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 the island shared its top spot with two other destinations known for the amazing diversity of their marine life – the Galapagos Islands and Truk in Micronesia.Malaysia’s only oceanic island, it is very small – only 12ha. in size. A 25-minute walk is all that is required to circle the island on foot.
Sipadan Island is a small rainforest covered tropical island rising from a depth of more than 600 meters from the bottom of the Celebes Sea. The island is the top of a long-lost lava chimney from a prehistoric volcano. The very famous late French underwater explorer and filmmaker, Jacques-Yves Cousteau once remarked about Sipadan Island “I have seen other places like Sipadan… 45 years ago. Now we have found again an untouched piece of art.” Although that was many years ago, it is still true today. The island is arguably the top dive destination in the world.
Strong currents and steep walls are the hallmark of diving at Sipadan. When you first hit the water, you’ll be struck by the overwhelming number of green and hawksbill turtles, which gather at Sipadan to mate. It’s common to see more than twenty turtles on a single dive. Sharks are a virtual guarantee, from solo white-tip reef sharks cruising the wall to schooling grey reef sharks hunting in the deeper plateaus. For the lucky one’s, scalloped hammerheads emerge out of the deep and put on a show never to be forgotten. But sharks aren’t the only large pelagics to roam the waters of Sipadan—eagle rays are common, as are devil rays. Manta Rays make an appearance when the deep-water currents bring plankton from out of the blue, as do whale sharks. The residential schooling barracuda and big-eye trevally are a couple of the highlights on every diver’s wish-list, which often gather in the thousands forming spectacular tornado-like formations. Large herds of enormous bumphead parrotfish are often seen marching through the shallows of dive sites like Barracuda Point. If you can take your eye off the blue for a few minutes and spend some time looking at the wall you’ll find a wealth of macro-life from nudibranchs and hairy-squat lobsters to lionfish and moray eels. Octopus can often be spotted in the channel at Barracuda, as can scorpion leaf fish in the shallows of South Point. In short, Sipdan offers something for all divers, from pelagic lovers to small-critter hunters.
One of the top dive sites at Sipadan—indeed, the world—Barracuda Point derives it’s name from the resident chevron or blacktail barracuda that often appear in the thousands, forming a vortex large enough to block out the sun. The dive starts out as a classic wall dive before coming to a channel in 18 meters of water which frequently has strong currents pushing through it. It’s at one end of the channel that the barracuda often hang out and, when they are there, a large portion of the dive is often spent holding onto a rock in the channel and starting off into the blue in awe. Reef sharks are attracted by the strong currents, and can often be found resting on the channel bottom. The channel floor is teeming with macro-life, from spotted garden eels and morays to scorpion fish, lion fish, octopus, and more. The shallows at Barracuda Point feature some of the most beautiful coral on the island, where you can often find turtles snacking on sponges or just sleeping the day away.Chances are very good that you will encounter a big swirling school of thousands of chevron barracudas and also see packs of patrolling grey reef sharks at Barracuda Point.
At the opposite end of the island from Barracuda Point, South Point is the place for big stuff. Strong currents wrap around the island making it a magnet for schooling grey reef sharks. Rays are a common sight here as well, from eagle rays and devil rays to their larger cousin the mantas. Thousands of reef fish add color to every dive, from moorish idols and red-tooth triggerfish to yellowback fusiliers and all variety of sweetlips. This dive is often done deep, but the shallows should not be underestimated. Leaf scorpion fish can be found on nearly every dive—making macro lovers happy—as can porcelain crabs, anemone shrimp, bubble coral shrimp, and more. Turtles are a guarantee. If you are lucky, you can spot the largest shark species, the Whale Shark gliding by in the current off South Point during it’s migration.
Drop-Off / Turtle Cave:
There’s a reason why the place is called the Drop Off. Imagine just kneeling down in shallow water and looking straight down into the abyss 600 meters away at the edge. Really scary and exciting at the same time! During your dives at the Drop Off, you might see (or maybe bump into, if you don’t see where you are going) a couple of Manta Rays playing nearby.
