From world-class diving and breathtaking underwater scenery to pristine beaches and turquoise waters, the variety of islands in Borneo is exquisite.
Here are our top picks for the 5 best island vacation destinations in Borneo
1. Lankayan Island
Set in the Marine Protected Area off the coast of Sandakan, Sabah, Lankayan Island is a secluded paradise with white sand and encircled by clear, crystalline water—that you’ll have all to yourself.
Many travelers have described Lankayan Island as the most beautiful Island in Borneo and Malaysia. Lankayan is popular among divers and snorkelers for a one-of-a-kind vacation experience.
Where to stay: There is only one resort on the island: Lankayan Island Resort
Getting there: Lankayan island is accessible through Sandakan, Sabah Malaysia. Sandakan Airport is connected by daily flights from Kota Kinabalu and Kuala Lumpur. Lankayan is reached by 1.5hrs speedboat ride from Sandakan Jetty.
>Sandakan Jetty to Lankayan Island – 10:00 am (Daily)
>Lankayan Island to Sandakan Jetty– 07:00 am (Daily)
2. Sipadan Island
Filmed for the first time in 1989 by famed sea-explorer Jacques Cousteau, Sipadan Island has earned the reputation as having the best diving in Borneo, Malaysia.
Sipadan Island, right in the heart of the Coral Triangle – the world’s centre of marine life – is on the top of every diver’s wish list.
With more than 3,000 species of fish, hundreds of species of corals, a wide variety of pelagic and large population of green and hawksbill turtles, Sipadan Island is gazetted as a Marine Protected Area where only 120 visitors per day can access.
Where to stay: There is no accommodation on Sipadan. The islands nearby are perfect base for exploring Sipadan: Mabul Water Bungalow, Kapalai Island Resort, and Mataking Reef Diver Resort.
Getting there: Tawau airport is about 1.5hrs drive from Semporna jetty. Upon arrival in Tawau airport, you will be driven for about 1.5hrs to Semporna where you will board the scheduled boat to Mabul, Kapalai or Mataking. Roundtrip transfers are included in packages offered by the resorts.
3. Derawan Archipelago
The isolated islands of the Derawan Archipelago are a dream destination for divers thanks to their stunning variety of marine life. Divers will be amazed by plenty of turtles, manta ray, barracuda and other pelagics.
Derawan Archipelago is one of the richest areas in the world for marine biodiversity and has earned the reputation as having one of the best diving in Indonesia.
Derawan archipelago is composed of 31 islands including Derawan Island, Maratua is the largest island well known as “The Big Fish County, Sangalaki Island, and Kakaban Island home to a lake with stingless jellyfish.
Derawan Island is the largest nesting site for turtles throughout Indonesia and you can see turtles laying their eggs in the sand every day.
Where to stay: Severla accommodation options are available in Maratua, Derawan and Nabucco Island
Getting there: From the city of Balikpapan, take a flight with Kalstar Airlines to reach the town of Berau. From Berau, proceed to the islands with the resort’s schedule boat.
4. Swallow Reef Layang Layang
If you look at the island from above, you will see just an airstrip surrounded by a coral reef. Lanyang Layang is an oceanic atoll of the Spratly Islands located 300 kilometers north-west of Kota Kinabalu, Sabah.
This man-made island was built by the Malay Navy in order to affirm the sovereignty in Spratly islands in the South China Sea.
The 2,000 meter-deep-waters surrounding the remote island are home to abundant and undisturbed marine life.And because of the presence of the Navy in the area, the reef was spared from fishing with dynamite.
Particularly noteworthy are the schools of hammerhead sharks, giant manta rays and whales sharks.
Where to stay: The only resort on the island is Layan Resort Avillion Layang
Getting there:The only way to reach the island is via charter flight that departs from Kota Kinabalu during the diving season.
5. Gaya Island
Set in the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park, just a mere 15-minute boat ride from Kota Kinabalu city, Gaya Island is a popular destination for package tourists.
Being the largest island of the marine park is home to 3 beach resorts: Bungaraya Island Resort nestled in the scenic Polish Bay, the exclusive Gaya Island Resort and Gayana Marine Resort which features overwater tropical villas.
Gaya Island offers heavenly white beaches, rich rainforest wildlife, and different dive sites.
Where to stay: Gaya Island Resort, Bungaraya Resort and Gayana Marine Resort
Getting there: The resort’s scheduled boat to Gaya Island departs from Jesselton Point, 15 minute-drive from Kota Kinabalu airport.