Affectionately known as "KK," bustling Kota Kinabalu is the capital of Sabah and the hub of tourism in Malaysian Borneo. Visitors from around the world use Kota Kinabalu as the jump-off point for nearby attractions, islands, and national parks.
Other than only enjoying the city, there are plenty of things to do in the surrounding area. Kota Kinabalu is surrounded by wildlife refuges, outdoor activities, and opportunities to explore the local culture.
Most of Kota Kinabalu's attractions lie just outside of the city center and can be reached by taxi or bus.
Lok Kawi Wildlife Park
Located 30 minutes south of Kota Kinabalu by bus, Lok Kawi is a wildlife rehabilitation center stocked with some of Borneo's most fascinating animals. Tigers, elephants, orangutans, probosci's monkeys, and other endangered species can be viewed.
If crossing Sabah to view wildlife near Sandakan isn't an option, Lok Kawi Wildlife Park is certainly the best place to find many of Borneo's unique species.
Getting There: Getting to Lok Kawi requires two steps. First, take southbound bus #17 from Kota Kinabalu to the town of Lok Kawi; the trip takes around 30 minutes and costs very little. Next, take a 10-minute taxi from Lok Kawi to the wildlife park.
Tanjung Aru Beach
Kota Kinabalu's Tanjung Aru beach is located near the airport just four miles south of the city center. The wide beach isn't the best for swimming, but the peaceful waterfront is an enjoyable place to sit, relax, and eat. A food court right on the beach offers fresh, low-cost seafood as well as fruit and drinks nightly until midnight.
Tanjung Aru beach faces the islands of the Tunku Abdul Rahman Park; sunsets are spectacular. Both budget and luxury accommodation are available at Tanjung Aru for travelers wanting to stay outside of the city.
Getting There: The trip takes only 20 minutes by taxi. Alternatively, you can take a southbound minibus from the lot near Warwasan Plaza.
Kota Kinabalu Wetland Centre
Located just one mile from KK's city center, the Kota Kinabalu Wetland Centre is a sprawling mangrove forest with elevated wooden walkways. Visitors enjoy a rare opportunity to see species that are found in wetlands, which are normally inaccessible.
The Kota Kinabalu Wetland Centre is a birdwatcher's paradise. More than 80 types of birds—many rare—are found within the park. Binoculars are available to rent.
Getting There: The wetland center is an inexpensive taxi ride from anywhere in KK.
Tunku Abdul Rahman Park
When KK starts to feel a little too hectic, find your escape in the nearby Tunku Abdul Rahman Park. Five small islands and undamaged coral reefs make up the Tunku Abdul Rahman Park just minutes away from the city.
Each island is unique in its own way; all offer excellent diving, snorkeling, and sunbathing opportunities. For a unique experience, consider purchasing a tent in KK to camp on the islands.
Getting There: Speedboats depart for the marine park from the Jesselton Point Ferry Terminal in the north of Kota Kinabalu. The ride only takes 20 to 30 minutes, depending on the island.
Towering 13,435 feet over the city, Mount Kinabalu is the tallest mountain in Malaysia and the third tallest peak in Southeast Asia. A dizzying array of plant and animal species are crammed into the 300-square-mile national park surrounding the mountain. Kinabalu Park is one of the most ecologically diverse places in the world.
A true test of physical endurance, climbing Mount Kinabalu, is a unique challenge. Very few peaks of the same elevation can be climbed without special training or equipment.
Getting There: Kinabalu Park is located around two hours from KK. Buses depart from the Inanam North Bus Terminal just six miles north of the city. Any bus traveling east toward Sandakan will pass the park entrance.
Monsopiad Cultural Village
Admission isn't cheap, but the Monsopiad Cultural Village is the place to go for anyone interested in Borneo's headhunter past. Monsopiad was a famous Kadazan warrior that claimed the heads of 42 enemies. The legend is true—his trophy skulls are still on display in the museum!
Visitors can watch cultural performances and even try their aim with a traditional blowgun.
Getting There: Monsopiad is about 30 minutes by taxi from Kota Kinabalu. Admission at Monsopiad is about $22.
Eating and Shopping
Much like Bukit Bintang in Kuala Lumpur, Kota Kinabalu is teeming with modern shopping malls and outstanding eateries. Visitors can spend days experimenting with new dishes such as laksa and sampling local foods at the Central Market or in the sprawling food courts.
Seri Selera—located in Sedco Square—is Borneo's largest seafood complex with five seafood restaurants under one roof. Anything edible that crawls, swims, or exists in the sea, can be found still alive in the aquariums waiting for you to enjoy. Getting There: Sedco Square is located at the southern end of Jalan Gaya—the main tourist street.