Mount Kinabalu Travel Guide

Overview of Mount Kinabalu

Located in the West Coast Division of Sabah and towering at an impressive height of 4,095 metres above sea level, Mount Kinabalu is the highest peak in Borneo’s Crocker Range and the highest mountain in Malaysia. The mountain is located within the Kinabalu Park area, which is protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This area is also considered an important biological site, having identified between 5,000 and 6,000 species of plants and approximately 100 mammalian species, to name just a few.

What to Do in Mount Kinabalu

Climb to the Summit of Mount Kinabalu

The mountain has two trails climbers can take to ascend to the summit: the Kota Belud Trail and the Ranau Trail.

The Ranau Trail is the new route to the summit and was the first new trail introduced after the 2015 earthquake. Climbers will need to go up flights of stairs built into the rock face, making it the ideal route for beginners or those with basic fitness level.

The Kota Belud Trail is the more challenging route to the summit. Though the distance of the Kota Belud Trail is shorter, it is steeper and narrower. Climbers can enjoy the moutain's unique flora and fauna along the way such as several species of pitcher plants, orchids and birds.

Challenge the World's Highest Via Ferrata

The Mountain Torq is Asia’s and the world’s highest Via Ferrata, which is located at Mount Kinabalu’s Panalaban rock face. It starts at 3,200 metres and ends at 3,776 metres above sea level.

They offer two routes: Walk the Torq and Low’s Peak Circuit. Though both routes are designed for climbers of all fitness levels, Walk the Torq is typically recommended for beginner to intermediate levels and Low’s Peak Circuit is recommended for intermediate to advanced levels.

When is the Best Time to Climb

You can climb Mount Kinabalu year-round but the weather in Sabah can be quite unpredictable, so the dry season would be the best time to climb. The dry season would typically be between February and March.

How to Get to Mount Kinabalu

By Flight

To get to Mount Kinabalu, you will need to first fly into Kota Kinabalu International Airport (KKIA). There are direct flights to KKIA from Kuala Lumpur and international destinations such as Korea, China, Japan, Taiwan, and Australia. The main airlines flying from Kuala Lumpur are Malaysia Airlines, Air Asia, and Malindo.

By Car

You can opt to self-drive to Kinabalu Park headquarters via car. Car rental services are available in Kota Kinabalu city. Rentals can go by hourly, daily, or weekly. Do take note that there will be slightly challenging parts during your journey as there will be quite a few uphill drives with steeps roads and curves.

By Taxi

You can hop on a shared taxi at the Jalan Padang Area, located between Padang Merdeka and the roundabout at Plaza Shell. The taxies can usually fit around 7 passengers. However, you may need to wait for some time as the taxi departs only when it’s full.

By Minivan

You can take the minivan at the Long Distance Bus Station near the night market in the city centre. The minivan will also only depart when it’s full.

By Coach

There are long distance coaches to Kinabalu National Park at the Kota Kinabalu North Bus Terminal in Inanam. It is located a bit further away from the city so you will need to arrange your own transport to get there. The coaches will pass by Kinabalu Park and you can request them to drop you off at the entrance.

By Arranged Transport with Tour Operators

Many tour operators can arrange private transportation to take you to Kinabalu Park, with some even able to pick you up from your respective hotels. This will be the easier choice as everything else is also arranged in advance, from accommodation to meals.

How to Get Around

By Car 

If you are self-driving, you can get around Kinabalu Park via car. 

By Walking 

You can also get around Kinabalu Park by walking.

What to Eat

When climbing up to Panalaban from Timpohon Gate, make sure to prepare some snacks and a packed lunch as you will start your climb early in the morning and reach Panalaban base late afternoon.

Upon reaching Panalaban, the restaurant is located at the Laban Rata Resthouse, where they provide lodging and hot meals.

Where to Stay

Before climbing to the highest peak of Mount Kinabalu, you will need to stay a night at one of the many units of Panalaban Assorted Huts.

The Laban Rata Resthouse offers climbers both warm lodging and hot meals. It is also where the only restaurant in Panalaban is located.

There are also other accommodation units on offer. Kinotoki Hostel and Mokodou Hostel are open to both Malaysian and International climbers. Lemaing Hostel is available only to Malaysian climbers. Pendant Hut is only available to Via Ferrata climbers.

What to Bring

Here are some essentials we highly recommend you bring along such as warm clothing, head torch, gloves, sunscreen, hat / beanie, energy snacks, and a waterproof backpack to keep all your essentials safe and dry. As the weather is unpredictable, packing a raincoat or a waterproof jacket is ideal.

What to Wear

On the first day of ascent from Timpohon Gate to Panalaban or Pendant Hut, it is best to wear lightweight clothing and a good pair of hiking shoes. Use a waterproof backpack to store all your items. A hiking pole is also useful and can be purchased at Kinabalu Park prior to climbing.

On the second day of ascent from Panalaban or Pendant Hut to Low’s Peak Summit, wear warm clothing such as fleece jacket and thick trousers. A head torch is necessary as you will need it to see in the dark. A head scarf, beanie or a balaclava mask can help shield your face from the cold wind. Gloves are best to wear to prevent rope burn.

Things to Note Before Climbing Mount Kinabalu

  • Before booking your climb, make sure that you obtain a climbing permit. Only 135 climbing permits are issued per day by Sabah Parks, who manage the operations of Kinabalu National Park. If you do not have a climbing permit, you will not be allowed to climb.
  • It is recommended that you book at least 6 months before your climb to ensure a spot. The earlier you book, the higher chance of you being able to obtain a climbing permit.
  • Altitude sickness is a common ailment for many climbers. If you do not feel well at any point during your climb, inform your mountain guide immediately and he will assess your condition to decide whether to continue the climb or head down.
  • Do note that the climb will take at least 2 days 1 night to complete. This is because all climbers must stay a night in one of the huts at Panalaban before the climb up to the summit or undertaking the Via Ferrata.
  • The Kota Belud trail is limited to only 30 climbers per day as regulated by Sabah Parks whereas the Ranau Trail does not have a limit.