Skip to Content
Sabah Itinerary 7 Days: Best Things to Do in 2024

Sabah Itinerary 7 Days: Best Things to Do in 2024

Discover majestic peaks, white sand beaches, and wildlife reserves in this epic 7 day Sabah itinerary covering all the top places to visit and the best things to do!

I’m going to be honest, if you want to see it all, it’s almost impossible to cram all of Sabah’s attractions into a one-week itinerary. However, if you’ve got more sense of adventure than time, then following this Sabah itinerary for 7 days will ensure you cover as much travel ground as possible.

First and foremost, as this is an adventure travel blog, the itinerary caters more to those more interested in hikes, wildlife, and outdoor adventures than KK shopping. That being said, even luxury travelers will still get some great travel ideas from this guide, based on my own trip around Sabah.

Olly gaspar

By Olly Gaspar, full-time traveler & adventure photographer for 6 years with 700+ published travel guides. I visit every place I write about & share real tips from what I learn.

Sabah Itinerary Map

Here's an interactive map that you can use for reference or save to help visualize the top places to visit and destinations covered in this Sabah itinerary.

Sabah itinerary map showing the best places to visit

The Ultimate 7-Day Sabah Itinerary

To give you an idea of what to expect on this itinerary, here are some Sabah highlights you can expect over the next week.

  • Hike in the foothills (or summit) of Southeast Asia's tallest mountain (Mount Kinabalu)
  • Come face to face with the endangered Bornean Orangutans and Sun Bears at the incredible Sepilok Rehabilitation Centre
  • Spot probosci's monkeys and pygmy elephants on one of the world's most biodiverse jungle river systems (Kinabatangan River)
  • Go island-hopping off the coast of Semporna
  • Scuba dive or snorkel at one of the world's best dive sites

I've planned this itinerary based on my own experience traveling in Sabah but will offer various options to suit your style of travel. Below are three great tours and experiences that you can book online in advance.

Sunrise over kota kinabalu, sabah

1. 2D1N Mount Kinabalu Climb

Climb Borneo's highest peak and most renowned World Heritage site (top tour company with hundreds of 5-star reviews).

Proboscis monkey, kinabatangan river

2. Kinabatangan River Cruise Must-Do

This 2D1N Sandakan tour from KK offers an incredible opportunity to spot orangutans in their natural habitat.

Bohey dulang on a tun sakaran marine park island hopping

3. Tun Sakaran Marine Park

An incredible island-hopping trip to top destinations around Semporna including Bohey Dulang viewpoint!

Day 0: Arriving in Sabah (Kota Kinabalu

The gateway to Sabah is the capital of Kota Kinabalu, commonly referred to as "KK". This is a large metropolis situated near the towering Kinabalu peak and various tropical islands.

You'll likely fly straight into Kota Kinabalu International Airport since there are several international available, as well as cost-effective flights from Malaysia and Singapore.

I recommend comparing prices on flights to Sabah using SkyScanner to get a good rate.

Accommodation in Kota Kinabalu

With so many great places to stay in Kota Kinabalu, I have suggested my top picks below.

You may choose a luxury choice if you feel like you want 5-star service, a unique choice with its very own adult slide, and a budget choice for those backpackers who want to keep their wallets full.

Hilton kota kinabalu

1. Hilton Kota Kinabalu - Luxury

The top luxury 5-star choice in Kota Kinabalu. Perfect for those wanting to relax with the top-of-the-range level of service and facilities. Boasting buffet breakfasts and high-teas.

Toojou bedroom suite

2. TooJou - Unique Stay

Located in the heart of Kota Kinabalu TooJou is a great option for those wanting a comfortable stay without breaking the bank. It even has its very own indoor adult slippery slide.

Dorm room at homy seafront hostel, kota kinabalu

3. Homy Seafront Hostel - Budget

Perfect for backpackers looking for a cheap sleep with comfortable beds within the main area of Kota Kinabalu. It offers a communal kitchen and lounge area with sea views.

