The main reason we took the flight to Kota Kinabalu was to visit the islands just off the coast, which are now part of Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park. The first step you’ll need to take is to get down to Jefferson pier. Earlier the better as it gets seriously busy, we didn’t even bother going down on a Saturday or Sunday, we were told it gets TOO busy! The map below shows where the pier is in comparison to where most hostels and hotels are:
We did a few trips and usually got there at 08:30am, it was busy but not overly busy. The Chinese seem to love this place and they come by the coach load. The next task you’ll need to complete is the ticket hall haggle. There are 11 counters all competing for your business. Don’t be intimidated, as they all go to the same place and from what we saw, all offer the same thing! The pricing sheet from one of our trips is below.
They have recently increased the conservation fee on the islands to RM20 per person which gives you unlimited entry to all the islands in one day. Remember the ticket price (say RM23 to one island) is always a return price but DOES NOT include the pier tax which is usually RM7ish.
The standard price for snorkel gear is RM10pp. You can rent a life jacket for RM10 but to be honest the boat company will give you one to wear for the journey, so just don’t take it off when you leave the boat. The boats don’t seem to have leaving times, they will leave the port as soon as they are full. Be sure to confirm your return time when purchasing tickets. We went in January and returning at 2pm was ideal as the rains seemed to come in around 3pm onwards, and believe me when I say you don’t want to be caught on a speed boat in the rain lol been there done that!
The most talked about island and smallest island is Sapi and that’s where you’ll find the zip line between islands BUT it is seriously busy, even at 08:30am it was too crowded for us to consider it. When we plan an island trip we like to have our own space, enjoy what the island has to offer and not feel like it’s over run with tourists. So Sapi was a no go for us, we picked Mamutik as our first island. It was beautiful. Crystal clear waters, amazing coral and multicoloured fish swimming around the boat as you make the final approach. Check out our video HERE.
Near the pier was quite busy so we walked around to the right as you come off the pier and found our own little spot. The island was amazing for snorkelling and had so many different species of fish. Obviously including Nemos (clown fish), but keep your eyes peeled as they are tiny in real life! We relaxed on the white sands and spent the day sun bathing and snorkelling.
Manukan was a different kettle of fish, the island is a lot bigger and has resorts on it. It has more facilities than Mamutik, which isn’t always good for an island getaway. The island itself was lovely, the waters clear and calm. Unfortunately it was overrun by Chinese tourists in massive parties, maybe we just timed it wrong but it spoilt the island vibe. Also there are a lot more sea urchins on the coral around Manukan so be very careful where you put your feet. With the increase in facilities came the increase in litter. This unfortunately made the experience nowhere near as good as our time on Mamutik.
There is another island called Sulug, which you can see in the background of this picture. No operators claim to go to this island and to be fair we saw no one go there, BUT I have read blogs about people who have made it. The island looks stunning with a sand spit beach at the forefront. There are no facilities and it’s completely secluded. I think the only way to get there would be to charter a boat for the day or to bribe one of the drivers to drop you off there when they’ve already dropped off their customers. That would be a dream day!
We would highly recommend Mamutik for a day trip! If your looking for a hostel, we stayed at Refarer Hostel for 10 days, great value for money and the rooms are spacious with air-con. It is also only a RM9 uber away from the airport and within walking distance of all the restaurants. My blog on Kota Kinabalu food is coming very soon.