The Imbak canyon is a Class I (protection) forest reserve in southern Sabah administered by Yayasan Sabah
, a company owned by the Malaysian government which also manages the Maliau basin and the Danum valley. It was designated a conservation area in 2003 and a a Class I forest reserve in 2009. Within the Imbak canyon and around it there are 45 villages which are only accessible by boat, where people still lead a traditional lifestyle.
The Imbak canyon strictly speaking is not a canyon (i.e. a narrow gorge). It's a 25km long valley, bordered on three sides by sandstone ridges, up to over 1000m high. Due to the difficult access, the forest in the Imbak canyon has never been logged and is in fact pristine primary rainforest with tall, majestic trees.
A number of species of animals and plants are endemic to the Imbak canyon. The Nepentes hirsuta, a pitcher plant species, has only been found here and in the Maliau basin.
Currently the eastern end of the Imbak canyon is open for visitors and has accomodation and a tourist infrastructure. The Imbak canyon studies centre is located at the entrance to the Imbak canyon and has been completed in November 2016. It is a huge complex, consisting of several buildings spread over an area of 200m x 300m, with accomodation capable of housing 600 visitors (comfortable units with air conditioning and private bathroom, as well as a hostel; electricity available from 7am to 11pm).
At the time of writing (2017) there were about 50 employees working there and the centre was receiving about 80 visitors per month, mostly researchers, but this number was expected to rise substantially. The primary purpose of the Imbak canyon studies centre is scientific research, but the centre also welcomes tourists.
In August 2017 the range of activities available for tourists was still limited: there were just two jungle trails, the canopy walkway wasn't completed yet and other attractions had yet to be added. In addition, because of all the noise which the construction of the centre generated in 2016, in August 2017 animals were avoiding the area, although it's likely that after some time the situation will relax and animals will return to the area.
It's likely that the Imbak canyon will achieve it's full tourist potential in 2018. In August 2017 for instance the restaurant hadn't opened yet and access to the Imbak canyon was hampered by the bad jungle road between Kampung Imbak and the centre; access to areas deeper in the Imbak canyon was not available yet for tourists (only for researchers).
(some are optional; prices from 2017 - for accurate and up to date prices contact the Sabah Foundation
; to all prices add 6% tax) include:
- conservation fee: RM 50
- hostel (dorm): RM 95/night
- ranger fee (for trekking): RM 50/hour
- cooking utensils: RM 20/day
- cooking gas & stove: RM 30/day
- transportation from Telupid to studies centre (one way; to go and come back multiply by two): RM 500
- transportation from Kampung Imbak to studies centre (one way): RM 250
There may be other fees for purposes not indicated here.
How to access the Imbak canyon:
there is no need to book an expensive package through a travel agency. It's sufficient to make a reservation through the Sabah Foundation
in Kota Kinabalu and then travel to the Imbak canyon by car. From Kota Kinabalu it's a 5 1/2 hours drive to Kampung Imbak via Ranau and Telupid, which can be done with a normal 2WD car (the last 18km are a good dirt track).
For the last 38km between Kampung Imbak and the Imbak canyon studies centre a strong 4WD car is needed, because the road is a very bad dirt track full of stones. These last 38km take over an hour (1:20-1:30 hours) and it's advisable to use a transfer provided by the Imbak canyon staff, because the road is not well marked and visitors might get lost. This dirt track will need to be improved, if the Imbak canyon is to achieve its full tourist potential.