Where to Stay in Kota Kinabalu. Best Hotels in Kota Kinabalu & More

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Deciding between the best hotels in Kota Kinabalu is almost as difficult as choosing what to do there. This bustling city in northern Borneo is full of exciting things to do, but Kota Kinabalu hotels are just as varied and exciting. If you’re wondering where to stay in Kota Kinabalu, we’re here to help. 

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Best Hotels in Kota Kinabalu Malaysia

There are so many fun things to do in Kota Kinabalu in Malaysian Borneo. After a few days of rafting, snorkeling, diving, hiking, and stuffing your face, you might just want to relax in one of the best family hotels in Kota Kinabalu. Kota Kinabalu resorts are also a great option. Wherever you stay, you’ll either be right in town or have fairly easy access to anywhere in town by taxi. If you plan to explore further than the city limits, you usually will be picked up by the company you sign up with. When exploring by yourselves, it may be better to rent a car. Kota Kinabalu roads and infrastructure are actually quite good, and it’s relatively easy to drive here. That said, if you’ve never driven a car in Southeast Asia, you may want to think about it carefully.

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For those of you who want to jump straight to the top Kota Kinabalu hotels, here’s a quick rundown. If you want to know where to stay in Kota Kinabalu fast, here’s our top five. More info on all these hotels and others later on in the post.

Best Resort in Kota Kinabalu

Shangri-La’s Tanjung Aru Resort & Spa: Beautiful grounds, excellent service, multiple dining options and one of the best pool and water-play areas of any Kota Kinabalu resort. 

Best Luxury Hotel in Kota Kinabalu

Hilton Kota Kinabalu: Large, luxurious suites, rooftop pool, and prime location in town. Excellent dining options but also walking distance from local eateries downtown. 

Best Mid-Range Hotel in Kota Kinabalu

Hotel Sixty3: A great Kota Kinabalu hotel option for those new to town. Clean rooms downtown next to most of the Kota Kinabalu attractions in the city. 

Best Budget Hotel in Kota Kinabalu

Qlio Hotel: small, spare and clean rooms close to the waterfront and Jesselton Point

Best Hostel in Kota Kinabalu

Masada Backpacker: Well-run Kota Kinabalu hostel with family rooms. Super-clean but with a few quirky rules (see below)

Best Kota Kinabalu Resorts

Kota kinabalu sunset

Yachts, golf courses, and white tablecloths. These were not something I expected to see much of in Borneo, but step into one of the many Kota Kinabalu resorts and you see a level luxury that betrays the island’s wild and rustic nature. Theses Kota Kinabalu resorts are on the shore and a few minutes outside the downtown area, but within 10-15 minutes in a taxi

Shangri-La’s Tanjung Aru Resort & Spa

Perched on a finger-like strip of land pointing to the sea, the Shangri-La Tanjung Aru Resort and Spa is one of the best Kota Kinabalu resorts for families and has the awards to back it up. Here you’ll enjoy private beaches and a big pool and mini-waterpark with waterslides. Our of all the Kota Kinabalu resorts, the water play area here sets it apart. The Shangri-La also has a kids club and mini-golf. Their spa is top-notch, and their recreation center offers opportunities for diving, wakeboarding, windsurfing, and jet ski. Plenty of in-house dining options as well. Free wifi can be found throughout the resort, and the sunset views are the best in town.

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The Pacific Sutera

One of the most popular resorts in Kota Kinabalu, the Pacific Sutera encircles the Sutera Port, with golf courses just beyond the hotel grounds. Small nearby beaches and large pristine pools will keep you and the kids cool outside. Once you come in, there’s bowling, ping pong, and other entertainment. This is a 500-room establishment, with the restaurants and facilities to match. The family room has a large double bed with two singles just off a side room. The stone tub has a large window, but be careful of the stone floors when wet. 

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The Magellan Sutera Resort

The Magellan sits at the Sutera Port, a few paces north of the Pacific Sutera. Rooms are huge and a little dated. the best rooms have private balconies and large relaxing tub in the bathroom. We also like the double-sinks since we’re always traveling together. Kids get one, and we get the other. The pools (kids and adult) are huge and beautiful but offer little shade aside from the landscaped waterfall. Families also can take advantage of playgrounds and a kids club. Pool tables and bowling lanes, too.

