Scuba Diving in Sipadan Island In Sabah, Malaysian Borneo | 2023 Guide

With over 100 dives under our belts, we have seen some pretty spectacular dive sites in our scuba diving experience. But Sipadan Island in Malaysia is one destination that will always top our list of best dive destinations in the world! 

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Sipadan has the distinction of being the only oceanic island in Malaysia, meaning that it is completely surrounded by deep waters that are home to over 600 different coral species and over 3,000 fish species. Located in the Celebes Sea, this island is an extinct volcano rising 600 meters from the ocean floor and is relatively small at 12 hectares. Despite its small size, this island is regularly featured on lists of the top 10 dive spots in the world.

The waters of Sipadan Island are home to a magnificent variety of marine life, and there are few places in the world that can compare. Sea turtles, grey reef sharks, white tip reef sharks, whale sharks, parrotfish, octopus, and barracuda are just a few examples of the wildlife scuba divers will see.

Sipadan Island is protected by Sabah Parks and is a no-fishing zone, allowing for a uniquely biodiverse marine environment that benefits from clean, undisturbed waters. This destination is a bucket list item for many a scuba junkie, and for good reason. 

Pier on Sipadan Island. Sabah. Malaysian Borneo
Pier to paradise…
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Getting A Diving Permit For Sipadan Island

Only 176 dive permits are issued per day, so make sure you reserve yours as early as you can. To enter the island, you must register with Sabah Parks, the regulating agency that manages visitors to Sipadan. To get a diving permit, you must go through a dive center, and the Sabah Parks Service offers a list of certified tour operators at Sipadan Island.

The easiest and most convenient way to get entry and a diving permit is to go through a dive resort. This way, you’re guaranteed permission to enter the island, and you’ll have diving permits and equipment rental. Most of these dive resorts have options for visitors with different budgets, with accommodations ranging from dorm-style rooms to luxury suites with private sea views.

Oksana diving in Sipadan Island. Sabah. Malaysia. Borneo

Best Time To Book A Scuba Diving Trip On Sipadan Island

Regardless of what time you decide to visit this amazing dive site, you’re guaranteed to see beautiful marine life. That said, the weather can impact visibility, and tour operators have safety regulations to follow. Generally, the best diving conditions are seen between April and December. The high season is between April and June, so make sure to reserve well ahead of time if you plan to dive Sipadan during this time. Late July through early December is the perfect window in which you’ll get good water conditions and fewer crowds.

Green turtle. Diving in Sipadan Island. Sabah. Malaysia. Borneo
Green turtle

How To Get To Sipadan Island

Getting to Sipadan Island is no easy feat, as the island is uninhabited, and visitors are limited to only 176 per day. As a result, divers are forced to stay in Semporna or at a resort on the nearby islands of Mabul, Kapalai, or Mataking.

To get to Semporna, you’ll first need to make your way to Tawau, a small town of just over 100,000 that serves as a getaway to this part of the region. Malaysia Airlines and AirAsia operate daily flights to Tawau from Kota Kinabalu and Kuala Lumpur. From Tawau, a 60-90 minute taxi will take you to Semporna Town. If you choose to stay at one of the resorts, a resort speedboat will pick you up from Semporna and take you to the resort location.

Crystal clear waters around Sipadan Island. Sabah. Malaysian Borneo
Crystal-clear waters around Sipadan Island

Where To Stay in Sipadan

Choosing the best accommodation option for diving in Sipadan comes down to a few factors.

Budget 

Hotels in Semporna offer budget-friendly accommodation options, starting from just $15/night for a double room, while diving packages on island resorts start at $250/night.

There are some great affordable, sustainable hotels in Semporna that offer perks like free airport shuttle and transportation to and from attractions in town and to the Semporna Jetty, where many dive operators depart from. 7 Inn Semporna is one such hotel and is highly rated for its location and efforts in sustainability.

Mid-range accommodations in Semporna offer more luxurious rooms, amenities, and the convenience of a tour desk. OHHSEM is a great mid-range option, with nice rooms that offer private balconies and a convenient location within walking distance of the Semporna Jetty.