Budget tip: There are both luxury and budget backpacker accommodations all over Sabah. Of course, the latter won't be as budget-friendly as other places in Asia like Indonesia or Thailand. Nevertheless, it's still possible to find double rooms for under $15 USD per night.

Day 1: Kinabalu Park Hikes

Depending on what time you land in Kota Kinabalu, you might be able to get to adventuring straight away!

Famous for being the tallest mountain in Southeast Asia, Mount Kinabalu is a great attraction for travelers in Sabah. Unfortunately, if you only have a week to explore Sabah, then getting to the summit will take a large chunk of that, since it's an overnight activity.

Hiking in kinabalu national park in sabah, borneo

Regardless, even if you don't go for the summit, you can still get your hiking and nature fix in the Kinabalu Park foothills. There are loads of great hiking trails that you can choose from!

While it's possible to take the bus to Kinabalu Park leave at 6:30 am from the inner-city bus station (first bus departing at 6:30 am) near "Dreamtel", you can also book a guided tour.

This trip includes a guided hike through Kinabalu Park, as well as an awesome visit to the Poring Hot Springs.

Finish the day off by returning to Kota Kinabalu and prepare for a long bus to Sepilok the following morning. Alternatively, you could take a flight to Sandakan to save time as well.

Waterfall in kinabalu park, sabah, borneo

Day 2: Sepilok Nature Walks

Buses depart from the Inanam Bus Terminal on the hour, every hour from about 6 am to Sandakan. Take the earliest bus you can, hop off at the Sepilok interchange, and walk to your accommodation (recommendations below)

For the rest of the day, you can relax in the vicinity of the Sepilok Conservation Area or visit the Sepilok Rainforest Discover Centre. For a great list of things to do in Sepilok to fill out your day, Bizzare Globe Trotter has written a very useful Sepilok blog.

Sunset at sepilok, sabah, borneo

Accommodation in Sepilok

Sepilok is in the northeastern region of Sabah near the larger town of Sandakan. Here is where you'll find the famous and incredibly well-run Orangutan and Sun Bear rehabilitation sanctuaries.

Sepilok also borders some of the last remaining Bornean rainforests, making it a popular spot for nature lovers. Below are the three best places to stay nearby.

Bedroom at sepilok jungle resort

1. Borneo Sepilok Rainforest Resort Luxury

A newly built jungle-themed luxury resort in the heart of Sepilok offering free airport shuttle service.

Bedroom layout at the paganakan dii tropical retreat

2. Paganakan Dii Tropical Retreat Mid-Range

A mid-range retreat with beautiful bungalow-style rooms in the Bornean jungle.

Bedroom with bunk bed at sepilok b&b

3. Sepilok B&B Budget

Comfortable and cost-effective B&B with air-conditioning in a jungle setting, close to the Orangutan sanctuary.

Day 3: Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary and Sun Bear Sanctuary

In the morning, walk down to the Orangutan Rehabilitation Sanctuary in time for feeding at 10 am. This is important as the sanctuary encourages the gradual rehabilitation of orangutans by encouraging them to venture further into the jungle, away from the sanctuary.

This means that they are usually hanging out far in the jungle. As a result, the orangutans who are further along the rehabilitation process only venture close to get food in the morning and afternoon.

Orangutan eating at the orangutan rehabilitation centre in sepilok, sabah, borneo

After seeing the incredible orangutans, head out of the gate and cross the road where you'll find the Sun Bear Sanctuary. All of the sun bears here are being rehabilitated due to a previous life of exploitation in the exotic pet trade.

Honestly, you don't need a guide to visit these two sanctuaries. However, if you want to support local tourism and get some great inside information about the animals and the area, you can hire a guide for the whole day for under $100.