When accommodation was still available on the island, this dive was frequently voted as the best shore dive in the world. Literally 5 meters from the beach the wall on this side of the island drops over 600 meters straight down. The most well-known feature of this dive site is Turtle Cave, a giant cavern in 20 meters of water that goes all the way through the island. Early divers in the cave found turtle skeletons resting in the silty bottom, unfortunate souls who entered the cave, became lost, and drowned before being able to make their way out again. You must have proper training to fully enter this cave, but even swimming just a few meters into the cave can be a thrilling experience, as you look back and see a blue panorama framed by the cave walls. George can often be seen here—a resident barracuda over two meters long who makes the cave his home. When you’re lucky, you’ll be accompanied inside the cave by a few passing white-tip reef sharks. But Turtle Cave isn’t the only highlight of this dive: a resident school of bigeye trevally—numbering in the thousands—hang out just 100 meters from the mouth of the cave, greeting divers as they ascend from and offering a beautiful end to one of the defining dives of Sipadan
West Ridge, Hanging Gardens, Lobster Lair, Staghorn Crest:
The west side of Sipadan is the deepest part of the island, plunging 2,000 meters straight down. Needless to say, all of these dives sites are wall dives and steep ones at that. The only time you’ll ever see the bottom on these sites is when the visibility reaches 40 meters and you can see schooling grey reef sharks and encounter a living wall of hundreds of Hammerhead Sharks rising like ghosts from the deep, glowing in the open blue water at the Hanging Gardens. hammerheads resting on plateaus more than 60 meters deep. Drift diving is the name of the game here, following the currents as they typically head towards South Point. These sites are best done in the afternoon, when the western sun illuminates the myriad colors on the wall and silhouettes the turtles passing by overhead. While sharks are not as numerous here as other sites (though you’ll certainly see some), you’ll be overwhelmed by the beauty and sheer sense of scale when diving here. On days with good visibility, a highlight is swimming a good distance off-the-wall and into the blue for a chance encounter with large pelagics, as well as the spectacle of turning around and taking in the wall in it’s enormity.
Coral Gardens, White-Tip Avenue, Mid-Reef, Turtle Patch:
The east side of the island is often overshadowed by the famous points of Sipadan but continually offers some of the best diving to be had. On good days, you can combine all of these dive sites into one, starting at Turtle Patch and hurtling towards Barracuda Point in the currents, watching as marine life sweeps past as if in a movie. These are excellent morning dives, both because these dive sites can be taken deep and because the sun illuminates this part of the island when other parts are still in shadow. Devil rays and mantas are frequently seen on this side of the island, as are pickhandle barracuda, giant trevally, and giant tuna making their way back to Barracuda Point after a successful hunting mission. In the course of your dive vacation, you will also likely come across a glinting and shimmering rolling ball of hundreds of jacks, a herd of very large giant bumphead parrotfish grazing on the reef top, scores of white tip reef sharks, and at least a dozen or so turtles of two different species: the Hawksbill Turtle and the Green Turtle.
How to Dive Sipadan:
For environmental reasons this tiny island has now closed its resorts. This means the best way to dive here is by staying in on one of the resorts on the nearby islands of Mabul or Kapalai.The resorts also boast some excellent mmacro-diving which is a great complement to the breathtaking big fish action of Sipadan Island.
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.
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: Diving from Mabul and Kapalai resorts
Recommended length of stay: 5 – 14 days, including the nearby islands
The island is about 45 minutes from Semporna town by speedboat in calm seas. Other nearby islands include Mabul Island and Kapalai Island. All within just a short hop by speed boat ride from each other.
As Pulau Sipadan is a protected area and a site of outstanding natural beauty, we urge you to behave responsibly when you visit, and make sure to control your buoyancy when diving. There is a National Park levy of US$ 11 per person per day entrance fee. Since last year, Sipadan has been turned into a sanctuary so accommodation is now only available on nearby islands like Mabul
Mabul – Sweet Little Sister
Mabul Island has historically played a supporting role its famous neighbour in Sabah, Sipadan Island. Since Mabul is considerably larger, and Pulau Sipadan is now protected from overnight stays, its profile has greatly increased and resort owners have been able to construct a much higher standard of accommodation, albeit within the constraints of a remote getaway.
The island is covered in palm trees and fringed with fine beaches. Villagers live next door to the resorts and guests are free to stroll around the island, mingling with the locals. From Mabul Island, guests are taken the 25 to 30 minutes to Sipadan every day for diving. In addition they can dive the macro-world of Mabul, normally once a day.
