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Your Guide to Diving in Sipadan

The Dive Legend of Borneo

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...Highlights: shark action, turtles, schooling fish & big pelagics, great macro life/ marine diversity...
...Diving environment: wall diving, advanced divers, very popular...

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.

Diving in Sipadan Island, where turtles are literally everywhere - photo courtesy of ScubaZoo
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The Sipadan legend has passed through the world's diving community to the extent that all divers with an interest in visiting the best sites in the world, have a resort stay or a short liveaboard cruise near this small island near the top of their wish list.

Sipadan Island was at the top of Rodale's Scuba Diving Magazine Gold List for 'The Top Dive Destination in the World'. In fact it shared its top spot with 2 other destinations known for the amazing diversity of their marine life - the Galapagos Islands and Truk in Micronesia.

Blue skies, clear waters, convenient diving and tropical scenery, but it is below the surface where this island really excels. The list of attractions is quite staggering and all the more exceptional as it involves plenty of big fish encounters - barracudas, reef sharks, large schools of jacks and marauding bumphead parrotfish. This is one of the big fish capitals of the world!

Everywhere you turn at Sipadan, 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.

Dive Site Descriptions

Barracuda Point

There may be no guarantees in diving, but let's just say there is every chance that you can find yourself in the middle of a swirling vortex of chevron or blacktail barracuda at this north coast site, one of the most treasured diving spots at Sipadan Island.

Normally divers roll in to the top of the wall here, at a depth of about 10 metres. There may be some current but that means there is lots of food which duly brings in tons of fish - schooling bannerfish and redtooth triggerfish are prevalent in large numbers. Grey reef sharks are always patrolling the perimeter here and hunting for lunch, and great barracuda, dogtooth tuna, bigeye and giant trevally are frequent visitors to this part of the island too.
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How to Dive Pulau Sipadan

There are several excellent nearby resorts from which to dive here, the closest being on Mabul and Kapalai. There is only one liveaboard in the area, which stays overnight in Mabul. The resort islands also boast some excellent macro dive sites which are a great complement to the breathtaking big fish action of Sipadan.

For more information on your diving options, and all the other travel information you might need to visit Sipadan Island and the state of Sabah on Borneo, view our Sipadan dive resorts. and liveaboard sections.

For those with only a day or 2 to spare, daytrips from Semporna may be the best option to dive at Sipadan.

Visits to Sipadan operate on a permit basis and are restricted to 178 diving permits issued per day. Only advanced divers or higher are legible for permits. We recommend staying at least 4 nights to allow greater opportunity to dive at the island (maximum of 2 dives per day, no night diving). The longer you stay the greater your chances of having more visits.

Permits are not allocated in advance so no-one, including the resorts themselves, can make guarantees about the number of days you will visit Sipadan Island, unless your stay is for longer. When you book with 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 dive permits as booking elsewhere. With some resorts Dive The World can arrange, in advance, for you to pay for extra 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.

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

The Diving Season

The Sipadan dive season is year round although conditions do vary throughout the year. March to July and October to December experience the most settled conditions. Surface conditions are normally calm, sometimes glass-calm, water temperatures are consistently bath-warm, and the weather is normally hot and sunny. Visibility in these periods usually ranges from 15 to 30m.

Regular divers at Sipadan agree that March to May are probably the very best months with peak visibility (20 to 30m), calm seas and sunshine. November and into early December are also often included in the very best times. Months such as June, July and October regularly deliver excellent conditions too.

Northerly winds (in January and February) and southerly winds (in August and early September) can reduce the visibility (usually 10 to 20m) and create choppier surface conditions making boat rides a little less comfortable. Despite these being considered the least reliable months, many divers who visit at these times report great conditions and amazing marine encounters. Although any given day throughout the year has the potential to disappoint, Sipadan is truly a year-round destination.

The rainy season tends to be from December to late February when unsettled weather may result in a decrease in visibility, however in recent years the timing of the rainy season has been less than certain. Although Pulau Sipadan and Mabul seldom experience much rain, the water and air temperature can be towards the cooler end of the usual range. Visit the Weather Spark websiteOpens in a new window for more details on the climate at nearby Semporna.

Traditionally green and hawksbill turtles come ashore onto the island of Sipadan to nest between April and September. To visit and dive here during these months should mean an even higher number of turtles, although these creatures are ever-present around the island. In fact it has a high proportion of ever-present creatures, rather than seasonal visitors. The jacks, barracuda, bumphead parrotfish and white-tip sharks can be said to be residents of this oceanic island.

This legendary island is very popular and at certain times of the year there is a greater risk of the diving resorts being fully booked. If you wish to visit 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.

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Where is Sipadan and How Do I Get There?

Review our map below of Sabah, showing the location of Sipadan Island. Here, you will find information on how to get to Sipadan.

Map of Sipadan (click to enlarge in a new window) Map of Sabah (click to enlarge in a new window)

Reef Summary

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 of Pulau Mabul, and 10 km southwest of Kapalai
Recommended length of stay: 5 - 14 days, including the nearby islands

Useful References

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... Everything was great. The entire process from the inquiry to getting to the island was seamless. I would definitely book another trip through Dive The World, and am now thinking about diving again next spring ... -- , USA.  [More customer reviews]