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 ...
Sipadan Island can rightly claim to be Malaysia’s top diving destination - no other place can offer so much in such a small area. Its dramatic walls, resident turtles and reef sharks, huge schools of fish and the possibility of encountering big pelagics still bring divers from around the world hoping for that magical Sipadan experience.
Surrounded by the deep waters of the Celebes Sea, Sipadan's reefs provide the perfect environment for an incredible array of marine life. And the best way to understand why Sipadan has such an amazing reputation is to do a dawn dive around the famous Barracuda Point. At the top of wall, divers first encounter Sipadan’s bumphead parrotfish, gathered at cleaning stations for a morning brush up. Green turtles rest lazily on the corals, whilst schools of colourful fusiliers and batfish cruise by. As the current picks up, divers are swept along a coral channel where they are greeted by the huge barracuda and jackfish schools, glimpse grey reef and white tip sharks and drift through clouds of bannerfish. For those with the skill and experience, a deep drift around the edge of the reef can mean sightings of dogtooth tuna, rays and even hammerheads when the water is cold. Divers are then swept back around the east side of the point where they encounter yet more green and hawksbill turtle and often as not, the bumphead parrotfish once again. All told, a truly world class experience.
Since Cousteau’s visit, Sipadan’s reefs can no longer be described as pristine - storm damage, decreasing water quality and tourism have all played a part. However, the fish and incredible turtles that made Sipadan so famous remain and the island still has a magical quality about it. It is easy to get blasé about all the marine life after a day or two of diving, but the reality is that there are very few places left in the world where divers can encounter such large numbers of turtles and big schools of fish, and at such close proximity. Sipadan remains an extraordinary dive destination and well-deserves its reputation as offering Malaysia’s finest diving.
Sipadan is one of Sabah’s best locations for snorkelling as so much of the island’s marine life is found in the shallow water along the edge of the reef. In particular, the large numbers of green turtles and bumphead parrotfish actually prefer to spend much of their time in the shallows and snorkelers are guaranteed encounters with these animals. Beautiful schools of anthias, bannerfish and fusiliers are all normally encountered, and white tip sharks can often be spotted cruising just below. Keep an eye out for the many different species of reef fish amongst the corals, as well colourful clams, soft corals, crocodilefish, scorpionfish and octopus.
The currents on Sipadan are perfect for snorkelers in most locations - you simply drop off the boat and drift over the corals as the current takes you along the reef. However, at Barracuda Point and around South Point, the current can run off the reef so be aware of your surroundings and follow the shallow reef. Also be aware of boat traffic. The boatmen around Sipadan are very used to snorkelers in the water and will only travel at any sort of speed away from the reef, but for the sake of safety, keep an eye open for boats.
Sipadan is often described as Malaysia’s only oceanic island and is located just 45 minutes by boat from the nearby island of Mabul. The reef has developed on the tip of an extinct volcano that rises like a pinnacle out of the depths of the Celebes Sea. The combination of deep water, strong currents and a shallow, sunlit pinnacle perfect for corals have come together to create a ‘perfect storm’ of conditions and produce the explosion of life that has made Sipadan so famous.
Sipadan was first ‘discovered’ by divers in the 1980’s but found fame after Jacque Cousteau and the Calypso visited the island at the end of 1980’s, when he described Sipadan as an ‘Untouched piece of art’ and produced a startling film about Sipadan’s reefs and the ’Turtle Tomb’ - a cave system beneath the island littered with the bones of turtles.
Sipadan can only be dived from nearby islands such as Mabul. International visitors flying in to Sabah normally arrive at Kota Kinabalu, the state’s main international airport. Here, they can transfer directly onto another flight to Tawau, or overnight in KK before catching a morning flight the next day. Once in Tawau, buses transfer guests to Semporna, then onwards by boat to Mabul. To make life easier, all of the resorts in the area offer transfers to and from the resorts and Tawau airport.
There are no resorts on Sipadan itself and a strict permit system has been put in place limiting the number of divers visiting the island to ensure that tourism numbers are kept to a sustainable level. All of the nearby resorts on Mabul, Kapalai and other islands have a quota of permits and guests must book for a minimum number of nights before they can apply for a day permit to dive on Sipadan.
Sipadan can experience short periods of rough and rainy weather during the wet season between November and March, especially in January. The island can also experience the effects of typhoons in the Philippines in August. The ‘shoulder’ seasons at the end of the wet season in April and May and the end of the dry season in September and October can have the best conditions. Visibility varies greatly with some days having 30m+, others less than 10m, but is often best in the periods between the more defined wet and dry seasons. Cold upwellings in the summer months increase the likelihood of bigger pelagics and hammerheads being seen, but can also reduce visibility in the shallows. The best chance to see mating turtles is normally after the wet season has ended and into the summer months. In recent years, the seasons and visibility have become a little harder to predict but one thing is guaranteed - you will always see lots of turtles on Sipadan!
In the 1990’s, Sipadan was consistently voted as one of the ‘Top 5’ diving destinations in the world and as word of Sipadan’s amazing marine life spread, a slew of resorts sprung up on the island. Diving tourism reached its peak in the late 1990’s when hundreds of divers would visit the island every day - from both the resorts on Sipadan itself and those on Mabul and Kapalai. It soon became obvious that Sipadan could not support this level of tourism and so in 2004 the government stepped in and announced that all resorts on the island would be closed, a move that prompted the development and expansion of the resorts on nearby islands.
Today a strict permit system has been put in place that limits the number of divers visiting Sipadan to 120 a day, ensuring that numbers of visitors are kept to a level that can be sustained by Sipadan’s reefs. All of the nearby resorts have a quota of permits and guests must book for a minimum number of nights at a resort - typically 3 nights - before they are eligible for a day permit to dive on Sipadan.
The 6 day, 5 night package offers 2 full days diving at Sipadan, and 3 days exploring the incredible muck diving on offer around Mabul and Kapalai. Guests can choose from twin or double cabins, all of which are perfect for a relaxing nights sleep after a long day spent diving. All of Seaventures' cabins have AC, fresh bedding and towels, cleaning service and ensuite bathrooms with hot water.
The 4 day, 3 night package is the minimum stay required to guarantee a permit to dive Sipadan. To make the most of your day at Sipadan, Scuba Junkie schedules 4 dives on an extended day trip. And with only 4 guests per dive guide, you can enjoy the turtles, schooling fish and sharks without the crowds. This package includes accomodation in Scuba Junkie's comfortable fan-cooled dorm.