7 Hidden Hotspots and Gems to Explore in Sabah

7 Hidden Hotspots and Gems to Explore in Sabah

There's no excuse not to check out these hidden gems when in Sabah!

Image credit: Lesly Derksen

It’s hard to ignore Sabah’s myriad of poolside resorts when travelling around its idyllic islands. Home to the famous Mount Kinabalu and many pristine beaches, tourists flock to these places for a tropical getaway. However, have you ever wondered what lies beyond these attractions? If you’re looking to venture off the beaten path, here are seven hidden hotspots and gems to explore in Sabah! 

Your next adventure to Sabah could be the trip of a lifetime.

Don’t miss out on these exotic experiences and hidden hotspots in Sabah!


1. Soak in the diversity of experiences in Sandakan 

Image credit: CEphoto, Uwe Aranas

For travellers with eclectic tastes, you’re in for a treat when you visit Sandakan. Come and see how the best of nature and culture are blended harmoniously as you explore the various attractions here. If you’re looking for otherworldly sights, head over to Puu Jih Shih Temple. Decked in red and gold, its stunning architecture and ornate decor complement the view of the Sandakan coast in the distance. 

Fun fact: Did you know that this temple was also featured in the American television series The Amazing Race 4 in 2003? We’re not surprised, considering the beautiful landscape of the location! 

If discovering the hidden beauty of temples isn’t really your thing, how about a visit to the wild side of Sabah? The Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre is a sun bear rescue and rehabilitation facility dedicated to protecting these endangered creatures. Visitors can observe and bask in their overflowing cuteness while learning about the various conservation efforts. 

You’ll never get bored from the myriad of activities Sandakan has to offer! Don’t miss your chance to catch these hidden gems and hotspots away from the crowds.


2. A perfect beachy getaway at Semporna 

Pristine waters, soft sand and sun-kissed skin. No, this isn’t Hawaii. It’s Semporna, Sabah. 

Just like its name, which means “perfect” in Malay, Semporna is the perfect beachy getaway for both new and long-time travellers to Sabah. Enjoy the idyllic waters and glistening beaches that await while immersing yourself in a variety of activities to chill out. Highlights while visiting Semporna include snorkelling and diving for underwater enthusiasts. 

Another feature of Semporna is the Bohey Dulang island which sits about 23km away. The island has a 353 metre-peak hiking trail and many opportunities for bird-watching too! The trail winds around the island and takes about 45 minutes to reach the top. Reward yourself with views of its crater-lagoon at the end of your hike alongside unique flora and fauna on your way up. 

Revel in Semporna, the ultimate destination for beach resorts and diving experiences like no other!


3. Escape to Mahua Waterfall in Tambunan

This natural beauty lies 26km outside Tambunan town, making it an out-of-the-way but worthwhile gem to explore. Surrounding this thundering waterfall is a diverse ecosystem home to countless wildlife and greenery. If you’re lucky, you can spot the endemic Kinabalu Bluebottle, plus rare species of fungi and other insects that flourish in Mahua Park’s eco-trails. 

Mahua Waterfall stands as tall as a six-storey building; we’d love to see your best shots of this lofty natural beauty! Stand under the falls for a splashing good time as you enjoy this hidden gem in Tambunan.

Looking to get closer to nature without having to sacrifice comfort? Borneo Kiim Resort is the place for you then! Borneo’s first luxury tented resort provides style and comfort 1000m up in the Bornean Highlands. Equipped with a floating infinity pool, children’s playground and a bar overlooking the sunset, nature has never felt as close as it does! 

Why wait? Know more about Sabah’s hidden gems here!


4. Have fun in the sun at Dinawan Island 

A 15-minute boat ride off the jetty at Kinarut River will bring you to this privately owned island. Rather than hustling with tourists at overcrowded beaches, Dinawan Island provides a refreshing ambience to people looking for a quick timeout.

Snorkelling enthusiasts will find coral reefs here largely undamaged, with a great variety of marine life swimming about. Kayaking, paragliding, and banana boating are also available for adventure seekers! If you’re looking for a leisurely day out to chill by the sound of crashing waves, Dinawan Island is the perfect hideout.

There’s something for everyone here at Dinawan Island! Make sure to stop by this island for an undisturbed day out in the sun.


5. Have a blissful retreat from the crowds at Pulau Tiga 

hidden hotspots sabah

Image credit: Amazing Borneo

Ever since its feature in the popular reality TV series Survivor, Pula Tiga has been dubbed ‘Survivor Island’. This island provides an escape to a blissful retreat in this undisturbed location. The big blue ocean, white beaches and therapeutic mud pools are more than we could ask for in this weekend getaway. 

hidden hotspots sabah

Image credit: Amazing Borneo

If you’re looking to get about and about at Pulau Tiga, nature hikes and visits to neighbouring islands are available too. Pulau Tiga is certainly one of the many hidden hotspots and gems of Sabah, and you wouldn’t want to miss out on the unique mud-spa while you’re at it! 

Live the legacy of ‘Survivor Island’ and catch this hidden hotspot away from overcrowded tourist attractions! 


6. Revel in the tranquility of Batu Luang Beach

Batu Luang beach is nestled in the quiet town of Kuala Penyu. Shutterbugs will be delighted to capture Batu Luang Beach in all its glory, especially during the golden hour. During low tide, the famous Batu Luang rock formation is surrounded by smaller rocks covered in bright green moss. The picturesque scene makes for quite the spectacle and taking it all in is indeed a calming way to cap the day.

However, there’s a story behind how the Batu Luang rock came to be! TLDR, a massive storm occurred causing a bride to be sealed in the cave. To some, the story is merely used to scare young children from wandering about the beach alone. Others fear that a ‘bogeyman’ truly lies inside the cave waiting for its next victim. Nonetheless, don’t let these tales hinder your visit to this gorgeous beach! 

Discover the allures of this off-the-beaten-path location, while catching a glorious sunset to end your day off!


7. Explore the mysteries of Supirak Island 

From afar, Supirak Island’s ship-like appearance piques visitor’s interests. Yet, there’s something tragic about the island — considering the story of how this natural formation came to be. To this day, natural stones and palm trees rest upon what was believed to be humans and animals. These fascinatingly realistic stones and structures allow the story of Supirak to live on. 

Hop off a ten-minute boat ride to the jetty, where glistening emerald waters greet you if your visit is blessed with good weather. While the island is remote and requires a longer travelling time, adventurers can spend the whole day exploring these geological beauties around the main Supirak Island.  

Supirak Island’s tranquility makes for a good day of exploring this fascinating location. See Sabah come alive for yourself!


Also read: 6 Offbeat Places to Visit in Sabah to Bring Your Travelling Experience Up A Notch

We’re certainly adding Sabah to our ‘must-visit’ bucket list; we can’t wait for the day travel resumes again! In the meantime, these hidden hotspots and gems in Sabah are the motivation we need to start planning our next trip deep in the Southeast Asian tropics. Who knows — we may just stumble upon a few more unknown spots waiting to be discovered!

Brought to you by Sabah Tourism.

About Author

Sarah Jane Lee
Sarah Jane Lee

Sarah strongly believes that much like sunflowers, she draws her energy from basking in the sunshine. She believes that detours, chance encounters and stories shared by strangers at a bus stop are part of what makes adventure beautiful. Apart from being a sports enthusiast (current fix: Muay Thai), Sarah enjoys soaking up the afternoon sun with a book in hand.