Pulau Tiga: Borneo's Survivor Island

Pulau Tiga is an island made famous by the American reality TV show, 'Survivor'
Pulau Tiga is an island made famous by the American reality TV show, 'Survivor' | © Lukas Uher / Shutterstock
Photo of Sam Bedford
27 October 2021

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

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Pulau Tiga: a secret ‘Survivor’ location

Once an unknown desert island off the coast of Sabah; now a name known by Survivor fans around the globe. Stepping off the boat in Pulau Tiga, visitors are welcomed by a large sign declaring it to be “Survivor Island”. As the setting of the first edition of the popular reality TV show, the 158sqkm (61sqmi) island off Sabah’s west coast became home to 16 contestants. These castaways found themselves in one of two tribes on Pulau Tiga’s beach, isolated from the rest of the world. After a series of challenges across 39 gruelling days, Richard Hatch emerged victorious. Although many different locations around the world have subsequently played host to the series, Pulau Tiga was the first.

A taste of Tiga Island National Park

Formed after a volcanic eruption towards the end of the 19th century, Pulau Tiga is the youngest island in Malaysia’s stretch of South China Sea. In combination with neighbouring Kalampunian Besar and Kalampunian Damit, it makes up Tiga Island National Park. Kalampunian Damit, often referred to as Snake Island, is a breeding ground for various species of both poisonous and non-poisonous snake.

Keeping you aware on Pulau Tiga | © Andy Selinger / Alamy

Stay and explore Pulau Tiga

The desert island, sandwiched between Kota Kinabalu and Labuan, attracts all kinds of tourists. Survivor fans want to see where the successful series began and get a taste of what it’s like to be marooned. 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 – a rare chance to stay on a desert island in comfort. Pulau Tiga is well-regarded for snorkelling and diving, with vibrant coral and diverse marine life abound. Large groups of eagles and hornbills call the island home, too.

How to get to Pulau Tiga

Visiting Pulau Tiga requires more time and preparation than nearby areas such as Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park. The island is 55km (34mi) southwest of Kota Kinabalu and opposite the vast wetlands of the Klias Peninsula. Visitors have a few options, depending on available time and budget. Independent travellers need to first head to Kuala Penyu from Kota Kinabalu, a 120km (75mi) journey that takes approximately two hours by car. The ferry then takes 40 minutes to reach Pulau Tiga. It’s also possible to charter a speedboat directly from Jesselton Point in Kota Kinabalu.

A boat trip will get you to Pulau Tiga in no time | © ADS / Alamy

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