Kota Kinabalu is the capital of Sabah and a hot tourist destination, both in temperature and persona. Although Kuching (Sarawak) covers a larger area, KK is the main city on Borneo and has the highest profile.
This city is the gateway to Mount Kinabalu and also comes with some of Borneo's best scuba diving. Tourism options are excellent, with many fine attractions both in the city and nearby. KK is laid-back and easy to get around, and has a decent range of well priced hotels to boot, as well as some superb restaurants with the freshest of seafood and tasty noodle dishes. The Sabah Tourism Board on the Jalan Gaya has tourist information and maps of KK, as does the Tourism Malaysia outlet on the ground floor of the Api-Api Centre, on the Jalan Pasar Baru.
Tourists wishing to sightsee in KK should consider a stroll along the KK Heritage Walk, which is the best way to experience the historical centre of the city. This guided tour lasts for roughly two hours and can be arranged through local tour operators. If you prefer to explore at your own pace, then head on down to the waterfront and check out the Central Market, and then perhaps pay a visit to either the Likas Bird Sanctuary or the Green Connection Aquarium. A short boat trip from the city is the Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park and its tropical islands, where sandy beaches and clear waters lend themselves to swimming, snorkelling and also scuba diving around old shipwrecks. Elsewhere you can try your hand at jet-skiing, para-sailing and windsurfing, and if you fancy, inflatable banana boats are on hand for holiday makers looking for a little excitement and fun. If golfing is more your thing, then the Golf Academy Borneo is well equipped for all abilities.
KK is not the most attractive of Malaysia's cities, with much of its history bombed away during WWII. As a result, many tall concrete high-rises appeared soon after and the city was almost completely rebuilt, changing its name from Jesselton to Kota Kinabalu in 1963. Very few old structures and colonial buildings remain, with the Atkinson Clock Tower at the foot of Signal Hill being one of the most recognisable and important, dating back to 1905. Standing on the hill itself is the Signal Hill Observatory, which offers superb cityscape and harbour panoramas, and does bear more than a little resemblance to a pair of flying saucers hovering above the hillside. From the observatory, it is possible to enjoy views of the islands and the stilted village of Pulau Gaya. The City Mosque, the State Mosque and the Sacred Heart Cathedral also provide some much needed character in the city, along with the contemporary gleaming cylindrical tower named the Sabah Foundation Building (Menara Tun Mustapha). Towards the end of the day, the KK Esplanade is a good place to hang out for sunset panoramas of the waterfront.
There are only a small number of museums situated in KK, although what is here is of a good standard, offering a mixture of information, exhibits, activities and presentations, with several good options located around both the Jalan Muzium and the Jalan Kebajikan. Tourists visiting the exceedingly popular Sabah State Museum and Heritage Village will find a real assortment of attractions, ranging from tribal treasures and prehistoric finds to an art gallery and a cave reconstruction. Close by is the Science & Technology Centre, where there are many enjoyable interactive displays and exhibits relating to the petroleum industry. Upstairs is the Sabah Art Gallery, while almost next-door is the Museum of Islamic Civilisation. Located on the northern side of KK and within Sabah University's campus is the Aquarium and Marine Museum, with reef tanks and a mangrove walk being amongst the main highlights.
Sabah is a Malaysian state rich in attractions and tropical beaches, and many enticing excursions are possible for those tourists on holiday in KK. At less than 30 minutes from the city, the Mari Mari Cultural Village makes for the perfect day out, with its guided tours of tribal dwellings and information about indigenous settlements. The Monsopiad Cultural Village is also of note, as is the market town of Tuaran and its Mengkabong Water Village, where mangrove river cruises provide a relaxing way to see the water villages on their stilts. To the north-east of the city is the Kinabalu National Park, which is one of Borneo's leading attractions and rather dominated by its Mount Kinabalu. Hiking trails, nature reserves and hot springs are all here at this UNESCO World Heritage site. Families may like to take a trip to the Lok Kawi Wildlife Park to see its elephants, monkeys, rhinos and other exotics.