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Manukan Island Complete Guide

Pulau Manukan

Manukan Island is one of the most visited islands in Sabah or the Land Below the Wind. The beauty of this island is that it is a 20-minute boat ride from the city of Kota Kinabalu or simply known as KK.

As I was visiting KK town 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.

This is also not the first time visiting the island as I have visited this island way before it was commercialized and I think I would have come here more than 10 times.

Pulau Manukan Island

Photo of Manukan Island
Manukan Island jetty

Manukan Island is actually part of the Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park or TAR Park which consists of five islands.

They 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.

Beach at Manukan Island
Beach at Manukan

Among these tropical islands, tourists usually visit the most popular islands here which are Manukan, Mamutik, and Sapi Island for activities and day trips.

The beauty of the group of islands here is that you can visit it in the morning and be back in Kota Kinabalu city after lunch, therefore this place is one of the top tourist spots in Sabah. 
Snorkeling at Manukan Island
Snorkeling at Manukan Island

Activities at Manukan Island

For first time visitors, standard island packages usually include one or two activities, that also comes with lunch.

Any other additional activities are charged on the spot, where you have to pay the operator of the activity. This includes;
  • Scuba Diving
  • Water Sports Activities
  • Sea Walking
  • Rental of equipment 
  • Restaurant/Cafe food and drinks
  • Souvenirs
Manukan Sea Sports Equipment
Equipment for rental

When is the Best Time to Visit Manukan Island?

Since I have been there many times (more than 10 times in the last five years), I have seen the busy and also quiet period.

It is recommended that the best time to visit Manukan Island is during the weekday and also off-peak season. Trust me, if you want some privacy and space, this is the optimum time.

If it is the local School Holidays or any public holiday, the islands are sure to be jam-packed and this may result in you not having a great time there. 

I would personally recommend that you go there as early as possible before 10.00 am as the crowd usually comes in about 11.00 am.

By lunch, the place can get crowded, so go early to secure a nice spot on the beach.

Pulau Manukan Pantai
On a not so busy day 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 too.

Insect repellent and sunblock for those who are sensitive to tropical bugs and so on. A poncho or umbrella if the weather looks cloudy before heading there, and best to check the weather forecast before heading over.

Bring cash money if you plan to do additional activities as they are charged on the spot, and there are no ATM's on the island. And also if you need to buy souvenirs or other island related items. 

Restaurant and Cafe at Manukan Island
Local restaurant 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 and best bought before you leave the island.

A local cafe on the main walkway which serves soft drinks and cold beer is available for those wanting some drinks.

There is also a full serviced restaurant which is slightly on the high side that serves alcohol, local and western food.

A few localized shops are spotted in an area, who rent beach equipment and sell some sundry products or even sunblock and suntan lotions.

Bar at Manukan Island
A local beach bar on the island
In this area, there is a local restaurant found here, where you can order local food, standard drinks, fresh coconut or even local coffee and tea, and they provide tables in a shaded area.

For fans of the world war, there are remnants of bombs dating back to the second world war. These are displayed openly on a bench as they are empty shells.

Washrooms and toilets are available for free while Sabah Parks has a small exhibition hall in this area.

Phone signals and internet data are strong here for local telco services, as many are seen on their mobile devices or tablets while here.

Snorkeling at Manukan Island
A couple snorkeling
Manukan Island Diving and Snorkeling

For water-related activities, there is a scuba dive center on Manukan Island where you can sign up for a PADI dive course and have it done here.

For experienced divers, you can also dive here as there are many dive sites located around the park.

However, visibility underwater can be tricky, where on a good day, it can get up to 10 meters, but on average, you will be getting around 3 to 5 meters at maximum.

A lot of macro divers love to come here, and they have preferred dive spots around the islands where they do their underwater macro photography.

Snorkeling is probably the most popular activity here, where they have specialized areas cordoned off for safety reasons.

Usually, around the main jetty, there are a lot of coral fishes, and snorkelers are always seen here.

