This guide will provide you with a brief overview of the best beaches in Borneo. Choosing your seaside experience can depend on various factors, you may want to consider geographical location, snorkeling & diving opportunities and FCO advice. Here I give you an overview of the best beach options to help you make the right decisions for your Borneo holiday.
Borneo’s beaches are mainly clustered in the eastern state of Sabah including Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park’s beaches, Tajung Aru Beach and Shangri La Rasa Ria Beach near the major city of Kota Kinabalu. In the western state of Sarawak there is the rustic Permai Rainforest Resort with a wonderful private beach. Finally there are some incredible choices to the far east of Malaysian Borneo’s coast. In this area of the island though we must consider FCO advice and factor in whether travel insurance will cover your stay in this region.
Permai private beach
Located in Sarawak close to Bako National Park and Mount Santubong, Permai Rainforest Resort’s private beach is rustic with a lovely desert island feel. Is is perhaps not ideal for sunbathers due to the boulders that dominate the shoreline. An insider’s tip is to explore the waterfalls in the surrounding rainforest that have created a natural rock pool just before you reach the beach. It’s a great place to wash off any salt and sand from the sea.
Pantai Dalit Beach is surrounded by 400 acres of lush tropical vegetation making it the perfect location for beach and nature lovers. The hotel itself is host to numerous amenities, beautiful gardens, and is set right on a private beach making this option ideal for families. There are a vast array of places for food and drink in the hotel and you will not be disappointed by a sunset cocktail at the Sampan Bar.
6 kilometres south of Kota Kinabalu near the Shangri La Tanjung Aru is Tanjung Aru beach, a very local area with few tourists and an abundance of restaurants and food stalls in the evening all of a great variety. It’s the perfect place to sample some of the local cuisine, our favourites being the fresh seafood, steaming bowls of Laksa and Roti Chenai. This is a great place to visit if you’re looking to soak up everyday Bornean life.
Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park
A 15-minute speed boat from Kota Kinabalu, Gaya Island is largest of 5 islands with three great resorts – Gaya Island Resort, Bungaraya Island Resort and Gayana Ecolodge. The latter two share a beach, being sister properties, Gaya Island Resort has a rather magnificent setting on its own beach whilst also providing guests with access to a very secluded private beach at Tavajun Bay a short boat ride away. The sand here is a perfect white colour with crystal clear waters and an abundance of marine life. Here you can also explore Gaya’s vast rainforest and visit the resort’s own marine centre where incredibly knowledgeable naturalists can tell you all you need to know about the wildlife and conservation efforts of the area.
Other surrounding islands that are worth a visit are Manukan, Sapi, Mamutik and Sulug, all beaches that are lined with barbeque stalls teeming with activity, giving visitors a great glimpse into the local way of life. Gaya and Sapi are also excellent places for diving, with the calm surrounding sea being a great advantage.
FCO affected beaches
Sipadan, Mataking, Pom Pom, Kapali & Mabul Islands
East of mainland Borneo – in the Celebes Sea, these islands are host to some of the best scuba diving sites in the world. As part of the effort to conserve coral and marine environments, the government has limited the number of divers and snorkelers to Sipadan to 120 per day so the waters. This has kept the waters relatively tourist free. There has also been a government ban on accommodation since 2004 leaving the island with clean beaches and sea.
Dive resorts can be found boat ride away on Mabul Island, a diving destination in its own right. It is advisable not to stay in Semporna, the gateway to these islands, because it smells of fish and the beaches are fairly dirty. Do also note that, there has been an FCO warning in the region since 2014, due to its proximity to the southern Philippine islands. However, danger has now been reduced with a permanent military presence at all offshore islands popular with tourists. Be mindful that travel insurance will not cover you in this area at the moment.
Selingan Island (Turtle Island)
Nestled in the emerald waters of the Sulu Sea, Selingan Island has a rustic desert island feel with white sand beaches and shallow seas. The main focus of this beautiful island is the turtle rehabilitation centre and is one of the best places to see them in this region. It’s an ideal place to spend one night and is a quick 1-hour boat trip north of Sandakan jetty. The island is however on the border of FCO warnings so this is something to keep in mind if visiting here.
A speedy 90-minute journey from Sandakan jetty, this island boasts beautiful views across the corals that surround the island resort. It is an excellent place for diving as the calm Sulu Sea makes it a good place for beginners as well as experts. Nestled on the beach are the chalets that have been hand-built from local materials with beautiful views out onto the ocean. Turtle viewing on the island is another bonus as there is large population that breed here. FCO warnings are also in place here so it is worth considering this before planning your trip.
Kalampunian & Kelambu Beach, Kudat
Nestled in the most northern tip of Borneo, these beaches are full of history having once been the most important trading post and capital of Borneo in the late 19th century. The surrounding areas are great for trekking, local fishing, exploring tribal long houses and mangroves. There are good villa options for families and whilst it may not be the most spectacular beach in the country, it is in a great location – perfect for soaking up some of the local culture and off-the-beaten-track experiences the area has to offer. This island also falls under FCO warnings so be sure to take this into consideration prior to visiting.
Updated: October 2017
Interested in a Malaysian Borneo holiday featuring one (or many!) of these beaches?
Have a look at our suggested itineraries below:
If you’d like to talk to a specialist, you can always phone on 020 3468 3029. Remember there are absolutely no obligations and we’re here to offer advice for any stage of your holiday planning. If contacting us via email is easier for you, you can do it here.