Sipadan Island

Pulau Sipadan

Sipadan Island in Sabah is one of the top ten diving spots in the world, and is located in the Celebes Sea off the east coast of Sabah (which is on the island of Borneo).

As I have been fortunate enough to visit this spectacular diving site  numerous times, I will vouch for this place as a must-dive for any scuba diver.

Sabah's Sipadan Island

My first trip to Sipadan Island was at the end of October 2011, and it was a surreal experience. Ever since then, I have come back multiple times to dive here.

I cannot stress how beautiful the island and waters are, as to fully experience this, you have to visit or dive here yourself.

If you have been planning to visit Sipadan Island to dive; I hope that the information provide here will help strengthen your desires.

Below is information, which I have obtained from my many dive trips here over the years. 

Sipadan Island in Sabah
Pulau Sipadan Island

How to go to Sipadan Island? 

First, you need to get into the town of Tawau in east Sabah. You can fly into Tawau from Kuala Lumpur or Kota Kinabalu, but that is as far as you can fly.

If you are in Kota Kinabalu or Sandakan, you can also take a bus to Tawau or Semporna. But you must know the journey there is purely for the adventurer and can take over 6-10 hours.

From the Tawau Airport, you will need to take a van taxi towards the coastal town of Semporna, which takes about 90 minutes to drive one way.

Semporna is a tiny coastal town and is the main gateway to Mabul, Mataking, Kapalai, Pom Pom, Bohey Dulang and Sipadan Islands.

At Semporna, there are many budget hotels and dive centres located here. If you have made arrangements with a local dive operator, they will bring you to the respective dive office here.

Next is your journey to the islands. There are no airports or roads on Mabul Island; therefore, a 30-40 minute boat ride is the only way to get there, depending on the tide.

If you are just planning to dive Sipadan only, you will most likely stay in Semporna town at one of the hotels or guest houses.

Most divers will choose to stay at Mabul Island, Mataking Island, Kapalai Island or Seaventures Dive Rig to maximize their scuba diving here.

Sipadan Island Park
A notice declaring Sipadan as a Protected Island Park
Sipadan Island Dive Permits

Since 2005, the island has been protected by Sabah Parks and a year before that, no lodging or businesses were allowed.

This means that a scuba diving permit is required to dive at Sipadan Island, and there is a daily allocation of 120 permits were issued to visit the island. (Since 2018 or 2019, the number was increased to 170)

These permits can only be obtained by several hotels and resorts on Mabul Island or some of the Dive Shops in Semporna.

Usually, when you book a Sipadan dive trip, the special permit is included in your package, hence diving at Sipadan does not come cheap. But it is a once in a lifetime experience.

Personally, I think this is the best move done by Sabah Parks as this way, it controls the overall ecological system of the island, thus making this place non-commercialized like other islands.

For those who stay at Mabul Island and suddenly want to dive at Sipadan, you need to speak to your lodge operator, and they may be able to get a permit, but it will cost you anywhere from RM700 to RM1000 for three dives. 

Sipadan Island Jetty

Arriving at Sipadan Island

When you get into the island, which is usually in the mornings, about 7.00 to 8.00 AM, the first place you will visit is the main Sipadan jetty.

At the jetty, every guest, divemaster or guide must register at the park office here. Your name and basic details are noted down in a logbook before you head out back to the boat to do your diving or snorkelling.

This is mandatory as Sabah Parks controls who comes into the island. If you see military personal there, fear not, as there is a small military camp on the island. 

Jetty at Sipadan Island
The welcome arch at Sipadan's jetty
Once you have finished your first dive, you will be brought back to the island where you will do your surface interval and have breakfast before going for your next dive.

On the island, there are basic facilities for you to use which include a simple wooden building structure for you to have your meals and rest.

A toilet is available here, which is about 10 meters away. The normal time spent here is about one hour before heading back on your dive boat.

History of Sipadan Island
History of Sipadan Island on one of the notice boards
If you walk around the rest area at the island, there are numerous signs and information about the island in English, which are very informative.

