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Sipadan Island Diving

"The Best Shore Dives in the World"

Turtles are literally everywhere at Sipadan - photo courtesy of ScubaZoo

The dive sites are peppered around the island and none is more than a short speedboat ride away from the nearby dive resorts. And although they are all different they all offer one thing: lots to see!

The list of scuba attractions at Pulau Sipadan is quite staggering and all the more exceptional as it involves plenty of big fish encounters - at Barracuda Point you can find yourself surrounded by a spiralling vortex of barracudas, so large that the sunlight is often clouded out. At South Point there are scores of reef sharks, large schools of passing trevally and herds of massive marauding bumphead parrotfish. This is one of the big fish capitals of the world.

It is easy to understand how Jacques Cousteau got so excited about diving at Sipadan when he visited and declared it an "untouched piece of art". Tourism has made it less than untouched but it remains a fabulous experience to find yourself scuba diving here. It is often hard to believe that you are not diving in an enclosed environment such is the array of species and overwhelming biomass of the marine creatures that choose to live here.

The Sipadan Dive Sites

South Point is a typical dive at Sipadan Island - colourful abundant walls, sharks, turtles and schools of fish in big numbers and all the while the possibility of seeing something really exciting such as hammerheads or thresher sharks. Cruising along you won't be sure whether it is a better idea to poke around in the wall or keep an eye out for the bigger stuff.

As with many of the other sites, there is no hanging around in the blue doing a boring safety stop. Instead you will want the use of every breath of air in your tank as you spend the last few minutes hovering over coral gardens with as much colourful life and activity as anywhere.

Barracuda Point is one of the favourite Sipadan dive sites. Hordes of turtles, vast schools of jacks, bannerfish and snapper are merely bit part players on this site. A variety of sharks are also likely to be spotted but the real stars of this show are the eponymous barracuda. Find yourself in the eye of the hurricane that is the enormous vortex of barracuda here and you will be simply awestruck.

The Drop Off is a spectacular 600m sheer drop into the abyss and is one of the dives that helped Pulau Sipadan make its name. Deep water currents well up against the base of this oceanic island and bring a host of nutrients to the shallows, so as you cruise along this wall, you can observe the abundant marine life. Sharks, turtles, jacks and bumphead parrotfish will all compete for your attention, while the shallows teem with multi-coloured anthias and dottybacks. The Drop-Off is also an excellent night dive as the shallow reef and wall come alive with myriaf crustaceans and other fascinating nocturnal critters.

Turtle Cavern is not dived as much these days as it was before the closure of the resorts based on Sipadan Island itself, but it is well worth doing as it is unlike any of the other sites. Before approaching the cave entrance you may well be stunned to see a marauding horde of huge bumphead parrotfish charging past you as you sink down the wall.

The cavern itself is large and intriguing. Turtle skeletons rest on the sea-bed - apparently having met their doom in the confusing passageways of the cavern. Don't worry, those passageways are much too small for you and this is an easy and interesting dive to add to the other excellent sites.

As the name suggests, Staghorn Crest features staghorn corals prominently alongside black corals, sea whips and barrel sponges. There is normally a huge amount of marine life in and around the shallows and down over the wall. Triggerfish, groupers, angelfish, nudibranchs, shrimps and gobies can keep you entertained close to the reef. Further off in the blue, look out for turtles, manta rays, whitetip reef sharks and leopard sharks. Occasionally lucky divers even encounter scalloped hammerheads at Sipadan Island and the blue near Staghorn Crest is a likely a spot as any.

Dive The World Malaysia Recommendations: South Point, Turtle Cavern and Barracuda Point.

More detailed information about the Sipadan dive sites available on our website.

Staying at Sipadan

Some resorts consist of beautiful stilted bungalows sitting above the shallows, while others are more like beach resorts with chalets set back just off the sand. The resorts generally offer unlimited diving on their house reefs and are more popular among non-divers, couples and families. Malaysian resorts tend to offer excellent value-for-money and are right on the doorstep of some incredible, varied diving in one of the world's most bio-diverse stretches of sea.

Pulau Sipadan is part of Sabah, Malaysia most eastern state on the island of Borneo. Sabah is a nature-lover's dream with varied wildlife activities. These include: climbing Mount Kinabalu, south-east Asia's highest peak, visitingthe famous Sepilok Orangutan Centre, spotting jungle creatures like probosicis monkeys, pygmy elephants and hornbills. So there is plenty to do on land in addition to diving in some incredible macro sites, spectacular walls and the thriving reefs of the Sipadan area.

Special resort diving and accommodation package rates apply at many of these resorts for Malaysians, Singaporeans and expatriates living in those countries with work permits.

Visitor Permits

Diving in Sipadan operates on a permit basis and is restricted to 120 permits per day. We recommend staying at least 4 nights to allow for the opportunity to dive at the island. The longer you stay the greater your chances of having more dives here (normally 4 per a day).

Permits are not allocated in advance so no-one, including the resorts themselves, can make guarantees about the number of days you will dive at Sipadan, unless your stay is longer. When you book through Dive The World, we will apply for entry permits to the restricted area on your behalf. This will give you the same chance (or better) of obtaining Sipadan permits as booking elsewhere.

For some resorts, we can arrange in advance for you to pay for extra permits, subject to availability. It is not a guarantee but it is the best way possible to increase your chances of multiple days of diving at Sipadan.

The Sipadan Dive Season

You can dive here all year round. Overall, the best conditions at Sipadan Island exist from April to December, especially July and August. January to March can see some unsettled weather and a decrease in visibility but the resorts still see plenty of guests at this time as the diving can still be fine.

How to Get There

Kota Kinabalu is Sabah's capital city and the most happening place in the State. It is Malaysia's 2nd busiest international airport with flights arriving from all over the Asian region. Many people fly into KK (as it is known locally) before then hopping on a short flight to Tawau, the airport with access to Pulau Sipadan.

Tawau is also connected directly by flights from Kuala Lumpur and many divers fly direct. On arrival in Tawau you will be picked up by the resort or liveaboard operator and transferred by land to Semporna (1 hour) and then by speedboat (45 mins) to your resort or liveaboard (unless the liveaboard is at Semporna on your day of arrival).

Sipadan Island Reef Basics

Great for: Large animals, wall diving, drift dives and advanced divers
Not so great for: Wrecks, beginner divers and non-diving activities
Depth: 5 - >40m
Visibility: 10 - 30m
Currents: Can be strong
Surface Conditions: Can be choppy
Water Temperature: 26 - 30°C
Experience Level: Intermediate - advanced
Number of dive sites: 12
Distance: 12 km (25 minutes) south from Mabul and 10 km (18 minutes) southwest from Kapalai
Access: Mabul and Kapalai resorts
Recommended length of stay: 5 - 14 days, including the nearby islands

Other sites that can be visited together with Sipadan Island:


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