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Your guide to Kota Kinabalu
All About Kota Kinabalu
Featuring stunning islands set in cerulean waters, a bustling coastline, and Mount Kinabalu, the highest mountain in Malaysia, Kota Kinabalu is the capital city of the state of Sabah. Partly surrounded by rainforest, the town itself is home to vibrant markets, a modern boardwalk, and a waterfront mosque. Despite being a rapidly modernizing city, the past is preserved here through historical sites like the Petagas War Memorial Garden, which honors fallen resistors of Japanese occupation during WWII, and the Double Six Monument — a striking white arch that commemorates Sabah’s late Chief Minister. The city also houses several art galleries along with the Sabah Islamic Civilization Museum, where you’ll find intricate brass antiques under its five domes, and the Sabah State Museum, which is home to galleries focusing on archaeology and natural history. There are plenty of restaurants and bars offering a wide array of cuisines at the waterfront, where you can enjoy dinner with a spectacular view.
Just outside the city, you’ll find white-sand beaches leading to calm, clear water, hot springs where you can soak after a long day of hiking, and wetlands where you can take a river cruise through the mangrove forests. There are several unspoiled islands off Kota Kinabalu’s coast, and you can reach them by ferry or boat for a day of tranquil sunbathing and watersports.
Kota Kinabalu is also known as the gateway to Borneo, the third-largest island in the world that is almost entirely overrun by rainforest and features incredible biodiversity.
When is the best time to stay in a vacation rental in Kota Kinabalu?
Kota Kinabalu has great hiking trails and stunning beaches, making this city attractive all year round. Given its tropical location, the weather in Kota Kinabalu remains hot and humid all year, and there is a chance of rain at any time, so always be prepared with an umbrella and be sure to pack proper shoes.
If you are an experienced hiker and want to have a better chance of spotting orangutans out in the wild, you should book a trip between March and October. This period also offers clear weather, blooming flowers, and minimal rainfall, creating a beautiful atmosphere for outdoor recreation.
Alternatively, if you are hoping to spend your days on the beach, renting a house in Kota Kinabalu anytime between April and December is ideal. During this time, the waterfront comes alive, with art and music festivals and cultural programs happening along the coast. Sabah’s Harvest Festival runs for the whole month of May with rice wine and traditional dances.
What are the top things to do in Kota Kinabalu?
Mount Kinabalu, the highest mountain in Malaysia, stands over 13,000 feet tall at the center of Kinabalu National Park. A trek to the top of Mount Kinabalu is a two-day adventure with mountain accommodations along the way where you can stop for rest and food. From the summit, you’ll be rewarded for your efforts by exquisite views of the Sabah region.
Kinabalu Handicraft Market
Kinabalu’s Handicraft Market, located along the scenic waterfront, is a popular place to pick up handmade souvenirs and gifts. You’ll find signature items, such as sarongs, pearl jewelry, and traditional instruments like the sompoton alongside one-of-a-kind handmade gifts.
Tanjung Aru Beach
Between the peaceful pockets of Tanjung Aru Perdana Park and Prince Philip Park in the south of town, this 1.3-mile expanse of coastline is fringed by aru and palm trees. Bring a frisbee and join the locals in the late afternoon sun or grab some satay at a street food stall and watch kites and blue-naped parrots zig zag across the sky.