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Which Resort in Kota Kinabalu is the Best?

A view of The Pacific Sutera across Sutera Harbour Marina at Sutera Habour Resort

Kota Kinabalu is a sea-side city often described as a resort town, which indeed has a lot of choice resorts for the booking.

A question that often arises is: which is the best resort in Kota Kinabalu? “The Best” depends on your needs. Follow me and let’s analyse those needs.

The answer depends on what you consider the best to be. Is it the most luxurious, the closest to town, the one with the most facilities or perhaps the most expensive one?

Well, Kota Kinabalu can meet any of those needs. For the purpose of this article, we’ll consider the land-based resorts that doesn’t need a boat to reach.

With that filter in place, we’re left with 4 (or 5, depending on how you want to count) options, which are Nexus Karambunai, Sutera Harbour Resort (which has 2 hotels), Shangri-La’s Rasa Ria Resort and Shangri-La’s Tanjung Aru Resort & Spa.

Shangri-La’s Rasa Ria Resort

View of the beach and pool at Shangri-La's Rasa Ria ResortWhen it comes to the best in sheer attention to detail of luxury and service, the 5-star Shangri-La’s Rasa Ria Resort is the winner hands-down.

The legendary, white sandy beach that stretches out – sometimes for over 200m – in front of the resort, is complemented by recently renovated rooms, which are some of Kota Kinabalu’s most high-end and expensive rooms.

The resort exudes exclusivity, thanks in part to being quite isolated and far from town.  It offers an 18-hole golf course carved out of swathe of tropical landscape, the rest of which is an on-site nature reserve uniquely offering an orang utan sanctuary.

Shangri-La’s Rasa Ria Resort is however, at least 40 minutes from the Kota Kinabalu city centre, and there are no shops or anything more than hawker stalls near the resort, making anything but the resort-priced options hard to reach.

A wide variety of restaurants and activities on the Rasa Ria Resort property leaves few guests wanting though.

Shangri-La’s Rasa Ria Resort is the best resort for: white, sandy beach, attention to details and exclusivity.
Downside: it’s the most expensive resort on the list and is far out-of-town.

The Magellan Sutera at Sutera Harbour Resort

Freeform pool at The Magellan Sutera at Sutera Harbour ResortThe Magellan Sutera at Sutera Harbour Resort is the polar opposite, literally walking distance from the city centre (if you don’t mind a 30 minute walk, that is).

Also a 5-star resort, The Magellan Sutera’s age is perhaps a little more apparent, with service not quite as consistent as a 5-star property should be.

The resort’s architecture borrows from local structures, and echos Borneo’s big open spaces and earthy tones, giving the resort a breezy and natural feel.

Part of the 384-acre Sutera Harbour Resort, The Magellan Sutera is a 495-room resort- style hotel surrounded by a 27-hole golf course and is next to the Sutera Harbour Marina.

Being built on reclaimed land, it only sports a tiny patch of beach, but offers a plethora of facilities and services in its stead.

The Magellan Sutera’s proximity to town and being only 10 minutes by boat away from the tropical islands of the marine park make it the only choice for visitors who want to use a luxury resort as their base for exploring Kota Kinabalu.

The Magellan Sutera is the best resort for: affordability close to town and the marine park, large choice of facilities.
Downside: doesn’t feel as exclusive

The Pacific Sutera at Sutera Harbour Resort

A view of The Pacific Sutera across Sutera Harbour Marina at Sutera Habour ResortStill on the Sutera Harbour Resort property and just across the marina, sits The Pacific Sutera – a city-style hotel with all the access and luxury of a resort.

Apart from its own pool, pool-bar, spa, conference spaces, night-spots and restaurants, The Pacific Sutera also has access to all the facilities of The Magellan Sutera (and vice versa) as well as the rest of the resort.

It has a narrow sweep of sand in front of the pool, facing the ocean, which guests use to satisfy their beach-cravings.

Where The Magellan Sutera is a low-rise design with open, airy spaces, The Pacific Sutera uses floor-to-ceiling windows in its public spaces to bring the outdoors indoors without sacrificing the comfort of air-conditioning.

It’s also an 11-storey structure that offers the best views in Kota Kinabalu from its sea-facing rooms. The Pacific Sutera appeals to vacationers and business travelers who prefer their resort experiences with a cool, air-conditioned breeze.

The Pacific Sutera is the best resort for: affordability, proximity to town and aiport, an air-conditioned resort feel.
Downside: feels a little industrial

Shangri-La’s Tanjung Aru Resort & Spa

CHI The Spa at Shangri-La's Tanjung Aru Resort & SpaAlthough geographically within sight of each other, thanks to the road along the coast-line the Shangri-La’s Tanjung Aru Resort & Spa is in fact much further from town than Sutera Harbour Resort.

For that reason, and in spite of being close to the airport and relatively close to town, the Tanung Aru Resort manages to feel quite exclusive where it’s perched on a reclaimed, man-made peninsula.

Recent renovations that first raised a spa village, then remodeled all the rooms and finished off by completely overhauling the landscape of the Shangri-La’s Tanjung Aru Resort & Spa, have raised this – the oldest of the 5 resorts – to be almost on par with its cousin the Rasa Ria, so far as feel and prices are concerned.

The only feature lacking between them is the sweeping white beach, for which the Tanjung Aru Resort compensates with proximity to town, the airport and the marine park.

That said, the not-quite-white-but-still-beautiful Tanjung Aru beach starts at the property’s perimeter and sweeps 3km down towards the airport.  It’s ideal for a sunset stroll to the hawker stalls and local life, which is about 1km away.

The Shangri-La’s Tanjung Aru Resort & Spa also offers its own Sunset Bar, various restaurants and CHI The Spa, an exclusive – if expensive – village dedicated to pampering and luxury.

Shangri-La’s Tanjung Aru Resort is the best resort for: an exclusive resort feel close to town, airport and the marine park.
Downside: high cost

Nexus Resort & Spa Karambunai

The pool at Nexus Resort & Spa KarambunaiIn roughly the same direction as the Rasa Ria Resort, you will find the Nexus Resort & Spa Karambunai.

On the surface it offers something like its much more expensive neighbour 5km down the beach.

Upon closer inspection however – and it only matters if you care about a closer inspections – you notice that things aren’t exactly the same; it’s RM200 per night cheaper for one.

The large grounds, which are beautiful, is set to the backdrop of an 18-hole golf course, which in turn is backed by rainforest-covered hill. A natural lagoon neighbours the property and is the water-sports hub of the resort.

Although also a 5-star resort, the Nexus Resort & Spa Karambunai lacks that little something that means it’s not quite the same 5-stars as you’d find at the 2 Shangri-La properties, but the Nexus Resort & Spa Karambunai is a veritable resort bargain.

Nexus Resort & Spa Karambunai is the best resort for: getting away from the city at an affordable rate
Downside: facilities and service that needs a bit closer attention, far out-of-town.

There you have it.  Hopefully now you now know better how to choose which resort in Kota Kinabalu is the best for you.