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Gaya Island Resort

The best resort in Kota Kinabalu isn’t actually in Kota Kinabalu. Instead, it’s just off the coast in the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park (a.k.a. TARP), where some of the best Kota Kinabalu beaches. The island is covered in rainforest, with coral reefs just off the shores. The Gaya Island Resort is luxurious while also being environmentally conscious. There are naturalists on staff to teach guests about the ecosystem, as well as great opportunities for scuba, snorkeling, kayaking, and other water activities. Breakfast buffet is huge and varied, including vegetarian choices. Some villas are on the hillside, which means a semi-steep walk up to the door. And remember that you’re in a wildlife reserve: you’ll likely see amazing lizards, birds and more, but also bugs…including mosquitoes. Bring repellant.

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Best Hotels in Kota Kinabalu 

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So you want a luxury hotel in Kota Kinabalu but don’t want to fork out the cash for a resort stay? Kota Kinabalu hotels have you covered. Many of these are the big names you know — Hilton, Hyatt, etc — and they’re where to stay for a 5-star experience that’s closer to town.

Hilton Kota Kinabalu

Out of all of our best family hotels in Kota Kinabalu, Hilton is the furthest from the sea. That said, this is one of the city’s newest and most modern hotels.

The Hilton’s executive room has one king and one queen bed, which can be ideal for some families. The amenities here are highly regarded and their breakfast buffet gets high marks from many. The rooftop pool and restaurant offer great views, but many choose to go to Welcome Seafood Restaurant, which is less than a minute away on foot.

The first child under twelve sleeps free of charge with existing bedding. The second child or an additional adult costs MYR 100 per person per night for an extra bed. One kid under 2 years sleeps free of charge in a crib.

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Hyatt Regency Kota Kinabalu

Located close to the water, this is certainly one of the best family hotels in Kota Kinabalu for those who want to explore the fish markets at night. You can walk to two of the best fish areas in town in minutes from the front door.

The Hyatt Regency Kinabalu has its own restaurants as well, of course. Four restaurants, in fact, as well as two bars and one pool. This location makes it easy to walk to KK Esplanade and the Gaya Street Market, as well. The breakfast buffet leans towards Asian fare, with some western options.

The smallest room on the Hyatt Regency Kinabalu is around 45 square meters, which is large in comparison to others in the area. Kids under two years old can stay for free in a crib. One kid under twelve can stay free using existing bedding.

The Hyatt Regency Kinabalu will hold your bags for a few days free of charge. This gives you the option to take an overnight trip from Kota Kinabalu. It’s best to confirm beforehand, however.

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Mandarin Hotel Kota Kinabalu

For those who want to be centrally located, it’s hard to go wrong with the Mandarin Kota Kinabalu. From here you can be in the Gaya Street Market in seconds. That is one of the reasons why the Mandarin Kota Kinabalu is listed as one of the best family hotels in Kota Kinabalu.

While being so close to the Sunday market is one of the main appeals, you’ll find the Mandarin to be we located for just about every family activity in Kota Kinabalu. By taxi, the central market is five minutes away, and the Green Connection Aquarium is eight minutes away. Shopping centers and restaurants are in nearly every direction. Expect free wifi throughout the hotel, as well.

Have a kid under six? He/she can stay for free if you use existing bedding. Kids under twelve are MYR 50.56/night for an extra bed. Only one extra bed per room. Some rooms have no windows. This is a con for some, but for others, it’s a plus because there is less traffic noise. A complimentary shuttle to the airport is provided (limited time & availability).

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Le Meridien Kota Kinabalu

Located just in front of the night markets along the waterfront, Le Meridien Kota Kinabalu is another centrally located place that makes our list of best family hotels in Kota Kinabalu. You have shopping and tour operators to the east and west, as well as the Jesselton Point Waterfront about 20-minutes away on foot. The famous Welcome Seafood Restaurant is only a ten-minute walk. One child under twelve can stay for free if you use existing bedding, while one child under two can stay free. Ask about a crib.

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Mid-Range Hotels in Kota Kinabalu

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Northern Borneo has so many visitors nowadays that there are Kota Kinabalu hotels for every budget. These are just a few of the mid-range hotels in Kota Kinabalu worth considering.

Hotel Sixty3

This is where to stay in Kota Kinabalu if you want to be in the middle of the action. Hotel Sixty3 is just a few blocks from the famous Gaya market on Sundays, and there are plenty of restaurants and ATMs within walking distance. The Sabah Tourism Office is across the street. Rooms are clean and modern and the bathroom has two shower functions.  The main issue here is the noise in the street-facing rooms. Try to get one facing inward if you’re a light sleeper. 

