Kota Kinabalu Travel Guide

Plan your trip to Kota Kinabalu with the help of this comprehensive travel guide that covers everything from food and accommodations to places to visit and natural attractions to explore.

Introduction to Kota Kinabalu

Kota Kinabalu is the capital of Sabah, a Malaysian state located on the northern part of the island of Borneo. The city is also known as KK and is the fifth largest in Malaysia. Kota Kinabalu is the perfect place to explore Sabah’s rich culture, history and natural beauty. Its proximity to beaches, top-notch diving spots, lush rainforests, and towering peaks adds to its popularity among local and international tourists. A trip to Kota Kinabalu will be one for the books.

List of Places to Visit in Kota Kinabalu

Culturally Important Attractions: Museums and Historical Places

There are several museums and historical places in Kota Kinabalu that are worth a visit. Some of the top ones include:

  • Sabah State Museum: The Sabah State Museum provides an insight into the history, culture, and traditions of Sabah. Visitors can see a collection of traditional garments, handicrafts, and several rare artifacts.

  • Mari-Mari Cultural Village: This cultural village is an excellent way to learn about the traditional ways of life of Sabah’s indigenous people. Visitors get a chance to see how the different tribes lived and how they made their handicrafts.

  • North Borneo Railway: The North Borneo Railway is a historical steam-powered train that takes visitors through the scenic countryside of Sabah. The train travels from Kota Kinabalu to Papar and stops at several picturesque stations along the way.

Natural Attractions of Kota Kinabalu: Outdoor Adventures and Scenic Views

Kota Kinabalu is blessed with natural beauty, from its beaches to its towering peaks and lush rainforests. Some of the top natural attractions to explore in Kota Kinabalu include:

  • Mount Kinabalu: Mount Kinabalu is Southeast Asia’s highest peak and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The mountain is significant to Sabah’s indigenous people and is an important pilgrimage site. Visitors can trek to the summit of the mountain or explore the mountain’s surrounding flora and fauna.

  • Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park: The Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park is an archipelago of five islands located a short boat ride away from Kota Kinabalu. The islands are popular for snorkeling, diving, and relaxing on the beaches.

  • Lok Kawi Wildlife Park: Located just outside of Kota Kinabalu, this wildlife park is home to several rare and endangered species of animals. Visitors can get up close and personal with orangutans, Bornean pygmy elephants, and proboscis monkeys.

Hiking/Biking Routes of Kota Kinabalu

Kota Kinabalu is home to several scenic hiking and biking trails that offer stunning views of the surrounding nature. Some of the best routes include:

  • Crocker Range: The Crocker Range is a mountain range that runs through the heart of Sabah. The route offers hikers and bikers breathtaking views of Sabah’s lush rainforests, valleys, and wildlife.

  • Kota Kinabalu City Waterfront Promenade: This promenade is a popular spot for locals to exercise and offers scenic views of the Kota Kinabalu waterfront.

Best Things to Do in Kota Kinabalu: Activities and Tours

The list of activities to do in Kota Kinabalu is endless, but here are some of our top picks:

  • Scuba Diving: Kota Kinabalu is home to some of the best diving spots in the world, including Sipadan Island and Layang-Layang Island.

  • Climb Mount Kinabalu: Climbing Mount Kinabalu is a must-do activity when in Kota Kinabalu. The trek up the mountain is challenging, but the views at the summit make it all worth it.

  • Explore Sabah’s Islands: Take a day trip or an overnight stay on one of Sabah’s five islands, which offer stunning beaches and crystal-clear waters.

Week-Long Itinerary for Kota Kinabalu

Here’s a week-long itinerary for Kota Kinabalu to ensure you get the most out of your trip:

Day 1: Explore the city and visit Sabah State Museum

Day 2: Trek up Mount Kinabalu

Day 3: Take a day trip to Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park

Day 4: Explore the Kokol Hill area for stunning views

Day 5: Visit Lok Kawi Wildlife Park

Day 6: Take a day trip the neighboring towns of Kudat and Kota Belud

Day 7: Relax on one of Sabah’s many beaches.

