Diving and snorkeling in Kota Kinabalu primarily take place at the Tunku Abdul Rahman Park, an exciting marine park that is clearly Kota Kinabalu’s main tropical paradise. The park has five islands (Pulau Gaya, Pulau Sapi, Pulau Sulug, Pulau Manukan and Pulau Mamutik) that are known to have blinding white-sand beaches, shallow waters, and lively coral gardens, which are ingredients to the best snorkeling and diving experience ever.
Snorkelers and first-time divers will have a grand time gliding along the park’s clear shallow waters. In fact, non-snorkelers and non-divers are also in for a treat because the waters are so clear the fish are visible from above. The park’s resident fish are blue-spotted rays, mantis shrimps, scorpion fish, and cuttlefish, as well as green turtles and hawksbill turtles. There are also rare sightings of the elusive mandarin fish and harlequin ghost pipefish. To have a glimpse of the most beautiful fish, it is necessary to be led by local guides. Meanwhile, the real treat in the islands is the occasional appearance of the friendly whale shark, the world’s largest fish, which passes by and lingers for a while during the cooler months of November through February when planktons bloom in abundance. Seasoned divers know that these gentle giants could appear all of a sudden from nowhere.
Non-divers will specifically enjoy snorkeling and seawalking in the Sapi and Manukan Islands. On the other hand, divers wanting to enjoy this paradisiacal marine park must get in touch with local dive centers in Kota Kinabalu that provide PADI courses and the services of competent and expert guides. One of the most inviting dive sites inside the park is the Gaya dive site that features a Japanese World War II wreck, 50 meters deep underwater. Some other wreck sites are only 25 meters deep.
The marine park is just 20 minutes away from the city center by speedboat. It is open every day from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Admission fee differs per island and depending on how many islands to be visited.
Other popular wreck sites are the Rice Bowl Wreck, Upside-down Wreck and Usukan Bay Wreck, which all involve World War II Japanese wrecks found in Usukan Bay. These rarely accessed sites are about a kilometer apart from each other. The Usukan Bay Wreck is also commonly referred to as the Upside-Down Wreck due to the orientation of the ship. It is a favorite among seasoned divers because of its many swim-throughs. All three wrecks are covered in spectacular soft coral and hard coral gardens, and regularly visited by all kinds of interesting marine animals such as barracudas, nurse sharks, Yellow Snappers, and Fusiliers.
While diving and snorkeling in Kota Kinabalu is topnotch and unforgettable, this bustling city is a lot more than fun time in the water. It offers many other activities that do not involve water such as trekking, shopping and dining; several tourist attractions on dry land such as the Mount Kinabalu National Park, Atkinson Clock Tower, and Signal Hill Observatory; as well as intangible attractions such as the very welcoming locals and their unique culture and traditions.