Mount Kinabalu is Borneo's tallest mountain. You can climb to the top of Low's Peak (4,095.2 m or 13,435.7 ft above sea level). The height of the mountain is often given as 4,101 m but satellite imaging has proven this to be incorrect.
The mountain is sacred to locals. They believe that spirits of their ancestors inhabit the top of the mountain. Previously, a chicken was sacrificed at the peak every time a climb was made but these days this ceremony only happens once a year when only seven chickens are needed to appease the spirits.
Mount Kinabalu is known to be one of the most accessible mountains in the world. No specialized mountain climbing skills are required to ascend it. The trail that most tourists use is described as a 'trek and scramble'. Locals begin climbing the mountain from the age of 3 and the oldest person to reach the peak was 80 years old. However, how much one enjoys the climb depends strongly on how fit you are and how well you acclimatise to the thin air at the higher levels.
Nevertheless, the mountain can be a dangerous place, especially during the rain or when there is mist. On average, every year one person gets into severe difficulty out of the estimated 20,000 people who attempt the climb. The higher slopes can be very slippery when it rains and dense fog reduces visibility to a few feet.
Although it is possible to climb to the top and back in less than four hours, most climbers take two days, with an overnight break at Laban Rata (3,272.7 m above sea level). The final attack on the peak takes place in the early hours of the second day (most begin at 02:30) in order to catch the sunrise at the top. By mid-morning the mist begins to roll in, obscuring the breath-taking views.
Climbing weather is best around the month of April while November and December brings rain. The temperature ranges from a comfortable 20-25°C at the main park to something approaching freezing near the top (depending on the weather). Bring clothing appropriate or else you will get cold and be miserable.
If possible, climb to the summit during the full moon as it helps illuminate the white rope that marks out the climbing path, and you can see without needing a head torch (once clear of the tree line), an atmospheric experience.
The Kinabalu Park entrance is very easy to reach from Kota Kinabalu. First option is to catch a minivan from the Long Distance Bus station near Night Market in city centre, which will drive directly to the Park HQ. Minivans leave when full, cost RM15 each way and the journey takes 1.5 hours. Second option is to catch a bus from the Kota Kinabalu North Bus Terminal in Inanam, 10km to the northeast of the city centre. The journey takes 1-2 hours and costs RM10-15. Buses going to Ranau, Sandakan or Tawau will pass by the park entrance. Also in case you want to spot a beautiful view of the mountain when approaching it, it's best to leave before 08:00 and seat at the left side of a bus.
Buses from Sandakan make this trip in less than 5 hours.
An alternative is to take a long-distance shared taxi at taxi station near Jalan Padang. A ride between Kota Kinabalu and the park should cost RM15-18 each way. Taxis will only depart once they are full, which usually means they have seven passengers (Toyota Unser), so you may have to wait a while. OR you can pay for the missing passengers and leave immediately.
Regular (i.e. non-shared) taxis in Kota Kinabalu try to offer their services for RM150-200 or more for one-day drives to the park and back. Given the ease with which one can travel by public bus or shared taxi, however, this is an unnecessary option for budget visitors.
For convenience, bookings can also be made with the Official Mount Kinabalu Climb Booking & Information Centre for arrangement of private transport to and from Mount Kinabalu Park, climb permits, accommodation, and English-speaking mountain guides.
Self-drive is another option with car hire readily available at Kota Kinabalu airport. Driving is an easy option for those accustomed to driving on the left hand side and gives the option to stop at things en route. Car hire rates are negotiable so compare rates on offer from the various companies. The distance to the park entrance is just under 100 km from Kota Kinablu centre, with the last 40 or so km being a sparesley populated mountain road. There is very little road signage directing you to Kinabalu Park, and there are a number of highway intersections en route (despite the fact that the route appears very simple on the map). The best option is to buy a fold-out road map at one of the bookshops in Kota Kinabalu, note down the towns en route to the park, and follow the road signs past those towns.
For the more adventurous traveller, the trip can be done on a hired motorbike. Be aware that there will be no petrol stations on the mountain road (the final 40 or so km of the trip), and you should ensure you have enough fuel for the journey to the park and back.
There are many tour companies that run day tours from Kota Kinabalu for RM150-200. Tours usually include admission fees and hotel pickup, sometimes stop at Poring Hot Spring and may include lunch.
Fees and permits
- Park entry fee: RM3 (Malaysian), RM15 (Non-Malaysian), RM1 (Malaysian below 18), RM10 (Non-Malaysian below 18)
- Climbing permit: RM50 (Malaysian), RM200 (Non-Malaysian), RM30 (Malaysian below 18), RM80 (Non-Malaysian below 18)
- Climbing insurance: RM7
- Guide fee: RM230/group (From Timpohon Gate)
- Transport to and later from. Via Timpohon Gate:RM16.50/way (1-4 persons) RM4/person (5 persons and above).
