For the last part of our Bornean adventure, we chose to spend our time in a tropical paradise: Manukan Island. This is the type of island you see on Instagram pictures and think it is too awesome to be real: a tiny island covered by lush green jungle, surrounded by white sand beaches and blue, crystal clear waters. It was the perfect end of our wonderful time in Borneo and a very welcoming island retreat after our mountain escape at Kinabalu Park.
Manukan Island is part of Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park, Malaysia’s first marine national park. The second largest island in the park, it is the most popular one among Kota Kinabalu locals. It also has the best touristic infrastructure among the 5 islands.
Unfortunately, the tropical paradise is flooded each day by hundreds of visitors, from around 10 in the morning until 4 in the afternoon. Just 15-20 minutes away from Kota Kinabalu, a day trip to Manukan Island is a very popular activity both for tourists that want to see the beautiful beaches and for locals that chose to spend their weekends away from the city. There are lots of boats departing to Manukan from Jesselton Point in Kota Kinabalu. Luckily, the last public boat leaves the island at 4 PM, leaving it quiet and tranquil again. I was amazed about the change each day; as I was going to our villa with Eric for his nap, the beach and park were noisy and crowded but, by the time he would wake up, we were like on an almost deserted island, just for ourselves.
So, if you really want to enjoy Manukan, you should spend the night on the island; check here to book your room!
Sutera Sanctuary Lodges at Manukan Island
Sutera Sanctuary Lodges is the only resort in Manukan Island, ensuring you’ll have enough space and privacy, with all the needed comfort. It features 20 villas, in two sections: the hillside, with awesome views towards the sea, and the beach, just a few meters away from the white sand area.
The lodges are equipped with all you might need for a wonderful stay. There are small ones, with just one room, and larger apartment villas, with living room, kitchen and 1-3 bedrooms. So either you are visiting as a couple, family or group of friends, you can find the best setup for you. The lodges are arranged in a modern yet personal way, with bright colours, large windows and a private terrace.
If you are the guest of Sutera Sanctuary Lodges at Manukan Island, you can enjoy a section of the beach far from the crowds. You have here sun lounges and hammocks, so you won’t be bothered by the hundreds of people visiting the island each day. The pool area, a quiet place with plenty of shade, is also designated for in house guests only. It features both a large pool for swimming and a small one for kids, which Eric enjoyed a lot.
The staff at Manukan Island made our stay even more memorable. From the moment you step on the transfer boat, everybody is smiling and is ready to assist with your questions or needs. We appreciated a lot the attention to the small details and the care they showed for little Eric.
Perahu is the main restaurant on the island. It offers a variety of delicious local and international dishes than can be served on the terrace right next to the beach. There are hawker type stalls too and small snack shops, plus a beach bar. For a different approach, you can request the staff to prepare a picnic spot for you on the beach. At dinner time, if you fancy a special moment, you can have a private setup at the cabana on the beach, under the pine trees. The solitary dinner table with romantic lights and coconut candles was one of the most romantic things we did in a long time, despite the toddler wandering around very happy that we eat “directly on the sand”.
What to do on Manukan Island
While on Manukan Island, there are plenty activities to be done if you get bored of lying on the beach. Sutera Sanctuary Lodges has sport fields available and various water sports can be practiced nearby. The staff can also assist to arrange trips to other islands in Tunku Abdul Rahman Park.
Near the beach you can try snorkelling. The reef if quite close to the shore and South China Sea hosts a large variety of fishes. If you want to experience more marine wildlife, TARP includes over 25 diving sites and underwater visibility is generally 10-15m.
If you spend the night on the island, do not miss the sunset point. It is located just 20-30 minutes away from the reception, on an easy, paved trail. The views are spectacular, for me there’s no better sunset than on a tiny island! Just make sure you take mosquito repellent and a torch or a flashlight with you. It will be dark by the time you get back to the resort.
Diving with Downbelow Adventures Borneo
Andrei haven’t practice his diving skills since we left the Caribbeans, so it was about time for that. Especially after he’ve seen underwater photos from Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park, he decided diving at Manukan Island is a must. So he took a day package with Downbelow Adventures Borneo, with three dive sessions.
The diving trip started around 9 in the morning until about 4 in the afternoon, with 1 hour lunch break. He did three dives in different locations around the island, each different in terms of what could be experienced. The underwater world around Manukan Island impressed Andrei even more than what he’ve seen on the internet and he considered the marine world here quite different compared with the underwater world in Bonaire. He was very enthusiast he saw a small sting ray, a reef shark and a moray, plus countless colourful fish and amazing corals.
Donwbelow Adventures team showed a very professional approach to diving, they tested Andrei skills before the first session and explained each time what they were about to do. They were great at spotting underwater wildlife; unexperienced divers wouldn’t have observed so many marine creatures without their assistance. Andrei was very nice surprised by their the care for the environment, as for each dive, the team collected any plastics they found in the water.
Downbelow Adventures have their office on the island right next to the pool, so it is very convenient to discuss with them and agree on your desired diving activity. They can arrange anything from snorkelling sessions and discover dives to advanced sessions for licensed divers. If you have enough time you can take a PADI course and get certified during your holiday on Manukan Island.
Downbelow Adventures can arrange diving sessions from Gaya Island too. They also have an office in Kota Kinabalu, where they offer various other types of travels, including Borneo wildlife adventures and mountain tours.
As Andrei was away for his diving adventure, I got a whole morning of special time with Eric. We did everything he wanted at his own peace. We built sand castles on the beach, had ice-cream and swam in the pool. There were no phone and photos during this morning, as instructed by the little guy. In the evening, he told me he wants to have more special mornings just with me. But he asked for the same with his dad only too!
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Disclosure: We were hosted by Sutera Sanctuary Lodges at Manukan Island and received a complimentary package from Downbelow Adventures Borneo, in exchange for an honest review. As usual, all the opinions expressed here are our own. This article contains affiliate links.