Sepilok sun bear sanctuary

Day 4: Kinabatangan River Cruise

If you'd prefer to stay in Sandakan or Sepilok another night and still join in on a Kinabatangan River Cruise, then it's possible to arrange a day trip online.

Otherwise, the best way to get to the next destination, Sukau, is to message Mr. Choy on WhatsApp. His number is 019-536-1889 and he does daily transfers from Sandakan or Sepilok to Sukau on the Kinabatangan River for 50 RM per person.

For more information and alternatives to getting here, check out my guide to how to get to Kinabatangan River.

Once you're in Sukau, your lodge will be able to organize as many wildlife-spotting river cruises as you'd like. Typically, they have a sunrise, sunset, and night cruise, where you'll have the chance to spot wild proboscis monkeys, orangutans, pygmy elephants, leaf monkeys, crocodiles, hornbills, and many, many more amazing animals.

Proboscis monkey sukau wildlife

If I had to pick the number one best thing to do in Sabah Borneo, then a Kinabatangan river cruise would easily make the top spot. Being privileged enough to be able to see the incredible biodiversity of this river system is something that I'll never forget.

Sukau river cruise

I'd also recommend staying in Sukau so that you can experience a night cruise and the incredible rainforest sounds at night time. The lodge I stayed at (RB Lodge) is located right on the bank of the river, which really makes you feel like you're getting the most authentic Bornean jungle experience possible.

Kinabatangan river boat in sabah

Alternative: 2-Day Organised Trip - KK to Kinabatangan

If you'd like to save time & energy with public transport, book this 2D1N Trip to Sandakan. This includes transport & a guide to Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary, a Kinabatangan river cruise, and a visit to Gomantong Caves

Sukau cave, tomanggong limestone area, kinabatangan
Travel tip: Don't miss this awesome cave near Kinabatangan!

Accommodation in Sukau & Kinabatangan River

While it's possible to stay in Sandakan and take tours into the Kinabatangan, staying on the Kinabatangan River is in my opinion, a must-do on any Sabah itinerary!

This region is one of the last remaining sanctuaries for wild orangutans, Bornean pygmy elephants, probosci's monkeys, to name a few. Here are some great accommodation picks.

Room at borneo natural sukau bilit resort

1. Borneo Natural Sukau Bilit Resort

An amazing eco-jungle resort surrounded by lush greenery. Spot monkeys swinging from the vines from your own balcony overlooking the river.

Kinabatangan wildlife lodge

2. Kinabatangan Wildlife Lodge Mid-Range

Affordable but comfortable lodges on the doorstep of the Kinabatangan.

Outdoor garden view at sukau backpackers b&b

3. Sukau Backpackers B&B Budget

Cheap rooms right on the edge of the Kinabatangan River. The real-deal raw jungle experience and run by guys who organize cheap river cruises.

Day 5: Semporna and Bohey Dulang Island Hopping Trip

For the last few days of the ultimate Sabah itinerary 7 days trip, you'll be soaking in the sun on some of Sabah's best islands.

I recommend getting your accommodation to organize transport for you, or contact Mr. Choy (information above) and ask him to drop you at the restaurant where you can take a bus from Sepilok to Semporna. The journey is only a couple of hours.

However, you'll want to leave early to maximize time for an island-hopping trip in Semporna.

Island hopping in sabah

Once you arrive at Semporna, drop your bags at your accommodation and head to the public boat jetty to jump aboard a trip. If you're set on seeing the epic Bohey Dulang viewpoint (a must), then I recommend booking this island hopping trip in advance to secure a spot.

Most trips include snorkel gear and lunch and run for about 8 hours.

Bohey dulang viewpoint in sabah, borneo
Bohey dulang

Finish the day off by catching some sleep in Semporna. However, you'll need to be ready to depart early the next day for a trip to Mabul Island.

Boat near semporna reef

Accommodation in Semporna

Sabah's southern coastal city isn't exactly a top pick for the most beautiful places to visit. However, it does serve as the perfect base to launch into amazing islands nearby. Luckily, there are a few great places to stay which makes the experience much better.

