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9 magnificent islands off the coast of Kota Kinabalu to soak up the sun

Sever from work and recharge your soul by harnessing the restorative energy radiated by these idyllic islands scattered around Kota Kinabalu.  

An eco-tourism icon in the making, Kota Kinabalu captivated millions of Malaysian, Chinese and Korean tourists prior the unfortunate onslaught of the Covid pandemic. With normalcy returning, you can now reclaim a piece of paradise in Kota Kinabalu. Frolic in the sun, leap into tranquil waters, twirl with playful sea creatures and pepper your ‘gram. Discover evanescent utopias as you hop between picture-perfect islands off Kota Kinabalu.  

Stay overnight or pencil in a day trip to these 9 magnificent islands off the coast of Kota Kinabalu:

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Dinawan Island 

Akin to a private isle, Dinawan Island marvels with bounteous coral reefs just off its shoreline. Unspoilt and untouched by mass tourism, the island is run like clockwork by a couple of resorts. Located 25 minutes away from the Marina Sutera jetty, the eco retreat offers absolute privacy. It is a hidden gem deserted by the physics of time.  

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Mamutik and Manukan Islands 

The twin jewels of the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park, Mamutik and Manukan Islands teem with tourists on a day trip. No other place in Malaysia is so close to a major cosmopolitan area yet whose waters are so clear that it affords snorkelling or diving opportunities. Just 15 minutes from the Jesselton Point ferry terminal, you can catch the last boat back to the mainland while admiring the setting sun as it retires below the South China Sea.  

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Sapi Island 

Separated by a sandbar from the much larger Gaya Island, Sapi Island, though modest in scale, offers significantly more adrenaline-inducing activities. Apart from snorkelling and diving, the island is equipped with one of the world’s longest ziplines. The Coral Flyer spans 250 metres and travels between Sapi and Gaya Islands up to exhilarating speeds of 55 km/h.  

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Gaya Island 

Best known for its proximity to Kota Kinabalu and its luxury offering. Gaya Island is home to the superb 5-star Gaya Island Resort. Villas perched on steep hillsides, chalets stilted on emerald waters and an acclaimed spa are signature attractions of Gaya Island. Set within the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park, the Gaya Island Resort Marine Centre offers guests first-hand experience on marine conservation. A private transfer can be arranged from the Jesselton Point ferry terminal. Not to mention, there are other luxury resorts available on the island, each with its own appeal.  

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Sepanggar Island 

15 minutes away from Kota Kinabalu exists an island scarcely visited even by the town’s locals. Sepanggar Island is densely forested and fringed by beaches emitting a beautiful tinge of soft pink when the sun is at its fiercest. An astute choice for those wishing to elude the masses who trample upon the islands in its immediate vicinity.  

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Mengalum Island 

A remote isle that can be effortlessly traversed on foot, Mengalum Island lies around an hour by boat from Kota Kinabalu. Gentle cerulean waters surrounding this dream-like island are incredibly shallow that holidaymakers could snorkel a fair distance away from the beach should they wish to. Numerous chalets carpeting the island are at best adequate. But one doesn’t arrive here in search of manmade luxuries; it is the emancipated feeling of being a world away that one seeks.  

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Mantanani Islands 

An archipelago comprising a trio of islands, the Mantanani is a diving haven boasting its own resident dugong population. It isn’t only the underwater creatures that mesmerise visitors, endangered avian creatures too have established a refuge for themselves on land thanks to a dearth of terrestrial predators. An hour by speedboat from Kota Belud, itself another hour from Kota Kinabalu, the larger Mantanani Island is home to several resorts. The largest of which is Sutera at Mantanani Island Resort & Spa.  

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Tiga Island 

Immortalised by Survivor, the enduring reality TV series, for its sea snake infestation, Tiga Island is the raison d’etre of the eponymous national park garrisoned to protect its threatened fauna and unique geographical features, including a couple of active mud volcanoes. In geological terms, the island is fairly young, rising out from the sea in 1897 following a volcanic eruption. Separated from the vast mangrove expanse of the Klias Peninsula, Tiga Island offers volcanic mud baths, houses a resort and if you like it spartan, there is a camping ground for you to set up a tent. 2 hours from Kota Kinabalu, a boat transfer to the island takes place in Kuala Penyu. 

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Feature image by Nysa Zainal on Unsplash

Justin Ng
Digital Content Director, Kuala Lumpur
Often think of myself as a journalist and so I delve deeper into a range of topics. Talk to me about current affairs, watches, travel, drinks, new experiences and more importantly, the business, economics and dynamics behind it.