Pulau Tiga: Borneo's Survival Island

An island that was made famous by the American reality TV show, Survivor
An island that was made famous by the American reality TV show, Survivor | © Lukas Uher / Shutterstock
Photo of Sam Bedford
16 March 2018

Ever wanted to visit the desert island featured on the global hit TV series Survivor? Pulau Tiga near Kota Kinabalu in Sabah was the first location on the hugely successful reality show. Here’s everything adventurous tourists need to know to visit the exclusive and isolated Pulau Tiga, Survivor Island.

A secret Survivor location

Once an unknown desert island off the coast of Sabah; Now a name known around the globe by Survivor fans. Stepping off the boat in Pulau Tiga, tourists are welcomed by a large sign saying ‘Survivor Island’. Acting as a secret location on the first series of the popular reality TV series, the 158-square kilometre island off Sabah’s west coast became the home to 16 contestants. The castaways suddenly found themselves in one of two tribes on Pulau Tiga’s beach isolated from the rest of the world. After a series of challenges and 39 gruelling days later, Richard Hatch emerged victorious in Survivor: Borneo. The series is currently on its 36th season using different locations around the world. Pulau Tiga was the first.

Survivor: Borneo’s Trailer

Pulau Tiga: A desert island

Pulau Tiga translates to ‘Island Three’, referring to the three humps seen on the landmass from a distance. Formed after a volcanic eruption towards the end of the 19th century, the island today holds the title as youngest in Malaysia’s stretch of South China Sea along Sabah’s west coast. When combined with Kalampunian Besar and Kalampunian Damit, the trio form Tiga Island National Park. Kalampunian Damit, often referred to as Snake Island, acts as a breeding ground for various species of both poisonous and non-poisonous snakes.

One of the many trails in Pulau Tiga | © Dcubillas / WikiCommons

A tourist hotspot

The desert island sandwiched between Kota Kinabalu and Labuan attracts all kinds of tourists. Survivor fans want to see where the successful series began or to get a taste of being marooned themselves. The adventurous can explore the pristine wilderness, hike jungle trails and visit the rare mud volcanoes at the centre of the island. Others might want to relax in a chalet at either Pulau Tiga Resort or Gaya Island Resort and have a chance to stay on a desert island but in comfort. Pulau Tiga has a reputation for snorkelling and diving with a vibrant coral and diverse array of marine life in the nearby sea. Large groups of eagles and hornbills call the island home too.

The first season of Survivor took place in Sabah's Pulau Tiga | © notsuperstar / Shutterstock

How to get to Survivor Island

The Survivor Island takes more time and preparation to visit compared to Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park. Pulau Tiga is located 55 kilometres (34 miles) southwest of Kota Kinabalu and opposite the vast marshy wetlands of the Klias Peninsular. Visitors have a few options depending on time availability and budget. Independent travellers need to first head to Kuala Penyu some 120 kilometres (75 miles) from Kota Kinabalu, which takes approximately two hours. The ferry then takes 40 minutes to reach Pulau Tiga. Others join a day tour from Sabah’s capital that takes approximately 11 hours in total. It’s also possible to charter a speedboat directly from Jesselton Point in Kota Kinabalu.

Plan your time ahead if you wish to visit Pulau Tiga from Kota Kinabalu | © notsuperstar/Shutterstock

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