Ultimate Guide When You Go for Island Hopping Malaysia (For a 1-Day Trip)

Island Hopping Malaysia – Most avid travelers know that Southeast Asia is perfect for some tan under the sun. Every region including Indonesia and the Philippines has an island or a beach that’s worth visiting.

However, one of the best countries to visit for exploring some islands is Malaysia. Since there are many small islands that surround Malaysia, island-hopping is a popular activity.

Island-hopping is to travel from one island to another, typically in a short amount of time.

island hopping malaysia
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Island-hopping Malaysia – Source: Sasha India (Unsplash)

Malaysia is home to tons of islands and in this article, let’s focus on the island-hopping routes from Langkawi and Sabah. These two are the most notable routes and feature some of Malaysia’s best islands.

Island Hopping Malaysia: Langkawi and Kota Kinabalu Routes

Langkawi Route

There are plenty of island-hopping tours that feature different islands to travel to from Langkawi’s Kuah Jetty. However, most tours feature the well-known islands – Pulau Dayang Bunting, Pulau Singa Besar, and Pulau Beras Basah.

This tour takes around 3-4 hours, but it can extend depending on the package. It takes 20 to 30 minutes to get to each stop depending on the boat driver and water conditions.

1. Pulau Dayang Bunting (Pregnant Maiden Island)

Pulau Dayang Bunting, island hopping malaysia
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Island hopping Malaysia – Source: Langkawi.com

Pulau Dayang Bunting (Pregnant Maiden Island) is the second-largest island in the Langkawi archipelago. The island is also part of the Dayang Bunting Marble Geoforest Park – one of the three designated forest parks within the Langkawi UNESCO Global Geopark.

The main attraction here is the Tasik Dayang Buntin (Pregnant Maiden Lake) freshwater lake, which is known for its rumored fertility-enhancing properties. The silhouette of the hills surrounding the lake bears a likeness to a reclined pregnant woman. It makes for great pictures from the sea’s point of view.

Most boat drivers stop en route to the island for a quick photo op. Be quick with your camera or else you will miss it.

Things to know about the Pulau Dayang Bunting Tour:

  1. Most tours have a time allotment of 1 hour for this island. It should be enough to walk from the arrival dock, through the forest, to the lake, and then back.
  2. There’s an admission fee to visit the lake. You can also swim or rent a kayak or paddleboat here.
  3. Also, check out the Dayang Bunting Spa located by the lakeside that offers foot reflexology.

2. Pulau Singa Besar (Big Lion Island)

Pulau Singa Besar (Big Lion Island) is a dense jungle-clad island about 7 kilometers from Kuah Jetty. The island got its name from its shape resembling a lion. While there aren’t any lions here, you can spot eagles here. Specifically, the Brahminy Kites Eagles and the White-bellied Sea Eagles.

island hopping malaysia, Pulau Singa Besar
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Island-hopping Malaysia – Source: Hotels.com

Unlike other islands, you won’t be taken ashore at Pulau Singa Besar. You can enjoy eagle watching from the boat for 20 minutes. The island is a prime location for eagles as they come to hunt and find food.

There isn’t much to do besides watching the eagles, but this is great for true nature lovers who love to see wild creatures in their natural habitat. For great shots of the eagles, it’s recommended to bring along a telephoto lens with your camera.

3. Pulau Beras Basah (Wet Rice Island)

Pulau Beras Basah – Wet Rice Island – is located around 25 kilometers from Kuah Jetty. The name is rather intriguing to many as no namesake is visible on the island. Apart from a few small buildings along the beach, there isn’t much here.

island hopping malaysia, Pulau Beras Basah
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Island hopping Malaysia – Source: Pavel Tvrdy (Shutterstock)

However, the island’s known for its white-sand beaches, as well as for being a safe harbor for fishermen who get caught in storms.

The main attraction of Pulau Beras Basah is its beaches. It’s perfect for those who want a great photo op with the white sand. Most tour packages allow 40 minutes to 1 hour for visitors to relax on the beach or enjoy some water sports.

You can also go for a quick snorkeling trip or a ride on the banana boat here. It’s recommended that you plan your itinerary prior to your visit to this island as time may be limited based on your chosen tour package.

