Before our trip to Sabah, Malysia, I heard that Borneo Island was the land of incredible beaches and beautiful sunsets. I was drooling for the white, sandy beaches and warm, turquoise water I imagined long before ever setting foot on Borneo. I’m happy to report that my dreams became a reality on Dinawan Island!
After visiting many beaches on Kota Kinabalu and a few other islands off of East Malaysia, I’m confident in saying Dinawan Island is the best beach in East Malaysia.
But, honestly, it goes beyond Malaysia. I love island hopping around the world and, after thinking it over for the last few days, I’m ready to admit that Dinawan Island is actually the best island experience I’ve ever had. Out of like 30 islands. So that’s pretty good.
Dinawan Island, Borneo: Paradise
We booked a Dinawan Island day trip while we were in Sabah, Borneo. We were staying in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah state’s capital city, which is home to it’s own amazing beaches. What turned us on to a Dinawan Island day trip was the fact that Dinawan is private island which restricts how many passengers are allowed to enter each day.
Incredibly beaches without the buses of Chinese tourists? Count me in!
Nestled 20 km outside of Kota Kinabalu in the warm South China Sea, Dinawan Island is privately owned and managed by two different tourist firms: Sun Borneo (aka Marudu) on the East side and Ara Dinawan on the West. The island welcomes day and overnight tourists, though overall numbers are capped so as to preserve the island as much as possible.
It’s beautiful, secluded, quiet, provides tons of brand-new sports equipment and lounge chairs, features gorgeous sunsets, and provides an amazing beach BBQ dinner. Dinawan Island is definitely paradise.
Don’t want to stay overnight? No problem. The most popular way to see Dinawan Island is during a day trip from Kota Kinabalu.
Dinawan Island Day Trip Schedule
Our Dinawan Island day trip started out with a hotel pick-up from Kota Kinabalu at 12:15 p.m. We were then shuttled 25 minutes away to a small jetty in the middle of a mangrove swamp.
A few minutes after arriving at the jetty a 15-passenger speedboat arrived to take us and a few other guests to the island. The ride lasted about 20 minutes and was much calmer than expected! This was an amazing time to take in the sights along the Borneo coastline.
1:30 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.
Once we arrived on Dinawan Island we were given a brief introduction to the area and told the rest of the afternoon was free to do what we wanted (check out the island amenities below!)
Tea break! While it’s called a “tea break”, our afternoon snack actually consisted of fresh coffee and fried bananas. I don’t drink coffee, but I made up for my lack of drinking by eating extra bananas. I love those things!
4:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m.
Second free section of the day. We used this time to play in the water, hike the 73-meter hilltop, and watch the sunset.
BBQ dinner on the beach! Of all the incredible things to do on Dinawan Island this was one of the highlights from our day trip. We were seated at our own table and served a large tray of whole crabs, eggplant, squid skewers, shrimp skewers, baked potatoes, and chicken wings. It was definitely the best seafood I’ve had in Sabah, Malaysia, so far!
We collected our things and took the same speedboat back to the jetty. There was a little surprise for us on the ride back: a stop to check out bioluminescent plankton!
Everything to do on Dinawan Island
The Marudu (Eastern) side of Dinawan Island is a wide sandbar which opens up to two distinct sides: A calm bay and a (slightly) more wild side open to the South China Sea. Each side offers different recreational benefits, and both are easy to access by visitors.
There are so many features that set Dinawan Island apart from other Borneo beaches! Here are a few of the highlights.
1. Inflatable Water Park
The first thing we noticed on our speedboat ride into Dinawan was a giant, inflatable water park looming in the water. The inflatable water park in on the open side of Dinawan Island, so you’ll be sure to see it as you approach the open water. Accessible by one of the many kayaks provided, the water park sits off the coast of the island and is perfect for children and adults. It’s not too large, wild, or difficult, so visitors to the island can kayak out for a good hour of fun and then move on to the other amazing things to do on Dinawan Island.
Yellow sea kayaks are piled high in the middle of the island’s sandbar or placed on the beach on the South China Sea side. Simply grab one and a paddle at your leisure and head out! You can kayak as long as you’d like and go around the entire island.
3. Water Swings
Our 6-year-old’s favorite thing on the island was the three different swings found in the bay side of the sandbar. We’ve seen pictures and videos of vacationers using swings like these to enjoy other tropical areas, and it really does feel as amazing as it looks!
