeachShangri-La Golden CircleBeach, Luxury
Kota Kinabalu Marriott5*WaterfrontMarriott RewardsLocation, Rewards
Hilton Kota Kinabalu5*DowntownHilton HonorsService, Lounge, Rewards
Le Meridien Kota Kinabalu5*WaterfrontMarriott RewardsLocation, Rewards
Hyatt Regency Kinabalu5*WaterfrontWorld of HyattLocation, Rewards
Mercure Kota Kinabalu4*Downtown/HarborAccor LeClubLocation, Rewards
C'haya Hotel3*Airport-Location, Value

Not ready to book and want to get a better idea what to expect first? Read more about the best area to stay and check out my detailed reviews of hotels I’ve stayed at:
Hyatt Kota Kinabalu
Hilton Kota Kinabalu
Marriott Kota Kinabalu
C’haya Hotel Kota Kinabalu

What to see & do: Kota Kinabalu is the capital of Sabah and the base to explore the wildlife and nature of Northern Borneo. From the city, you can go island hopping, see white sand beaches or explore the excellent Sabah Museum.
Mount Kinabalu is a great day trip from town, whether you just want to admire it from view points and hike along the base or make the climb to the top. 
The Sepilok Wildlife Center can be done as a daytrip as well, but it requires flights to get there from Kota Kinabalu. 
A longer trip is the visit to Danum Valley, a national park and sanctuary that attracts wildlife watchers from the National Geographic to regular travelers!
To find out more about these sites, check out my post the Top Things to See & Do in Sabah!

How to get around: There is no more adventure in getting around Kota Kinabalu – with the arrival of ride hailing services, it’s cheap, easy and convenient – you’ll never have to figure out a bus schedule or haggle with a taxi driver again.
With the departure of uber, grab is now the go-to app in Malaysia – read my app review here!

 If you are booking your hotel through a link on my blog, I receive a small commission at no cost to you – thank you for supporting the blog!

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