Sabah/Kota Kinabalu Route

Sabah is known for its amazing islands, which is why island hopping is a popular activity for tourists. There are plenty of island-hopping tour packages, where you visit a few different islands.

Generally, the number of islands you visit in a day depends on the time you depart from Jesselton Point.

Some tour packages even offer customization, where you can specifically choose which island you wish to visit. Different tours offer different islands. Most tours offer trips to the most popular islands:

  • Gaya Island
  • Sapi Island
  • Manukan Island
  • And Mamutik Island.

1. Gaya Island

Island hopping Malaysia
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Island hopping Malaysia, Source: VisitMalaysia

Gaya Island, located 10 minutes from Kota Kinabalu, its name comes from the Bajau word ‘Gayo’, which means big. The island measures about 3700 acres and is the perfect spot to go hiking through the rainforest. The island’s covered with tropical rainforest and features over 20 km of hiking trails.

The island’s separated into 2 sides –  North and East:

  • The northern side features the stunning Police Bay. White sands, crystal-clear water, and an abundance of coral reefs make this a perfect swimming and diving spot.
  • On the eastern side of the island, you’ll find Malohom Bay and the Marine Ecology Research Center. Just some distance away, you can visit Kampong Gaya, an overwater fishing village.

While Gaya Island is a part of the island-hopping tour, staying on the island overnight is an option – There are three 5-star resorts and some homestays set up by the locals for accommodation here.

2. Sapi Island

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Island hopping Malaysia – Source: Fahrul Azmi (Unsplash)

Sapi Island, separated from Gaya Island by a 200-meter wide channel,  is another popular spot. The moment you arrive on the jetty, you’ll already be looking at hundreds of fish swimming in the clear waters. There are plenty of things to do on the island including snorkeling, scuba diving, and even parasailing.

To those specifically looking to snorkel, you might want to head over to the southern side of the island because that’s where there are plenty of corals. However, it’s important to be careful while you’re snorkeling because certain areas can have a sudden incline.

Coral Flyer: Another activity that’d appeal to many tourists is the Coral Flyer. It is a 235-meter zip line that allows you to soar through the sky from Sapi Island to Gaya Island. You can purchase tickets, but since it’s a rather popular attraction, it’s best to book in advance to secure your spot.

There are many facilities on Sapi Island, including grocery stores and souvenir shops. There’s no accommodation available on the island like the ones on Gaya Island, but camping is allowed for those who want to spend the night. However, you’ll need to get permission from the Park Warden before you set up your tent.

3. Manukan Island

island hopping malaysia, snorkeling
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Island Hopping Malaysia – Source: SabahTourism

Manukan Island is one of the most popular islands to visit when it comes to island-hopping tours. It’s also the most developed island on this list. You can find almost everything you need on this island.

The island’s known for its beautiful beaches and breathtaking marine life, including coral reefs. There are tons of activities available on the island, like swimming, snorkeling, diving, parasailing, and jet skiing.

For those seeking an activity away from the water, the two nature trails to check out: The first trail takes you through the northern forest while the second trail will bring you to Sunset Point on the western side of the island. The best time to start your trail to Sunset Point is about half an hour before dusk. Don’t miss that gorgeous sunset!

Like Gaya Island, overnight stay on Manukan Island is available. There’s the Manukan Island Resort – the island’s main accommodation and it offers 20 chalets and some restaurants.

4. Mamutik Island

Island hopping Malaysia, Mamutik
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Island hopping Malaysia – Source: Visitmalaysia.info

Mamutik Island, located 3 km from Kota Kinabalu, is the smallest island on the Sabah list at 15 acres. Though small, there are plenty of things to do on the island. The main attraction of the island is obviously its white beach. Visitors can relax or check out some water sports.

Mamutik Island is also known amongst avid divers for being one of the region’s best diving spots. There are tons of fish species here, as well as beautiful coral reefs.

You can also take scuba diving courses at the diving school on the island. Jungle trekking is another activity to check out here. There is a 385-meter trail on the northern side of the island with a lot of wildlife to find within the 30-minute trek.

  • Basic facilities are available on Mamutik Island, including food stalls and a café. There’s also a grocery store and souvenir shop on the island.

How to get to these islands?

