Maliau Basin Conservation Area (Complete Guide)

Explore the self-contained ecosystem of the Maliau Basin, uniquely isolated far from the developed world and only first explored since the late 1980s.

What's In This Guide?

The Maliau Basin Conservation Area is a super remote and diverse area of uninhabited forest that is effectively sunken into a massive crater-like area in Sabah, Malaysia.

The region protects a huge 588 sq.km of jungle that is regarded as some of the last relatively untouched wilderness in the world.

The area has never been logged or continuously inhabited by people, and the first expeditions into this extremely remote region only started as recently as 1988.

What Makes it Unique?

Pitcher Plant in Maliau Basin
Pitcher Plant in Maliau Basin
Pygmy Elepahants Along Kinabatangan River
Pygmy Elepahants

The Maliau Basin was originally a plateau. Over time it eroded away in the middle leaving behind a crater-like shape.

The unique topography means that the nature here has been and remains very isolated. The region effectively has its own ecosystem where water runs down from the surrounding ridge into the basin and exists through only one stream at the south-east end.

The complete isolation means you will find a wide range of unique plants and animals that are only found and even thrive in this part of the world. The critically endangered Orangutans, near extinct Sumatran Rhinos, and Pygmy Elephants are just some of the animals you may be lucky enough to encounter.

That is not to mention the almost 1,800 known species of trees and plenty other unique plants such as the iconic monster Rafflesia Flower and carnivorous Pitcher Plant that exist here too.

For nature and outdoor travelers, the Maliau Basin Conversation Area is an absolute must visit destination, and one of my top places to visit in Sabah.

How to get to the Maliau Basin?

The Maliau Basin Conservation Area is located in the southern central region of Sabah, approximately 40 kilometers from the Indonesian border of North Kalimantan.

There are two ways to get to the Maliau Basin from tourist centers in Sabah:

  1. Depart Kota Kinabalu in the north of Sabah. The journey takes about 5 to 6 hours.
  2. Depart Tawau in the far south-east of Sabah. The journey takes about 4 to 5 hours.

In both cases, most of the trip can be made by a standard 2WD standard car. It’s once you pass the Maliau Basin Gate and make the 27 kilometer (1 hour) trip to the Maliau Basin Studies Centre that a 4WD is definitely required.

Note: the Maliau Basin Studies Centre is the first base camp where accommodation and other facilities are located within the park.

Exploring (Hiking) in the Maliau Basin

To experience the Maliau Basin you really need to venture into the jungle on a multi-day hiking expedition. There are various options that run for 4 or 5 days each and all should be booked well before you travel. I suggest these tours with Amazing Borneo starting around USD 1,300 per person all inclusive.

Hikes typically run a clockwise circuit around part of the Maliau Basin with stays at three far-flung jungle camps overnight: Nepenthes Camp, Agathis Camp, and Ginseng Camp.

Maliau Basin Hiking Route
Typical Maliau Basin Hiking Route

Each day you will hike between 7.5km and 9km at a minimum. There will be options to make additional hikes to a range of stunning waterfalls like Takob Akob Falls, Ginseng Falls, and the 7-tiered Maliau Falls, as well as walking through areas known for the Rafflesia Flower and Pitcher Plants.

Certain sections of the hike will be steep and difficult, with conditions made more strenuous by the hot and humid Sabah climate. You should be fairly fit and well equipped before making this trip, as the difficulty should not be underestimated.

Accommodation at the jungle camps is very basic consisting of hostel style bunk beds and squat toilets in the bathroom. This is not an experience for the luxury traveler but built for the intrepid and nature enthusiasts.

Short on time, or just prefer comfort? There are also quicker 2 Day / 1 Night tours to the Maliau Baisn. Typical itineraries depart Kota Kinabalu in the early morning with a stop at the rural town of Keningau along the way. Spend a night in the jungle at the more comfortable accommodation in the Maliau Basin Studies Centre, then explore the jungle on a shorter walk and take in the views from the Sky Bridge Observation Tower.

Maliau Basin, Sabah Malaysia
Maliau Basin Sky Bridge Observation Tower
Maliau Basin Conservation Centre Hostel
MSBC Hostel Accommodation

Best Time to Travel to the Maliau Basin

It is ideal time to travel to the Maliau Basin is during the dry season which goes from January to July. April and May are the driest and most comfortable months. That said, Sabah is never really dry and always seems to have incredibly high humidity levels.

The wettest months in Sabah are August and December. You’ll want to avoid these months as trekking for days in heavy rain just won’t be enjoyable.

Other Practical Tips

Food: there are no supermarkets or shops inside the Maliau Basin. Any food you want in addition to what is offered on the tours should be purchased in Kota Kinabalu or Tawau first, with a final opportunity to do some shopping at smaller towns along the way.

Clothing: Sabah is always wet, even in the dry season. Pack quick drying clothing, a waterproof backpack cover to protect your electronics, and leech socks.

Shoes: Decent hiking boots are a must-have. I highly recommend the North Face Futurelight boots, they’re waterproof, light, and provide decent ankle support.

First Aid: Hydration tables, Antiseptic cream and Band-aids,

Travel Insurance: You will need coverage including helicopter evacuation before starting your trip. Get a free quote (and the cheapest coverage) with WorldNomads.

Let me show you how to travel Asia better, further, and easier than you can imagine. The highest waterfalls, remote islands, best street food, and plenty more!

Josh Shephard

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