If you're planning on going to Sabah (Malaysian Borneo) and have already done some research on climbing Mt. Kinabalu, you've probably quickly realized that it's not exactly cheap to sign yourself up for physical duress. Many prices quoted on the Internet are quite steep and have many travelers wondering whether it's worth forking out their well-earned ringgit.
What we can say is the climb is definitely worth it, but paying more than you have to isn't. This guide is intended to help those wanting to climb Mt. Kinabalu find the best deal for their needs. Since we climbed ourselves in 2013, we have updated this guide several times and continue to do so.
Climbing Mt. Kinabalu is becoming increasingly popular and with only 135 climbing permits issued per day, we recommend booking your climb well ahead of your trip to avoid disappointment. You should note that April to June is the high season, and Chinese New Year is also a busy period (sometime in late January to mid-February, depending on the year's lunar calendar).
Mt. Kinabalu climb at a glance
Mt. Kinabalu is one of the highest mountains in South-East Asia at 4,095.2m above sea level. A summit climb from the trailhead covers 8.72 km. You will cover the first 6km on Day 1, before sleeping in a mountain hut (mandatory) and waking in the early hours of the morning of Day 2 to complete the final 2.72km ascent to the summit in the hopes of arriving in time for the sunrise. You will then complete the entire descent the same day. Expect climbing times to be: 4-5 hours on Day 1, around 3 hours to the summit on Day 2, and 6-9 hours down (Don't worry, you will be able to stop at the mountain huts again on the way down for “second breakfast” and will receive lunch once you get back to Park HQ).
Mt. Kinabalu climbing difficulty
We would rate Mt. Kinabalu’s climbing difficulty as a medium. Many tour operators list the climb as a 4 out of 5 for difficulty/exertion. How difficult you find the climb will depend on your own fitness level, and while the climb is both physically and mentally challenging, most people report that it is perfectly do-able for beginners with a reasonable fitness level.
Mt. Kinabalu climbing options
The two-day one-night option is the shortest and most popular package currently available for those wanting to summit Mt. Kinabalu.
**Please note that 2D1N packages can now only be confirmed within 30 days of the climbing date and are subject to limited availability. Priority is given to those doing 3D2N packages and Via Ferrata (outlined below), which can be booked further in advance. This is the official policy of Sutera Sanctuary Lodges, who manage the accommodation on the mountain (a mandatory part of the booking process), so please be wary of any third-party tour provider who claims to be holding a place for you for a 2D1N package further than one month in advance as your place will not be confirmed on the mountain. They could be taking a gamble with your climb in the hopes that they can secure your spot 30 days out.
1D summit climbing options for serious climbers were available in the past. However, as of December 2015, one-day permits have no longer been issued. While Sabah Parks state that this is temporary, there is no indication as to if or when 1D summit permits will be resumed.
Given the 30 day rule now applied to 2D1N packages, many tour providers also offer a three-day two-night option. This is essentially the 2D1N package with an extra night’s accommodation within or close to Kinabalu Park, either the night before or the night after the climb, and possibly other activities, added on.
Some tour providers offer even longer packages. Again, you won’t be getting extra nights on the mountain (summit trail) itself, but rather within or close to Kinabalu Park. These tours will likely be a combination package, with other activities and meals included.
For those wanting to exert themselves further, you can also book summit packages that include Via Ferrata. With this option, for part of the climb you will be hooked up to a harness and will be scaling rock faces that give you incredible views. This is more along the lines of rock climbing or mountaineering and should only be considered if you do not have a fear of heights and/or are willing to conquer them.
There are two Via Ferrata options on Mt. Kinabalu.
Walk the Torq
This is the best option for beginners wanting to try the Via Ferrata experience. The course is a length of 390m (109m vertical traverse) with the highest point at a height of 3,520m above sea level. Highlights include the Cable Monkey Bridge, Tyrolean Traverse and balancing beam. This course takes approximately 2-3 hours.
Low’s Peak Circuit
This option is for more experienced climbers and active individuals. The course is 1.1km in length with a vertical traverse of 365m. The highest point is 3,776m above sea level, making it the world’s highest Via Ferrata! It also includes one of the world’s highest suspension bridges at 3,600m. It takes approximately 4-6 hours to complete and requires above average levels of fitness. As this is a physical demanding course, there are packages available both with/without the Mt. Kinabalu summit.