One of them is the history of Sipadan Island while others are about park rules, geological structure, dive sites and a map of the island and reef.

You can also walk to the main beach area but note that you cannot go into the military camp area.

Dive rest area in Sipadan
The main surface interval and lunch area on the island
Dive Sites at Sipadan Island
Sipadan Island Dive Sites
Sipadan Dive Sites

There are 13 main dive sites found around Sipadan, and most of them offer an amazing variety of experiences. Well, out of the 13, there are only a few top-rated dive sites.

Among the best-known dive sites is Barracuda Point, which is rated among the top five dive sites worldwide.

Another beautiful spot here is the Hanging Gardens, which is guaranteed to take your breath away once you dive here.

Personally, I have dived at Barracuda Point, Coral Garden, Hanging Gardens, White Tip Reef, South Point, Turtle Cave and Drop Off, and each of these dive sites have their own specialities.

So if you are up for looking at sharks swimming next to you, please let your dive operator know, so they can provide the right dive spot for you. If not, they will just take you to the most popular spots.

I would like to revisit the Hanging Gardens, West Ridge, and North Point dive sites on my next dive here.

Photos of Sipadan Island

Beach at Sipadan
Entrance to the military camp on the island
Sipadan Geological Structure
The geological structure of Sipadan Island explained
Sipadan Rules and Guide
Island guidelines issued from Sabah Parks
Picture of Sipadan Island
The beautiful beach at Sipadan Island, Sabah
From the main jetty, you can see how pristine and beautiful the waters and beach of the island is. There is absolutely no rubbish or debris seen here.

The waters are crystal clear and in many shades of blue to turquoise. You can consider this as one of the most beautiful islands in Malaysia.

Drop Off Point Sipadan
Sipadan Drop Off Point, can you see where the reef ends?

What Is Sipadan Island?

Sipadan island is actually volcanic; therefore, the drop is about 600 meters (2000 feet) from the reef.

The island was formed by living corals growing on top of an extinct volcanic cone that took thousands of years to develop.

More than 3,000 species of fish are recorded, and hundreds of coral species have been classified in this ecosystem.

It is not advisable for beginners or children to snorkel or swim around here. However, the coral life seen is simply amazing and unlike any other I have seen in my life.

The pure density of marine life just puts me in awe when I get into the waters here, and this island never ceases to impress me every time I visit. 

Beach at Sipadan Island
A scuba diver takes a break on the beach during her surface interval
Photo of Sipadan Island Beach
My boat captain entertains me
If you are interested in visiting Sipadan Island for diving or snorkelling, several resorts organize trips here.

You can get here by staying at Semporna, Mabul Island, Seaventures Dive Rig Resort, Pom Pom Island, or Mataking Island.

In Kota Kinabalu, multiple travel companies provide travel packages to Sipadan Island and many other islands around Sabah. 

Sipadan Island Sunrise Photo
A beautiful sunrise as I head to Sipadan Island
For scuba divers, if you have not been here, let me just say that this is one of the dive sites in the world worth seeing and diving at.

I have been here a few times now and always plan to go back again and again. Well, there are many other well-known dive sites around the world, but as Jacques Cousteau once famously said;
"I have seen other places like Sipadan, 45 years ago, but now no more. Now we have found an untouched piece of art".

Finally, I can tell you after diving the many islands around Malaysia, there is something so extraordinary and attractive about Sipadan Island.

This is truly one of the most beautiful scuba diving experiences I have ever had, and I hope that you will one day experience this too.

Malaysia Asia

Blogging since 2007, but writing online since 1997. I belong to the 1st generation of worldwide bloggers, which is of course old-school. Since 2008, I created Malaysia Asia and this travel, flood, gadget and lifestyle blog has won numerous physical awards from tourism boards around Malaysia. (Not those online awards). After 12 years of blogging, I have semi-retired and now blog about things I like, do product reviews and enjoy life. My work has been featured in Lonely Planet, CNN Travel, Yahoo Travel, Wall Street Journal, and many other international publications. Find out more about me and thank you.


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