Try to be part of an early-morning dive to Sipadan at the famous Barracuda Point. In the early hours of the morning, you are most likely to swim amongst big schools of swirling barracuda…
How to get there
The jump off point to Sipadan Island is Kota Kinabalu or Tawau.
Continue the journey by a 1-hour drive to Semporna town.
A 30-minute speedboat will take you to Mabul, which is the jump off point for Sipadan Island explorations.
How to Get ThereFlights – Boat Transfer
The recommended flight from Kota Kinabalu to Tawau leaves at 7:00 hrs and arrives at 7:45 hrs, with Malaysia Airlines (www.MalaysiaAirlines.com). This is the flight most resorts favour and guests will be collected here and driven for around one hour to Semporna, where the resort boat will transfer you the 45 minutes to Mabul Island. Your diving will start in the afternoon.
Later flights are available but can cause problems with transfers and will almost certainly mean no diving on the first day. Air Asia (www.AirAsia.com) is free-seating and Malaysia Airlines is not. Both have emergency exit seats with acres of leg-room. For Air Asia you need to be at the front of the queue to secure one of these.
There are direct flights from Kuala Lumpur to Tawau (07:20-10:05) and from Johor Bahru to Tawau (07:50-10:35) with Air Asia – there may be transfers available to meet these flights but you are still not guaranteed diving on the first day. Malaysia Airlines has a later flight (13:15-14:00), but this will probably mean an overnight in Semporna and pick up from your hotel at 08:00 hrs. Semporna has a couple of hotels such as the Dragon Inn and the Seafest Hotel.
Due to the dangers of flying after diving, some Mabul resorts may require you to sign a waiver. This is because some guests want to squeeze in as many dives as possible regardless of the risks. Guests who will be flying within 24 hours after departure from the resorts may be subject to diving restrictions on the last day.
Flights back from Tawau are Malaysia Airlines to Kota Kinabalu (14:40-15:25 hrs or 21:00-21:45 hrs). If you do not wish to stay overnight in Kota Kinabalu, you can fliy direct to Kuala Lumpur with Air Asia (10:30-13:15 hrs or 21:00-21:45 hrs) or back to Johor Bahru (11:10-13:45 hrs).
Note – flight times are subject to change. Please refer to the airline web sites to check for changes and for booking information.
Who to contact
For more information, please contact Sabah Tourism Office Tel: +6088-248 698 / 211 732
BILLABONG SCUBA :: CHEAP DIVING SIPADAN AND MABUL :: HOMESTAY IN MABUL
All roads leads to Mabul! Billabong Scuba has a booking office located on the mainland in Semporna, Sabah. Just outside our booking office is the pier, where we will pick you up with the boat and take you out to Mabul Island (around 45 minutes).
Billabong Scuba – OUR PRICES
Transport to Mabul: We will pick you up in Semporna on the mainland, and take you to our homestay on Mabul for free; you just have to contact us with a date and time.
Accommodation in comfortable double bedded rooms with fan, all meals, snacks, water, coffee, tea: RM70 per. person. per. day.
Accommodation in comfortable double bedded rooms with fan, all meals, snacks, water, coffee, tea: 1st night – RM170 per person per night. Additional nights – RM70 per night.
Sipadan Snorkeling- (including snorkeling equipment, breakfast or lunch, park fees and transport) RM140 per person.
Mabul Snorkeling- Free!!
:: DIVE PACKAGES
2 Dives Sipadan + 1 dive Mabul : RM280
3 Dives Mabul/Kapalai : RM250
Turtle Tomb cave/cavern dive: RM150
Additional dives/nightdives: RM60
Sipadan National Park Fee: RM40 per day
:: EQUIPMENT RENTAL
Full dive equipment per day: RM60
Underwater digital camera per day: RM100
Divetorch per day: RM25
Mask and snorkel per day: RM10
Fins and booties per day: RM15
Dive computer per day: RM60
:: PADI DIVE COURSES
Discover Scuba Diving Mabul(1 dive) : RM150 – additional dives RM60
Discover Scuba Diving Sipadan(1 dive) : RM200 – additional dives RM80
Open Water Diver – 4 dives (3D/2N) : RM980
Advanced Open Water Diver – 6 dives (3D/2N) : RM950
EFR/First Aid (1 day): RM250
Rescue Diver (4D/3N) : RM1000
DIVEMASTER : RM2,600, excl materials
(Internship 3 weeks)
All course prices are including PADI materials / accommodation / meals