Covering an area of roughly 287,000 square miles, Borneo is the third-largest island in the world and home to a stunning stretch of coastline. Many of its small, paradisiac isles are largely uninhabited, making it the perfect place for a holiday hideaway, and the beaches in Borneo are beyond breathtaking.
For anyone that fancies escaping the crowds and heading to a quiet, secluded place with unmarred natural beauty, this is the country for you.
Warning: Some of these beaches are so relaxing you might be physically unable to drag yourself away…
Mañana: a Hidden Paradise
Mañana is a little hidden gem in the wilds of Kota Belud, just over an hour’s drive from Kota Kinabalu in the North of Sabah. Although it’s not on a separate island, this beach is only accessible by boat and there are no cars, shops or even power during the day.
Doesn't matter though, because there's a lovely little backpacker-style beach resort here where you’ll find plenty of books, hammocks and a small rustic bar to set you up for a day’s reading in the sunshine. Forget trying to get online, as there is no internet or phone reception here either; even the owners of Mañana Beach Resort aren’t able to connect, meaning they have to venture through the jungle and up a hill just to get a few bars!
So put your phones and iPads away and go off exploring the stretch of sandy beach, from where you can look out over the crystal clear ocean and the red roofs of chalets in the distance.
Tip of Borneo: As Far North as You’ll Get
Borneo’s Sabah has some of the most untouched beaches in the region, which are home to pristine coral and an array of marine wildlife. The Tip of Borneo, otherwise known as Tanjung Simpang Mengayau (don't ask me to pronounce that) is located in the northernmost corner of the country and boasts perfect white sands alongside calm waters.
Venture to the Tip of Borneo and you’re guaranteed to have a practically private beach experience, without having to fork out for the privilege. This is because this beach is still relatively unknown, due to its remote location, and doesn’t therefore get many visitors.
There are a few basic accommodation options around the Tip of Borneo, such as Tommy’s Place, a backpacker lodge that provides numerous activities, such as surfing, diving, and snorkeling. Another option is BorneoTip Beach Lodge, a series of detached chalets with a sea view and budget-friendly onsite restaurant.
Kalampunian: Most Beautiful Beach in Sabah
On the way up to the Tip of Borneo, you’ll find the moon-shaped Kalampunian Beach, which is arguably the most beautiful beach in mainland Sabah. It is impeccably clean, quiet and peaceful, with very few tourists bothering to make the journey here – go on a weekday, and you’ll practically have the beach to yourself.
The sweeping coastline is bordered by casuarina trees and you’ll find small stalls selling beautiful sea-shell products. You can also rent snorkelling gear and life jackets from these stalls, but be aware that the sea here is fairly choppy, so you may prefer to just go for a paddle.
There are a number of low-budget accommodation options near Kalampunian, which may be basic, but they offer clean and comfortable amenities, along with stunning beach views. I’d recommend staying at Tampat Do Aman, a rustic eco-camp run by a friendly couple, located just ten minutes away on foot.
Si Amil: Best for Diving
The island of Si Amil is totally uninhabited, so you can only go for the day, but it’s certainly well worth a visit. You can get there by boat from Semporna, which takes an hour, or from Mabul, which takes half the amount of time. After Sidapan Island, this is said to be the best spot for diving, namely due to the boilers from an old Japanese wreck which jut out of the ocean.
But you don’t have to be a diver to appreciate this place. Things are just as interesting on land, where you’ll find the remains of an old fish factory that was built as a cover for surveillance activities during World War 2.
Si Amil is also the only island in the area that is home to a large family of long-tailed macaque monkeys. They're undeniably cute, but be warned - these little critters can be a bit of a nuisance when they appear out of nowhere and begin pestering you on the beach!
Lupa Masa: A Place to Forget Time
Lupa Masa translates as ‘forget time’, which isn’t exactly a hard thing to do on this beach, which has regularly been called the best beach in Borneo on Tripadvisor. You can go snorkelling, fishing and hiking, as well as admire sea turtles and otters in their natural environment. On certain nights of the month, you’ll also be able to spot some incredible glow-in-the-dark marine wildlife.
Choose to volunteer and travel in Borneo on your gap year with The Leap and you’ll have the chance to live in one of the traditional tribal longhouses on Lupa Masa beach, whilst learning how to make traditional handicrafts and jewellery. You’ll also help keep the beach tidy with regular cleanups, as well as carry out a number of other worthwhile community-based projects.
What Do You Reckon?
So have you fallen in love with the beaches in Borneo yet? Do you feel ready to explore this jewel of Malaysia? If the answer is yes, be sure to check out our dedicated Borneo page for information on programs there and to learn about joining one of our teams out there this year or next.
If you've been to Borneo before, let me know if we’ve missed your favourite beach off the list too – that’s what the comments box is for!
on 24 / 02 / 2015