Standing majestically at 4,095 Meters (13,435 feet), Mount Kinabalu is the highest mountain of Malaysia. Mt. Kinabalu derives its name from the Kadazan word, Aki Nabalu, meaning ‘the revered place of the dead’. It is one of the most conquerable peaks in the world. This guide will help you to reach the summit of Mount Kinabalu, with some info that travel agents don’t want you to know.
- The maximum number of climbers (daily quota) is 165 climbers per day. (The number is reduced due to pandemic now)
- Climb Permit fee is now RM200 for foreigner; RM50 for Malaysian.
- Child under 16 must be accompanied by a dedicated Mountain Guide. Each Mountain Guide can only take up to 2 children (or up to 5 adult climbers).
- Mountain Guide who takes care of children will not guide adult climber. For example, if your group has 3 adult and a child (below 16) climbers, you must hire two mountain guides (one to take care of adults, another one for child only).
- The rate of mountain guide service (mandatory) is RM230.
- The rate of porter service (optional) is RM65 per day.
- You may follow the Facebook of Sabah Parks for latest news and promotion.
Mount Kinabalu’s specialty lies in its location at a renowned World Heritage Site – Kinabalu Park. Nature lovers will be delighted to be able to witness the many variations of flora and fauna that are to be found on the mountain at different altitudes.
1. How much does it cost?
Quick Answer: The lowest budget for climbing Mount Kinabalu is about RM668 (≈USD158) for International Tourist and RM306 for Malaysian (last updated: July 2021). The cost includes accommodation (at Panalaban), meals, shared mountain guide fee, conservation fee, climb permit, and insurance. Please download the Excel file to see the itemized budget.
- The Best Time to climb Mt. Kinabalu is between March and August, which are the dry seasons of Sabah. The peak season is Apr to Jun.
- You can climb in other months, but try to avoid Dec and Jan, which are the wettest months, due to the North-East Monsoon
- The mountain accommodation area (known as Panalaban), where Laban Rata Rest House and hostels located, is 2.72 KM before the summit of Mt. Kinabalu. Most climbers overnight here before conquering Mt. Kinabalu in next morning.
- If you are not allowed to climb to the summit of Mt. Kinabalu due to bad weather, there is No Refund.
How to Book a Climb Package
Booking the one-night Accommodation at Panalaban (formerly Laban Rata) is the FIRST step. You can’t climb Mt. Kinabalu if you haven’t reserved any room on the mountain. Camping on the mountain is not allowed.
- You must book at least 6 months in advance. The park allows only 80 climbers to climb per day, due to conservation and limited rooms, so the accommodation is always fully booked. However, the booking is not open to tourists outside Sabah at the moment because of the current travel restriction.
- Conquering Mt. Kinabalu requires only 2 days 1 night.
- However, to let climbers to get used to high altitude, Sutera Sanctuary Lodges (management of Laban Rata Resthouse) usually sells you 3-day-2-night accommodation (with 1 extra night at Kinabalu Park, foothill of Mt. Kinabalu).
- The cheaper accommodations, Panar Laban Hut, Waras Hut, Panalaban Hostels and Lemaing Hostel are next to Laban Rata Resthouse.
- All accommodation package is inclusive of full meals (buffet style).
There are four ways to book the climb package:
1. Book with Travel Agent
If you can afford, just book the tour package with licensed tour agents of Sabah. Though you will pay more, they will take care of everything, from transportation, registration, to the end of climb. This is the Best option.
2. Book with Sabah Parks
Next to Laban Rata Resthouse, Lemaing Hostel and Panalaban Hostels are new (and cheaper) accommodation available to climbers. Lemaing Hostel is only open to Malaysian climbers, and Panalaban Hostels is open to both Malaysian and international climbers. You must book the accommodation directly with Sabah Parks, the management of these hostels. Please note you need to to pay other mandatory fees such as climb permit, insurance and guide fee, besides the meals and accommodation there.
A) Lemaing Hostel (for Malaysian only)
Open in 2014, this hostel has 75 bunk beds (only 15 slots are available during the travel restriction now). (RM is Malaysian Ringgit (MYR).)