- It is also possible to hike up to the Timpohon Gate yourself. Note however, that this will add an additional hour or more to your hike, and to most people this is certainly not worth it.
- Souvenir certificate: RM10
- Left-luggage: RM10
- Wooden walking stick: RM5. No longer for sale due to environmental conservation reasons by authorities. These are merely carved tree branches, sold (not rented) to you by the Park HQ. Choose a long, sturdy one; most they offer are quite flimsy and short.
- Metal hiking pole (for rent): RM15. A walking stick or hiking pole is highly recommended, particularly to protect your knees and ankles.
Kinabalu Park is home to a diverse array of flora and fauna that changes in nature as your altitude increases. Near the top of the mountain the trees thin out and give way to shrubs, stones and fabulous views. Around km 4.5 there are some large pitcher plants off the trail; a well-informed guide will know where they are.
- 1 Botanical Garden. See the unique flora of Mount Kinabalu and Borneo up close. Inaccessible in wheelchair. RM5.
- Park Museum. A small one-room museum with interpretive signs and displays is worth a look to read about the flora and fauna of Mt Kinabalu Park as well as the other Parks in Sabah.
The majority of visitors to the park do not climb all the way to the peak. For those with limited time or energy, there are gardens and many short walks through the jungle to enjoy in the vicinity of the entrance. A mud map is available at the park entrance and sign posts guide you. There are also guided tours.
The trails (even the ones paved with concrete or using wooden planks) are not wheelchair-friendly as they invariably include stairs, narrow sections or other obstacles.
Climbing the mountain
Climb preparation is needed in terms of physical and mental fitness as to ensure success in reaching the summit. Activities such as jogging and stairs climbing should be done at least 2 months before the climbing (if no prior preparation, you can still reach the summit but it will be strenuous). Also practise carrying 5kg of weight during stairs climbing.
Bring adequate medical equipment i.e. band aids, ankle or knee guard, plaster, paracetamol, anti-vomitting pills, muscle cream etc. Wear the band aid before climbing up and down to avoid muscle pain.
A briefing will be provided by guide at 6PM daily before the climb begin.
The actual climb is made along a well-marked path with signposts marking each half-kilometre. All who climb the mountain must buy a climbing permit (RM100/RM40 for non-Malaysian adults/children or RM30/RM12 for Malaysian adults/children) provided that accommodation for Laban Rata has been arranged.
Since the 2015 earthquake when sixteen people on Gunung Kinabalu were killed, four of them guides, the park authorities have made it mandatory all persons going to the summit have to be escorted there and back by a local guide. A guide can cost RM85-120 per trip - the actual cost depends on the number in the group and which route is used. Guides can accompany up to six people in a party, larger groups will need multiple guides. Porters are optional. Insurance will also be required for the climb.
In addition to all this, there is also a bus that takes climbers from the park entrance to where the climbing path properly begins (RM5 each way per person). Those that choose to not take the bus face a 5-km hike along a tarred road.
There are periodic rest stops about a kilometre apart up the mountain. The entire journey is 8.72 km, with a stop about 6 km up at Laban Rata where most climbers will stay overnight. Usually, the climb started at 07:30-10:30. The first 4 km climbing to Laban Rata is in moderate steep where the trail is equipped with stairs and some rock path. The last 2 km is tough with solely rock path. Average person reached at Laban Rata (6 km journey) is 4-5 hours (some unfit person will reach in 7-8 hours).
The ascent from Laban Rata upwards is difficult in places, including climbs along steep ledges, and usually starts at around 02:00-03:00. It can also get very gusty in places as the vegetation barrens near the top. The fit will find it a challenge, the unfit will find it almost impossible.
You should bring waterproof and warm clothing including a hat and gloves, with spare, dry clothing packed in waterproof bags. If you get wet at altitude you will quickly get cold. You should also wear proper walking shoes. Bring a good headlamp with extra batteries (a headlamp is preferred over a torch since you will need your two hands for climbing some rocks near the summit), a whistle and plenty of high calorie food such as nuts and chocolate. A disposable rain coat is adequate. Avoid bringing a heavy bag. Unnecessary clothing and equipment can be left at counter before you start your ascent.
You can climb from Mesilau Nature Resort. The trail is 2 km longer than the one that begins from the park entrance but is less steep overall. Two thirds of the way through it joins with the main trail.
Climbing the mountain is strongly encouraged, but be forewarned that it can be strenuous.
As you struggle up the mountain, do look out for porters laden with 14-kg gas cylinder tanks. Some wear slippers and most have jury-rigged harnesses (some made of rice sacks) piled high with supplies. The porters scale the 6.5 km distance between Timpohon Gate and Laban Rata resthouse several times a day on supply runs and can easily outpace better-equipped climbers who are unfamiliar with the trail.