Food and Drink Scene of Kota Kinabalu

Must-Try Dishes

Kota Kinabalu is famous for its seafood, but there’s much more to Sabahan cuisine. Here are some must-try dishes:

  • Tuaran Mee: A type of egg noodle, served crispy and tossed with vegetables, meat, and seafood.

  • Laksa: A flavorful spicy noodle soup filled with seafood, tofu, and vegetables.

  • Ambuyat: A starchy dish made from the sago palm, usually served with fish curry or another spicy dish.

Local Beverages

  • Teh Tarik: A popular drink throughout Malaysia, it is a tea-based beverage typically made with black tea and condensed milk.

  • Teh C Peng: A beverage that is a blend of iced tea, evaporated milk, and flavored syrup.

  • Borneo Jungle Juice: A refreshing fruit cocktail that is a mix of pineapple, orange, and lime juice with a hint of honey.

Where to Stay in Kota Kinabalu: Hotels, Hostels, and Guesthouses

Kota Kinabalu offers a wide range of accommodation options for all budgets, here are some recommendations:

  • Five-star Hotels: Shangri-La’s Tanjung Aru Resort and Spa, The Pacific Sutera Hotel, and the Magellan Sutera Resort.

  • Budget Hotels/Guesthouses: Dreamtel Kota Kinabalu, Hotel Eden, and Akinabalu Youth Hostel.

What to Buy in Kota Kinabalu: Souvenirs and Local Products to Bring Home

Some souvenirs and local products to buy in Kota Kinabalu include:

  • Batik: Sabah batik is a unique form of batik that features motifs and designs unique to the region.

  • Handicrafts: Sabah is famous for authentic handicrafts, including woven baskets and jewelry made with natural materials.

  • Local Food Products: Look for Bario rice, Sabah tea, and local spices to bring home.

Local Culture and Customs of Kota Kinabalu

Sabah is home to more than 30 indigenous groups, each with unique cultural customs and traditions. Visitors should dress modestly when visiting religious or cultural sites and show respect for local customs.

Best Time to Visit Kota Kinabalu

The best time to visit Kota Kinabalu is from February to May, when the weather is sunny and dry.

Do’s and Don’ts of Kota Kinabalu


  • Dress Conservatively when entering religious or cultural sites

  • Try local food and drinks

  • Take part in cultural events and festivals.


  • Litter in nature or public spaces

  • Disrespect local customs and traditions

  • Touch wildlife or feed them.

Safety and Health

Safety in Kota Kinabalu

Kota Kinabalu is generally safe for travelers, but it’s important to take precautions. Visitors should avoid carrying valuables and always be aware of their surroundings.

Health in Kota Kinabalu

Visitors should be up-to-date on routine vaccinations such as measles, mumps, rubella, and polio before traveling. Visitors planning to trek up Mount Kinabalu should acclimatize to the altitude and prepare for the physical demands of the climb.

Getting to Kota Kinabalu: Transportation Options and Logistics

Airports Near Kota Kinabalu

The Kota Kinabalu International Airport serves as the primary gateway to the city.

Bus Stations Near Kota Kinabalu

The North Bus Terminal in Inanam serves as the transportation hub of Kota Kinabalu.

Other Options

Taxis and public transportation are readily available in Kota Kinabalu.

How to Get Around in Kota Kinabalu

Taxis, buses and self-drive cars are some of the ways to get around Kota Kinabalu. Visitors can rent a car or book a private driver to explore the city and its surrounding areas at their leisure.

Where to Go Next from Kota Kinabalu: Nearby Destinations and Excursions

  • Sandakan: Known as the gateway to Turtle Island, Sandakan is Sabah’s second-largest city and home to several outdoor and cultural attractions.

  • Kinabatangan River: Located in east Sabah, Kinabatangan River is the second-longest river in Malaysia and a prime spot for wildlife spotting.

  • Danum Valley Conservation Area: Recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site, the Danum Valley Conservation Area is home to several rare and endangered species and is a popular destination for eco-tourism.


Kota Kinabalu is a gem of Sabah, with its natural and cultural beauty. With this comprehensive travel guide, planning a trip to Kota Kinabalu has never been easier. Discover the food, culture, wildlife, and scenic beauty of this Malaysian gem. Don’t wait, book your Kota Kinabalu adventure today.