It’s not easy to actually swing on the wood and rope swings, but it’s amazing to just sit and dip your feet in the bathtub water all around you. You really can’t complain about this amazing photo op.
4. Beach chairs, umbrellas, hammocks, and bean bags (oh my!)
Oh the lounging you’ll have on Dinawan Island! The sandbar is covered by sturdy wooden lounge chairs with tables underneath grass umbrellas every few feet on either side of the island. There’s more than enough for everyone, so you’ll always be guaranteed a spot to relax!
Not only does the island boast plentiful lounge chairs, you’ll also find a few hammocks scattered around the trees and a bean bag station. And not a bad to be hand from any of them! Ahhhhhhhhh…..
Dinawan Island is surrounded by a beautiful coral reef home to some amazing tropical fish and sea anemone. Organized snorkeling trips are scheduled each day, so check the large whiteboard at the island’s gathering spot to see what time a boat will be heading out.
Dinawan provides all masks, snorkels, PFDs (required), and donuts (to lay on if you aren’t comfortable swimming) but not fins. Don’t let that stop you, though. The reef is close enough to the surface of the water that you’ll be able to see plenty of interesting things from the limitations of your PFD.
We saw clown fish, angel fish, Dory fish, and so many more incredible sea creatures. Be sure to bring your GoPro for this trip!
6. Hiking Hilltop Station
Dinawan Hilltop Station sits on the Eastern side of the island, where the Marudu day trips land. You can use steps leading to overnight bungalows as an entry to hiking the hill, then traverse your way northward. The hill only sits 73 meters above water and takes around 100 steps to reach, but a great view of the reef and South China Sea awaits your minimal efforts.
After climbing Hilltop Station you can take a run or walk along the coast of the island to do even more exploring!
Fishing gear is provided if you’re interested in sitting in the water or taking out a kayak for some alone time on the water! Be warned, there are strict rules about what to take and what to leave. It’s best to practice catch and release fishing here.
8. Sunset Seafood BBQ
We keep hearing that Kota Kinabalu is the perfect place to eat seafood, but we haven’t really had the chance before coming to Dinawan Island. The wait was worth it.
Around dusk SunBorneo employees started grilling a beachside dinner and setting up tables and chairs. When everything was ready we sat down to a whole crab, chicken wing, squid skewers, shrimp skewers, whole eggplant, and baked potato. EACH. I’m telling you… BBQ seafood is the only way to go! And looking out at the gorgeous beach during our seafood dinner was the best way to end a day on the best beach in Malaysia.
How to stay overnight on Dinawan Island
Once you arrive on the best beach in Malaysia you’ll never want to leave. At least I didn’t. There are some gorgeous chalets by SunBorneo which look out right into the South China Sea! Choose from these seaside villas, or ones higher up Hilltop Station for an even more romantic, secluded experience.
What to bring to Dinawan Island
Just to be super prepared for the best day EVER on the most beautiful beach in Malaysia!
- Swim attire
- Snorkel equipment. If you aren’t comfortable using the gear they have available, or if you have special snorkel gear for children. We use this full-face mask for our 6-year-old and he loved snorkeling at Dinawan!
- Money. A small store in on the property with bottled water and other drinks, popsicles, and snacks available
- Change of clothes and any bathing items you want. Shower stalls are available to rinse off at the end of the day, but we suggest you at least change into dry clothes. A Dinawan Island day trip lasts until past sundown, and that’s a long time to be in a wet swimsuit!
- Bug Spray. I can not stress this enough. Around dusk (5:00 p.m. or so) sand flies come out in droves and their sole purpose is to try and eat you alive. I was swatting these guys away so much I could hardly enjoy my lounge, and woke up with around 150 bug bites. Quite literally.
Here’s the thing. I’m kind of obsessed with Dinawan Island now. We’ve been to tons of beaches and sunset spots around Kota Kinabalu and Sabah in the last couple of weeks and none compare to Dinawan. I’ve pretty much wished I was back there every other day we’ve been in Malaysia!
If you’re planning a trip to East Malaysia I am begging you to make a day trip to Dinawan. It’s seriously the best beach in Mayalsia, and you (and the whole fam) will love it!
Planning a trip to Kota Kinabalu? Pin this article on Dinawan Island for later!
*Our day trip to Dinawan Island was sponsored by Sabah Tourism Board. All opinions are my own.*