Malaysia, bordered by Thailand to the north and Indonesia to the south, sits right in the heart of South-East Asia. It is no surprise therefore, that it is home to some of the best scuba diving on the planet. Liveaboards in Malaysia often visit places that cannot be dived by resorts in the area, or can allow more frequent diving at the most sought-after sites.
Many people have heard of Sipadan Island, a little gem of an island surrounded by waters that are absolutely teeming with life. There are few islands in the world that can be so small and insignificant on the surface yet, so extraordinary and celebrated beneath the surrounding seas. Scuba divers look forward to seeing the line-up of incredible creatures that fill the water: sharks, turtles, bumphead parrotfish, jacks and barracuda. Sometimes there are so many fish you can lose sight of your buddies.
Sites like Barracuda Point, South Point and The Drop-Off are what made this area famous. On a single dive you can drop down a sheer wall where turtles abound, through a vast school of jacks to where several sharks patrol the wall's edge. A squadron of meaty bumphead parrotfish can come marauding along the reef munching the coral to a fine sand before you find yourself staring up through a swirling vortex of barracuda. It is little wonder that Sipadan is of worldwide acclaim. [More details on these dive sites: Sipadan]
Mabul and Kapalai on the other hand, offer a very different diving experience. House reefs, often enriched with artificial reef structures, are home to big schools of jacks and meaty groupers. However, it is the macro life that makes the critter havens of Mabul and Kapalai stand out. You might spot frogfish, ribbon eels, crocodilefish, ghost pipefish, cuttlefish, flamboyant cuttlefish, blue-ringed octopus, mandarinfish and many more bizarre creatures. [More details on these dive sites: Mabul - Kapalai].
The island is subject to permit restrictions and each operator has a limited number of permits for their guests who must hold an advanced diving certification of higher. For some this is fine because they are seeking a mixture of big stuff and small stuff. For those whose only priority is to maximise their time at Sipadan, a liveaboard is the best choice.
There is currently only 1 liveaboard choice in Sipadan Island. You can join for 3, 4 or 7 night trips. While you can expect to do some diving at Mabul and possibly elsewhere, liveaboard diving here means most of your time will be spent on the dive sites of Sipadan. You can make up to 2 day dives at Sipadan each full day.
Whilst the previous version of the Celebes Explorer gained a reputation of being somewhat less than comfortable and not well-maintained, the Celebes Explorer 9 is a totally different liveaboard. It was built in 2019. is more modern and provides much better accommodation than its predecessor.
Sipadan is open for diving all year although most agree that April to December is the better part of the year. Neighbouring Mabul is a macro destination, so changes in visibility are of little consequence. The water temperatures in Sipadan/Mabul do not vary greatly during the year, normally hovering in the high 20s°C.
Sipadan liveaboard cruises can be joined either at Semporna or in the waters around Sipadan Island. In either case you will be transported by minibus from Tawau airport to Semporna, to either board the boat, or take a speedboat transfer to it.
Most people fly into Malaysia to Kuala Lumpur or Kota Kinabalu before flying to Tawau. More information on: How to get to Malaysia.
You can view which ports the various boats use on their trips in the 'Departures & Prices' section of each boat's webpage. Whichever port your boat uses, normally the boat operator provides a transfer to the boat from the local airport or hotels (if you overnight beforehand). We will send you full departure details during the booking process.
We recommend you take out insurance to cover diving and travel activities, including trip cancellation. See our insurance programme for a competitive quotation:
If you plan on staying in Malaysia before or after your Sipadan Island liveaboard diving safari, you can find a large range of accommodation options at hotelscombined.com, our affiliated hotel reservation specialists. Browse their website, use their on-line chat to ask questions, then simply use your credit card to make your booking:
All bookings carry a 'Low Price Guarantee' to ensure you get top-dollar value for money.
It's also possible to dive in Sipadan by staying at a resort, if you prefer: Sipadan resorts.
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... Prompt responses to the initial emails, very competitive prices. Good organisation of hotel pick-ups, accommodation and boat transfers. The confirmation email of the booking was very reassuring. Once the trip was booked and paid for I didn't have to worry about anything else ... -- Rebecca Graham, Australia. [More customer reviews]