Simply known as KK for short, Kota Kinabalu is the rapidly growing capital of the state of Sabah on the island of Brunei. Best known for its enchanting beaches and ancient rainforest, KK is full of charm and character. This allure brings more and more tourists each year.
Located on the world’s largest island, Kota Kinabalu’s people are friendly and inviting. The city is diverse and full of life, a modern-day city fringed by many resorts. There’s something to entertain every visitor here, from an abundance of wildlife to the historic rainforest and serene beaches.
Thanks to its location in the South China Sea, Kota Kinabalu also has some excellent opportunities for scuba divers! Scuba diving Kota Kinabalu promises unique experiences of diving amongst surreal underwater landscapes of tropical marine life and shipwrecks.
With two distinct diving areas, the state of Sabah offers variety and diversity in abundance. The east coast is most popular with world-famous destinations such as Sipadan and Mataking Island. On the other hand, the west side is neglected but full of hidden gems such as WWII wrecks.
The amazing crystal clear waters here are littered with captivating shipwrecks and dramatic underwater landscapes of caves and caverns! You’ll also explore interesting formations and discover lot’s of new marine life.
Diving in Kota Kinabalu is known to be easy, making it a great place to learn or just enjoy some easy diving!
There is no requirement to be certified to scuba dive in Kota Kinabalu. While there are some dives catered to the more confident and experienced, it’s mostly known for having very easy diving.
There are many tour operators that cater to those of all levels of ability, no problem for beginner divers. Thanks to the vastly different conditions and diverse range of dive sites available, there are plenty of beginner-friendly and easily accessible dive sites to get your flippers wet for the first time.
It’s always recommended to get scuba certified to give yourself the best, most enjoyable diving experience possible. While you’ll have a great time scuba diving Kota Kinabalu as a first-time diver, there’s a lot you can miss out on without the extra confidence and diving experience, such as the more challenging wrecks.
If you’re looking to get scuba certified during your trip to Kota Kinabalu, check out our recommended Open Water Diving course below!
In addition, becoming scuba certified will help you feel more comfortable and confident underwater. This leads to maximum enjoyment and safety from your diving experience and something worth considering.
Kota Kinabalu Scuba Diving Requirements
There are no specific laws that scuba divers in Kota Kinabalu need to be aware of.
As always, tour operators state that you must be in good physical condition and have some swimming ability. Children must be at least 10 years old to scuba dive with a tour operator. You may be required to complete a medical form to confirm your eligibility to dive.
With that said, it’s always highly recommended to have a dive buddy when you’re out scuba diving in Kota Kinabalu. This is particularly the case if you’re out diving without a tour operator or guide. In this situation, it’s also good practice to make use of diver down flags.
Best Dive Sites in Kota Kinabalu
I was pleasantly surprised with the versatility of the diving environment in Kota Kinabalu. Although most divers find it relatively easy to dive in and around this capital city of Sabah, the northern regions present a set of challenges for intermediate divers. Additionally, the visibility will be the least of your concerns.
The temperature here is slightly higher than most places, but there is negligible fluctuation throughout the year. Moreover, the rains never last long in the monsoon months of January to March. My top recommendations here are Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park, Mantanani Islands, and Borneo Reef World.
Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park
A shout out to all first-time divers as the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park is meant exclusively for you people! Hop on a boat at Kota Kinabalu, and you’ll reach the park in no more than 30 minutes. The clear conditions and calm waters will certainly encourage you to get a certificate without making it feel like work.
You may not encounter the best coral reef, but the species of tropical reef fishes and the occasional sea turtle will compensate for that. However, the real attractions in this protected zone are the whale sharks, feeding on the planktons near the surface.
If this sounds ideal to you, be sure to check out our recommended diving package experience below!
Mantanani Islands are a group of three islands on the northwestern side of Kota Belud. Speedboats from the Kauba Alai Jetty will bring you here in about an hour. The clear blue waters offer almost spotless visibility up to a depth of 40 meters, and you’ll mostly be accompanied by blue-spotted, marble rays and schools of reef fish.
Muck diving is usually undertaken to get up-close and personal with the blue-ringed octopus, which hovers near the rubbles on the reefs.
If you’re heading to KK and looking to get your first taste of scuba diving, this unique dive will definitely make lasting memories. Check out our recommended diving package below!
Borneo Reef World
Much like Kizimkazi in Zanzibar, the Borneo Reef World is a part that’s less frequented by divers. But the marine life here will impress you to the fullest. It’s situated on the western edge of the Coral Triangle, and a majority of the diving takes place from resorts where the diving is reserved exclusively for guests.
The diving season remains prevalent throughout the year, but the months between April and November offer the calmest conditions to ease the nerves of first-time divers.
Best Time to go Diving in Kota Kinabalu
KK offers year-round diving with conditions that change very little throughout the year. You may find the summer months to be hot and humid with the wet season running from January to March.
Depending on the site and conditions, expect easy and pleasant diving conditions. You can also expect water temperatures around 83°F throughout the year.
How Much Does Scuba Diving Cost in Kota Kinabalu?
If you’re looking at booking a dive package experience through a tour company in Kota Kinabalu, you’ll find prices between $100-$200. The prices generally include gear rental and levy’s so there are no extra fees.
In addition, a PADI Open Water Certification will set you back around $350, if that’s what you’re looking for.
Scuba Diving Gear in Kota Kinabalu
There are plenty of dive shops located in Kota Kinabalu. This means gear rental is always an option.
It’s worth noting, you’re left with one less thing to think about when going with a diving package from a guided tour operator as all equipment and gear are included.
However, buying your own gear might be ideal for you if you’re a more keen and experienced diver!
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