Scuba diving inSipadan
- World class diving and the best dive sites in Malaysia
- Jacque Cousteau’s ‘Untouched piece of art’ of the Celebes Sea
- Drift along dramatic walls, or visit the notorious ‘Turtle Tomb’
- Meet the resident bumphead parrotfish on a dawn dive
Sipadan‘s diving can rightly claim to be the best in Asia - no other destination can offer such an incredible variety of exhilarating underwater experiences. The island’s top dive sites feature dramatic coral walls, friendly turtles and reef sharks, huge schools of barracuda and jackfish, and even the possibility of encountering manta rays and hammerheads. It's no wonder that divers travel here from around the world hoping for that magical Sipadan Island scuba diving experience.
Diving Sipadan Island
Grey reef sharkYear round
Whitetip reef sharkYear round
Devil rayYear round
Schooling reef fishYear round
Bumphead parrotfishYear round
Walls & pinnaclesYear round
Plentiful reef lifeYear round
Caves & cavernsYear round
Update Oct 2023 - Guests can only dive at Sipadan a maximum of 2 times per day, and must be Advanced Open Water divers to visit the island.
Sipadan will be closed for the month of November every year in order to give the reefs and marine life a respite from dive tourism
The best way to understand why Sipadan’s scuba diving has such an amazing reputation is to do a dawn dive at the famous Barracuda Point. At the top of the wall, divers can encounter bumphead parrotfish, gathered at cleaning stations for a morning brush up. Green turtles rest 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 Sipadan’s famous schools of barracuda and jackfish, 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 turtles and, often as not, the bumphead parrotfish once again. A truly world class dive experience!
Sipadan’s other famous dive sites include South Point at the tip of the island, where schools of jackfish hang in the shallows and green turtles gather in the coral gardens at low tide. At the other end of the island, The Drop Off was once the site of the infamous Borneo Diver’s Jetty Bar, but the only visitors today are divers keen on exploring the entrance to the ‘Turtle Tomb’. No matter which site you visit, the sheer numbers of fish and turtles that made Sipadan so famous remain and the island still has a magical quality about it. Sipadan remains an exceptional dive destination and deserves its reputation as offering the best diving in Malaysia.
Reefs & walls, caverns, sharks and turtles
5 - 40m+
15 - 30m+
25 - 28c
- The best way to encounter Sipadan's school of Bumphead parrotfish is a dawn dive at Barracuda Point.
- Keep an eye open for dolphins and whales on the boat ride across to Sipadan.
- Whilst the entrance may look tempting, do not enter the 'Turtle Tomb' without proper training.
- When the water is cold, the visibility in the top 10m or so can be bad. But drop deeper and you will find clear water again and might just spot a hammerhead or two!
Sipadan is Malaysia’s only oceanic island, and is located just 45 minutes by boat from the nearby islands of Mabul and Kapalai. Sipadan’s reef is perched 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 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 real fame after Jacque Cousteau and the Calypso visited the island. He described Sipadan as an ‘Untouched piece of art’ and produced a startling film about Sipadan’s reefs and the ’Turtle Tomb’ - an underwater cave system beneath the island littered with the bones of turtles. Today there are no longer any dive resorts on Sipadan itself and a strict permit system keeps the number of divers visiting the island to a sustainable level
Getting to Sipadan and Mabul
International visitors flying into Sabah normally arrive at Kota Kinabalu, the state’s main international airport. You can then transfer 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 to Mabul by boat. To make life easier, all of the resorts in the area offer return transfers between the resorts and Tawau airport.
Where to stay
There are no longer any dive resorts on Sipadan and a strict permit system has been put in place to limit the number of divers visiting the island. 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 are eligible for a Sipadan diving day trip permit.
Guests can choose from plenty of different options for accommodation on Mabul and Kapalai - from small home stays in the village on Mabul and a converted platform, to luxurious water village resorts built out over the sea. You can also stay on other nearby islands, but Mabul and Kapalai are the most convenient options.
Sipadan’s dive seasons and weather
The best time of year to dive Sipadan is during the dry season from April to October. July and August are busy and the island can also experience rough seas created by typhoons in the Philippines during 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 and are our favourite times of year to dive Sipadan.
During the wet season between November and March, the seas can be rough and there will be more rain, especially in January. But Sipadan can be dived year round.
The visibility at Sipadan can vary enormously, with some days having 30m+, others less than 10m, but is often at its best during the shoulder seasons when the seas can be like glass. Cold upwellings in the summer months increase the likelihood of encounters with bigger pelagics and hammerheads, 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. But one thing is guaranteed - you will always see lots of turtles on Sipadan!