Browse our Kota Kinabalu Tours
Kota Kinabalu, the capital of Sabah, Borneo, is a lively modern city in a spectacular natural setting. Affectionately abbreviated as KK, Kota Kinabalu sits between the rocky green peak of Mount Kinabalu and the electric-blue waters of the South China Sea. Go diving and snorkeling in nearby Sipadan Island, take a trek up Mount Kinabalu, or venture inland to the tropical rainforests of Sabah and learn about the indigenous cultures that flourish there. For some rest and pampering in the sun, the luxury resorts of KK are incomparable. Whatever your pleasure in Borneo, Backyard Travel’s tailormade Kota Kinabalu tours delight the adventurous, curious, and indulgent souls in all of us. Browse our KK tours and see what Borneo has in store for you.
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For nature or luxury, culture or cuisine, Kota Kinabalu excites and inspires our ideas of what travel should be all about. True to its roots as a former British trading post, KK is still very much a commercial city. Among shops of bright exotic fruit, live shellfish, and overflowing spices, a stroll through KK’s public markets is the quintessential Bornean experience. For dinner, don’t miss the city’s riverside night market, where hundreds of stalls offer up satay, grilled shrimp, and fried noodles. Food lovers can even take cooking lessons from a local chef.
The Bornean wild, just outside KK, is a nature lover’s paradise. Hike through the Sabah rainforest or take a wildlife-watching expedition down jungle rivers. Treat yourself to a lavish afternoon on Kota Kinabalu’s white-sand beaches.
The best service ever. Helen, in Myanmar, was so helpful throughout the reservation process, then when we arrived and she came to greet us in our hotel in Yangon.
Mr. Robert Manson (Myanmar, Jan 2015)
It has been a wonderful holiday and the guides you gave us were great! Thanks for all your help and we will contact Backyard Travel again.
Ms. Carolyn Wood (Indonesia, Jan 2015)
I want to thank you for the perfect organisation of our travel to Japan . Every detail was very precise and generally speaking everything was on a level that we could only dream of! We enjoyed it immensely!
Mr. Danielle van Gelder (Japan, May 2015)
Some Questionsabout our Tours of Kota Kinabalu
If you plan to stay less than three months in Malaysia, a visa for Borneo is required for travelers coming from the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, and most European countries. Keep in mind that tourist passes issued for Peninsular Malaysia are not automatically valid for Malaysian Borneo’s two states, Sabah and Sarawak, which have their own immigration controls. However, most nationalities arriving in Malaysian Borneo (also known as East Malaysia) are usually given a visa on arrival that is good for three months.
Please note that travel permit documents are provided on flights landing in Peninsular Malaysia, Sabah and Sarawak, and you must present this paperwork at every entry and exit checkpoint. Contact our Travel Specialists for further Malaysia visa information.
Because Borneo is an island, flying in is the most practical option. There are two main airports in Malaysian Borneo: Kota Kinabalu (Malaysia’s second-largest airport) in Sabah and Kuching in Sarawak. Although most international travelers fly into Borneo from nearby hubs Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, direct international flights to Kota Kinabalu are available from Hong Kong, Manila, Seoul, and Taipei, among others.
The island of Borneo is right on the equator, which means you can expect humidity and temperatures of approximately high-20s to mid-30s Celsius (high 70s to 90s Fahrenheit) all year round. It rarely drops below 20 degrees, even in the evenings. Borneo’s monsoon season lasts from November to February, when rainfall is at its heaviest. But in general, you shouldn’t be too deterred by the wet seasons, as the showers do bring a welcome respite from the tropical heat.
To be best prepared for the tropical climate, you’ll want to pack light, breathable clothes. If traveling during the wet season, a rain poncho or quick-dry fabrics will also serve you well.
Borneo has warm weather, festivals and cultural events year-round, with a diverse mix of cultural and ethnic influences constantly providing reasons to celebrate. We suggest that the best time to visit Borneo be considered city by city, so best times to visit Kuching, the capital of Sarawak, are from April to October, when the city is hot and dry. The ideal time to visit Kota Kinabalu in Sabah is between January and March, the coolest and driest time of year in this region.
Because Sabah offers excellent diving, natural wonders, and the famed Mount Kinabalu, it tends to draw more visitors than Sarawak. If you want the best places to visit in Borneo, and to avoid the crowds, we can help you plan a holiday in Sabah during the low season, or you can head straight to Sarawak, where natural wonders abound—but with less spectators. Sarawak is the largest Malaysian state, making it the least-visited Malaysian state in terms of visitors per square kilometer. It retains a certain untamed charm, both in developed and undeveloped areas. For nature lovers and the adventurous, we offer various Sarawak Tours that include treks through dense rainforest and a voyage underground into the limestone caves that lie beneath the lush jungle.
Family travel in Malaysian Borneo is very safe. Borneo has low crime rates while also offering lively cultural experiences and some of the best wildlife exploration in the world. If you are traveling with youngsters, our Borneo Family Expeditions might be just the thing, offering first-person encounters with Orangutans, boat rides into the jungle, and walking tours of Kuching, a captivating historical city that stirs the imagination. If you have specific locations or activities in mind, just contact one of our local Travel Specialists to customize an itinerary for your Borneo family holiday.
If you’re planning to visit both Malaysian Borneo and Indonesian Borneo in one trip, your most convenient option is to fly. Even the locals prefer to do it this way. However, most—if not all—flights will be routed through Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, or Jakarta. We at Backyard Travel would be happy to arrange an itinerary for a customized Borneo trip, which would include the easiest and fastest transport between Malaysian and Indonesian Borneo or vice versa. Just contact one of our local Travel Specialists to discuss options.
