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Kapalai Island Resort Review in Sabah

Pulau Kapalai Resort

Among some of the most beautiful island resorts in Malaysia, Kapalai Island Resort in Sabah is hands down one of the top contenders in this category.

Many may say this is not an island but a sandbank with a resort built over it and is one of the largest environmentally friendly resorts in this part of Sabah.

Over the years, it has been commonly known as Kapalai Island, and this stunning luxury resort sits just off Mabul Island and is a mere forty minutes by boat from the coastal town of Semporna.

Kapalai Island Resort Review

Private water Villa Kapalai Island
One of the larger water bungalows at Kapalai Island

Kapalai Island Resort has been in business for over 15 years now and sits on the sandbanks of the Ligitan Reef, which is one of the popular dive sites of Mabul Island.

In general, the entire resort is built of wood, miles of it which make up the entire resort structure and walkways.

When you walk around, you will most likely see all kinds of beautiful coral fishes on your left, right and even under the walkways as if you are in an aquarium. 

Resort on Kapalai Island
Kapalai Island Resort seen from a boat

59 units of villas are available here, which makes this place one of the most desirable resorts for a romantic vacation.

Many newlyweds come here for their honeymoon as each of the units are individual, offering fantastic privacy. 

Special arrangements can also be made for weddings on this resort island, but you need to pre-book with them on this.

Renting the entire island is another thing one can do for a private party, event or wedding, provided you are up for this, and you need to probably a year ahead for this. 

Kapalai Island Water Villas or Water Bungalows

Photo of Kapalai Island Sabah
Walkways to the water bungalows at Kapalai Island

From one look, you may think that the resort resembles a Balinese style. Still, in actual fact, the resort takes the design from a traditional Bajau architecture design combined with some modern contemporary style.

The owners have used ironwood or Berlian for the entire construction of the resort. This type of wood is the best as it lasts hundreds of years.  

All of the villa units are above water and sometimes called water bungalows which are cleverly designed for natural airflow, which cools the units down.

In other words, there is no air conditioning here, but the location of this resort is quite windy with no obstructions; hence you will enjoy a cooling time at night. 

Each of the chalets is a twin or triple sharing, with private bathrooms attached with shower and bathtub, basic toiletries, coffee and tea making facilities.

For electricity, the resort operates on Southeast Asian standard 220 volts electrical points. Balconies provide a private sunbathing area and incredible views. 

There are a few rooming types here, which are;

• Grand Deluxe Villa
• Deluxe Villa
• Standard Villa
• Standard Semi-Detached Villas

Photo of Kapalai
The unique man-made sundeck island

Kapalai Resort Facilities

Like any other sea resort, the facilities include a proper restaurant with open and indoor areas, gift shops, snorkelling, and diving facilities.

But what stands out here is the incredible sea views that allow guests to see natural marine life from all over the resort.

Walking around or even from your villa balcony, the crystal clear waters showcase schools of fish, coral fishes, corals and occasionally the wandering turtles that pass by. 

There are local and international cuisines available for food, mostly done using the buffet-style at the main restaurant. Beer and wines are also available for those wanting this. 

A man-made island sundeck is also one of the main highlights, which stretch out into the ocean from the main resort. This is one of the most popular places for photography on the island.

There is also a unique island-shaped sun deck with powdery white sand and a couple of palm trees with a staircase leading down to the sandbank.

Kapalai Island Scuba Diving
A scuba diver just outside the resort

Scuba Diving at Kapalai Island

For the serious scuba diver, Kapalai makes day trips to the world-class Sipadan Island and other popular dive spots around Mabul Island.

Many heads here, as Kapalai are well known for their macro diving, where you can find several unique macro critters.

But there are also some large fish found in the waters here, so the balance is pretty good for all kinds of divers.

In total, there are about ten dive sites around Kapalai Island, and all of them require a few minutes boat ride out while some are just meters away from the resort. 

There are also dive courses available for those wanting to take their exams for the Open Water Diver and Advance Oven Water Courses.

For night divers, there is also an introductory session available. There is the Discover Scuba Diver or DSD available for guests who want to simply have the experience. 

Photos of Kapalai Island

Below are some photos were taken during a couple of trips that I made for an inspection in the last couple of years. They are random and in no order. 

Photography at Kapalai Island Sabah
Kapalai Island Sun Deck

Villas at Kapalai Island
View of the walkways

Sabah Kapalai Island
The natural beauty that surrounds the island

Water Bungalows Kapalai Island
View of the water bungalows

Gambar Pulau Kapalai
View of the resort from the sun deck

Water Villas Kapalai Island
Water bungalows at Kapalai Island

Room Photo of Kapalai Island Resort
Triple Sharing Room

View of the water bungalows in Kapalai and inside the bathrooms

Bathroom photo Kapalai Island Resort
Standard bathroom area of the water chalets

Walkway at Kapalai Island Resort
One of the covered walkways cleverly decorated with greens

Restaurant at Kapalai Island Resort
The restaurant area at Kapalai Resort

The main welcome area and part of the wooden walkways

Sun deck at Kapalai Island
A chill-out lounge area that extends out to the sea

Guests snorkelling around Kapalai Resort

The beautiful sundeck area and a view of the water villas

Kapalai Beach
Jetty to the man-made sun deck island

How to go to Kapalai Island? 

A common question for first-timers is how one gets to Kapalai Island, and here is how you can get there.

Kapalai sits off the coast from Semporna town on the east coast of Sabah, and the closest airport is Tawau Airport.

You need to take a taxi or van transfer from the airport, about 60 to 90 minutes drive to Semporna town.

From the main jetty area of Semporna, the Kapalai speed boat will take another forty-minute boat ride to the resort. 

A boat is the only way to reach here unless you have bottomless pockets; you can charter a helicopter flight from Tawau airport, which takes about ten to fifteen minutes.

Alternatively, you can also charter a helicopter from Kota Kinabalu Airport to here, but it will be even more costly. At the resort, a helicopter landing pad is available. 

Picture Kapalai Island
A row of the water bungalows at Kapalai Island

For more information, visit the Kapalai Island Resort Website.

The resort is also owned and operated by Pulau Sipadan Resort and Tours or PSR, who also manages six other resorts all over Sabah, where each of them is unique, and no two are the same.

You can book through tour agents or contact the resort directly as they have various island packages ranging from leisure stays to scuba diving packages. 

Sabah does not face any Monsoon period; therefore, the resort is open throughout the year but take note of the rainy season which is from December to February.

The best time to visit Kapalai Island is from April till September. Also, you should highly take note that the ultimate time to stay here is on weekdays as it is less crowded.


Among some of the most beautiful island resorts in Malaysia, Kapalai Island Resort in Sabah is undoubtedly one of the top three on my list.

And for anyone who loves privacy, this is one of the highly recommended places to stay, but keep in mind about the peak season here.

If you have enjoyed my review of the Kapalai Island Resort in Sabah, do let me know in the comment form below.

1 comment

Danial (Dan On The Road) said...

The sun deck looks really enticing!