Manukan Island in Sabah is one of the most visited islands in the Land Below the Wind. While you may think why, it is simply be cause the island is only a 15 minute boat ride from the city of Kota Kinabalu or simply known as KK here. As I was visiting KK town in early May 2013 together with a group of media from West Malaysia, we were taken to many popular tourist places here and Manukan Island was one of them where we spent the morning there before heading back to the mainland for lunch.
Manukan Island jetty
Manukan Island is actually part of the Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park or TAR Park which consist of five islands which are Manukan, Mamutik, Sapi, Sulug and Gaya Island where each of the islands is only a mere couple of minutes boat ride from each other. Among these islands, tourist usually visit Manukan, Mamutik and Sapi Island for activities and day trips. The beauty about the group of islands here is that you can visit it in the morning and be back in town after lunch therefore this place is one of the top tourist spots in Sabah.
Beach at Manukan
How to go to Manukan Island
There are two main areas where you can get to Manukan Island, one at Jesselton Pier in KK town while the other is at Sutera Harbor Jetty, a 5 minute drive from town. Usually hotels and tour companies sell day trips to the islands here. Prices range anywhere from RM100 to RM150 per person, depending on your package. Some packages includes island hopping while others are for one single island You can book these packages at any tour counters or companies in KK town or hotel lobbies. Some ready made Sabah Packages would already have this in the itinerary too. The deal would usually include;
- Pick up from your hotel and back
- Boat transfer to the island and back
- Island entrance fees
- A lunch (normal or BBQ) on the island
- Free snorkeling
Snorkeling at Manukan Island
However, you should note that any other additional activities are charged on the spot there. This includes;
- Scuba Diving
- Water Sports Activities
- Sea Walking
- Rental of equipment
- Restaurant/Cafe food and drinks
Equipment for rental
Best Time to visit Manukan Island
Since I have been there many times (eight times in the last 3 years), I have seen the busy and also quiet period. It is recommended that the best time to visit here is during the weekday and also off peak season. If it is the local School Holidays or any public holiday, the place is sure to be jam-packed and this may result in you not having a great time there.
I would personally recommend you that you go there as early as possible, before 10.00am as the crowd usually comes in about 11.00am onwards. By lunch the place can get crowded so go early to secure a nice spot on the beach.
Sea Walking at Manukan Island
What to bring to Manukan?
Well, since most of you will be going there for a day trip, it is advised to bring along your towel if you plan to swim or snorkel. A change of clothes, some snacks, food or drinks if you must. Insect repellent and sunblock. A poncho or umbrella if the weather looks cloudy. Bring money if you plan to do activities as they are charged on the spot and there are no ATM's on the island.
What else is there on Manukan Island?
There is a souvenir shop at the main entrance which has some decently priced souvenirs. A cafe on the main walkway which serves soft drinks and cold beer. A full serviced restaurant which is slightly on the high side. For the locals, there is an area with a few shops who rent beach equipment, sells some sundry products or sunblock and suntan lotions. A local restaurant is found here where you can order local food, standard drinks, coconut or even local coffee and tea and have it at the ready tables in a shaded area.
Sands Bar on the island
For water activities, there is the Scuba Doo Sea Walking center and a scuba dive center. You can actually sign up for a PADI dive course and have it done here. There is also a basic trek for the adventurous where you can hike for about 1.5km to the tip of the island while for those who like bird watching, Manukan is also well known for this. For photography, the best is to come early and you can catch the famous Mount Kinabalu at a distance from the island.
Washrooms and toilets are available for free while Sabah Parks has a small exhibition hall there. There is no ATM or money changer on the island. Phone and 3G signals are strong here for local telco services as many are seen on their mobile devices or tablets while here.
Snorkeling with the fishes
Hotels and Resorts on Manukan Island
There is currently one hotel and resort which is run by Sutera Sanctuary Lodges called Manukan Island Resort, this is also priced on the higher side where you need to make bookings from the main office. Other than that there are no other accommodations on the island. This includes Sapi, Sulug and Mamutik.
Manukan Island Resort
For the luxury tourist, Gaya Island which is the largest of the islands does have three high end resorts which are;
- Gayana Eco Resort
- Gaya Island Resort
- Bungaraya Resort
What to look out for on the island
Since there is high traffic in and out of the island, there is only one main jetty here so when you come here, check with the boat operator on the time to return. Usually you may end up standing at the jetty waiting your turn which could result in a 10-20 minute wait.
Watch out for Jellyfish
For snorkelers and swimmers, note that they have a float line that shows your snorkeling or swimming limits. Do not cross that area. There have been jelly fish cases there so do check with the lifeguards on duty about this. Warning signs are put up about this.
There is no fish-feeding allowed here too so please don't bring bread for the fishes. If you want a good laugh, keep an eye out for some odd people who snorkel with umbrellas. Yes, I'm serious. On my last trip, I did not manage to see any but the locals there swear about this.
Manukan Island Map
Overall, Manukan Island is recommended for those who are visiting Kota Kinabalu for short trips. If you plan to stay longer or want a less public island or beach, there are many other islands throughout Sabah which you can choose from. This however requires a longer stay.
This island has been a magnet for beach lovers and tourist where main reason is that for a place so near to the city, you can actually see fish and corals in the clear waters while the beach here is white sand and clean. This is clearly the main reason why many people love to visit Manukan Island.