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Islands to Visit in Sabah

Sabah Islands to Visit

This list of islands to visit in Sabah is compiled by David Hogan Jr of Malaysia Asia for anyone interested to visit and see some of them.

As The Land Below The Wind is famous for diving and recreational activities, several islands here cater to all sorts of activities, including scuba diving, snorkelling, water sports, or even bird watching.

Islands to Visit in Sabah

Sabah has an astounding number of islands off its coastlines in its eastern and western regions, totalling 394 islands. The state also has the largest number of islands in Malaysia.

Clear waters, sun-drenched beaches and un-spoilt tranquillity are some of the main attractions of Sabah’s islands. Among them, the incredible underwater and marine life are absolutely stunning.

Surrounded by one of the richest underwater ecosystems globally, Sabah is one of the premier destinations to experience and view marine life.

There are many rare and endangered sea creatures such as the green and hawksbill turtles, napoleon wrasse, giant clams, and countless species of sharks and schools of thousands of barracuda and jacks.

Sabah is known for its reef’s larger inhabitants and as a ‘muck diving’ paradise with such rarities as the mimic octopus, flamboyant cuttlefish, mandarin fish, harlequin ghost pipefish, seahorses, ribbon eels, plus many types of weird and wonderful frogfish and nudibranchs.

East Coast Islands of Sabah

Pulau Sipidan
Sipadan Island
Pulau Sipadan is hands-down probably the most well-known island in Sabah and worldwide due to the stunning natural beauty of the underwater world here.

The island is also known as one of the top five best diving spots in the world and the winner of many tourism and diving awards over the last couple of decades.

There are special permits required to visit the island, which attracts mainly scuba divers due to the impressive 3000+ species of fish and corals found here. It is now slowly gaining interest for bird watching as well.

Pulau Mabul
Mabul Island
Pulau Mabul Island has been known to many as the gateway to Sipadan and a scuba divers haven due to the incredible underwater life. 

The beauty of this island is that it is shared among the local Bajau people who inhabit part of the island, while scuba divers have the choice of budget or general accommodation here.

Due to the rich marine ecosystem and multiple dive sites, many beginner divers come from 15-25 meters deep and close to Mabul.

Pulau Lankayan
Lankayan Island
Probably one of the most beautiful islands in terms of landscape, Pulau Lankayan Island is often called a paradise escape due to only one luxurious resort available here.

The resort offers all sea-facing villas, while a restaurant is set on stilts connected by a stilted walkway from the island, giving it the Maldives feel.

A two-hour boat ride from Sandakan gets you here, and mainly scuba divers who want some privacy will head here apart from those wanting a private escape or even a local honeymoon.

Pulau Kapalai
Kapalai Island
Often called the Maldives of Malaysia, Pulau Kapalai Island is probably the most photographed island since it is a massive sandbank hidden between Sipadan and Mabul. 

The entire resort is built on stilts and resembles an over-water resort, just as in the Maldives. This resort is so popular that you may need to pre-book your trip here.

The rich marine life around the Ligitan Reefs also attracts scuba divers worldwide, while it is not common to see divers from Mabul come here.

Pulau Mataking
Mataking Island
Another stunning island hidden away from commercial tourism is Pulau Mataking Island, less than an hour boat ride from Semporna.

This island also boasts one resort that caters mainly to honeymooners, privacy seekers and upscale scuba divers.

There are over 30 dive sites located around both Mataking Besar and Kecil (Big and Small), while the star attraction is a post box mounted on a sunken wreck that is just 25 meters deep.

Pulau Pom Pom
Pom Pom Island 
Pulau Pom Pom also boasts of just one main resort that offers a variety of accommodations, attracting various types of island-seekers.

The location is also near Mataking Island and is less than an hour boat ride from Semporna town and attracts mainly scuba divers who want a diving experience away from Mabul.

The Pom Pom Island Resort offers beautiful water bungalows, beach-front chalets and, of course, the standard garden view chalets that also cater to guests seeking privacy and even honeymooners.

Pulau Selingan
Selingan Island or Turtle Island
Quite a well-known island for visitors who want to experience watching turtles come ashore to lay eggs under strict supervision.

Turtles to spot here are the Green and Hawksbill Turtles, while there is an educational centre where videos are other information is available.

Pulau Selingan Island is also a recognised sea turtle conservation park located about an hour from the city of Sandakan on the east coast of Sabah.

Most visitors book an overnight trip to experience the turtles and spend the rest of the day on the unspoiled beaches before returning to Sandakan.

Islands Near Kota Kinabalu

Pulau Gaya
Gaya Island
One of the largest islands in Sabah is no other than Gaya Island, which occupies over 15 square kilometres and is just a 15-minute boat ride from Kota Kinabalu city.

Pulau Gaya Island is also part of the Tunku Abdul Rahman or TAR Marine Park that also houses several large water villages, two five-star resorts and a unique zipline that goes from island to island.

The luxurious resorts are Gayana Eco Resort, home to the Marine Ecology Research Centre, Bunga Raya Island Resort on the north-east part of the island and Gaya Island Resort by YTL Hotels.