There are several diving resorts on islands surrounding Sipadan that offer packages including accommodation, dive permits, scuba lessons, and island-hopping excursions. The resorts also file your application for entry to Sipadan. Transportation and equipment are also provided for diving Sipadan Island.

Permit Availability 

176 Sipadan dive permits are allocated to 12 resorts/dive shops, with the biggest resorts/dive shops scoring the highest number of permits per day. Booking in advance is essential, and your resort choice will often come down to availability on your desired dates.

sipadan island
Sipadan, Sabah, Malaysia

Best Dive Spots on Sipadan Island

With so many incredible dive spots in the area, it’s difficult to say which are the best. Here are some notable Sipadan dive sites that have been popular with divers:

Turtle Cavern

This famous cave diving spot is close to the Sipadan Jetty and consists of an extensive cave system. What makes this cave unique is the abundance of green turtles divers see here. Also called Turtle Cave or Turtle Tomb, this cave is the resting place of many of these beautiful sea creatures, and turtle skeletons can be seen within.

Barracuda Point

As you might have guessed, this is where you go to see huge swirling schools of barracuda. You’ll also see beautiful coral gardens and maybe some black-tip reef sharks, bumphead parrotfish, eagle rays, and triggerfish.

South Point

Slightly southeast of the island and about a 15-minute boat ride from Sipadan Jetty is South Point. This dive site consists of a wall, a ledge, then a sharp drop-down. You might be able to see hammerhead sharks, whitetip reef sharks, and thresher sharks here.

Mabul Island

Located about a 20-minute boat ride from Sipadan, Mabul Island is home to resorts and many dive sites with wonderfully diverse marine life. Here, you can do a typical wall dive, explore coral reefs, do a shore dive, and a shipwreck dive. This is a great spot for photography, with lots of colorful reef fish, octopus, and enormous sea turtles.

Nudibranch in Sipadan Island. Diving. Sabah. Malaysia. Borneo
Nudibranch in Sipadan
White tip shark at Barracuda Point in Sipadan Island. Sabah. Malaysia
White tip shark at Barracuda Point in Sipadan Island,  Sabah, Malaysia
White and grey tip sharks at Barracuda Point. Sipadan Island Diving. Sabah. Malaysia
White and grey tip sharks at Barracuda Point

Other Dive Destinations 

Due to the Sipadan permit limits, all resorts and dive packages will include one day of diving on Sipadan and 2-3 additional days of diving at other dive sites in the area. Depending on where your diving interests lie, some dive sites included in the Sipadan diving packages may be more of interest to you than others.

Keep in mind that many of the resorts offer group discounts; however, single travelers will often find themselves paying a 30-50% single supplement.

READ NEXT: 7 Reasons Why Scuba Diving in Sipadan Island is Worth It

Our Experience Diving On Sipadan Island

We got a chance to dive in Sipadan Island in August 2015, and despite the high price of the dive package (6 dives, 2 nights of accommodation, 2 lunches, and equipment rental for 2 set us back by USD $575), we felt like the experience was worth every penny.

We chose to stay in the rather uninspiring Semporna Town at a small hotel called Holiday Dive Inn. It was cheap but very basic, offering not much but a place to lay your head at the end of an exhausting day of diving. It’s an option for those traveling on a tight budget but not one we would recommend to someone looking for a comfortable stay.

Oksana swimming with jack fish in Sipadan Island, diving in sipadan
Oksana swimming with jack fish at Sipadan island
One of the many green turtles, diving in sipadan
One of the many green turtles at Sipadan

Planning A Trip To Sipadan?

The team at Asia Diving Vacation has put together this awesome infographic that simplifies everything you need to know about diving in Sipadan Island and offers an excellent round-up of the resort options available to those looking for an alternative to staying in Semporna Town.

Disclaimer: This is a sponsored post brought to you courtesy of Asia Diving Vacation.

 

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