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Mabul Island Travel Guide – How to Get Here & What to Expect in 2023

Mabul Island Travel Guide – How to Get Here & What to Expect in 2023

Everything you need to know about getting to and visiting Mabul Island in Sabah, Borneo.

Are you wondering how you’re going to go about getting to Mabul Island and what to do once you arrive?

Unless you’re staying at an expensive five-star island resort, then chances are you’ll need to organize your transport to Mabul Island by yourself. In this quick guide, I’ll give you an up-to-date account on how to arrange a trip to Mabul Island from Semporna, as well as what you might expect on the island, from diving to island hopping!

Olly gaspar

By Olly Gaspar, traveler, travel blogger & photographer for 5+ years with 600+ published travel guides. I visit every place I write about & share real tips from what I learn.

Where is Mabul Island?

Mabul Island is located on the southeast corner of Sabah, Malaysian Borneo. The island is one of the dozens which scatter the coast of Semporna.

The Island itself is a flat sandbar island surrounded by a shallow coral reef system of 2 kilometers squared.

Mabul island map in sabah, borneo
Mabul island drone

Quick Answer: Island Hopping to Mabul from Semporna

Looking for an easy and cost-effective way to visit Mabul and the other amazing islands off the coast of Semporna?

Don't miss this epic snorkeling/fun dive island hopping adventure that you can book online in advance.

Getting to Mabul Island - The Best Travel Options

Getting to Mabul Island requires either a private boat or ferry from one of Semporna's ferry and boat terminals. The trip takes roughly one hour depending on how fast the boat is.

Below I've detailed a few common ways to get to Mabul Island, catering mostly to readers on a budget or those looking for a quick day trip.

Otherwise, if you've already arranged accommodation on the island, you'll most likely already be getting transport included.

Mabul island refugees

Kota Kinabalu to Mabul

Of course, the first step on your journey will be getting to Semporna. If you're researching about getting to Mabul Island from Kota Kinabalu (KK), then you can either take a flight to Tawau, followed by a Grab car or taxi to Semporna Harbour.

Your other option is to take an overland bus from Kota Kinabalu to Semporna, then a ferry to the island.

Mabul island drone, sabah borneo

How to Get to Semporna

Surprisingly, flying to Semporna from Kota Kinabalu is relatively affordable. I usually stick to budget travel options, so I overlooked flying to Semporna. Air Asia has standard flights from KK to Tawau daily starting at only $18. However, you’ll need to pay for a Grab car to Semporna (80 Ringgit) or find a shared minivan at the airport.

Note it’s also possible to fly from other parts of Asia including Kuala Lumpur straight to Tawau.

You can compare flights directly to Semporna using CheapOAir or Sky Scanner.

Getting to Semporna By Bus

The more popular option for budget travelers visiting more parts of Sabah is to take the overland bus. From Kota Kinabalu, there is a morning and night bus from Inanam station departing at 7:30 AM and 7:30 PM for 75 Ringgit per person.

If you’re coming to Semporna from Sandakan, Sepilok or the Kinabatangan River, then you can also hail a bus from the main road. Depending on where you get on, expect to pay around 45 Ringgit for this bus trip. It’s best to ask your accommodation for help on getting the bus to Semporna from these places.

Budget accomodation in mabul island
Amazing accommodation on Mabul, Sabah

Getting to Mabul Island From Semporna Public Jetty

There are a few different boat jetties in Semporna. However, the main one is where most of the boats leave for island hopping trips and for transfers to the outer islands.

Boats usually leave in the morning, since there is a curfew for boat activities at night time. If you turn up without having anything booked, then it's up to you to barter for a fair price. Of course, the more people, the further you can split the costs.

Semporna to Mabul Island Boat Price:

Expect to pay around 160 - 200 RM per boat going to Mabul Island.

Travel Tip: If you're booked your accommodation on Mabul Island, then I'd definitely recommend asking them if they include a transfer. This could save you at least a large chunk of the transfer fee.

Don't Miss: Bohey Dulang Viewpoint

Mabul Island Budget Accommodation

Mabul Island is one of the most budget-friendly snorkeling and scuba diving islands off Semporna. Most lodges here double as dive shops. So, if you want to dive at Sipidan Island, then I suggest that you book in advance with your host.

This way, you'll save money and they can also organize your boat transport from Semporna to Mabul.

Spheredivers scuba, mabul

2. Spheredivers Scuba

Great diver's accommodation on Mabul Island with clean rooms spanning out over the water.

Mabul backpackers bedroom

3. Mabul Backpackers

Easily the cheapest place to stay on Mabul with all meals included in the price.

How Long Do I Need on Mabul Island?

Getting to Mabul Island is only a part of the journey - the rest, is, of course, enjoying this tropical slice of Bornean paradise.

So, how long do you need? Typically, the length of your stay will depend on how much diving you want to do. If you want to visit the local dive sites as well as a day trip to Sipidan, then I'd suggest a 3-day and 2-night trip.

