Borneo is known for its abundant natural wonders, but Kinabalu National Park may just be the most spectacular. The main attraction is Mount Kinabalu, a 4,095-metre monster of granite that takes the title of the tallest mountain in Malaysia by a long shot.
If you’ve been hoping to cross “climb a mountain” off your bucket list, this is the place to do it. No special equipment is needed to climb Mount Kinabalu -- just a good pair of shoes, a warm jacket and determination. More than 40,000 people attempt to reach the summit each year. The youngest climber on record was just four and the oldest was 90. It takes two days to reach the summit, even if you are fit enough to do it in one, as you must pre-purchase a night’s accommodation on the mountain before you start. Don’t turn up expecting to be able to climb: Since the devastating earthquake in June 2015, climbing numbers have been severely limited, and it was recommended to us that bookings be made at least six months in advance. Six months! Besides booking a bed, all climbers require a climbing permit, insurance and a mountain guide, all of which can be easily arranged on site.
Even if you have no plans to climb the mountain, Kinabalu National Park has plenty to offer nature lovers. The park was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2000 for its spectacular flora and fauna, like insect-eating pitcher plants, wild orchids, giant Rafflesia flowers and tropical birds. Also in the surrounding area are the Kundasang War Memorial and Poring Hot Springs, where you can soak your weary legs in pools of mineral water.
Kinabalu Park is run more like a business than a national treasure. If you want to stay within the park, you’ll have to deal with overpriced Sutera Sanctuary Lodge. They also have the monopoly on most mountaintop accommodation too, unless you are planning to use the via ferrata route. Alternatively, a number of simple guesthouses and chalets lie within walking distance of the park entrance.
Kinabalu National Park is just 88 kilometres from Kota Kinabalu; the city was named for the mountain, not vice versa. It’s possible to visit as a day trip but we highly recommend an overnight stay to enjoy the cooler clime and glimpse the peak at sunrise before it disappears into the morning mist.
All foreign visitors to the park pay a conservation fee of 15 ringgit for adults and 10 ringgit for children under 18.
Kinabalu National Park is located east of Kota Kinabalu along the road to Sandakan. You’ll find everything you need clustered around the park entrance including restaurants, guesthouses, taxi stand and bus stop. The nearest ATM is in the town of Kundasang eight kilometres away. It’s a further 40 kilometres to Poring Hot Springs.
By Sally Arnold. Last updated on 22nd April, 2016.