Mt. Kinabalu Day Trip Hiking
For those who don't wish to summit but would like to experience the natural beauty of Mt. Kinabalu, there are a number of hiking trails of varying lengths and difficulty on the lower reaches of the mountain that require no booking whatsoever. Simply turn up to Kinabalu Park and pay the RM15 entrance fee.
Mt. Kinabalu Trail Options (for summit climbs)
Trailhead to Laban Rata
Currently there is only one starting point option and that’s this one starting from Timpohon Gate at 1,866m. Mini buses operate between Mt. Kinabalu Park HQ and the Timpohon Gate. Most tour packages include this transfer fee (usually RM17 per person one-way, based on a group of 1-4 people plus mountain guide).
Please note that the alternative Mesilau Trail is currently closed.
Both trails combine at the 4km point at the Layang-Layang Shelter at 2,702m. From there, it’s another 2km to the Laban Rata Resthouse (Panalaban) at 6km (3,273m above sea level). This is where you will stay the night. You should note that you may be staying at another mountain hut at Panalaban within walking distance of Laban Rata where meals are served.
Laban Rata (Panalaban) to Summit
There are now 2 trails from Panalaban to the summit.
New Ranau Trail
This is a slightly different route to the previous Ranau Trail, diverted due to the earthquake that affected the mountain in mid-2015. This is the main trail and the one that was used by all climbers until the Kota Belud trail was introduced.
This trail was opened on December 9, 2016, as an alternative to the Ranau Trail. It is said to be more challenging and permission needs to be sought in order to take it. It was introduced with view to it being an alternative descent trail should the Ranau Trail become impassable in case of emergency.
Both trails meet at the Sayat-Sayat checkpoint at the 7.5km mark (3668m above sea level).
Mt. Kinabalu Tour Providers
New Mount Kinabalu tour providers and packages are becoming available all the time. On the plus side, it has made the market more competitive. On the other hand, it can be hard to wade through all the options and know which ones are reputable.
Below is a list of companies used by readers of this blog and their experiences with booking and doing the Mt. Kinabalu climb with them. We endeavour to keep this list as neutral as possible, outlining the pros and cons of each. Wherever possible we also try to include current pricing. If you receive a different quote, please let us know so we can keep the numbers as up-to-date as possible. Whichever tour company you decide to go with, we’d love to know about your experiences in the comments. And if you’re looking for a climbing partner to help bring down costs, you can also take a look at the climbing partner requests in the comments, or feel free to post your own.
Please note that there are Park Fees issued by Sabah Parks that are mandatory for all climbers, regardless of tour provider. These include, the park entrance fee (RM15), climbing permit (RM212), climbing insurance (RM7) and mountain guide (up to 5 people) (RM230). The shuttle bus between the park entrance and the gate is optional but recommended (RM34 to/from Timpohon Gate). Many tour providers will include these items as part of their packages, but you should confirm.
Please note that this pricing is for international climbers. Malaysian climbers are eligible for discounts on some of these prices.
For a full breakdown of park costs (effective as of 1st January 2016) for both Malaysians and non-Malaysians, please see the following PDF from Sabah Parks:
Some options for booking your climb:
Sutera Sanctuary Lodges (formerly Sutera Harbour)
Sutera Sanctuary Lodges have been a go-to tour operator for travellers for many years. They manage the accommodation on the mountain (mandatory for all climbers) so they dominate the market in that regard, selling spaces to other tour providers who then onward sell them as part of their own packages, hence why Sutera themselves can do the accommodation at a cheaper rate. Since they are in charge of the accommodation, they are the only provider who technically can offer the 2D1N package further in advance than 30 days at their own discretion.
Approximate cost: RM1,272-1,469 (2D1N), RM1,959 (3D2N)
For the sake of being able to more easily compare Sutera’s prices to those of third-party agents, we’ve added the mandatory Park Fees and optional minibus transfer from Park HQ to the trailhead to the prices listed above. As the costs from KK to Kinabalu Park vary, we haven’t added them, but you should keep this in mind when comparing Sutera to all-inclusive packages that include an arranged transfer. The cost of getting from KK to Kinabalu Park can range from RM25 one-way (if you’re willing to take the infrequent public bus), and up to several hundred ringgit for a taxi (it’s a 2 hour journey).
