The three remote islands known as the Mantanani Islands are situated northwest of Kota Belud, a town roughly an hour and a half drive from Kota Kinabalu, the state capital of Sabah. Depending on the state of the sea, the speedboat voyage from the mainland to these islands takes about 60 minutes. The islands are a great place to go snorkelling, scuba diving, or island hopping because of their beautiful, white sand beaches surrounded by coconut palm trees, and their clear, blue waters that are home to a variety of marine life. The unique dugong, or sea cow, lives in the water there but sightings are not guaranteed as these mammals are very shy and will distance themselves, especially with the sight of crowds.

How to get to Mantanani Island?

The transfer to the island is included in the package for the day trip. If you decide to stay there longer than a day, your resort will organize a transfer for you as well.

The transfer includes the bus or minivan from your hotel in Kota Kinabalu to Kota Belud Jetty and then a speedboat further to Mentanani Island.

Several operators organize tours to the islands. I chose the offer of Borneo Calling as the price was attractive: 260 RM. Amazing Borneo is a bit more expensive and the tour costs about 340 RM. I didn’t see any differences in the itinerary.

When to go?

Tours to Mantanani Island are available the whole year, but the best time to visit is between February and April, during the dry season. The weather during these months is generally more favourable with less rainfall, making it easier to enjoy outdoor activities.

How long should you stay?

One day is enough to relax on the beach and do some snorkelling. However, during the day it is incredibly hot so most probably you will want to spend the time in the shade. Staying overnight is a great idea, as you can enjoy the magnificent sunset and sunrise and the calmness of the island once day trippers leave.

Mantanani Island, Borneo
Mantanani Island

Where to stay?

I haven’t spent the night on the island itself, but based myself in Kota Kinabalu and did a day trip from there. I can recommend three places to stay there: ATAP Hotel, Hotel Tourist by HotSpot Essential and Akinabalu Youth Hostel. All of them were affordable and offered a nice and clean private room.

How to get around?

The island is small so you will need nothing else but your legs!

A day trip itinerary

I was met by a minibus driver punctually at 7:30 AM and then we made a loop around the town, picking up a few more tourists. The drive to the jetty in the Kota Belud district took approximately 1.5 hours with a short toilet break halfway. The further speedboat ride took about 60 minutes. The sea conditions were good so it wasn’t too bumpy.

Once we arrived at the island, we were taken to Lovely Mantanani Beach Club. We left our bags there, had a drink and went back to the speedboat to start our snorkelling adventure. The two spots were fine and we could see some colourful fish but definitely, it wasn’t as good as it was in Semporna.

The lunch was served at around 12:30 PM. The food was tasty and plentiful, even though I expected a buffet. After lunch, we were free to take a walk on the white sandy beach, enjoy the kayaks or simply relax in the shade. I used the opportunity to fly a drone, after previously asking the guide if it was allowed as I noticed a small police station nearby.

We departed back to Kota Belud Jetty at around 3 PM. There were dark clouds on the horizon and I was sure we would be caught by heavy rain. Miraculously, we weren’t. But as soon as we changed to the minivan and started driving back to Kota Kinabalu, the heavens got wild and it was pouring almost the whole way. I was back to my hotel at about 6 PM.

Overall, it was a well-organized tour of the beautiful island, but next time I would consider staying overnight to get the full experience. Waking up in such isolated places is always unique.

Included in the tour package are: transportation, lunch, water, and snorkeling equipment.

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