Are you wondering how you’re going to go about getting to Mabul Island?

Unless you’re staying at an expensive five-star island resort, then chances are you’ll need to organize how to go to Mabul Island by yourself.

Mabul Island Location

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.

Getting to Mabul Island – Budget 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 for how to get to Mabul Island, catering mostly to readers on a budget.

KK to Mabul Island

Of course, the first step on your journey will be getting to Semporna. If you’re researching about getting to Mabul Island from 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 KK to Semporna, then a ferry to the island.

GETTING 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 Momondo 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 down 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
“NOT SO” BUDGET ACCOMMODATION ON MABUL ISLAND

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Getting to Mabul Island – Semporna Public Jetty

There are a few different boat jetties in Semporna. However, the main one is where most of the boats leave from for island hopping trips and for transfers to the outer islands. I’ve pinned the location on the map below.

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 150 – 200 RM per boat going to Mabul Island.

TIP: If you’re booked your budget accomodation 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.

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Mabul Island Budget Accommodation

When you first think Malaysian holiday islands, budget isn’t exactly the first word that comes to mind. However, Mabul Island budget accommodation does exist. Here are a couple of options.

Where I Stayed: Mabul Backpackers
This place had best-value budget accommodation on Mabul Island I could find. They organize dive trips and also return boat ferries. After you book, make sure to message them on Booking.Com to arrange the transfer. There are dorms and simple single and double rooms. All meals are included as well.

My experience; The only gripe I had with this place is that there was a huge plastic waste area behind the lodge where they would dump rubbish. I spoke to them about clearing it out or moving it further away from the water, but they obviously didn’t care. So, we took it upon ourselves to organize a clean-up. We were pretty disappointed to see that not a single staff member, including the owner, offered to help or even say thank you. If budget is your top priority – stay here. But, until they sort out their plastic waste and poor attitude towards conservation, I’d rather try out Spheredivers.

Second Budget Option: Spheredivers
This is the second budget accommodation option on Mabul Island. Unlike the first option, this place doesn’t offer free meals, only a buffet breakfast. However, there is a restaurant attached to the lodging and they are known to run good budget dive trips. I noticed that Spheredivers were a lot more environmentally conscious about their plastic disposal.

MABUL ISLAND RESORT

Compare all Mabul Island Budget Accommodation options yourself here.

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 Mabul Island House Reef

What If I’m Not 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 area surrounding Mabul Island is heavily patrolled by the Malaysian military, who have set up bases on nearly every island. There is also a nigh 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 on Mabul Island 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

Parasailing on Mabul Island

If you’ve ever wanted to try parasailing, then Mabul Island is a great place to do it, since you can actually find great deals. To save money and book a spot, I booked parasailing through Viator, where I found a deal for $25!

Photos From Mabul Island to Inspire Your Travels

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
MABUL ISLAND REFUGEES
MABUL ISLAND DRONE
MABUL ISLAND DRONE, SABAH BORNEO
JUNGLE BASKETBALL COURT IN MABUL ISLAND
Epic Basketball Court on Mabul Island – Let me know if you find it.

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Getting to Mabul Island - Budget Travel Guide

6 thoughts on “Getting to Mabul Island – Budget Travel Guide”

  1. 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 🙂

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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

  5. 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

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