Looking for things to do in Sabah, Borneo? Discover majestic peaks, white sand beaches, and wildlife reserves in this epic 7 day Sabah itinerary covering all the top places to visit and must-see attractions.
Out of all of the epic best things to do in Sabah Borneo, it’s almost impossible to cram it everything 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 make sure 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 Sabah travel guide.
- Quicklist: Top 4 Things to do in Sabah
- What’s in this Recommended Itinerary for Sabah?
- Sabah Itinerary Map – Top Attractions
- The Ultimate 7 Day Sabah Itinerary
- Day 0: Arriving in Sabah (Kota Kinabalu)
- Day 1: Kinabalu Park Hikes
- Day 2: Sepilok Nature Walks
- Day 3: Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary and Sun Bear Sanctuary
- Day 4: Kinabatangan River Cruise
- Day 5: Semporna and Bohey Dulang Island Hopping Trip
- Day 6: Mabul Island and Sipidan Diving
- Day 7: Back to Kota Kinabalu
- Travel Tip: How to Get Around in Sabah Borneo
- Things to Know When Planning Your Itinerary for Sabah
- After Sabah Borneo – More South East Asia Travel Guides
Quicklist: Top 4 Things to do in Sabah
- Kinabatangan River Cruise - This 2D1N Sandakan tour from KK offers an incredible opportunity to spot orangutans in their natural habitat.
- Kinabalu Park & Poring Hot Spring Tour - hike in the foothills of Mount Kinabalu and visit these UNESCO World Heritage-listed sites from KK.
- 2D1N Mount Kinabalu Climb - Climb Borneo's highest peak and most renowned World Heritage site (top tour company with hundreds of 5-star reviews).
- Tun Sakaran Marine Park - an incredible island-hopping trip to top destinations around Semporna including Bohey Dulang viewpoint!
What's in this Recommended Itinerary for Sabah?
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 South East 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 proboscis 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
Sabah Itinerary Map - Top Attractions
Here's an interactive map that you can use for reference or save to help visualize the things to do and destinations covered in this Sabah itinerary.
Travel Hack: Click on the itinerary map above and it will load on your Google Maps app. You can save it by clicking the grey star at the top, which will add it to "Your Places" on your Google Maps account. This way, you have a handy digital app on the go with all the locations pinned– just refer back to this article (or bookmark it) for the information you need.
The Ultimate 7 Day Sabah Itinerary
Let's get into this epic Sabah 7-day itinerary! I've planned this itinerary based on my own experience traveling in Sabah but will offer various options to suit your style of travel.
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
There are plenty of options when planning where to stay in Kota Kinabalu. Below are three great recommendations
- Le Meridien Kota Kinabalu - the top luxury pick offering an outdoor pool and 4 dining options in the heart of KK.
- CJ residence - a great mid-range pick with amazing rooms, a restaurant, and bar on the main waterfront strip.
- Faloe Hostel - the top rated backpacker hostel for location, vibe, and facilities.
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 South East 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.
Book the Kinabalu ClimbOvernight Climb of Mount Kinabalu from KK
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.
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 comparing prices across dealerships in Kota Kinabalu and beyond.
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.
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.
- Borneo Sepilok Rainforest Resort - a newly built jungle-themed luxury resort in the heart of Sepilok offering free airport shuttle service.
- Paganakan Dii Tropical Retreat - a mid-range retreat with beautiful bungalow-style rooms in the Bornean jungle.
- Sepilok B&B - 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 orangutan's who are further along the rehabilitation process only venture close to get food in the morning and afternoon.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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, proboscis monkeys, to name a few. Here are some great accommodation picks.
- 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 - Affordable but comfortable lodges on the doorstep of the Kinabatangan.
- Sukau Backpackers B&B - 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.
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.
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.
Best Travel Insurance for Sabah
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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.
- SeaCoral Water Chalet - stay in your own over-water bungalow reaching out over the sea.
- Timba Garden - top mid-range accommodation pick with beautiful queen rooms and garden views. Offers free town and jetty transport.
- Ozzy Lodge - 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.
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.
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 for my trip to this remote island.
All lodges can also arrange snorkeling trips around Mabul, as well as dive trips to Sipidan.
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 - great diver's accommodation on Mabul Island with clean rooms spanning out over the water.
- Where I stayed: 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 days trip has come to an end. By now, you're probably looking forward to a long, well-deserved rest.
To get back to Kota Kingabalu, 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.
Travel Tip: 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.
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.
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.
- Get Your Guide
- Rental Car - For finding your own car to drive
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.
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 World Nomads 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, World Nomads covers all of this.
Update: These days I use Safetywing as it's a more affordable option worldwide and includes coverage for COVID.
After Sabah Borneo - More South East Asia Travel Guides
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 to more regions in SEA. Alternatively, here are some specific Sabah travel guides you might want to check out.
Monday 5th of September 2022
Hi Ollie... thanks for the concise and informative "visit sabah" plan.
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!
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.