Kinabalu National Park offers an insane botanical diversity

Kinabalu National Park is located about 50 kilometres northeast of Kota Kinabalu. It owes its name to the mountain with the same name, which is also the main attraction in the area. You can find everything you need to know about Southeast Asia’s highest peak in our article about Mount Kinabalu.

The national park is also known for its unique botanical and biological diversity. This is made possible by the different altitudes, climatic conditions, and high rainfall. Special features include over 700 species of orchids, many rhododendrons, more than 600 species of ferns, nearly 80 species of figs, and carnivorous pitcher plants. Rafflesias can also be found here. Some species are even endemic to the park.

Rafflesia in Kinabalu National Park
Rafflesia in Kinabalu National Park

The different altitudes and the diverse vegetation are also valuable habitats for varied fauna. For example, you can spot more than 600 species of butterflies and countless bird species in the nature reserve. Orangutans and other monkeys are also living in Kinabalu National Park. In 2000, the park was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

A day in Kinabalu National Park

If you want to avoid the sporting challenge of climbing the summit, but are still interested in the unique botanical diversity, a one-day visit to Kinabalu Park is your choice. There is much to experience in an area of over 750 square kilometres.

Several entrances provide access to the area. However, the main entrance is the best option for exploring the national park. The botanical gardens, the Visitors Centre, and the Kinabalu Hall are in its immediate vicinity. In addition, the various trails are easily accessible from the main entrance.

Botanical Garden in Kinabalu National Park
Botanical Garden in Kinabalu National Park

Guided tours are offered daily in the botanical garden. These start at 9 am, 12 am, and 3 pm and are a great start to learning a lot of interesting facts about the impressive flora of the park. At 2 pm a film about the local biodiversity is shown in the Visitors Centre right next to the garden. Kinabalu Hall is the starting point for the daily guided hike through the park. It starts at 11 am.

Discover the park on your own

Kinabalu National Park is the right place for you if you like to explore independently. There are several very well-marked hiking trails. At the Visitors Center, the staff will have a map ready for you.

The trails are in good condition and easily manageable, even for less athletic visitors. We recommend doing a circuit by following the Pandanus Trail, Kiao View Trail, Bukit Burung Trail, Mempening Trail, and the Bukit Tupai Trail (or the other way around). Finally, it is a great choice to walk the Silau-Silau Trail along the creek of the same name.

Map of Kinabalu National Park
Map of Kinabalu National Park

You should not travel to Kinabalu National Park for animal sightings. Although an impressive variety of species live here, the animals can rarely be seen along the trails. Borneo offers much better alternatives. The nature is absolutely worth seeing, and if you are interested in plant diversity, the park is worth a trip.

How to get to Kinabalu National Park

From KK to Kinabalu National Park it is only about 85 kilometres. Therefore, we recommend approaching the park from the city. Depending on transportation, the trip takes about 1.5 to 2.5 hours. The park is located close to the street between Kota Kinabalu and Sandakan, and the road is accordingly well-developed.

The cheapest option is to travel by public bus. Buses between Kota Kinabalu and Sandakan run regularly and pass the park entrance. Please let the driver know that you want to get off at Kinabalu National Park. Departure from KK is at the North Bus Terminal Inanam. A faster option is minibuses. They will depart as soon as they are full. Minibuses leave from the more centrally located Padang Merdeka Bus Terminal and cost about 20-25 MYR. You can recognize them by the inscription „Kota Kinabalu – Ranau“.

The fastest, but with about 250 MYR, the most expensive option is to take a cab. Alternatively, you can rent a car and drive to the park on your own. Then you are flexible if you want to visit the Poring Hot Springs or Ranau. When driving by car or cab, you can also stop at viewpoints to enjoy the view of Mount Kinabalu and take pictures.

If you want to go back by bus, you have to wait on the other side of the road and indicate to the bus drivers that you want to take a ride. Also, since the minibuses have their terminus in Ranau, not at the park, there are usually no minibuses waiting at the park entrance. This makes the return trip a bit of a gamble. If the vehicles are full, the drivers just drive on. You should therefore plan a little more time.

Creek running in Kinabalu National Park
Creek running in Kinabalu NP

Accommodations in Kinabalu NP and the surrounding area

If you only plan a day trip to the national park, you can easily do this from Kota Kinabalu. Then it is not necessary to stay overnight in or around the park. If you want to stay longer or plan the visit as a stopover on the journey between KK and Sandakan, you should spend at least one night here.

There are a few accommodations in the park itself. They range from upscale lodges with privacy to simpler hostels with shared rooms. Here you can get more information about the accommodations and the prices.

But also outside the park area, there are some accommodations from simple to upscale standards near the entrance. Kundasang or Ranau, which is a little further away, are particularly suitable. The accommodations there are usually cheaper than the rooms on the park grounds.

View of Kinabalu National Park
View of Kinabalu National Park

Our recommendation

Kinabalu NP will probably be the right place for you if you are an absolute fan of plants. For everyone else, we think it is less attractive compared to other areas. If you also intend to visit Bako Park, Danum Valley, Mulu National Park, or the Kinabatangan area, you can skip Kinabalu National Park. These nature reserves have more exciting things to discover.

On the other hand, the challenging climb up Gunung Kinabalu is a great adventure you shouldn’t miss. Maybe the 2-day hike to the top of the mountain is something for you?

Check this out

Besides Kinabalu National Park, several other highlights await you in Borneo. Have a look at the following.