Perhaps the biggest complaint about Sutera is their lack of communication. Their website is currently not operational and even when it is, there isn’t any clear information on the packages they provide or how much they cost. Potential climbers therefore need to email them to get information on prices and availability, and while some people get quick responses, many report that it takes them a considerable amount of time to get back. The emails they monitor also seem to be constantly changing, hence we have created the following list of email addresses.
Readers of this blog have reported that they have been able to get through to Sutera and make successful bookings with them through the following email addresses. If you find that some of these no longer work or you receive correspondence from new ones, please let us know and we will update the list.
firstname.lastname@example.org (This is the email address they officially direct potential customers to)
Pros: Cheapest in principle (although this gap is closing due to their non-inclusive packages and increased competition); booking confirmation is clear as to what is/isn't included; services delivered.
Cons: Can take some time for them to respond via email and they tend to change the emails they monitor frequently; they don’t have all-inclusive packages that include transportation to/from Kota Kinabalu; the Park Fees must be paid in cash on arrival at Park HQ.
As their website is currently under construction, please visit their Facebook page for more info.
Borneo Trails is becoming an increasingly popular choice for our readers. With reasonable package costs including transfers to/from KK, they are now a strong competitor in the market.
Approximate cost: From January-March 2017 – RM1560 (2D1N based on 2 pax+), RM2045 (solo climbers); April-December 2017 – RM1690 (2D1N based on 2 pax+), RM2215 (solo climbers)
RM1680-2220 (2D1N with Via Ferrata – Walk the Torq); RM1850-2390 (2D1N with Via Ferrata – Low's Peak Circuit).
According to their website, they also offer 3D2N packages, however, the price is not published and they have yet to respond to our enquiries to confirm.
Pros: All-inclusive packages; several readers of this blog have used them and were satisfied with their service.
Cons: Nothing specific to report at this stage, however, we are monitoring email response times.
More information on their website: www.borneotrails.com
Borneo Calling is an up and coming tour operator that claims to give its customers the best possible experience at a wallet-friendly price.
Approximate cost: RM1560-1950 (2D1N), RM1690-2100 (2D1N with Via Ferrata – Walk the Torq), RM1850-2280 (3D2N), RM2060-2580 (3D2N with Via Ferrata – Low's Peak Circuit)
These prices are based on groups of 1-4 people. Cheaper packages for larger groups are also available.
While they aren't yet mentioned much online, they have been extremely responsive to our emails and have a growing number of positive reviews.
Pros: Extremely responsive to enquiries; their packages include a private mountain guide (no sharing with other groups) and private transfers (apart from the shuttle bus from Park HQ to the trailhead that is operated by Sabah Parks).
Cons: Not as established as some other providers. That said, we have yet to receive any negative feedback regarding their services.
More information on their website: www.borneocalling.com
Amazing Borneo Tours
Amazing Borneo Tours are on the higher end of the scale price-wise when it comes to Mt. Kinabalu packages, but what they do offer to customers is piece of mind as a long-standing company with all-inclusive packages.
Approximate cost: RM1780-2130 (2D1N); RM2030-2435 (2D1N with Via Ferrata – Walk the Torq); RM1950-2355 (2D1N with Via Ferrata – Low's Peak Circuit); RM1930-2280 (3D2N); RM2240-2735 (3D2N with Via Ferrata – Walk the Torq); RM2410-2905 (2D1N with Via Ferrata – Low's Peak Circuit).
Pros: Established company; clear booking process and confirmation.
Cons: More expensive.
This is a smaller tour operator claiming to offer value for money tour packages in Borneo. They do not publish their rates on their website and have yet to reply to our enquiries to confirm pricing. However, the below mentioned prices are those given to us by readers who have received Via Ferrata quotes from them and can be used as a general guide.
Approximate cost: RM1535-2100 (2D1N with Via Ferrata – Walk the Torq); RM1675-2240 (2D1N with Via Ferrata – Low's Peak Circuit); Standalone Via Ferrata (Low's Peak Circuit) for RM750.
Pros: Have the full range of Mt. Kinabalu climbing packages on offer at competitive rates.
Cons: Less established company; have to contact them directly for pricing.
More information can be found on their website: www.marvelousborneo.com
River Junkie Tours
River Junkie Tours are a Borneo-based tour operator who claim to have years of adventure travel experience. One of our readers used them recently and was very happy with their services.