Accommodation & Meals: RM200
Climb Permit: RM50 (adult), RM30 (below 18)
B) Panalaban Hostels (for Malaysian and Foreigner)
Open in 2019, Panalaban Hostels (Kinotoki and Mokodou) can accommodate 50 climbers. (only 25 slots are available during the travel restriction now)
Accommodation & Meals: RM400
Climb Permit: (Malaysian rate) RM50 (adult), RM30 (below 18); (Foreigner Rate) RM200 (adult), RM80 (below 18)
Sabah Parks Contact:
You can visit Sabah Parks office located in KK Times Square (Kota Kinabalu City) to book room and make payment:
Opening Hour: 8:00AM – 5:00PM, Mon-Fri (closed on Sat, Sun & Public Holiday)
Phone: +60 88-523531 / +60 88-523572
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
Booking Website: booking.sabahparks.org.my (not open yet)
3. Book with Sutera Sanctuary Lodges (SSL)
SSL is the management of accommodation in Kinabalu Park and Laban Rata Resthouse. For booking, you can contact them at:
Tel: +60 88 308 914 / 308 915 / 308 916
Address: Lot G15, Ground Floor, Wisma Sabah, 88000, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia. (see location map)
Business Hours: 9am-6pm (Mon-Fri), 9am-4pm (Sat), close on Sun & Public Holiday
Online Booking is available in website of Sutera Sanctuary Lodges. You may drop by the office of SSL, which is located in ground floor of Wisma Sabah building in Kota Kinabalu city center and next to Wisma Merdeka, a popular shopping mall. Besides booking, the friendly staffs can answer all your questions on the spot. They can arrange full transport service for you too (the fees are quite high though).
4. Mountain TORQ
You can join the Via Ferrata tour by Mountain TORQ, which has a rock climbing training centre and accommodation (Pendant Hut) at Panalaban. However, you need to be really fit.
Itinerary of the Climb
Below is a run-down of the 3-day-2-night climbing tour in brief.
Check-in to overnight at Kinabalu Park (see location map), which is 88 KM away from Kota Kinabalu (KK). The extra night helps your body to adapt to the height so you will be less vulnerable to Altitude Sickness (acute mountain sickness) in the climb next day. Here is a list of accommodations near Kinabalu Park.
9am: Register and pay fees (climb permit, insurance, guide, etc.) to Sabah Parks at Kinabalu Park HQ. Collect your name tag (climb permit) and packed lunch (usually consists of sandwiches, candy bar and a fruit, with a small bottle of drinking water), then meet your guide and porter (if hired). You also can arrange the return transport (by shuttle van) there to transfer you between gate and park for a fee. Be there before 10:30am or they won’t allow you to climb.
9:30am: Transfer to Timpohon Gate, the starting point of the climb.
10am: Start of Climb, after briefing by guide!
4pm: Reach Panalaban after 6 KM. Usually it takes 6 to 8 hours, depend on your fitness.
– Dinner buffet at Laban Rata Rest House (closed by 7:30pm)
– Overnight at the rest house or hostels of Panalaban
2am: Gather and having breakfast at Laban Rata Rest House, then head to the summit (2.75 KM one way).
(The park may not allow you to climb in bad weather)
6am: Reaching the summit of Mount Kinabalu
7am: Descending to Panalaban
10am: Check-out and descend to Kinabalu Park
2:00pm: Back to Kota Kinabalu City
Below are the photo walk-through of the 2-day climb in chronological order. Standard climb will use the Ranau summit trail (open on 1 Dec 2015). Note: The starting point is in Kinabalu Park, not Ranau town! Or you can watch the video below:
Day 1: Climbing to Panalaban
The standard trail starts from the Timpohon Gate (1,800m / 5,906 ft) which is about 4 KM away from the Kinabalu Park Headquarters. The climb from Timpohon Gate to Panalaban (Laban Rata) normally takes 6 to 8 hours (for 6 KM). You can buy basic supply such as snacks, drink and raincoat in the small shop inside the building.
There is a signage or trail marker every 0.5 or 1 KM to show you how far you climb. Use them to motivate yourself.
Before reaching Panalaban (3,273m / 10,738 ft above sea level), climbers can stop and rest at seven shelters (pondok) along the way — Pondok Kandis, Pondok Ubah, Pondok Lowii, Pondok Mempening, Layang-Layang, Pondok Villosa, and Pondok Paka.