Outdoor views at timba garden

2. Timba Garden Mid-Range

Top mid-range accommodation pick with beautiful queen rooms and garden views. Offers free town and jetty transport.

Bedroom at ozzy lodge semporna

3. Ozzy Lodge Budget

Close to the harbor but far enough to still be clean and less chaotic. Super friendly owner who can organize cheap island-hopping trips.

Day 6: Mabul Island and Sipidan Diving

Known as the Maldives of Malaysia, Mabul Island is an incredible coral reef island an hour's boat ride away from Semporna. Many people visit Mabul for diving and snorkeling, and in hopes of doing a diving trip to one of the world's best dive sites; Sipidan Island.

Mabul island marine life

The trip to Mabul Island from Semporna jetty only takes roughly one hour, meaning if you leave early enough, you'll have time to get some dives in and explore a bit of the island.

Mabul island accommodation
Mabul Backpackers arranges free transfers to Mabul from Semporna if you book online to stay at their accommodation.

If you're not diving, then there's still plenty to do. Exploring the interior, where you can mingle with the island locals who have migrated here from the Sulu islands in the Philippines. For me, meeting the fascinating seafaring Bajau people was a highlight of my trip to this remote island.

Bajau people of borneo
Palm trees in borneo
Budget accomodation in mabul island

All lodges can also arrange snorkeling trips around Mabul, as well as dive trips to Sipidan.

Sea gypsie community on mabul island, sabah, borneo

Accommodation on Mabul Island

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.

Day 7: Back to Kota Kinabalu

And just like that, the Sabah itinerary 7-day trip has come to an end. By now, you're probably looking forward to a long, well-deserved rest.

To get back to Kota Kinabalu, you can fly there directly from nearby Taway Airport, just a short taxi drive from Semporna.

Alternatively, budget travelers can take the overland bus for 12 hours from Semporna Bus Station.

Palm trees in borneo

Want Affordable Travel Insurance for Sabah?

Safeguard yourself from unforeseen travel mishaps like accidents, cancellations, delays, & loss of your personal items. HeyMondo offers peace of mind travel insurance for Sabah with an easy-to-use app to manage claims.

Tip: We Seek Travel readers get 5% OFF

How to Get Around in Sabah Borneo

Sabah is a big region. Covering such vast distances over the course of a single week is going to be a little tiring. To add insult to injury, it can also be fairly difficult to plan transport within Sabah if you haven't got some experience or tips.

Ultimately, you'll have three options for getting around Sabah Borneo, overland buses (long), flying (quicker but can be more expensive), and organizing a private driver (very expensive).

My style of travel is almost always budget-oriented. Truthfully, I prefer jumping on public buses, hitching rides with locals, and experiencing the occasional travel mishap, because hey, they make for the best stories.

But, if you only have the time for a Sabah itinerary over 7 days, then I understand that you want to get it right. So, here's a low down on your options.

Mabul island people

Getting Around Sabah Borneo By Bus

Getting around by overland buses is how I traveled around Sabah. There is a long freeway that connects the capital Kota Kinabalu (KK) to Tawau and Semporna in the southeast. Thankfully, this same road connects to most of the highlights on this list of best things to do in Sabah Borneo, including visiting Sepilok and Sandakan.

If you choose the bus route, expect long-distance journeys of around 8-12 hours for some stretches. To maximize time, you can always catch the early morning buses to free up your afternoon, or alternatively, take the night bus (limited routes).

Don't worry, if you've skipped to this bit– I go into more detail about how you'll get from A to B within the actual Sabah itinerary above.

Beach in sabah, borneo

Car Rentals in Sabah

If you prefer to drive yourself to the destinations around Sabah, then you can find great deals on rentals at DiscoverCars. This is a rental car site I always use to compare prices across dealerships in Kota Kinabalu & beyond.