Approximate cost: RM1380-1700 (2D1N); RM1540-1850 (3D2N); RM1700-1855 (2D1N with Via Ferrata – Walk the Torq); RM1800-1955 (2D1N with Via Ferrata – Low's Peak Circuit)
**Please note that these prices do not include the 6% Goods and Services Tax (GST).
Special offer to our readers: Simply mention ‘Notes of Nomads' when booking and receive a FREE River Junkie t-shirt!
Pros: One of our readers has reported that they are fast to reply to emails and that they had an enjoyable climb with them; website is easy to follow and contains information on their tour packages as well as pricing; they offer a price match guarantee on published rates for identical packages.
Cons: Less well-known company, but no specific downsides to report at this stage.
More information can be found on their website: www.river-junkie.com
Booking Mt. Kinabalu Climbs in KK
As mentioned earlier, it is becoming increasingly difficult to secure climbing slots at the last minute. That said, if you're in KK and would like to find out if anything is available or you'd just like to visit the offices of the tour operator you have already booked with, here is where you can find them.
Fortunately for those shopping around, many are concentrated in the bright orange Wisma Sabah building.
The Wisma Sabah building can be found on the corner of Jalan Tun Fuad Stephen & Jalan Tun Razak, opposite the Coffee Bean and Wisma Merdeka building.
As for the tour operators mentioned in this post, it contains the offices for Sutera Sanctuary Lodges, Borneo Trails and River Junkie Tours.
Amazing Borneo Tours and Marvelous Borneo can be found in the Star City Mall North Complex about 1.5km away.
Not so convenient to get to in person is Borneo Calling, who can be found in Pavilion Bundusan closer to KK Airport. However, as their replies to emails are fast, you can always email (or call) them.
Sutera also have another office at KK Times Square.
Mt. Kinabalu Tour Providers to Avoid
Now that we've covered the suggestions for Mt. Kinabalu climb tour operators to look into for your climbing experience, we also feel we should mention the businesses that have unfortunately lost our trust.
Jungle Jack Backpacker
Jungle Jack's has been a top choice for many readers in the comments for budget Mt. Kinabalu climbs over the past few years and hence we had been mentioning them as one of the tour providers for you to check out. Positive remarks included that his packages are cheap; that “Uncle Jack” is an interesting/nice guy; he has helped travellers out with last-minute climbs; and that the meals are excellent.
However, it has recently come to light that his backpacker lodge near Kinabalu Park (where he accommodated climbers and organized his climbs from) was operating at the site illegally and he was forced to vacate the premises in mid-2016. There doesn’t seem to be much information about it online, but you can read an article from one local newspaper here that a reader was kind enough to post in the comments and we also found this article posted by someone on his Facebook page.
His Facebook page remains active and it seems that he has now moved to a new location, and is continuing to offer accommodation and climbing services. He now also has a blog. His sudden more “public” profile seems to indicate that he may have the necessary permits for operation this time, but we are unable to confirm and no longer feel that we can list him as a credible option in good faith.
If the illegal operation didn’t make you think twice already, one of the most alarming recurring stories from climbers on his own Facebook page as well as other review sites is the fact that he has not provided refunds to many climbers he has promised them to – whether because the mountain was closed (such as due to the earthquake in 2015), climbers needing to cancel their bookings, or because guests were unable to climb due to Jack not having actually secured a spot for them (some of these climbers only finding out after their arrival at Jungle Jack’s, despite having booked and paid months in advance). Many people have reported that he stopped replying to their messages after he promised to refund the money, and after long, drawn-out attempts to recover their costs have given up on ever seeing their money back.
Many others have expressed frustration by the whole booking process. Due to Jack not issuing any kind of official receipt or booking confirmation for reservations, many climbers have felt anxious as to whether their spot is secure or not. Communication seems to halt abruptly after payment has been received, only to resume very close to the climbing date, if at all, and only after repeated attempts from guests to confirm their climbs.
A reader has reported that they were scammed out of their climbing money (for a group of 6) and hence lost the climbing slot they thought they had secured by a company operating as Batangan Leisure.
Upon looking into this company further, we found that their homepage was simply a shell with no content and that their Facebook profile (a personal profile rather than a business page) hadn't been updated since 2012. Please be sure to do your research on any companies you are thinking of booking with. Just because they have an office and list a website, doesn't mean they are reputable. Check out their website, read reviews online and do your best to prevent getting caught up in a situation like this.
Accommodation in KK and Mt. Kinabalu
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