Picture blinding white sand fringed by bendy palm trees on an empty shoreline. Or imagine the smell of barbecued fish wafting over the golden-orange coast as a tangerine sunset illuminates the sky. Culture Trip explores where to get these experiences and more on beaches near Kota Kinabalu in Sabah.
Sabah’s capital Kota Kinabalu combines a metropolitan centre with dazzling coastlines and tropical islands. Check out our favourite beaches near Kota Kinabalu for the famous Bornean sunset, beach-side barbecues and deserted coves.
Tanjung Aru: Kota Kinabalu’s best spot for the Bornean sunset
Tanjung Aru is Kota Kinabalu’s beach utopia. Copper-orange sand hugs a palm-tree fringed park. Local families use the free barbecuing facilities and shelter on the benches during the occasional downpour. The beach near Kota Kinabalu International Airport attracts families and sun-loving tourists. Bring your towel and lie on the beach. Or go for a swim in the warm, gentle South China Sea (keep your eyes open for jellyfish). The real show starts later. The magnificent tangerine sunset creates a burst of colours over the islands on the horizon. In the right conditions, expect a blend of oranges, purples and reds. Pro tip: Download the Grab Car app and get a private driver to this beach near Kota Kinabalu for a few ringgits.
Manukan Island lies 15 minutes by ferry from Kota Kinabalu’s Jesselton Point. Out of Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park’s five islands, the 1.6-kilometre (one mile) soft, white sand of this one attracts beach-lovers. Thick jungle interspersed with palm trees borders the sand while cheeky macaques watch from the branches. Step into the clear, teal water and snorkel over colourful coral and its thousands of resident tropical fish. Just don’t leave anything unattended – the macaques are notorious thieves. Unlike other beaches near Kota Kinabalu, Manukan Island provides toilets, changing facilities and a restaurant. Pro tip: If you want to go snorkelling, buy equipment in Kota Kinabalu and bring it along rather than renting on Manukan.
Pantai Dalit is part of the classy Shangri-La’s Rasa Ria Resort approximately 45 minutes from Kota Kinabalu. Apart from a white-sand beach maintained to the highest standards, more than 400 acres of rainforest surround the resort. Spend the night with a sea-view room (recommend joining the Night Safari). Or visit on a day trip and pay to use their facilities. Water sports, snorkelling and sunset cocktails in the Sampan Bar are favourites.
University Malaysia Sabah sprawls over Kota Kinabalu’s northeast suburbs. Hidden behind the steep hills and labyrinth of roads lies a concealed stretch of coastline. Visitors need to fight their way through the jungle vegetation before reaching the almost secret white-sand coves. Tour groups bring visitors to a vantage point by the pier for photographs, but they rarely venture to the empty beaches. We recommend taking Grab Car to this beach near Kota Kinabalu to experience your own stretch of private coastline. Pro tip: Combine a trip to the beach with an hour learning about marine conservation at UMS’s nearby aquarium.
For a secluded beach near Kota Kinabalu, take the ferry to Survivor Island. Pulau Tiga (translating to Three Islands) sits approximately 50 kilometres (31 miles) from Kota Kinabalu. After hosting the debut Survivor series, the tiny island in the South China Sea became a magnet for adventurous tourists. Take a day trip from Jesselton Point and share the isolated Pagong Pagong and Asmara Beaches with a handful of other beachgoers. But if you spend the night at Pulau Tiga Gaya Island Resort, you’ll almost have the island to yourself.