Flying From KK to Sabah Attractions

For those looking to save time, it's possible to fly to the major points on this itinerary without breaking the bank.

Air Asia occasionally offers cheap flights starting at $30 per person from Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan Airport and to Tawau. You can compare the availability and prices on SkyScanner quite easily.

Also, if you’re looking to get to bypass KK and fly straight into Sandakan, then you can also find many budget flights connecting from Kuala Lumpur.

Hire a Private Driver for Sabah

This is easily going to be the most expensive option. Truth be told, I've never been one to hire my own personal driver to take me around a country. However, below is a list of useful resources for finding private drivers or organized tours in Sabah and South East Asia.

Getting to mabul island, budget accommodation in mabul

Things to Know When Planning Your Itinerary for Sabah

Firstly, as I've already mentioned, in order to tick every single item on the list the best things to do in Sabah Borneo, you're going to need more time.

Borneo is HUGE!

What many people don't know is that Borneo is, in fact, the third-largest island in the world. While northern Sabah is only a comparable chunk, that chunk still covers a total land area of over 73,630 square kilometers.

Unfortunately for the long-distance travel-weary backpacker, this means you'll need to spend a significant amount of your time on buses, or on domestic flights.

However, I guess that's the price we pay if we want to make the most of our limited time in Sabah.

Mabul island in sabah, borneo
Proboscis monkey, kinabatangan river, sabah, borneo

Do I Need Travel Insurance for Sabah Borneo?

Truthfully, I never travel without travel insurance. And, since I'm always traveling, I guess I've always got travel insurance coverage. Ever since I had my entire backpack (everything I own) stolen at a Barcelona airport back in 2015, I vowed to always purchase travel insurance.

The insurance that I used when traveling in Sabah is HeyMondo because they offer excellent coverage for adventure travelers. If you're following this Sabah itinerary for 7 days, then you'll be spending your days hiking in the jungle, sleeping along the banks of rivers, island hopping, snorkeling, and maybe even scuba diving.

Unlike most insurance companies, HeyMondo covers all of these, and offers a great app to manage any claims easily.

Hopefully, this 7-day Sabah itinerary has inspired you to visit one of Asia's best wildlife gems! While you're here on my blog, check out some of my other guides below.

Bajau people of mabul island
Sea gypsies on mantabuan island sabah
Beach on mantabuan island
Sabah itinerary 7 days – things to do in sabah borneo 2
Hiking in borneo
Thanks for Reading

I'm Olly Gaspar, adventure travel journalist & photographer. Traveling non-stop since 2018, I've published over 700 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.

we seek travel facebook icon we seek travel pinterest icon we seek travel instagram icon we seek travel youtube icon

I only make genuine, worthwhile recommendations based on my experience, expertise, & research. If you buy through my links, I may get a commission, supporting this website at no extra cost to you.

Mar

Wednesday 5th of July 2023

Hello,

Thank you for sharing this itinerary. I would like to contact Mr. Choy via WhatsApp. Could you please provide me with the prefix of his number?

Thank you

Lynzee

Saturday 15th of April 2023

How is it possible to do all this in 7 days?? It takes so long to get around

paul

Monday 5th of September 2022

Hi Ollie... thanks for the concise and informative "visit sabah" plan.

Lily Bilson

Sunday 3rd of April 2022

Hey! Thanks so much for this blog. I’m currently planning a trip around south east Asia and it’s so overwhelming, so blogs like these are really helpful!! How much would you recommend someone budget for this itinerary? Thanks!

Ali

Tuesday 31st of March 2020

Hmm it seems like your website ate my first comment (it was extremely long) so I guess I'll just sum it up what I submitted and say, I'm thoroughly enjoying your blog. I too am an aspiring blog blogger but I'm still new to the whole thing. Do you have any recommendations for first-time blog writers? I'd definitely appreciate it.