Once you complete the strenuous hike up to 11,000 ft (3,400 m), you might have enough energy to do the only via ferrata ("iron road", a set of cables and ladders bolted to the mountain) to be found in Asia, which happens to be the world's highest. It is still relatively unknown so take the opportunity to do it without a crowd of people pushing you. There are 3 different paths to take on the via ferrata, with times ranging from 4-5 hours for the longest to 2-3 for the shortest. Keep your travel plans in mind when booking the via ferrata and after-mountain activities, as this time is added to the 4-5 hours it takes to descend the mountain on the second day of hiking.
Note that since the 2015 earthquake it is no longer possible to climb to the summit and down in one day. You must have a guide, and take one night / two days (though if you’re fit you should be able to return to the start by lunchtime on day two).
Eat and drink
There are cafeterias and restaurants at the park entrance gate and at Laban Rata. The drink prices at Laban Rata are relatively higher compared to prices at nearby towns. This is because everything needs to be carried up to Laban Rata by porters. For example, a can of beer is a whopping RM24; tea is RM6; 500ml bottled water is RM7. The quality of the food is surprisingly good, however.
To save money, you can stock up on bread, baked goods, chocolate and other lightweight energy-rich foods in KK before you depart, but you (or a porter) will need to carry up 2,300m. It is good to bring your own supply of instant noodles and tea sachets as well as snacks; note the cafeteria charges RM1 for hot water. Some huts have electric kettles where you can boil your own water for free.
A package deal will include four meals, takeaway lunch to eat on the way up the mountain (chicken and vegetables, hard boiled eggs, and energy bars / cookies), buffet dinner from 4pm (to allow you to get to bed early), supper from 2am before the summit climb, and breakfast after the summit climb from 7.30am.
For climbers from Timpohon or Mesilau Gate, they must reached at Laban Rata before 19:30 for buffet dinner or else they need to pay by themselves. While for buffet breakfast, the end time is 10:30 before you start your journey back to Timpohon or Mesilau Gate.
It is best to book accommodation beforehand — indeed, the hike has become so popular that you may have to book months in advance. The park can be very full especially during clear weather periods. It is not possible to stay overnight on the mountain except in the accommodation provided at Laban Rata, and camping is not permitted - you must, therefore, have pre-booked accommodation. However, sometimes there are cancellations. If you are unable to book mountain hut accommodation in advance, get to the Park HQ as early as possible on the day of your intended climb and inquire there. You may luck out and get a bed. By regulation, booking must include guide services.
Inside the park borders
Formerly administered by Sabah Parks all accommodations in the park must now be arranged through Sutera Sanctuary Lodges, a private company, Tel: +60-88-303917 Fax: +60-88-317540; firstname.lastname@example.org). Sutera (a.k.a. Sutera Harbour) is requiring hikers stay the first night at their lodge near the entrance. This is in addition to a required stay at Laban Rata at about 11,000 ft. The cost to stay is considerably higher than at lodging just outside the park, and includes a mandatory purchase of meals, etc.
- 1 Kinabalu Park, ☏ . At the starting point of the trail to Mt. Kinabalu. Accommodation ranges from hostels to individual rooms (for up to two people) to entire cabins and lodges (for larger groups). All have access to simple kitchen facilities. RM70 for dorm beds, RM92-RM184 for suites, RM230-RM1,150 for entire lodges.
- 2 Mesilau Nature Resort, ☏ . Mesilau Nature Resort is a tranquil hide-away amongst the foothills of Mt. Kinabalu. An alternate starting point to the summit of Mt Kinabalu, with accommodation managed by Sutera Sanctuary Lodges. Home to exotic species of fauna and flora, Mesilau Nature Resort is the best place to find the giant pitcher plant, the Nepenthes. Dorm from RM13, rooms from RM350.
Outside the park
- 3 Ayana Holiday Resort, Kg. Tinompok, Mile 35 Kinabalu National Park, Nabalu (680 m from Mount Kinabalu National Park), ☏ , email@example.com. Front row seat views of Bundu Tuhan Village. Ayana Holiday Resort offers a choice of four categories: standard, deluxe, superior and the Holiday-House. These rooms are clean and comfortable. From RM77.
- 4 J Residence (300 m from the park), ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. It's the nearest lodge outside Mount Kinabalu National Park, and with rooms price three times lower than the chalets and lodges inside Kinabalu Park. J Residence is suitable for travellers who need budget, simply basic, close-to-nature accommodation and peace & quiet around Kinabalu Park Headquarters. From RM88.
- D'Villa Rina Ria Lodge, ☏ . 500 m away from Kinabalu Park's main entrance. Standard room, family room and dormitory available. Restaurant serves delicious local cuisines. From RM30.
