Many people head to Kota Kinabalu with kids, drawn to its white sandy beaches and tropical weather. But the majority of these families never leave the confines of their luxury Kota Kinabalu hotel, completely missing out on all the fun things to do in Kota Kinabalu for kids.
During our family vacation in Borneo, we spent a lot of time exploring the region and found plenty of fun things to do with kids in Kota Kinabalu. From island hopping around the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park, visiting the Mari Mari Cultural Village, river cruising in search of proboscis monkeys and braving the canopy walkways of Kinabalu Park, if you are looking for family friendly activities for your family vacation in Borneo, then read below our pick of the best things to do in Kota Kinabalu with kids:
Island Hopping in Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park
Just off the coast of Kota Kinabalu, the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park is a popular spot for visitors to go island hopping in Borneo. This daytrip from Kota Kinabalu is a good choice for snorkeling in crystal clear waters, partaking in some water sports, or just kicking back on a white sandy beach.
The Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park is just a 15-minute speedboat trip ride from Kota Kinabalu, making this an easy day trip if you are in Kota Kinabalu with kids. During our day trip, we visited both Manukan Island and Sapi Island and had the opportunity to go snorkeling, play on the beach, explore the jungle and even go parasailing. Fun!
Mari Mari Cultural Village
The Mari Mari Cultural Village is a fantastic place to spend the morning if you are visiting Kota Kinabalu with kids. Set in the countryside outside Kota Kinabalu, the Mari Mari Cultural Village is set up as a living museum, designed to give an insight into the history, culture and traditions of Borneo life.
During our visit to the Mari Mari Cultural Village, we explored the traditional houses of the five main Borneo tribes, and learned a little of their daily lives along the way. We learned how to make (and drink!) rice wine, learned some traditional cooking techniques, how to start a fire using just bamboo, how to make clothes from tree bark, and got to sample some local snacks.
Kota Kinabalu has some of the most spectacular sunsets I have experienced anywhere in the world, and we were lucky to take to the seas for a sunset cruise while we were there, and witness it in all its golden, orange and red glory.
We set off at around 5pm from Sutera Harbour, then headed off towards Gaya Island to watch the sun sink into the ocean, before taking in the sights of Kota Kinabalu lively waterfront area at night, before returning to berth. The kids loved waving at all the local kids jumping off the jetties we passed along the way, and having a turn to ‘drive’ the boat – while I enjoyed a cold beer as the glowing oranges and reds took over the sky. Perfect.
A River Cruise in Search of Proboscis Monkeys
Another highlight of our trip to Kota Kinabalu with kids was a river cruise along the Kawa Kawa river, also known as the ‘Little Kinabatangan’, in search of proboscis monkeys and fireflies. Our adventure began with us boarding a small motorboat at the Kawa Kawa jetty and heading up the river. We were lucky to see several families of Borneo’s big-nosed monkeys playing in the trees, and also got to witness a spectacular sunset along the way.
After a traditional Malay dinner, we embarked on our second mission – to spot fireflies by night along the river. With clever use of a flashlight and a leaf, our boat guide enticed a few of the fireflies to leave their bush and fly into our boat – even landing on our hands, faces and life jackets – much to the delight of our kids who spoke about this for weeks! Very cool.
Walking the Canopy Walkways of Kinabalu Park
Mount Kinabalu is one of the most famous tourist attractions in Borneo, and at 4,096m in height, it is Malaysia’s tallest mountain. Climbing Mount Kinabalu is one of Borneo’s most popular tours, but for us – with a 3 year old and 5 year old in tow – this wasn’t really an option. Instead we opted to explore Kinabalu Park – the 754 square kilometer park that surrounds Mount Kinabalu. Named as Malaysia’ first World UNESCO Heritage site, Kinabalu Park is home to more than 5,000 plant species and 90 lowland mammal species.
Here we trekked along some of the jungle paths and visited the Botanical Gardens. But for us the highlight was in the nearby Poring Hot Springs national park – the Canopy Walkway – the highest canopy walkway in Sabah at over 40 metres high – roughly the height of an 8-storey building. Not for the feint hearted – although my kids happily skipped across it without a care in the world!
Looking for a luxury resort in Kota Kinabalu? Read our review of the family-friendly Kota Kinabalu hotel the Shangri-La Rasa Ria.
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