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Kapalai Diving

Sandbank Macro Dive Sites

A few minutes speedboat ride from Sipadan is Kapalai, effectively a water village style resort perched atop a splendid reef that borders the rich and deep Celebes Sea. Although not far from Sipadan, scuba diving at Kapalai itself is completely different.

For a start guests can see from the structure down into the shallows where squid and needlefish dutifully provide the entertainment and mandarinfish can also be seen performing their mating dances just below the water's surface.

Emperor Shrimp, photo by Kentrick Chin - Kapalai

Kapalai is considered a macro-divers paradise. This does not necessarily mean poor visibility as with so many critter-havens. Here rarities such as frogfish, blue-ringed octopus and the incredible flamboyant cuttlefish are the star attractions. Harlequin ghostpipefish, sea moths and mantis shrimp make up the supporting cast while the mandarinfish provide the love interest.

Most dives here are nice and gentle in warm, relatively shallow water, so are perfect for the less experienced, as well as yielding sufficient rewards for those with plenty of dives under their weightbelt. One of the most frequented places (due to its convenience) is straight off the jetty where leaf scorpionfish, crocodilefish, lionfish and all manner of shrimps and gobies add to the fun.

Diving in Kapalai is like being on a spacious, mosquito-free liveaboard that doesn't move. Gentle sea breezes cool the high quality chalets giving you a sense of freedom and comfort as well as close proximity to amazing diving.

The Kapalai Dive Sites

Cleaning Station - The entry point to this nice easy dive is about 100m away from the scuba station and features a reef top at 5m and a gentle but fascinating slope. You cruise along in the mild current spotting resident turtles and cuttlefish hovering in the water, or lurking in and around the wreck of a wooden fishing boat.

It is also worth keeping an eye on the substrate as there are plenty of interesting creatures on the reef slopes and sandy floor. Various colourful nudibranchs pepper the reef in splashes of colour and large jawfish peer out from their sandy lairs.

As the name suggests, Mandarin Valley is a favourite spot for spotting the alluring and beautiful mandarinfish as they rise through the water column in pairs to couple. There is more to this site than mandarinfish although many scuba divers, especially photographers, will happily spend an hour entranced by their mating scenes.

Stonefish, frogfish, cuttlefish and ghost pipefish are among the other frequently sighted creatures here. As mating time tends to be towards dusk, many nocturnal creatures are frequently seen at Kapalai including squid, crayfish and various crabs and shrimps.

The sandy Spotted Ray Channel is home, not only to the eponymous blue-spotted rays but, to many other of the creatures that thrive in Kapalai's ecosystem. On the sand you can look out for ribbon eels, nudibranchs and even the mysterious Pegasus.

On the reefs that flank the channel there lurk all manner of creature to keep you entertained including ghost pipefish and octopus slithering around the cracks and crevices of the reef.

Dive The World Malaysia Recommendations: Mandarin Valley.

More detailed information on the Kapalai diving sites on our website.

Staying at Kapalai

Special rates apply at this resort for Malaysians, Singaporeans and expatriates living in those countries with work permits.

The Kapalai Dive Season

Due to its geographical position, Kapalai is open to divers all year round, with April 'til October offering excellent weather conditions. The water temperature ranges from 79 to 86F (26 to 30°C) year round.

How to Get There

Many scuba divers who visit Kapalai fly from Kuala Lumpur to Tawau where they will be picked up on arrival and transferred to the resort via minibus (1 hour) and then speedboat (45 minutes).

Others choose to travel through Kota Kinabalu, Sabah's state capital, which is the most happening place in Sabah. Kota Kinabalu airport is very well connected with flights from all around the Asia region.

Kapalai Reef Basics

Great for: Small animals and beginner divers
Not so great for: Non-diving activities
Depth: 5 - 20m
Visibility: 5 - 15m
Currents: Gentle
Surface Conditions: Can be a little choppy
Water Temperature: 26 - 30°C
Experience Level: Beginner - advanced
Number of dive sites: 18
Distance: 5 km (10 minutes) east of Mabul
Access: Dive resorts and liveaboard
Recommended length of stay: 5 - 14 days, including Sipadan, Kapalai and Mabul sites

Other sites that can be visited from here:


Local Contact Office: 4th Floor, Room 422-424 Wisma Sabah
Kota Kinabalu 88300, Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia
Tel.: +66 (0)81 082 4780/(0)83 505 7794