Some of the best diving in the world

Sipadan Island, above the surface, is modest - it's below the surface where it's outrageous

Sipadan Island is about 20km from the south-east coast of Sabah in Borneo.

Sipadan in the distance, seen from accommodation at Kapalai

Famous among the diving community, it is described as one of the best dive destinations in the world.

At only 20 hectares in size it is Malaysia’s only oceanic island.

Visitors to the region are no longer permitted to stay overnight on the Island of Sipadan.

Resorts were made to leave before January 2005, however Sipadan is easily reached via a 15 – 20 minute boat ride from Kapala or Mabul Island, where a number of resorts are located.

An important consideration when planning a trip and to get the best out of this area, you’ll want to be as close to the best dive spots as possible.

It’s not out of the ordinary to do 4 and 5 dives a day in the area, but you can’t do this if you have to spend half your day on a boat getting to and from the sites from Semporna.

Boats at Sipadan Island

As a result we recommend either Sipadan – Kapalai Resort or SMART (Sipadan Mabul Resort)

Sipadan Dive Permits

Day permits are now required by divers to dive at Sipadan.

Numbers are restricted to a total of 120 per day, which includes all resorts.

Divers must stay for a minimum of 3 nights at neighboring resort to have a chance of obtaining a permit.

Permits are issued on a first come-first served basis so pre-booking is highly recommend.

Scuba Diving Sipadan – The Dive Sites

Turtle Tomb Cave at Sipadan - Exciting exploration opportunities

It would be impossible to count the thousands of collective dives the Downbelow team have made at Sipadan over the years, but it has resulted in some amazing photography and knowledge.

Below we briefly describe the notable dive sites.

The Wall

The wall was voted Best Shore Dive in the World by Roldales Scuba Diving Magazine

It’s a shear 600m drop to the ocean floor and starts just a few metres from Sipadan’s sandy beach.

White tip reef sharks lay in small caverns and on ledges below with turtles lazily pass by.

Schools of jacks, myriads of tropical reef fish, bumphead parrot fish and, if dived in the early morning, one may see a single or small groups of hammerhead shark.

One of many turtles at Sipadan

Generally the current is light here and the site is suited to all divers.

The Turtle Tomb Cave

The entrace to the Turtle Tomb Cave is slightly east of the jetty.

At 18m it consists of a labyrinth of tunnels and chambers made famous in the 80′s by Jacques Cousteau.

The limestone cave is the final resting place of numerous turtles who ventured inside, became disorientated and drowned.

From inside the cave the entrance is marked by a blue hazy glow, making it appear mysterious and enchanting.

The cave is an advanced dive and a guide is mandatory.

Barracuda Point at Sipadan is good for schooling barracuda

Barracuda Point

A fantastic corner dive and arguably the best on offer at Sipadan.

Good corals in the shallows slopes to sand and then onto the wall.

One can hope to see schooling fish including barracuda and jacks and tuna.

Grey reef shark, white tip shark and turtles mix with plenty of the other usual reef suspects.

Currents are temperamental and the less experienced diver should stay with their guide.

Coral Garden

Various healthy corals occupy this sloping reef with many smaller reef fish, turtles and white tip reef sharks in the neighborhoud.

Take time here to look for the macro life on offer, such as a variety of nudibranchs.

Plenty of Reef Shark Action when Diving Sipadan Island

Mid Reef

Mid Reef is made up of the large centre section of the east facing wall of the island.

Diver on a patch of coral reef in Sipadan

Many turtles, sea fans and barrel sponges can be found on deeper parts of the reef, and frequent checks towards the the blue can reveal many surprises; a resident school of hammerheads, perhaps?

Suitable for any level of diver, and if the current is strong stay close to the reef and enjoy the ride!

Turtle Patch

With a particularly stunning top reef of healthy soft and table corals, anemone’s and countless colourful reef fish this site is a wild and natural aquarium.

Turtles, bumbhead parrot fish, white tip reef sharks and a very large school of jacks are resident and often seen here.

Another site from where to keep and eye on the blue, as anything can pass by. Sightings of mobular ray, and hammerheads are intermittently reported.

Leopard Shark frequently spotted at South Point, Sipadan

South Point

Located at the southern most point of the island, the sloping ledge of the islands reef is a textbook coral ecosystem.

Suffice to say, schools of jacks, rainbow runners, turtles, white tip reef sharks, leopard sharks, the occasional thresher shark can be seen perusing the area.

Strong currents are possible, but its generally a novice dive for those staying close to the reef.

Staghorn Crest

An area of rubble and coral heads, Staghorn Crest is home to white tip reef sharks, moray eels, turtles, napoleon wrasse, with the odd mobular ray that passes by.

The crest can be choppy on the surface and some shallow corals have been damaged by strong surge.

Bumphead Parrot Fish frequently spotted at Sipadan

A suitable site for all divers providing the weather is kind.

Hanging Garden and West Ridge

As the name suggests this site is on the western side of the island with lots of overhangs, sea fans and barrel sponges.

Turtles, white tips, leopard sharks, pygmy devil rays and eagle rays are frequently spotted here

North Point

A good early morning site for observing schools of bumphead parrot fish.

On the northern point and west of the drop off, this wall has many overhangs and inlets sheltering large schools of fish, whilst solitary giant barracuda can be seen on the top reef and close to the drop off.

This site is suitable for all level of divers.

Ron Holland (centre) with his daughter and Richard Swann MD of DownbelowRon Holland (centre) with his daughter and Richard Swann MD of Downbelow

Need a Refresher?

Not been in the water for a while and need a Scuba Review prior to scuba diving at Sipadan?

Then visit us on Gaya Island before your trip and enjoy further discounts at Sipadan -Kapalai Dive Resorts.

Make the most of your Sipadan diving and take advantage of our TWO Centre Diving Destination Offers!!

Back in the day…

Sipadan Island has a fascinating history, first discovered and introduced to the world of scuba diving by British national, Ron Holland, in the early 1980’s.

Ron went on to welcome legendary underwater explorer Jacques Cousteau and led their film crew through Sipadans underwater labyrinth of caves which resulted in the documentary “Tomb of the Sea Turtles”.

To this day Ron lives in Sabah and now, with his wife and daughter, have brought back to life the Kadazan Culture through their living museum, The Monsopiad Cultural Village.

Turtles are like flies at Sipadan - everywhere!

Sipadan is Sabah’s top dive spot, but also consider diving Kapalai >>>