There is a shelter every 1 KM, where you can take a break, refill water (untreated spring water), use the toilet and dump your trash. Around noon time, most climbers are half-way up there and have their lunch at Mempening or Layang-Layang Shelter. The cute and friendly Bornean Mountain Ground Squirrel (Dremomys everetti) would approach you for food. Please don’t feed them!
The 6-Kilometre trail to Panalaban is clear and in moderate steepness most of the time. All steep sections have support such as hand rail and stairway. You will feel more like walking on endless staircase than climbing. Just go slow and enjoy the scenic view. As you move higher, you can feel the drop of temperature and the surrounding is getting more and more foggy. The ground is covered with green mosses and many trees and shrubs have epiphytes and lichens on them. What you experience is a walk in the cloud forest (montane forest), which grows above 1,800 Metres above sea level.
Along the trails, be sure to keep your eyes open for the plenteous interesting vegetation to check out. The unique ecology is what makes Kinabalu Park the UNESCO World Heritage Site, not just the Mt. Kinabalu. Kinabalu Park has the highest density of orchid species in the world. Climbers could spot blooming orchid and rhododendron next to the trail. After 4 KM, pay attention to your left and look for the big and bright-color Nepenthes villosa pitcher plant in the shrubs. This species is endemic to Kinabalu Park of Sabah.
Between 4 and 5 KM is a long section of trail in yellow colour. These yellowish rocks are 40-million-year-old ultrabasic or ultramafic rocks. This area is dominated by dwarf and crooked trees (Leptospermum recurvum), some are over a hundred years old. This tree is one of the few plant that can adapt to the toxic ultrabasic soil.
When you see many big dark-grey boulders on the trail, congratulations! Though Panalaban is only a Kilometre away now, the trail is quite steep from now on. These boulders are slippery after rain so watch your steps. A walking pole will help you to balance.
Hooray! You are now 3,272 metres above sea level. This is the place where climbers spend a night. The restaurant of Laban Rata Resthouse is where you claim your warm buffet meals. You better reach Panalaban before the restaurant closes at 7:30pm. Ala carte meals are available too.
The scenery at Panalaban is fantastic! Just enjoy the view with a cup of coffee at the balcony, and look at the dense cloud under your feet. The sunset view at Panalaban is one of the best in Sabah. There is a small shop in the restaurant that sells items such as snacks, instant noodle, drink, poncho, medicines, postcards, etc. but at a higher price.
FYI, you can send postcard from the highest post box of Malaysia, which is located next to Pendant Hut in Panalaban. There are overnight accommodations provided for climbers on the mountain (Laban Rata Rest House, Waras Hut, Lemaing Hostel and Panalaban Hostels). The rooms are humbly decorated but are comfortably equipped thick blankets, bunk beds, as well as clean drinking water.
The temperature at Panalaban can drop below 10°C (50°F) and a windy day makes it worse. Except some premium rooms in Laban Rata Resthouse, most rooms don’t have any heater. The water heater doesn’t always work. Tell you a secret. Many climbers skip shower because it’s too cold.
Good Night! Sleep earlier because you need to wake up very early next day.
“Though perhaps not the highest mountain in the world, it is of immense height” (captain Alexander Dalrymple, 1769)
Please note this walk-through only covers the standard summit trail named Ranau Trail. If you want to know more about another new summit trail, which is more challenging, please read this page about Kota Belud Trail.
Day 2: Conquering Mount Kinabalu
The climb to the summit resumes at 2am the next morning. The climb from Panalaban to the summit is about 2.72 KM and normally takes 4 to 5 hours. To cut down weight, you can leave the unnecessary stuffs in your room. There is no water point on the way (except Sayat-Sayat checkpoint). Carrying 1 Litre of water is quite enough as you won’t feel really thirsty under cold temperature. You also need torchlight (or LED headlamp), warm clothing and poncho.
After briefing by your mountain guide, the ascend will start with nearly two hours of steep staircase climbing in the dark. The only way is up. You can see long line of torchlight of other climbers. You will be tired, stop and gasping for air for many times. Without air and light pollution, the sky is full of stars, a beautiful view you will never forget.
Then you will come to the rope section, the most challenging part that requires you to hold onto a rope to move up for a few hundreds metres. Soon you will be happy to see the Sayat-Sayat checkpoint. Climbers can rest there for a while and use the last toilet on the mountain trail.
