Your ultimate Kota Kinabalu guide
First-time hikers and seasoned pros alike love climbing Mount Kinabalu. Ascending through lush rainforest, you'll break above the clouds on one of the highest peaks in South East Asia. The surrounding state of Sabah is a nature-lover's paradise, too, with chances to see exotic wildlife like grandfatherly orangutans and roaming pygmy elephants. Read on for all the info you need to reach the peak!
Hiking Kota Kinabalu: the overview
First up, the numbers: the hike is 8.72 km each way, making it a 17.4 km round trip with an elevation gain of 2,300 m. It takes a minimum of 2 days and 1 night to summit, or you can opt for a 3-day hike if you want extra time to snap those panoramas. There's good news for newbies, too; you don’t need to have any climbing experience to get involved in the adventure.
This is a holy mountain, so you're required to take a guide with you. That doesn't mean you have to sacrifice your independence, though. It’s up to you whether you hike with or without an agency, depending on things like your expertise level, the time you have to arrange the trip and how hassle-free you like things to be.
The 2-day trek itinerary
However you choose to organise your trip, Day 1 starts at Timpohon Gate. It's a 3 to 5-hour hike to Panalaban Base Camp, where you’ll stay overnight. You’ll be climbing up stone or wooden stairs for about half the trail, with the last 2 km a steep and exhilarating ascent. Day 2 starts with an early wake-up call and a climb via steps or smooth rock, often with guide ropes to help you scramble up. The 2 am start is worth it to catch the sunrise at Low Peak’s summit. What an achievement before breakfast!
You can then either continue on the Via Ferrata (Italian for ‘iron road’) or head back down the mountain. If you opt for the former, you'll use rails, cables and bridges to scale the rock face – this challenging part's not for the squeamish or vertigo-prone!
Want to climb Kota Kinabalu independently?
Every climber must be accompanied by a licensed mountain guide from the local Mountain Guide Association. If the members of your group are over 16 years old, you'll need one mountain guide per five climbers. If you've got any under-16s with you, it’s one guide per two climbers. As long as you have a guide, the rest of your climbing experience can be done as you like it. Of course, forgoing an agency means you'll be responsible for arranging everything yourself.
The next super important step is to book a climb slot – that's essentially your permit to hike the mountain and a reserved bed in the Laban Rata Resthouse at Panalaban Base Camp. As we mentioned before, the minimum trek is a 2 Day/1 Night affair, so your climb permit will always include a bed.
When to book your independent trek
Only 185 climbing permits are issued per day, so it’s a hot ticket! You might get lucky and find a last-minute slot, but it’s best to book your permit 3 to 6 months before you plan to climb.
Some basic packages include transport to Kinabalu National Park, but you can request for those charges to be removed if you'd rather sort your own ride. Make sure to wear your climb permit ID at all times during the hike – you'll need it at multiple security checkpoints.
Choosing a Kota Kinabalu tour
Many climbers – especially inexperienced ones – like the peace of mind of having all the logistics of the trek taken care of. That means going through an organised tour, like the 2 Day/1 Night hike that you can book through Klook.
A tour is also a reassuring way to try out a new experience, particularly if you’re a less seasoned climber. When you book with Klook, you'll get your voucher sent straight to your mobile. Because let’s be honest – when you’re on holiday, sometimes you want someone else to do the tricky bits so you can channel all your energies on having a great time.
How the organised tour works
You’ll be picked up from your hotel, then be dropped back there as a champion when you’ve conquered the mountain. On top of the round-trip transfers and meals, the tour price includes an English-speaking coordinator, hostel accommodation, entrance fees and climbing permits, a professional mountaineering guide, insurance and a Certificate of Participation.
With arrangements taken care of, all you have to do is fill up on energy for the hike and soak up nature’s impressive sights. There’s a buffet lunch once everything's over, which will no doubt taste extra delicious after all that effort. Klook tip: if you want your money to stretch further, select a budget option for the tour while booking.
Fancy yourself something of an adventurer? Or maybe you've got a fantasy of being at one with nature. Either way, we bet swimming below waterfalls and sleeping under the stars will sound pretty tempting. You get to taste that intrepid explorer life when you Klook a 3 Day/2 Nights Mount Kinabalu Camping Experience.
Trek across boulders, creeks and rivers as you venture into the rainforest, keeping your eyes peeled for rare birds and scurrying monkeys. You’ll learn survival and bushcraft skills from your English-speaking guide, picnic by waterfalls, then jump in for a refreshing swim. After an evening of looking out for shooting stars, you’ll wake to see the sun peeking through the forest canopy.
Another day of trekking the wilderness and practising your new skills comes to a perfect end with a cup of local coffee and a cookout meal around a campfire.
See more of this part of Borneo
Still craving more? Sabah has plenty to offer, like snorkelling in the crystal clear waters of Mantanani Island off the north-west coast. Book a tour on Klook so your guide can help you spot the island's rare Proboscis Monkeys and other local fauna.
Alternatively, try to stay in the boat as you hurtle down the Kiulu River on an adrenaline-pumping whitewater rafting ride, complete with a BBQ lunch when you book through Klook.
Heart beating for Borneo?
You can snorkel with sea turtles or cruise along a rainforest river at sunset in this paradisaical part of Borneo. Check out Klook's dedicated Sabah page to get your imagination going.