Calm and serene Sapi island beckons from Sabah

Sapi island is a 20 minute boat ride from Kota Kinabalu.

Sapi island is one of the most popular places in Sabah to swim, snorkel and relax as it is just a 20 minute boat ride away from Kota Kinabalu.

Sapi is one of the five islands making up the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park, covering 50 sq kilometres of the islands and their surrounding reefs.

The five islands that make up the park are:

  • Pulau Gaya, the largest at 15 sq kilometres, has its highest point 300m above sea level. It is mostly thick with primary forest.

Tourists are largely confined to three luxury beach resorts or are restricted to organised walks on the 20 kilometres of marked trails.

Sapi island’s clear water beckons divers and snorkellers.
  • Pulau Manukan, the second biggest and most developed, houses the park headquarters.
  • Pulau Mamutik is reputed to have the best snorkeling sites and is a renowned dive spot for novice divers with its shallow water and gentle currents.
  • Pulau Sulug, the most unspoiled and remote island has a long sand spit and an extensive coral reef.
  • Pulau Sapi, so named because Sapi means “cow” and the island is said to be shaped like a cow’s head.
The pristine white beach on Sapi island.

Sapi island attractions

  • Swimming, as it has a pristine white beach and clear water.
  • Snorkeling, as the fish here are accustomed to being hand fed and will come to you. You can buy fish food on the island.
  • Picnicking, as shady spots with seating and tables are aplenty. However the island can get crowded, especially on weekends.
  • Diving, as there is a coral garden at the southeast tip of the island. Stingrays, cuttlefish and moray eels are among the marine life here.
  • Walking to Gaya island is possible at low tide across the connecting sand bar but do take care not to get cut off.
This nature trail skirts Sapi island.
  • Scuba-Doo Breathing Bubbles. Motorbike-style mini-submarines can be hired, enabling you to enjoy a scuba diving-like experience while breathing normally in a safe air bubble.
  • Nature Trail. There is a five kilometre trail which skirts the island and takes you up to its highest point.
  • Monitor Lizards are one of the island’s most popular attractions as the giant lizards scavenge from litter bins and are not afraid of humans.

These are wild creatures with sharp claws and a nasty bite so keep your distance when taking photos.

  • Macaque monkeys are cute to look at but are actually pests, especially if they steal your bag or camera. It is best not to feed them.
The Coral Flyer is a 250m zipline between islands.
  • Coral Flyer is the coolest attraction on Sapi Island as it claims to be the longest island-to-island zipline in the world. This flying fox (aerial ropeway) links Sapi to Gaya Island, a distance of 250m at speeds of up to 60 kph.

This is a professionally managed operation that prioritises safety. Trained and qualified personnel and strong harnesses and cables ensure a smooth trip.

The ticket cost includes a boat transfer to Gaya and a return journey by zipline. The ride is open from 10am to 3pm daily. You can buy tickets on arrival at the Sapi jetty.

  • Safety. There are always two or three armed policemen stationed on the beach for the protection of tourists.

There has not been any serious incident in this part of Sabah but being near the pirate and terrorist infested waters of the Sulu Sea, this is a sensible precaution.

There are many ferries and packages to choose from.

How to get to Sapi island

There is a ferry terminal at Jesselton Point Waterfront in Kota Kinabalu with numerous operators providing speed boat return trips to the islands of the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park at fixed prices.

The ferries start at 7:30am and the last trip departs at 4pm. Only buy tickets from the ferry terminal counter and avoid the unauthorised touts.

Ferry packages

The ferry operators have various packages including snorkeling gear and a packed lunch but you can just opt for a straightforward return speed boat ticket. In addition to the ferry fare, all passengers must pay a Terminal Fee.

Conservation fee

The National Park charges a small conservation fee when you arrive. You only pay once even if you are island hopping.

There is no accommodation on Sapi Island but camping is permitted with prior permission from the Park Warden.

This article first appeared in Malaysia Traveller.