Although you’ll be able to use your mobile phone in most urban areas of Borneo, network coverage may be spotty and Internet speeds may be much slower on some islands and in the remote and mountainous regions.
There are a number of options for local phone plans in Borneo. You can buy prepaid cards at Malaysian telecom company shops in Kota Kinabalu or Kuching—just remember to bring your passport to complete the transaction. When looking into mobile options, you’ll want to consider Maxis, DiGi or Celcom, Malaysia’s top telecom companies, as smaller companies will not necessarily have reliable network coverage in Sarawak and Sabah.
ATMs are common in the urban areas of Kuching and Kota Kinabalu, but Malaysian PINs are six digits, and some travelers have experienced difficulty using four-digit PINs.
Most hotels and accommodations, major shopping centers and restaurants accept credit and debit cards, with Visa as the frontrunner. Travelers’ checks are also widely accepted, and currency can be exchanged at banks or exchange counters.
Located at the crux of Southeast Asia, Borneo has a sumptuous cuisine that melds cultural influences and tantalizes the senses with its distinctive tropical taste. With Kuching and Kota Kinabalu located on the sea, Borneo food is famed for its sea dishes, and the rivers that snake through the island offer an abundance of freshwater fish as well. Like many Asian countries, rice is a staple, but you’ll also find tapioca and corn.
One of Borneo’s most popular dishes is the Sarawak laksa, a soup with rice vermicelli noodles, coconut milk, and herbs, topped with seafood or chicken. Be sure to try manok pansoh—a dish made by the Iban, a subgroup of the indigenous Dayak peoples. In this unique dish, chicken, mushrooms, tapioca leaves and lemongrass are stuffed in a bamboo tube and cooked over an open fire. If you are vegetarian, you will appreciate the astonishing variety of vegetables in Borneo, particularly sayur manis, a leafy green from Sabah.
For something sweet, the luscious pineapples native to the region won’t disappoint. And don’t forget to try the king of fruits, the durian—you may discover a new fruit to enjoy, despite its smelly reputation. With so many unique flavor profiles on offer, foodies might appreciate a Borneo culinary tour, which we’d be happy to arrange.
Generally, tipping in Borneo, and Malaysia generally, is not the norm, as a service charge is usually included in fees. However, it’s always good form to tip your tour guides and drivers. We recommend tipping your tour guide about US$5 per person per day and your driver about US$3 per person per day. Restaurant staff will not expect tips, so it’s entirely at your discretion. If you feel someone has provided above-and-beyond service, tipping about 5-10% of your bill will be appreciated.
Although Borneo does not offer a huge selection of hotels, there are some fantastic beach resorts that specialize in everything from diving and kayaking to dining and pampering. Staying at a Borneo longhouse in the jungle can be an amazing experience, as can relaxing at a tropical forest lodge. However, due to limited availability, we advise booking in advance.
There are no required vaccinations for Borneo, but we highly recommended that you get hepatitis A and typhoid vaccinations before you leave your home country, as these diseases can be spread through contaminated food and water. Other vaccinations that are sometimes suggested for Borneo are hepatitis B, cholera, tuberculosis and rabies.
Please note that malaria, spread through mosquito bites, is a year-round risk. Depending on where you’re going in Borneo, you may need to take prescription medication prior to, during, and after your trip. Check your government’s travel advisory on Borneo for up-to-date information. We also always recommend travel insurance including medical evacuation when traveling to any country in Asia.
If you’re planning to spend time in the wilderness, please remember to treat nature with respect and follow all national park or tour guide instructions.
Please use cultural etiquette when you come across a temple, shrine, religious festival or local ceremony. Don’t be overly loud, cover bare skin from the shoulders to the knees, and always show respect for religious objects by avoiding sitting or posing in front of them.
Malaysia is a majority Muslim country, where modesty in dress is practiced. Avoid wearing shorts and sleeveless shirts, and leave skimpy, tight clothing at home. Please make sure your dresses are at or below the knee.
Shop for locally made products. Supporting local Borneo artisans helps keep traditional crafts alive.
Please ask and receive permission before taking photos of people, including children.
Please do not bring pens, sweets, chewing gum, etc., to hand out to children, as this encourages begging. Instead, we suggest donating money to a reputable charity of your choice that has a strong mission to help disadvantaged children.
KOTA KINABALUReal Travel
Sights & Experiences
MORE TRAVEL INSPIRATIONS & INSIGHTS
Like the rest of Borneo, KK is highly mixed in its population. Malay, Chinese, Indian, Indonesian, and Filipino people call the city home, along with indigenous Borneans, like Dusun, Kadazan, and Murut. Buddhism, Islam, and Christianity are all practiced.
January through March, the dry season, is generally a good time to visit KK. But as a tropical destination, there’s little variation in temperature throughout the year—expect it to be hot and humid.
Take a day to fish, snorkel, or scuba dive. Or hike your way through the forests of Kinabalu Park. KK has its share of shopping, restaurants, and bars, but you’ll find most of your fun in the wild.
Culture is best discovered through food, and KK is renowned for its seafood. Snack on grilled prawns and smoked fish at night markets. You should also visit the villages just outside KK and learn about Borneo’s indigenous communities.
You can hear Borneo’s linguistic flair on any crowded street. Malay and Chinese are widely spoken. Most locals also speak some basic English, and you’ll find it relatively easy to get by with English in KK.
Meet the Borneo Team
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