Mabul Island lies in the southeast corner of Sabah, Malaysian Borneo. The island is just one of the dozens that dot the coast of Semporna.
The island is flat and surrounded by shallow coral reefs of about 2 km2.
In this travel guide, we will go through the basics every tourist should know when intending to go to Mabul for a vacation.
The Best Travel Options to Mabul Island
You can reach Mabul Island by private boat or ferry, departing from the Semporna ferry and boat terminals. The journey takes about an hour, depending on the speed of the boat.
You’ll probably need to arrange your own transport to Mabul Island unless you are staying in a five-star resort. This quick guide will give you a current account of how to organize a trip from Semporna to Mabul Island and what to expect from the island.
Below, we have listed a few ways that you can get to Mabul Island. These are mainly for readers who are on a tight budget or want to take a day trip.
If you have already booked accommodation on the island, you will most likely get transport included.
Kota Kinabalu to Mabul
Semporna is the first stop on your journey. If you are looking for a way to get to Mabul Island, you can take a flight from Kota Kinabalu to Tawau and then a Grab Car or taxi to Semporna Harbor.
You can also take the overland bus to Semporna and then a ferry from there to the island.
Semporna: How to Get There
It is surprising to find that flying from Kota Kinabalu to Semporna is affordable. We normally stick to budget options when traveling, so we didn’t consider flying to Semporna. Air Asia offers daily standard flights between KK and Tawau starting at $18. You’ll have to either pay 80 Ringgit for a Grab to Semporna or look for a shared minivan.
You can also fly directly from Kuala Lumpur or other parts of Asia to Tawau.
Compare flights to Semporna directly using CheapOair and Sky Scanner.
Go to Semporna By Bus
Overland buses are the most popular choice for budget travelers who want to visit more of Sabah. There are morning and night buses departing from Inanam Station at 7:30 AM or 7:30 PM, respectively. The cost is 75 Ringgit.
You can hail a bus on the main road if you are coming from Sandakan or Sepilok or from the Kinabatangan River. You can expect to pay 45 Ringgit or more for the bus ride, depending on where you board. Ask your accommodation how to get to Semporna.
Semporna Public Jetty – How to get to Mabul Island
Semporna has a number of different jetties for boats. However, the main jetties are where the majority of boats depart for island-hopping trips or transfers to outer islands.
Since there is a curfew on boat activities, boats usually depart in the morning. You will have to bargain for a good price if you arrive without a reservation. The more people you have, the better the price split.
Semporna-Mabul Island Boat price:
Expect to pay between 35$ – 45$ for a boat to Mabul Island.
Travel tip If you have booked accommodation on Mabul Island, we would recommend that you ask if the price includes a transfer. You could save a significant amount of money on the transfer fee.
The journey to Mabul Island only takes a few hours. The rest is spent in this tropical paradise of Borneo.
How long will you stay? The length of your trip will usually depend on the amount of diving you plan to do. For example, if you’re planning to dive into the local sites and also take a day trip up to Sipadan, then we would suggest a 3-day, 2-night trip.
Mabul Island, off Semporna, is a great place to snorkel and scuba dive on a budget. The majority of the lodges are also dive shops. If you plan to dive on Sipadan Island, we recommend that you make a reservation with your host in advance.
You’ll also save money, and they will arrange your boat transportation from Semporna Mabul:
- Scuba Spheredivers: Great diver’s accommodation on Mabul Island, with rooms that look out to the sea.
- Mabul Backpackers: it is the cheapest hostel in Mabul, with all meals included.
What can I do in Mabul if I don’t want to scuba dive?
Mabul Island in Sabah, Malaysia is famous for its stunning beaches, crystal-clear waters and diverse marine life. While scuba diving may be its main draw for visitors, Mabul offers other activities you may enjoy if diving isn’t your thing – here are a few:
- Snorkeling: Mabul offers plenty of shallow waters where you can observe marine life while snorkeling, with rental equipment available from dive centers or resorts.
- Island Hopping: There are various islands nearby that you can visit, including Kapalai Island, Sipadan Island and Mataking Island. Take a boat ride around these islands to experience their charm.
- Beach activities: Mabul Island offers numerous beaches where you can relax and soak up some sun. Go swimming, build sandcastles or just read a book – there is something here for everyone on Mabul!
- Kayaking: To explore the island from its waters, rent a kayak. Kayaking provides great exercise while offering breathtaking scenery!
- Nature Walks: Mabul Island offers a diverse array of flora and fauna for you to observe on a nature walk, while taking advantage of guided tours for more insight into its ecosystem.
- Cultural Experiences: Explore nearby villages to immerse yourself in local traditions and learn more about life there, while meeting like-minded individuals. This can be an amazing way of expanding your horizons while meeting new people!
- Sunset Watching: Mabul Island is famous for its breathtaking sunsets. To experience them fully, choose either a spot on the beach or boat and observe as the sun dips below the horizon.
How safe is Mabul Island for tourists?
Mabul Island is typically safe for tourists. However, as with any destination, it’s wise to take certain measures in order to safeguard your own wellbeing and ensure the most pleasant stay possible.
One of the most essential rules is being mindful of your surroundings and belongings at all times. Petty theft can often happen, particularly in tourist areas, so it’s wise to monitor any valuables left lying around unattended.
Also, it’s wise to employ common sense and take basic safety precautions, including not walking alone in isolated areas at night or adhering to local customs and laws, as well as refraining from activities that appear dangerous or risky.
Mabul Island boasts numerous resorts and dive centers that employ their own security measures in order to guarantee guest safety.
Mabul Island Budget Diving
Some budget hostels offer diving at Mabul. Mabul Backpackers, for example, offers a diving package at 136$ per person. This includes four dives and two nights of accommodation, as well as all meals, plus the return boat ride from Semporna Island to Mabul Island.
You can save money by haggling for discounts on diving with the accommodation you have already booked.
You can also find this deal on the internet. It offers three dives at a good price of $85.