Diving in Sipadan Island
The Dive Legend of Borneo
Ever since diving celebrity Jacques Cousteau raved about Pulau Sipadan's diversity of marine life, this dive mecca has been indisputably the most famous scuba destination in Malaysia. It is located off the east coast of Sabah, Malaysia's eastern most state, and lies on the north-eastern corner of Borneo, the world's third largest island.
The Sipadan diving legend has passed through the world's dive community to the extent that all divers with an interest in visiting the best sites in the world, have a resort stay at this small island near the top of their wish list.
Pulau Sipadan Island was at the top of Rodale's Scuba Diving Magazine Gold List for 'The Top Dive Destination in the World'. In fact Sipadan shared its top spot with 2 other destinations known for the amazing diversity of their marine life - the Galapagos Islands and Truk in Micronesia.
The list of attractions is quite staggering and all the more exceptional as it involves plenty of big fish encounters - barracudas, large schools of trevally and marauding bumphead parrotfish. This is one of the big fish capitals of the world!
When diving Sipadan, everywhere you turn you'll see turtles, munching on the sponges and algae, or lazing on the wall ledges. If you take the time to look closely at the walls you'll see a wealth of macro life and fish species to rival most destinations, although this is often overlooked due to the other major attractions vying for your attention.
Being around Pulau Sipadan is a highlight in itself: Blue skies, clear waters, convenient diving and tropical scenery, but it is below the surface where this island really excels:
South Point - This 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 - 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.
Turtle Cavern - This site 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.
How to Dive Sipadan
There are several excellent nearby resorts from which to dive here. The closest resorts are on Mabul and Kapalai. There is only 1 liveaboard in the area, which stays overnight in Mabul. See more on all the options in our Malaysia resorts section. Special local rates apply at many of these resorts for Malaysians, Singaporeans and expatriates living in those countries with work permits.
Dive The World
... Up to 18% off at Sipadan resorts ...
Save up to US$ 330 ...
The resort islands also boast some excellent macro dive sites which are a great complement to the breathtaking big fish action of Sipadan Island.
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 in Sipadan (normally 4 dives 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 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 dive permits as booking elsewhere.
With some resorts Dive The World can arrange, in advance, for you to pay for extra Sipadan permits, subject to availability. It is not a guarantee but is the best way possible to increase your chances of multiple days of diving at Sipadan.
Got a question?
Have a look through our Frequently asked questions
The Pulau Sipadan diving season is year round and most normally expressed as having the best conditions between April and December, especially July and August. The rainy season tends to be between January and March where unsettled weather may result in a decrease in visibility, however in recent years the timing of the rainy season has been less than certain.
This legendary island is very popular and at certain times of the year there is a greater risk of the resorts being fully booked. If you wish to visit Sipadan during these periods you should book well in advance or, alternatively, select other dates. The busiest periods are March to August, Christmas, New Year and Chinese New Year.
Good for: Large animals, wall diving, drift dives and advanced divers
Not so good 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 southwest from Kapalai
Access: Diving from Mabul and Kapalai resorts
Recommended length of stay: 5 - 14 days, including the nearby islands
Dive Site Descriptions
For more information on the detailed Sipadan dive sites:
• Mabul travel information
More information on: history of Sipadan Island
View a map of:
• Sabah - Borneo - Malay Peninsula
Back to diving in Malaysia index