The island nation of Indonesia straddles the equator between the Indian and Pacific Oceans and lies at the heart of the ‘Coral Triangle’ - the epicentre of the world’s marine biodiversity. Nowhere on ...
Borneo scuba diving is some of the planet’s best. This massive island, the third-largest in the world, boasts a huge diversity of destinations to explore, including remote tropical islands, dense jungles, the region's highest mountain peak, and of course a thriving coral reef ecosystem.
The island itself is divided into four regions, and three separate countries. Malaysia controls the northern states of Sarawak and Sabah, while the southern reaches of Kalimantan are governed by Indonesia. Plus, there's tiny Brunei stuck right in the centre of everything. All have diving, but, the very best sites are found in the north, off the west coast of Sabah bordering the South China Sea, as well as the east coast of Sabah and North Kalimantan.
Buried deep in the heart of the Coral Triangle, Borneo's underwater world is one of the planet's most biodiverse habitats. The island is home to stunning marine life, especially in the waters around Spadan. Plus, some of the world's coolest macro creatures are waiting to be discovered in Mabul and Brunei. Other exciting underwater attractions in the region include historic shipwrecks, oil platforms, and the world-famous jellyfish lake.
Sabah's diving destinations vary dramatically and feature every type of underwater experience, from mild to wild. So, whether you're hoping to take on Sipadan's high-speed drift dives or kick back and relax on an all but forgotten island like Lankayan, this region is sure to impress. Other local highlights include world-class muck diving in Mabul and Kapalai, and laid-back day trips to the Tunku Abdul Rahman Park, with its seasonal whale shark encounters.
It's well worth your while to spend a few days above water in Sabah, as well. This massive region is home to ancient rainforests, stunning white-sand beaches, turtle hatcheries, and the towering summit of Mt. Kinabalu.
Layang Layang is a coral atoll comprising 13 linked reefs spread over roughly 14 square kilometres. This remote diving area is located around 300 kilometres off the Borneo coast and is surrounded by the deep water of the South China Sea.
So, it's no surprise that the region boasts uncrowded dive sites and a staggering variety of marine life. Not many divers ever get a chance to explore this far-flung atoll, but the few that do are rewarded with incredible visibility, unspoilt reefs, and heart-stopping seasonal encounters with hammerhead sharks.
Easily accessible from Kota Kinabalu, the Tunku Abdul Rahman Park offers some of the best beginner diving in Borneo. Calm conditions, good visibility, and short boat rides make for a laid-back experience with a backdrop of colourful coral and sea turtles grazing in the shallows.
But, the real treat for visitors in this protected marine area is to get up close and personal with whale sharks. Every year during March and April, these gentle giants migrate through the park's waters and are often spotted cruising slowly on the surface.
While these islands are home to a stunning variety of creatures great and small, the real attraction is minuscule. Some of the best muck diving in Borneo can be found here, and divers in the know flock to the region specially for it.
These shallow sloping reefs are home to strange and wonderful macro wildlife like nudibranchs, frogfish, and even the elusive blue-ringed octopus. If you're planning to dive in Sipadan, you'll have an opportunity to explore Mabul and Kapalai as a part of your trip. And, we highly recommend that you do!
If this destination isn't on your bucket list, it's high time you added it. Sipadan is the big fish capital of Malaysia and features frequent encounters with towering tornados of barracuda, vast schools of jacks and bumphead parrotfish, and reef sharks cruising out in the blue.
But, diving here isn't just about the big stuff. You'll also spot turtles lazily munching on coral and tons of colourful reef fish. Sipadan can have strong currents at the best sites, but shelter can always be found and the island can be enjoyed by beginner divers..
The dive sites around Kalimantan and Derawan see far fewer visitors than those in Sabah, making for some of Borneo's best scuba diving minus the tourist crowds. And, this remote region has plenty to offer, no matter what kind of diving holiday you're hoping to have. Try your hand at shark spotting amid Maratua's plummeting walls and high-speed currents, scan the rubble and silt around Pulau Derawan for some of the planet's coolest macro creatures, and take a swim in Kakaban's famous jellyfish lake.
If you have time to spare, spend a few days enjoying activities other than scuba diving around Kalimantan and Derawan. Some of the region's top experiences include snorkelling with whale sharks at Talisayan, watching turtles nest on Derawan or helping with a hatchling release, and wandering the world-class beaches of Maratua and Sangalaki.
Derawan is a haven for muck and macro diving- pygmy seahorses, flamboyant cuttlefish, and ghost pipefish are often spotted here, as are other strange creatures like frogfish and sea dragons. Conditions are silty around the island, with poor visibility and little coral cover. But, patient critter junkies and macro photographers will love the full-on "bug hunt" feeling of canvassing the silt and rubble for rare and elusive species. Most dive centres here offer small group sizes and modern facilities for your underwater cameras and accessories.
The fringing coral reefs ringing Kakaban island offer divers a wide variety of experiences, but strong currents, steep walls, and big fish action are the hallmark attractions.
This seldom-visited island is home to impressive coral cover, near-guaranteed shark sightings, and passing pelagics like eagle rays, and giant trevally. Whale sharks and manta rays make surprise appearances here too, during seasonal plankton blooms. Best of all, with just a handful of divers in the region, you'll likely have the sites all to yourself.
One of the Derawan archipelago's least dived islands, Samama, also one of its most unique. The island's shallow and fringing reef is good for finding macro such as pygmy seahorses and nudibranchs. And, at most sites, the conditions are calm and shallow enough for beginners.
Samama boasts strangely good visibility and coral coverage considering its reputation for muck diving, creating a relaxed environment to try your hand at this photographer-friendly speciality. Don't miss a chance to snorkel and dive the island's mangroves as well, for a cool, flooded forest feeling.
Few places in the world boast manta rays in the massive numbers seen at Sangalaki Island. Between the months of October and June, these oceanic acrobats are frequently spotted feeding in the shallows, and patiently waiting their turn in line at the island's cleaning stations.
But, mantas aren't the only exciting wildlife found in the region. Sangalaki's fringing reef is home to over 500 species of hard and soft coral, plus turtles, leopard sharks, and massive schools of fusiliers and trevally.
Lying at the edge of the continental shelf, Maratua offers some of the region's most dizzying drop-offs. These deep sites are dominated by powerful currents, and plunging channels that funnel a huge amount of fish life to the reef's edge.
Divers can encounter grey reef sharks, vast schools of barracuda, and even shy threshers emerging from the depths. In shallower water, delicate soft coral and sea fan gardens set a colourful backdrop for schooling bumphead parrotfish and turtles chomping away at the reef.