After Sayat-Sayat, the trail will be mainly rock surface with 15 to 20 degrees of inclination. The dense vegetation is replaced by scarce summit plant on the bald granite ground.
Anyway, the scenery just gets better at this point. In fact, it’s one of the most beautiful places in Malaysia. You are like wandering in another planet and admire the jagged peaks around you. The most photogenic peaks are the Donkey Ears Peak and South Peak.
The air on the mountain is 20% thinner near the top of Mount Kinabalu. You will feel that your body is heavy and every move takes a lot of energy. Due to exhaustion, nine out of ten climbers would start to curse and say “why am I doing here?”. Though they complain, after the climb they will miss this mountain and come back again lol.
After the 8 KM signage, the summit on Low’s Peak is less than a Kilometre away. Your goal is simple, just keep moving slowly in steady pace. The last two hundreds of rope climbing to this highest peak will drain your last energy reserve. The sweet reward is reserved to those who persist. Conquering Mount Kinabalu is once in a lifetime experience and must be in your bucket list.
About 50,000 climbers leaves their footsteps on Mount Kinabalu annually. Despite the struggle, none of them shows the face of regret on the top. You have only an hour to enjoy the moment of your sweet victory, because the guide will ask you to leave the summit before 8am, before the mountain covered in dense fog (poor visibility).
When you hike back to your hostel in Panalaban, do slow down a bit to appreciate the unique plant and flowers during the descend. Without daylight in night climb, you didn’t realise that you were surrounded by the most valuable eco-treasures of Borneo.
Lastly, don’t forget to collect your certificate (for a fee) at Kinabalu Park office as a proof of your successful climb.
Tips and Advice
- Pack Light. Don’t carry more than 6 Kg of weight for the climb. Those bringing huge backpacks can hire a porter (for a fee) to reduce the burden. Your porter will head straight to Panalaban in great speed and won’t be walking next to the slow you, so do not let them carry your water and raincoat.
- The climate is cool with an average temperature range of 15°C to 24°C (59°F to 75°F) at the Kinabalu Park Headquarters and 6°C to 10°C (42°F to 50°F) on the mountain. It can even go down to freezing point in coldest months (Nov-Dec). Climbers are recommended to wear breathable cotton clothing and comfortable pair of hiking shoes.
- Climbers are also reminded to be ready with torch lights, raincoats and warm clothes in case it rains and the temperature drops.
- Descending stresses your knee and muscle more than ascending. Try to descend slowly to avoid serious joint and muscle pain later.
- Trail can be slippery after rain. Wear comfortable trekking or hiking shoes with good grip (best if it’s waterproof).
- Stay with your group and Mountain Guide at all times. Never walk off trail.
- Don’t climb if you have ailments such as asthma, hypertension, diabetes, heart disease and other sickness that severely affects your fitness.
- Always book the tour with licensed tour agent. There have been many cases tourists cheated by unlicensed agents.
- Mt. Kinabalu is the Sacred Mountain (resting place of the deceased) of Sabah. Please be respectful and refrain from doing anything offensive such as taking nude photo.
- Follow the social media of Sabah Parks for latest update on travel restriction. Currently, only our locals can climb the mountain.
Things to Bring
- Passport / MyKad (for registration)
- Proof of Accommodation Booking and Payment
- Cash (payment to guide and porter is by cash)
- Drinking Water (in Refillable 1 Litre water bottle)
- LED Headlamp (head torch)
- Energy Bars / Chocolate Bars
- Light Backpack (preferably with rain cover)
- Raincoat / Poncho (Murphy’s Law says it’ll rain if you don’t bring one)
- Toiletries (e.g. toilet paper, soap, toothbrush, toothpaste)
- Warm Clothing (e.g. Wind breaker, Fleece, Jacket)
- Extra clothing and socks
- Gloves (to keep warm and rope climbing)
- Ear Warmer
- Camera and spare Battery
- Medication such as painkiller, headache or altitude sickness tablet
- Plastic bags: to store rubbish and soiled clothes
- Optional: walking pole, sunblock lotion, sunglasses, portable charger
I hope you find this guide useful. Please feel free to comment or ask any question in the Comment section below.
Photos taken in Kinabalu Park and Mount Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia Borneo