The Best Beaches to Visit in Borneo

Manukan Island is a beach highlight of the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park in Kota Kinabalu
Manukan Island is a beach highlight of the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park in Kota Kinabalu | © Angus McComiskey / Alamy Stock Photo
Sam Bedford

Borneo, the world’s third largest island, is divided between three countries. The Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak make up the north, with the small country of Brunei sandwiched between them, and Indonesia‘s Kalimantan occupies the south. Tourism here revolves around biodiversity, rainforests and an incredible selection of beaches.
Planning a trip to this Southeast Asian island? Book yourself onto Culture Trip’s 10-day adventure to Borneo, which includes visits to an orangutan sanctuary and an organic tea farm, and a snorkelling trip in Kota Kinabalu.

1. Pulau Tiga (Tiga Island), Sabah

Natural Feature

Once the setting of popular TV series Survivor, Pulau Tiga is now a favourite tropical island for adventurous tourists in Kota Kinabalu. It is one of three small islands that make up Tiga Island National Park, and features a number of isolated stretches of sandy coastline. At 50km (31mi) from Kota Kinabalu, getting to the island can be challenging, but persevere and be rewarded with pristine beauty and a true desert island experience.

2. Tanjung Aru, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah

Natural Feature

A view of the curved, palm-lined Tanjung Aru beach

Kota Kinabalu’s best beach, Tanjung Aru, boasts an impressive stretch of orange sand against a backdrop of palm trees. Sat adjacent to Kota Kinabalu International Airport and within a few kilometres of the city centre, the area is a favourite hangout for locals and tourists in the early evening. Several benches and barbecue facilities fill the park next to Tanjung Aru, making it an ideal place to relax and watch the spectacular sunset.

3. Manukan Island, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah

Natural Feature

Head to Sabah’s capital, Kota Kinabalu, and gaze out across the sea at the small archipelago that makes up Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park, named after Malaysia’s first prime minister. The most visited of these is Manukan Island. Just 15 minutes by ferry from Jesselton Point, passengers will arrive at a 1km (0.6mi) white sand beach with crystal clear water. Dense rainforest bursting with monkeys sits behind the coastline; coral reefs and an abundance of marine life fill the sea. Manukan is a world-class snorkelling destination.

4. Hawaii Beach, Miri, Sarawak

Natural Feature

A wooden jetty on Manukan island, backed by turquoise water, green vegetation and a white sand beach
© Alessandro Polidoro / Alamy Stock Photo
Miri’s Hawaii Beach ranks among the best in Borneo. Just 15 minutes from the centre of Miri by car, white sand stretches along the warm, gentle waters of the South China Sea. A park behind the beach provides a place to sit and relax while enjoying a picnic or barbecue. Head down in the evenings and at weekends to find the locals relaxing here.

5. Tusan Cliff Beach, Miri, Sarawak

Natural Feature

Water laps towards Tusan Cliff on Tusan Beach, Miri during sunset
Mohammad Faisal / Alamy Stock Photo

Tusan Cliff in Sarawak sits approximately 40km (25mi) south of Miri. This beach has clean, soft sand and rugged cliffs, satisfying any photographer’s definition of scenic. But Tusan Cliff also features one of the world’s most rare and spectacular natural events: when conditions are right, the sea begins to glow. Tiny micro-organisms called dinoflagellates emit light when they’re agitated by the waves. The effect creates a neon blue glow in the shallow shores against the inky black abyss of the sea. It takes an hour to reach Tusan Cliff from Miri by car.

6. Muara Beach, Brunei

Natural Feature

Brunei doesn’t have a reputation for having the best beaches in Borneo, but Muara Beach, approximately 27km (17mi) northeast of its capital Bandar Seri Begawan, is something of an exception. The sprawling, orange sand hugs an immaculate park with picnic tables and a play area for children. Whether tourists are looking to catch the sunset or see more of Brunei, Muara Beach won’t disappoint.

7. Derawan Beach, Berau, East Kalimantan

Natural Feature

With white sand, crystal clear water and beachside palm trees, the Derawan islands are a top place to relax in Kalimantan. Derawan Beach, located approximately 17km (11mi) off the East Kalimantan coastline in the Sulawesi Sea, is a haven for diving enthusiasts. Apart from enjoying the resorts and pristine coast, you can admire coral reefs, dolphins, the occasional whale and the critically endangered hawksbill turtle.

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