Frogfish at mabul island house reef diving
Frog fish on the house reef

What is there to do on Mabul if I'm not Scuba Diving?

If you're not into diving, then truthfully, there's not much else to do. Of course, you can wander around the island, relax on the beach, explore the interior local villages and even jump on a snorkeling trip.

However, since the island is so small, you could easily do all of this in one day. For non-divers, I'd recommend either booking an island-hopping trip from Semporna, or just spending one night here.

Mabul island marine life
Snorkeling on Mabul Island

Is Mabul Island Safe?

Mabul Island is considered pretty safe. However, many travel safety websites suggest caution for the area of Semporna and the surrounding islands due to a history of kidnappings.

These kidnappings and attacks have been carried out by the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group from the southern Philippines and were mostly ransom-inspired attacks.

In response, the surrounding area is heavily patrolled by the Malaysian military, who have set up bases on nearly every island. There is also a night curfew preventing any boat traffic after dark.

As a result, there haven't been any recent attacks in the past few years. However, that's not to say that it couldn't happen.

Sea gypsie community on mabul island, sabah, borneo
Refugees on Mabul Island - Escaped terrorism and conflict in Sulu Island, South Philippines. They now live here and make a living from selling seafood to tourists.

Budget Diving on Mabul Island

A few budget hostel-style lodges also offer budget diving on Mabul. For example, Mabul Backpackers offers a diving package for 610 RM per person, which includes four dives, two nights' accommodation, all meals and the return boat transfer from Semporna to Mabul Island.

If you're looking to save money, then I'd recommend haggling with your accommodation for discounts for diving since you've already booked to stay with them.

If you want to book some diving in advance, then I also found this deal online which offers three fun dives for $85, which is a fairly good price and has some excellent reviews.

Nudiebranch on mabul island diving

More Photos From Mabul Island to Inspire Your Travels

I hope you've enjoyed this up-to-date travel guide to visiting Mabul Island in Sabah, Borneo. Before you leave, check out some of my other guides to the region below, or some more photos from my trip to Mabul!

Sea gypsie community on mabul island, sabah, borneo
Sea gypsie community on mabul island, sabah, borneo
Sea gypsie community on mabul island, sabah, borneo
Mabul island people
Basketball court on mabul island
Jungle basketball court in mabul island
Epic Basketball Court on Mabul Island - Let me know if you find it.
Getting to mabul island - budget travel guide
Thanks for Reading

I'm Olly Gaspar, adventure travel blogger & photographer. Traveling non-stop since 2018, I've published over 600 travel guides on We Seek Travel. These draw on my personal experience to share unique itineraries, accommodation tips, & fun adventure guides covering hikes, viewpoints, beaches, waterfalls, & tours. Read my Publishing Ethics Statement.

Your feedback & updates are crucial to keep my guides factual & current. Got new info or updates? Drop a comment below or contact me directly.

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Salwa

Tuesday 3rd of May 2022

Hi Olly Thank you so much for the sharing the useful information tips with us..

I can’t wait to plan my trip probably next week . I have only a few days to do KK and Mabul

Have a nice journey Olly

Salwa

Olly Gaspar

Tuesday 3rd of May 2022

Thanks Salwa, enjoy your adventures on Mabul

Tina

Sunday 7th of February 2021

P.S. to the above... can I please ask where you were in the picture that goes with your Digital Nomad jobs 2019 poster (with the web address listed underneath?) Actually would love it if you could label the location of every photo on that page (digital nomad jobs). You've sure been to some stunning places! Thanks.

Olly Gaspar

Sunday 7th of February 2021

If you’re referring to the Pinterest pin, I believe that would be Kelingking Beach on Nusa Penida.

The photos on that article are from a few years ago, most before i even started writing about travel. Most of them are in South East Asia like Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand. I can put a location of each in the caption :)

Olly

Tina

Sunday 7th of February 2021

Hi Olly

Found this page when someone posted a pic on Mabul island - I wanted to know more and went searching. Thanks for the info! I will soon have a look at all the other places you've written about. However, just wanted to ask how you are doing these days? Surely you are not traveling anymore? Must be awful to suddenly be grounded :'( I also love traveling and hating not being able to, but haven't done nearly as much as you! Hope you are coping.

Olly Gaspar

Sunday 7th of February 2021

Hi Tina!

Thanks for reaching out! Borneo is amazing, you’ll love Mabul but also make sure to check out Bohey Dulang as well.

I’m okay thanks for asking! I’ve been keeping busy by converting a camper van here in Australia and just setting off for Tasmania now, so still on the move!

Hope you’re well too!

Olly

Nadia

Friday 28th of August 2020

Thanks Olly for the useful information and guide. Its really helpful for my Mabul trip next month. Btw.. your photos are another level. BEAUTIFUL AND BREATHTAKING!

Cheers from Malaysia, Nadia :)

Olly Gaspar

Friday 28th of August 2020

Thanks Nadia, enjoy your trip!