For the Langkawi island-hopping route, begin your journey in Langkawi. Get to Langkawi via plane from any part of the country directly to its own airport. Depending on where you fly from, whether it’s from Kuala Lumpur, Johor, or any other state, the flight time is around a couple of hours.

A ferry from Kuala Kedah or Kuala Perlis to the Kuah Jetty in Langkawi is a cheaper alternative to the plane. However, it’ll take a long time to reach the island.

As for the Sabah route, get to Kota Kinabalu – the capital city of Sabah. You can get there by international flight. This is the only method of reaching Sabah unless you are coming from Brunei. In which case, you can take a ferry. All the tours will depart from Jesselton Point, with the earliest departure time being 8 AM.

Island Hopping Malaysia: How much does it cost to visit these islands?

Many desk tours offer these island-hopping tours. You can book when in Langkawi or Kota Kinabalu, or look for the tours online. The prices vary depending on tour companies or freelance agents.

 Considering that these island-hopping tours are only one-day trips, expect prices around RM 50 (roughly 12 USD) per person for the Langkawi tours. The prices for the Sabahan island tours differ depending on how many islands you opt to visit.

The average price is around RM30-40 (7 – 10 USD) for one island, where prices add on for additional islands.

How much does island hopping Malaysia cost? A rough estimate for a tour package is RM100 ($24) per person.

This excludes the additional fees for some attractions on the islands – for example, the fee to visit the lake on the Pulau Dayang Bunting. Renting the equipment for some water sports is also an additional cost.

Island Hopping Malaysia
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Island Hopping Malaysia – Source: Visitmalaysia.info

What is the best time to visit these islands?

The island tours here in Malaysia are open all year long, even during rainy days. However, some tour companies can abruptly take a break from daily tours, depending on the weather.

For the Langkawi route, the best months to visit the islands would be during the dry and sunny seasons (December – March). The tours may still be opened during the rainy season (August – October). It’s not likely to encounter rain even if you travel to Langkawi during this time as it usually rains late in the evenings or nights.

Though tours are available all year long, the peak season is around June and July as the mid-semester school holidays commence around this time.

For the Sabah route, the best time to go for these tours is February to May. The weather in Sabah varies depending on the area:

  • The weather in Kota Kinabalu would be the driest around October to December, but this is also when the east coast gets a lot of rain. However, island-hopping tours are available all year long, and you can still enjoy them even during rainy seasons.

Island Hopping Malaysia: What to pack when visiting these islands?

The island-hopping trip in Malaysia is mostly a one-day trip, except when you decide to stay overnight on some of the islands in Sabah. Pack according to your itinerary and the activities you opt for on the islands.

For swimming and water activities, pack your swimwear as well as an extra set of clothes. For hiking, pack your hiking gear like specific shoes or a walking stick.

There are other things to consider packing regardless of the activity you plan on doing. Sunscreens with a higher SPF are highly recommended because the sun can get quite harsh on the skin when you’re on the beach. Aloe vera gel is also great to keep handy in case your skin gets too hot after a long day of sunbathing.

For mosquitos or insects, pack an insect repellent as well, especially if your skin is sensitive to bugs.

Store your items in a waterproof bag, in case of splashing during the boat ride. For smaller items, like your phone and wallet, it’s best to store them in a waist bag to keep them safe.

Which Island hopping Malaysia tour is more worth it? Langkawi or Kota Kinabalu?

Both island tours are worth the price. Still, it depends on what you’re looking for on these islands. The tours in Langkawi are great for those into photography or visit places with a history or story. The tours are mostly one-day trips, so they’re great if you happened to be in Langkawi and want to explore other islands.

The Sabah/Kota Kinabalu island-hopping tours are great for diving or snorkeling as you find plenty of fish species as well as beautiful coral reefs. It’s also the tour to choose from if you want a bit of everything since most of the islands offer activities both on the beach and in the forest.

The prices for the Sabah island-hopping tours can be pricey but considering the activities you get to experience, it’s worth every penny!

Overall, the tours are a lot of fun, and they’re great for both solo travelers and people traveling in groups. You can also bring your family or your kids because the beaches also offer activities for younger children.

*This is a guest post by Helen Lee.

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Manas Patil

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