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C’haya Hotel

A little further from downtown but a great Kota Kinabalu hotel near the airport (free shuttle available). You leave the arrivals terminal and can be standing at the front desk in less than 10 minutes. Downtown Kota Kinabalu is another 10 minutes by taxi from there. C’haya Hotel has an infinity pool on the roof is small but clean and has great views of the sunset. Average breakfast, catering to Chinese-Malay clientele.

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Diamond Inn

High-rise hotel in Kota Kinabalu downtown that was renovated in 2018. Rooms aren’t super large but clean and well-laid out with a mini-fridge (just wish the mini-fridge wasn’t on the desk where I’d like to work). The location is at the edge of downtown, close to Gaya Street and plenty of restaurants. It’s also close to street noise and a local mosque, and you’ll hear the call to prayer loud and clear if your room faces the east. 

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Budget Hotels & Hostels in Kota Kinabalu

And now for the backpackers and budget travelers out there. There are plenty of low-cost hostels and hotels in Kota Kinabalu, but many of them wouldn’t pass basic hospitality and hygiene levels. Here are a few that make the cut. 

Qlio Hotel

Great budget hotel in Kota Kinabalu downtown and close to the markets and waterfront. Rooms are small with almost no storage space. Shopping center across the street has an ATM and currency exchange. Decent housekeeping and water pressure. When it comes to 2-star hotels in Kota Kinabalu, Qlio Hotel is a good value for money. 

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Hotel Kooler Inn

Another budget hotel in Kota Kinabalu in the middle of downtown. Close to the markets and the waterfront. There’s a convenience store on the ground floor and you have to walk upstairs to reception. No elevator. Rooms are clean but small and showing signs of wear. The bathroom is Southeast Asian-style: just a big wet room. Not a problem for travelers like us, but some people need a sec to adjust. 

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OYO 210 Hotel Five 2

This is where to stay in downtown for cheap. There are many Kota Kinabalu hotels with “Oyo” in the name, and this one is a short walk from the night markets and other great places to eat. Rooms are worn and not immaculate but the price is right. Hot showers, decent beds, and a friendly family who runs it. 

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Masada Backpacker

One of the most popular hostels in Kota Kinabalu, Masada Backpacker is around a 10-20 minute walk (or fasted taxi ride) from the Gaya Street, Welcome Seafood Restaurant and Jesselton Point, where many scuba and snorkel adventures begin. A very basic breakfast is included. Rooms are small but clean and come with decent aircon and towels. The rooms here don’t lock, so you should leave valuables in the lockers provided, which may be too small for some travelers. 

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Dock In

A great choice for anyone looking for cheap Kota Kinabalu hotels near the airport. Dock In is 10 minutes from the terminal. It’s a little outside downtown, but a 10-minute taxi gets you to the markets. Tanjung Aru beach is a short walk away. Rooms are small but clean, with plugs by most beds. Bike rentals available to explore the town and hot nearby restaurants. 

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Apartments Rentals in Kota Kinabalu

When you look for one of the best family hotels in Kota Kinabalu, you may want to look into staying an apartment. A good apartment rental is often cheaper than luxury hotels in Kota Kinabalu, and you frequently get more space. However, you need to give up some services that come with a hotel stay. Services like housekeeping, complimentary breakfast, and a front desk that can help you locate restaurants and points of interest. Then again, you usually gain a washer, and you need to do laundry in hot & sticky places like Borneo. 

Most Kota Kinabalu apartment rentals are near (or even attached to) a shopping center. This si a good and bad thing. You didn’t book a Kota Kinabalu holiday to hang out in a mall, but Malaysian Malls are often HUGE and have great places to eat. They’re also a good place to take shelter in the rain. Just keep in mind that Malaysians love air conditioning and it may be very cold inside.

You should also know that two apartments in the same building may be owned by different people, and service and amenities will vary. Think appliances, kitchen utensils, and other amenities. Sometimes, the apartment complex itself could be quite dated. That said, here are a few apartments worth considering:

Need a hotel in KL? Check Our List of Family Hotels in Kuala Lumpur

Do Any of These Hotels in Kota Kinabalu Interest You?

We’ve listed some of the best Kota Kinabalu resorts and family hotels in Kota Kinabalu, but you have to decide what’s best for you. Where have you stayed? What Kota Kinabalu hotels did you like/dislike? Let us know in the comments!

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Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links. This costs you nothing, but we may get a small commission if you buy something or book any Kota Kinabalu hotels or resorts through those links. As always, my opinions are my own and I only recommend places/services that I believe will genuinely help you fond the best Kota Kinabalu resorts, hostels and family hotels in Borneo, Malaysia

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