The Mantanani Islands are a group of three small remote islands off the north coast of Sabah, Malaysia. The islands are a scuba divers paradise with underwater visibility of up to 40 meters, over 16 different dive locations, and loads of marine life to see.
Throw in a white sandy beach that stretches over 2.5 kilometers, a super laid back island vibe, and you’ve got yourself an epic tropical gem to explore.
Being a fairly undeveloped destination means that accommodation options are limited. You may like to book either Mari Mari Backpackers or Sutera Resort in advance. Keep reading for some other options though.
- Country: Malaysia
- Accessibility: Off-Grid
- Activities: Scuba Diving, Beaches
Which Island Should I Visit?
The largest island in the group is Pulau Mantanai Besar (referred to as Mantanani Island). This is the only inhabited island of the three and therefore the one you will stay on overnight.
The other two islands are Mantanani Kecil and Lungisan. There is no accommodation on either of these smaller islands, so you can visit them with a day trip, typically a dive trip, from Mantanani Island.
Mantanani Kecil is about 2.5 kilometers away from the main island. Lungisan is much close at just under 1 kilometer away from the main island, and the adventurous travellers could paddle around it by kayak when the sea is calm.
How to get to the Mantanani Islands
If you are planning to travel directly to the Mantanani Islands after landing in Sabah, then your best arrival airport will be Kota Kinabalu. The total travel time from Kota Kinablau to Pulau Mantanani Besar is about 3 hours including van and speedboat transfers.
Important: there is only one speedboat to Mantanani Island each day. This speedboat departs at 9.30am from Kampung Kuala Abai Jetty in Kota Belud. Unless you want to spend a night in Kota Belud first, you need to leave Kota Kinabalu quite early.
The trip north-east from Kota Kinabalu to Kota Belud is about 1.5 hours. While there are frequent buses and minivans traveling between the two cities, you want to aim for the 7.30am bus departing the Wisma Sabah shopping centre.
Alternatively, you can also book direct transfers to Mantanani Island here.
Scuba Diving and Snorkeling Companies
There over 16 diving spots around the Mantanani Islands including three different World War 2 Japanese Ship wreck dives.
If you are a diver you will be impressed by the diversity of marine life around the islands including turtles, dolphins, stingrays, eels, octopus, seahorses and loads of different fish. If you are super lucky you may even catch a rare glimpse of a local dugong.
Not a diver? With many shallow reef around the island there are also plenty of snorkelling opportunities.
Mantanani Divers operates a dive shop right on the island and is run by locals. They also host regular dive trips cleaning up ocean trash from the coral reef at discounted rates.
Other Things to Do
The Mantanani Islands are a beautiful spot both above and below the water, and therefore not just a destination for scuba divers.
Snorkeling: if you’re keen to explore the coral reefs but are not PADI certified, or just want to save on cash, then snorkeling is a great option.
Sunset views: enjoy amazing orange skies at sunset from the western side of the island
Fishing trips: for something a little different, fishing tips can be arranged through the Little Dolphin Hotel on the north-west coast of Mantanani Island.
Kayaking: rent a kayak from one of the resorts on the island and paddle around the coast. If you are on the west coast you may even be able to paddle around the smaller Lungisan Island just next door.
Best time to visit the Mantanani Islands
The best time to visit the islands is in the dry season from April through to July. That said, Sabah is never exactly dry so don’t expect blue skies every day.
The Mantanani Islands are open to visitors all year round, however, the islands can become inaccessible when the sea is rough. This means you may end up getting stuck at Kota Belud for a day or so waiting for conditions to calm down.
Accommodation on the Mantanani Islands
Mari Mari Bakcpackers ($) – located on the south-west coast of the island about 900 metres away from the town. There are two types of accommodation available here to suit your budget. The traditional Sulap is a teak wood cabin on 2 metres stilts with hammocks underneath. Alternatively, there are 8 bed dorm rooms within the same area just a short walk away. Both are great for sunset views.
Sutera Mantanani ($$) – located on the far south-east of the island where you will find that epic long sandbar beach. There are luxury private bungalows here right along the sand. The resort also offers the inclusion of three meals per day and round trip transfers from Kota Kinabalu making your stay completely hassle free while maintaining full flexibility.