Spotlight look: Kota Kinabalu Wetland Centre, Malaysia (Borneo)

Kota Kinabalu Wetland Centre is located near downtown Kota Kinabalu, in Sabah State in Malaysia. Previously known as a bird sanctuary, the Wetland Centre preserves 60 acres of mangrove forest wetland area, and teaches visitors about its flora and fauna. The highlight is certainly the boardwalk through the wetlands, where you can learn about and view the native inhabitants. We highly encourage a visit, especially because your Kota Kinabalu Wetland Centre entrance fee goes towards the conservation of these important wetlands.

Maybe not what you expected out of Borneo?

The Kota Kinabalu Wetland Centre is open daily from 8am - 6pm, closed on Mondays. Wildlife viewing will depend on timing; birds are best seen in the beginning and end of the day, and the behavior of other creatures will vary with the tides. The Kota Kinabalu Wetland Centre entrance fee  for non-Malaysians is 15myr per person (under US$4), as of November 2017. The entrance fee for Malaysians is under 5myr. You could rent binoculars for 5-10myr (which we did not do).

Note, do not forget mosquito repellant!

 
Centre entryway
 
I loved these little soldiers
 
The entry before the mangrove forest

Upon signing in and paying the entrance fee, we were given a map as well as a basic picture guide of the wildlife in the Kota Kinabalu Wetland centre. This guide is quite useful, because although there are many educational signboards along the boardwalk, many of them are quite faded.
 
The trail extends about 1.5km and most of it is raised boardwalk. The west side, for a couple hundred meters, is dirt (well, mud) without a path, so you will probably turn back once you've gone 1.5km and walk back whence you came. If you have kids, though, this is a great spot for them to get super muddy! They might be able to get close to animals, too!
 
The path is peaceful, with weird bubbling and popping noises coming out of the forest. When you peer out, it looks very still...
 
Lovely boardwalk

Amazing expanse of mangroves and mud
 
Spooky selfie

...until you look closer. Crabs everywhere! Tiny fish! Snakes! Mudskippers! We even saw an elusive lobster, slowly pushing muck out of his hole with his adorable little claws.
 
One of MANY species of crabs -- very hard to photograph from the walkway
 
We were losing our minds about all the mudskippers. They're the cutest.
 
Birds are great here, which should be obvious since the Kota Kinabalu Wetland Centre used to be the Kota Kinabalu City Bird Sanctuary. I'm not a great birdwatcher, but we still saw lots of egrets stalking their prey and napping, some little yellow and bright blue birds, and could hear loads more. We even spotted a large purple heron -- beautiful!
 
There are two good places for bird watching. The first is the official bird watching area below, where many egrets and herons like to hang out.
 
Bird watching area. Did I mention we went to this place twice, 4 hours total, and saw no one else there?!

Egrets as viewed from the bird watching area 
 
The second is a viewing tower which goes up above the trees, so you can try to find birds at different levels. The view really shows off that you're in the middle of Kota Kinabalu, even though you're in an oddly dissimilar mangrove wetland forest.

The view looking down on the boardwalk from the multi-story viewing tower

City view from the tower

...and the other side

Of course, there are lizards. We saw quite a few skinks and spotted a large monitor lizard slinking away into the mud.
 
Cute skink

Finally, at the entry there is a building where you can learn about the conservation efforts that benefit from your entrance fee, water filtration processes, the different types of wetlands, the flora and fauna therein, plus general ideas for "green" living. Nice educational resource for kids.
  
Learn about another fun spot, the Sabah Museum, or check out some of our budget guides in Kota Kinabalu:

Overall, we recommend the Kota Kinabalu Wetland Centre for anyone who is interested in conservation efforts and interesting animals. We found it to be peaceful, fascinating, relaxing, and generally a very different experience than what we expect out of Borneo. The Kota Kinabalu Wetland Centre entrance fee is also very reasonable. If you are doing lots of jungle trekking and diving/snorkeling, this is an excellent way to see a different side of Sabah. Plus, there are mudskippers!

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