- Kinabalu Pine Resort, ☏ , fax: , email@example.com. On the main road between the Kinabalu National Park and Ranau is a great place to take your photos of the mountain. Meals, including beer, are available at the restaurant. Credit cards are accepted. From RM170.
- Kinabalu Rose Cabin (Wayn Zen Rose Cabin), Km 18, Jalan Ranau-Tamparuli, ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. Two minutes' drive from the park gate. Great view of Mount Kinabalu from the rooms. From RM100.
- Magic Mountain Country Home, ☏ . On a private property right within Mount Kinabalu Golf Course near the Mesilau side of the park, this Austrian-Malaysian country home offers "old-fashioned comfort, well-being, and grace". Due to the remote location, cooked breakfast and set dinner is always included in the room rate. Service in English, German, Malay and Chinese. Double occupancy. RM420.
- Aristo Kinabalu Resort, ☏ , email@example.com. Check-in: 14:00, check-out: 12:00. 21 rooms of different beds arrangements with attached bathrooms and TV with cable channels. Apart from hotel rooms, AKR also has 6 rooms with bunk-beds arrangements. Reservations can be made via email. From RM30 to RM160.
- Mountain Lodge, Near to Kinabalu Park HQ (1 km before Kinabalu HQ from Kota Kinabalu), ☏ . Wood-based building with nice landscape and mountainous scenery of tropical rain forest! From RM25.
- Kiram's Village, Mesilau Kundasang, ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. Near with Mt. Kinabalu Golf Course and 15 minutes to Mesilau Nature Resort (intake for Mesilau Trail). From RM200 per cabin.
- Be aware of how dangerous the mountain can be during bad weather. Stay close to the guide ropes and to your guide. If you lose sight of the guide ropes, blow a whistle or shout. Because of the thin air and the acoustics of the mountain, your shouts will not carry as far as you might expect and may seem to come from many directions. It's best to have a climbing partner, especially in large groups which can string out as stragglers get left behind.
- The thin air causes problems for some. It's best to climb slowly and surely instead of rushing up and finding yourself exhausted. The mountain is high enough to cause altitude sickness, so familiarize yourself with the symptoms and keep an eye out for them.
- For the final climb, dress appropriately. Temperature can be freezing at times. It's better to have several thin layers that you can peel off as it gets warmer. A hat is vital to keep warm. Gloves are needed to pull yourself up the guide ropes in some places.
- Bring a head torch so that your hands can be free.
- Coming down can be more painful than climbing up because of sore muscles and tired legs. Some of the steps are steep. Take it slowly and don't jam the toes into the front of the shoes. Zig-zag for gradual gradients instead of blindly walking down the steepest route. The experienced guides will literally skip and sprint down the mountain, but don't attempt the same.
- Bringing along muscular ache relief cream and knee and ankle supports may be helpful.
- Your legs may ache for a few days after the hike. Don't plan any rigorous activities afterwards for the following few days, unless you know you can handle it.
- During the hike to the top it's important to stay well hydrated. At each pondok (rest pavilion) on the trail, there's large tank of free drinking water constantly being fed by pipes leading down from clean water sources high up on the mountain. The tanks are marked "Untreated Water", but the water is safe to drink. Thus, it's unnecessary to bring lots of heavy bottles of water along; one bottle will suffice.
Mount Kinabalu is considered sacred by the local Kadazan Dusun people, and for that reason utmost respect is demanded and climbers must refrain from shouting, screaming or cursing at it. Public nudity (including topless sunbathing) is not only regarded as highly provocative on the mountain, but it is also an offence in Malaysia and will result in arrest. Under Section 294a of the Malaysian Penal Code, a person guilty of committing an obscene act in any public place can be jailed three months, fined or both. In case of foreigners, deportion from Malaysia and an entry ban to Malaysia can also be the result. As a result of the 2015 naked display and picture taking and filming of their nudity on the summit a large part of the Malaysian communities believe this caused the earthquake resulting in one of the summits "Donkey ears" breaking off and landslides up and down the tracks on the lower slopes.
Very clear signage has been placed at the beginning of all routes explaining being naked on the mountain will result in arrest as mentioned above. The UK citizens involved spent four days in jail and were deported with a lifetime ban from entering Malaysia again.
- Kundasang — the closest town to the mountain
- Poring Hot Spring — is 39km from Mt. Kinabalu. There are several open-air pool-like bath tubs, there are also indoor jacuzzi. Another main attraction here is the Canopy Walk over the 157.8-m-long suspension bridge connecting the Mengaris trees. Its highest point is 41 m from the ground. You can observe the ecological system at the treetops. If you are nature music lover, here you can hear the orchestral performance by the birds, insects and perhaps jungle animals. After the hike, this is a great place to relax sore muscles; however, it may be best to stay the night here as in the evening it may be difficult to get transport back to KK.
- Ranau — town 30 km SE of the Mountain