Garama, Klias or Weston?

One of the most popular day tours for tourists to Kota Kinabalu is the River Safari Tour.

For those who can’t make it to the East Coast of Sabah, the River Safari gives visitors to Kota Kinabalu the best chance to see wildlife in its natural surroundings. The tour starts around 2pm when tourists are picked up from their hotel for a 2-hour car ride to a river jetty. The river cruise begins from about 4.30pm and lasts until the sun sets and the sky turns dark. During the evening cruise, the main attraction will be the proboscis monkey, a primate with a huge pendulous nose found only in Borneo. At night, the attention turns to the beautiful lights of the fireflies that dot the trees by the river side. It is one of the best day tours in Kota Kinabalu and should not be missed.

What few tourists know though is that there are actually 3 rivers that are currently being used by tour operators and while all 3 rivers offer almost the same thing, that is proboscis monkeys and fireflies, in truth, they are very different, and would affect how much the tourists enjoy the tour, depending on what they would like to see most. Almost all tour operators never specify the name of the river that they are going to, and even if they do name the river, you might actually be taken to a different place instead. So, it is very important that you INSIST on where you want to go if you have a particular river in mind.

Klias River

Klias River

To help you find out which river suits you best, the below is a brief summary of what there is to see at each river, and a comparison table at the end.

Klias River

This river wins hands down for its fireflies display. I would say that the fireflies here are even better than at the world-famous Kampung Kuantan fireflies in Kuala Selangor. It is only on very rare occasions when there is a full moon or when it is raining that the fireflies display would be less than excellent. The wildlife though is disappointing. Unless you are lucky, you would need a pair of binoculars to see the wildlife. Proboscis monkeys can be seen. Other wildlife that might be seen are silver leaf langurs, long-tailed macaques and monitor lizards. Birdlife include egrets and brahminy kites. Crocodile-eyes spotting can be excellent during low tide and if there are few tourist boats on the river on that day. There are a few jetties from where the river cruise can be taken, all of them of almost the same standard.

Garama River

Garama River is a smaller and narrower river than Klias or Weston, and therefore the experience is most like a river safari. Wildlife is excellent most of the time (but nothing compared to Kinabatangan). Almost guaranteed sightings are proboscis monkeys and long-tailed macaques. Silver langurs can be seen sometimes. And there are more variety of birds due to the smaller river. What makes Garama special though are the dozens of water buffaloes that can sometimes be seen bathing in the river. This alone means that it is worth coming here even if you have been on a cruise at Kinabatangan River. It would be the perfect river if not for the fact that the fireflies display can be pathetic at times. Make that most of the time. It is not that there are no fireflies at Garama, but rather no effort is made to make this the best tour possible. There are fireflies, if you know where to go. The largest tour operator here is Only In Borneo (OIB), and it has the cleanest toilets. Most tour operators pass their guests to this company (even those who sell tours to Klias River!). For a more intimate experience, there are three other jetties where the cruise can be taken.

Weston

The least well-known of the three rivers and the least used. It is unique because as soon as you arrive at the jetty, you board a boat for a short ride to the restaurant. Proboscis monkeys, long-tailed macaques and silver langurs can be seen most of the time, but the wildlife here is less tame and runs away if you get too close. Crocodiles are also spotted very often. The river is a bit different as it is nearer to the open sea than the other two rivers and is quite wide. Fireflies are better than at Garama, but not as good as Klias. There is only one jetty offering river cruises.

Which river to go to?

Klias for fireflies

Garama for proboscis monkeys and water buffaloes

Weston for crocodiles

Fireflies:

  1. Klias River *****
  2. Weston ***
  3. Garama River * sometimes ***

Proboscis Monkeys

Proboscis monkeys at garama

Proboscis monkeys at garama

Kinabatangan River *****

  1. Garama River ****
  2. Weston ***
  3. Klias River **

Long-tailed Macaques

Long-tailed macaque at Garama

Long-tailed macaque at Garama

Kinabatangan River *****

  1. Garama River ****
  2. Weston ****
  3. Klias River *

Crocodiles

Crocodile at Weston

Crocodile at Weston

Kinabatangan River ****

  1. Weston ***
  2. Klias River **
  3. Garama River *

Water buffaloes bathing in river

Water Buffaloes sunset - Garama 20040201

1. Garama River ****

Birdlife

  1. Garama River *** Stork-billed kingfisher, egret, little heron, coucal, broadbill, oriental darter
  2. Weston ** Egret, brahminy kite
  3. Klias River * Brahminy kite, egret, little heron

Sunset

Sunset at Klias River

Sunset at Klias River

  1. Klias River ***
  2. Garama River ***
  3. Weston **

Most like jungle cruise

  1. Garama River ****
  2. Klias River *** there is a short cut that can be taken that goes through a narrow stream
  3. Weston *

Distance from Kota Kinabalu

1. Klias River – 1.5 hours

2. Garama River – 2hours

3. Weston – > 2 hours

More information on river safari tours:

https://lostborneo.wordpress.com/2009/05/09/garama-river-safari/

5 Comments

  1. Alice said,

    May 5, 2011 at 6:27 PM

    Thanks so much for this amazing information; I am trying to arrange a trip to see the flashing fireflies for a group of academics accompanied by an insect expert who couldn’t remember the name of the place to go and see them!

    All my research to find the best spot was confusing and my local operator kept trying to convince me that his lodge in Sukau would have plenty of fireflies so why did I want to go out of my way to visit them elsewhere… then when I insisted on a separate excursion especially for fireflies from Kota Kinabalu he was keen to tell me that Garama, Kota Klias and Weston were basically all the same. So relieved to have some clarity and am insisting they go to Kota Klias. Luckily it’s a day with no moonlight so they should get optimum conditions.

    Keep up the good work!

    • losttraveller said,

      May 8, 2011 at 7:15 PM

      Hi Alice, thanks. Actually, Garama is beautiful too. It’s just that the main operator there seldom bothers to go out by boat at night to see the fireflies, preferring the one lonely tree near their restaurant. Otherwise, if you can find an operator to take you out there, it can be a better experience than at Klias, since you’ll probably be the only boat out there at night.

  2. November 7, 2011 at 9:01 PM

    […] river tours, not all specify which river/which part of the river you would actually be taken to.  This blog’s post explains further in detail.  By a stroke of luck, the tour operator we had signed up with takes […]

  3. Ale said,

    March 25, 2012 at 10:02 AM

    Hi there! thanks for this info, is the best I have found on the web! Ill add your page to my bookmarks!
    I have a question:
    I want to go to Garama village and do this trip but I do not want to hire a tour operator, I want to do everything on my own… what do you think about this? is it possible?
    How can I get to this village in public transport?
    and can I arrange a boat once I am there with locals?
    and what about places to stay overnight? do you know any?

    Well, thanks a lot for your help!

    • losttraveller said,

      March 28, 2012 at 3:56 PM

      Hi Ale, you can arrange a boat with the locals once you are there. The problem is getting there! There is no public transportation. So you’ll have to drive there on your own. Not recommended unless you’re a local because by the time the cruise is over, the way back is pitch dark and there are few street lights.


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