Manukan Island Sea Walking
Scuba Doo Sea Walking at Manukan Island
Scuba Doo Sea Walking For Non-Divers

For non-divers or even those who cannot swim, there is a unique Scuba Doo Sea Walking experience is also available. This experience lest you ride a funny looking contraption underwater.

This is a recommended experience for families or those who do not know how to dive or swim and is highly secure as there will be staff always by your side.

Beach at Manukan Island
Beach at Manukan Island, taken in the morning before the crowds
Trekking at Manukan Island

For visitors who are into trekking, there is a basic trek for the adventurous where you can hike for about 1.5 km to the tip of the island.

The trek takes about 30 to 40 minutes one way and can be done easily with sandals or sports shoes.

Along the way, you may encounter large monitor lizards, but they do not bother humans unless you are carrying fresh food with you.

The trick is to go for a late afternoon trek to reach the end called Sunset Point and catch the beautiful Sabah sunset as your reward.

Bird Watching at Manukan Island

Not that bird watching is highly popular, but there are some bird watchers who come to Manukan Island to spot some of the birds found here.

If you have a passion for spotting birds, then you should consider doing a two in one - visiting one of Sabah's beautiful islands and also spotting some of the local birds here. 

Manukan Island Resort

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 resort is also priced on the higher side where you need to make bookings from the main office in Kota Kinabalu city.

Other than that there are no other accommodations on the island. This includes Sapi, Sulug, and Mamutik. 

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 
  • Bunga Raya Resort
Boat to Manukan Island
One of the boats that take visitors to Manukan Island from Kota Kinabalu
Important Advice for Manukan 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 to 20-minute wait.  And make sure you get on the right boat as there will be many boats here. 

Watch out for Jellyfish

For snorkelers and swimmers, note that they have a floating line that shows your snorkeling or swimming limits. Do not cross that area at ant cost.

There have been jellyfish stinging cases there, so do check with the lifeguards on duty about this. Warning signs are put up around the beach areas here. 

There is no fish-feeding allowed here too so please do not bring bread for the fishes. Proper fish food is sold at the island for those who must feed 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 Chinese Tourist
The general crowd at Manukan Island during lunchtime
Large Crowds on Manukan Island

This has come to the attention of many visitors where Manukan has been known to be overcrowded with tourists, mainly from China and Korea.

Concerns of noise, rubbish, rudeness have been highlighted in these conditions where it is disrupting the island ecosystem.

It will be overwhelming, and if you dislike these kinds of conditions, please avoid coming here and try visiting another island around Sabah.

Another option is to book a stay at Gaya Island Resort or Bungaraya Resort on the larger island called Pulau Gaya.

In the event, if you are visiting Manukan Island and encounter this experience, all is not lost. There are some other secluded spots away from the main beach areas, and as I mentioned earlier, you need to be very early to come here. 

Map of Manukan Island
Manukan Island Map

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 at both locations. Prices range anywhere from RM100 to RM150 per person, depending on your type of island package.

Some packages include island hopping while others are for one single island visit. You can book these packages at any tour counters or companies in Kota Kinabalu city or at any of the hotel lobbies.

Some ready-made Sabah packages would already have this in the itinerary too. The package 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


Overall, Manukan Island is recommended for those who are visiting Kota Kinabalu for short trips or even normal trips but done early in the mornings, namely when the weather is good.

Anyone who dislikes crowds on public islands or beaches, there are many other islands throughout Sabah which you can choose from.

This, however, requires a longer stay and you can also see my other article on where to go in Sabah if you plan to have a longer vacation here. 

This island off Kota Kinabalu has been a magnet for beach lovers and tourists and the main reason is that you can actually see coral fish and corals in clear waters, 20 minutes from the city.

With a beach that offers white sand and crystal clear waters, this is probably the main reason why many people love to visit Manukan Island in Sabah. 


黄清华 Wong Ching Wah said...

Surprise how close the island to mainland!

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hcvvorld of Travels, Lifestyle and Photography said...

hmm still not bad compare to sipadan...might put this in my list :D