Rivers are the lifelines to wetland and rainforest ecosystems around the world. Where there is freshwater, life soon follows and here in Sabah, our river systems are teeming with some of Borneo’s most unique and precious wildlife! All along the state’s west coast, you can find relaxing sunset river cruises where you’ll have the opportunity to spot long-tailed macaques, rare silvery langurs and of course the infamous proboscis monkeys - which can only be found right here in Borneo. As soon as the sun goes down, out come the fireflies for a magical display of twinkling lights to lead your way along the river.
Here is our guide to some of the best wetland experiences that you can find around Kota Kinabalu:
The Klias Wetlands, situated within the Klias Peninsula, is the largest protected mangrove forest reserve in Sabah. Known for its large proboscis monkey population, it is a favourite destination among travellers visiting Sabah’s west coast, hoping to catch a glimpse of that bizarre-looking nose!
The journey to Klias Wetlands takes roughly 2 hours by bus, and upon arrival, you will be greeted with high tea before heading out on your first evening cruise. Make sure to be on the lookout for proboscis monkeys, long-tailed macaques, silvery langurs, kingfishers and birds of prey. As dusk settles, you will enjoy a buffet dinner by the water’s edge before heading back out to watch the fireflies dance along the riverbanks. You may even spot the glowing eyes of a crocodile or two in the moonlight!
The old town of Weston, named after the British civil engineer Arthur J. West, was once a strategic meeting point for shipping and transport during the days of colonial rule. It is now home to the Weston Wetland Park - a lush, unique reserve of mangrove swamp dubbed “The Little Kinabatangan” for its abundance of wildlife.
Just over 2 hours by bus to Weston Wetland jetty from Kota Kinabalu, you will be taken to a riverside lodge by boat where you’ll begin your evening adventure. Among some of the incredible wildlife, you may find in Weston include proboscis monkeys, silvery langurs, monitor lizards, crocodiles and mudskippers. This is a great place to enjoy a spectacular sunset over the mangroves before heading back for dinner in the river lodge restaurant. A second cruise will see you be treated by the dazzling lights of the fireflies to round off your Weston Wetland experience.
For a more intimate and lesser-known river cruise experience, you’ll find the small village of Kawa Kawa about 1hr30mins bus ride to the north of Kota Kinabalu. With fewer numbers of visitors, Kawa Kawa is a hidden gem, offering you a more rugged and untouched experience of Sabah’s mangrove forests.
Making your way to the Kawa Kawa jetty in time for afternoon tea, you can enjoy local cakes such as Pinjaram, before setting off on the sunset cruise along the waterways surrounding Kota Belud. Here you can find proboscis monkeys, long-tailed macaques, water buffaloes and otters lounging along the banks of the river. A traditional-style dinner awaits you at the jetty on your return. Some tours may even offer you the chance to watch the sunset from Nanamun beach - the perfect spot for a sunset photoshoot, before heading out again to catch a glimpse of the fireflies.
If you’re feeling a little more adventurous and want to get outside for an afternoon full of activities, spend the day with Tembara River Cruise located in Tuaran, approximately 40 mins drive outside Kota Kinabalu.
Here you can take a cycling tour of Serusup village with a local guide and kayak the length and breadth of the lagoon to find the best stretch of beach to relax on. Situated beside the jetty, a wooden walkway lets you explore the mangroves at your own pace and is where you can have a quick lesson in the traditional method of catching mud crabs. Once the golden hour sets in, you’ll mosey on down to Sunset Point for a glorious view of the sunset with Mount Kinabalu on display in the distance. You can then head to Tembara Cafe for a delicious local meal before jumping back on the catamaran to watch the fireflies after dark.