• Snorkelling, Borneo

Highlights and main attractions of Kota Kinabalu

Highlights and main attractions of Kota Kinabalu

The gateway to the enthralling Sabah region of Borneo, Kota Kinabalu, or ‘KK’ as it is more commonly referred to locally, is a thriving and busy town. People will often spend time here to recharge their batteries at the beginning or end of their Borneo holidays, you may well discover it has charms that its first impression belies. There is also a good quality of accommodation, with more facilities than the smaller rainforest lodges and island retreats elsewhere in the Sabah region, which means that you can relax, unwind and reflect on your trip in some luxurious hotel settings.

Sunset, Borneo

Location and Activities

The central downtown area of Kota Kinabalu is set on a narrow coast that overlooks Gaya Island, on the northwest coast of Borneo facing the South China Sea. The main international airport is situated 7 kilometres outside of the centre of city and most of KK is built on reclaimed land following the damage and destruction caused by World War Two which meant much of the city needed to be reconstructed. The centre itself is relatively compact and it is possible to walk from one end of the city to another in around 30 minutes.

The Tunku Abdu Rahman Marine Park just off the coast of the city comprises an archipelago of islands: Gaya, Manukan, Sapi, Sulug and Mamutik, which have turquoise waters filled with tropical fish and coral reef. The islands are reached by speedboat journeys of between 15 and 30 minutes from Sabah Parks or Jesselton Point jetties. Gaya Island is the most visited and is home to luxurious resorts that blend with the natural world that surrounds them, such as Gayana Eco Resort, Gaya Island Resort and Bunga Raya Resort.

Whilst there are few museums or buildings of interest, as many of the colonial buildings were destroyed during World War Two, the stilted villages in Sembulan, Tanjung Aru and Kampung Likas are a photographer’s delight. Atkinson’s Clock Tower is one of these few heritage buildings of the colonial era. The area of Gaya Street should be visited on Sunday mornings, when a local street fair bursts with energy and colour, with anything from rabbits, books, coffee, medicine and fruits being sold by its animated traders.

Shangri-La Rasa Ria Resort is situated 30 minutes from the centre in its own private reserve with resident orangutans and a beautiful private beach that is the perfect base for your time here.

With a location close to the airport and regular boats to the marine park, Shangri-La Tanjung Aru is another recommended resort in the area.


Contact one of our Destination Specialists to start planning your journey to Borneo. Please note we recommend a budget of from £7,000 / $10,000 USD per person for our style of trip to this destination.

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