Pulau Manukan
Manukan Island
Among the most popular islands in Sabah is no other than Pulau Manukan Island that is just 15 minutes boat ride from Kota Kinabalu city and is part of the TAR Marine Park.

Offering crystal clear waters, the shade-fringed island houses a stylish resort, restaurants, and a swimming pool nestled in the island’s beautiful rainforest.

Day-trippers are the most prominent visitors as they come from the city to spend half-day snorkelling, sunbathing and just enjoying the natural island life. Read my Manukan Island complete guide.

Pulau Mamutik
Mamutik Island

One of the smaller islands of the TAR Marine Park is Pulau Mamutik Island, which only covers six hectares. The island offers mainly sunbathing, snorkelling and some scuba diving for day trips.

There is no accommodation available, but you can apply for a permit to camp overnight there in rare cases. Mamutik is also about 15 minutes boat ride from Kota Kinabalu city.

Pulau Sapi
Sapi Island
Another small island that makes part of the TAR Marine Park is highly popular among day-trippers and scuba divers.

The island is so tiny that it only measures 0.1 square kilometres, with no lodging facilities available here. Most visitors come here to get away from the crowds on the other islands, but this place can also get busy on weekends and peak seasons.

Pulau Sapi has some excellent beaches and coral life, which is more attractive than the other islands. You can also read my review on Sapi Island I did several years back.

Pulau Sulug
Sulug Island
Known as the least visited island of the marine park here, Pulau Sulug Island is small and rocky with amazing underwater reefs and marine life.

The island totals around 20 acres and is very popular among visitors who want privacy or a less crowded beach. There are no facilities available on this beautiful island which is also part of the TAR Marine Park.

Pulau Sepanggar
Sepanggar Island
Pulau Sepanggar Island is probably one of the new additions to tourism as they have been recently promoted as one of the island destinations of Sabah.

To get here, it is only a 10-minute boat ride from Jesselton Pier in Kota Kinabalu city, and there is one resort available on the island. Other jetties include the UMS Jetty and the Kampung Gentisan Jetty.

Island lovers will find a perfect balance of nature and beach combined into one destination with flor and fauna dominating the place.

Visitors can visit for a day trip and do sea-walks, parasailing, scuba diving, banana boat rides or just laze around the white sand beaches.

Pulau Mantanani
Mantanani Island
The beautiful island is located about two hours away from Kota Kinabalu and is extremely popular with foreign tourists to Sabah.

Pulau Mantanai Island is located near Kota Belud, which is also your main gateway to the island and part of a three-island group here.

A couple of resorts are available while day-trippers from Kota Kinabalu are regularly seen on some famous beaches. Scuba divers are also aplenty due to the crystal clear waters and rich marine life.

Dugongs or Sea Cows once populated the island but are rare nowadays. Mantanani Island is also one of the popular dive locations of Sabah, with 16 dive sites, including three wrecks.

Pulau Usukan
Usukan Island
One of the very local islands near Kota Belud town is Pulau Usukan Island, which has one solo resort hidden away behind the island.

This island is not well-known to tourists, but this place can be one of the new getaways from the city with more promotions. Activities include snorkelling, scuba diving, fishing and regular beach activities.

Pulau Usukan tends to attract a lot of local Sabahans who come here for quick escapes, picnics, and some quality family time.

Pulau Layang Layang
Layang Layang Island
Probably one of the least visited islands in Sabah due to the logistics, Pulau Layang Layang Island is a divers paradise that sits 300 kilometres from Kota Kinabalu.

The only way to get to Layang Layan Island is via a private flight from KK City, and only scuba divers are regular visitors to this unique island. There is also only one resort on the island.

The island stretches 7.5 kilometres long and is only two kilometres wide and is a well-known diving destination to see the incredible hammerhead sharks. 

Pulau Tiga
Tiga Island
Pulau Tiga Island is world-famous because it was featured in the first season of ‘Survivor’, the TV series shot in 2000.

The island attracts visitors for the natural wildlife, including numerous birds, reptiles and insects. There are also two resorts available on the island, which is located at Kimanis Bay.

Many also come here for the unique volcano mud bath apart from the quiet sunbathing, snorkelling, and scuba diving. Some birdwatchers come here to spot certain species of water birds.

Islands Near Kudat

Pulau Banggi
Banggi Island
At the north of Sabah, near the town of Kudat, you will find Pulau Banggi Island, which is home to local villagers and fishermen. This island is also the largest in Malaysia, Betruit Island, Langkawi Island and Penang Island. 

One of the unique things about Banggi Island i that you can find the elusive Bonggi Tribe that live deep inside the island. They are still a very reserved community that tends to keep to themselves.

Conclusion

This article was created for anyone who wishes to explore Sabah’s beautiful islands spread over North Borneo.

For more information, you can also contact Sabah Tourism, as they are in contact with many resort operators.

Among all the islands to visit in Sabah, I have personally gone to 80% of them over the last decade. While some can be a little difficult to access, most are easy to get to. If you like this article, please share this with your friends and safe travels, everyone.

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