Malaysia has just over 4600 kilometers of coastline and borders the South China Sea, the Sulu Sea, the Sulawesi Sea, and the Straits of Malacca. But the main attraction for divers lies in Borneo.
The Sipadan Islands, a marine paradise that is renowned among divers for its rich underwater biodiversity, pristine reefs, and sudden drop-offs into the deep blue. Regularly ranked as one of the top scuba diving destinations in the world, this island can be found in the beautiful Celebes Sea just off of Borneo, Malaysia.
Scuba Diving Sipadan Islands, Borneo Malaysia
The wonders of the scuba diving sites on the islands of Sipadan can be easily accessed from the town of Semporna. Situated just 35 kilometers north of the island or an hour’s boat ride away.
Although Malaysia itself is home to some world-class diving sites, visiting Sipadan island might just take the lead. It’ll leave you wanting to grab your scuba dive bag, ready for that next scuba trip.
The 5 Best Dive Sites in Sipadan
The islands have a total of twelve dive sites, each offering distinctive features and attractions. With a total of 16,846 hectares of coral reefs, the sea surrounding the small island is now an official park area.
This makes the Malaysian Borneo one of the best places to go for your scuba fix so grab your scuba diving gear. Here are 5 diving destinations in the Sipadan islands which you just can’t afford to miss out on.
1. Barracuda Point
Barracuda Point is outstanding and known for its great barracuda shoal (in the thousands) which are often seen in a tornado like formation.
You will start the Barracuda Point dive by descending deep along the sheer wall, looking out into the blue for pelagics. Eventually, you end up heading towards the south at a depth of around 22 meters.
The current will then bring you towards the most memorable part when you dive Sipadan, Barracuda Point. It is here where you will meet thousands of barracuda before finishing towards the shallows of the beautiful coral garden.
Scuba divers visit Sipadan because it is claimed to be one of the world’s best destinations for diving experiences. While this is a massive claim, diving here is unquestionably world-class and Barracuda Point is always first on a divers list.
Depth: 5-40 m
Dive Level: Advanced
Best For: Drift divers, turtles, barracuda
2. Sipadan Jetty/Drop Off
Located on the Northern point of the island, this well-known beach has a sudden 600m drop to the sea floor. You’re able to start as soon as your boat docks at the jetty.
The sheer drop at this jetty makes a spectacular wall dive and one of the best dive sites for Sipadan island diving. As you swim along the wall, you’ll be able to appreciate all the different kinds of hard and soft corals that call this wall home. All while shoals of barracuda, mackerel, and large batfish pass by in the open ocean.
Spend your time diving and enjoy the wall’s overhangs but make sure you also keep an eye open for amazing white tip reef sharks and if you’re lucky the occasional leopard shark!
Dive Level: Beginner
Best For: Underwater photographers, wall dive, whitetip sharks, grey reef sharks
3. Turtle Tomb
Perhaps the most talked-about diving experience and the eeriest of the dive spots on Borneo island is Turtle Tomb. This site is about 20m down and just a short swim to the right of Sipadan Drop Off
Also known as Turtle Cave, this is an extensive cave system described by the locals as the place where turtles come to die. Although this seems pretty accurate as indeed turtle skeletons can be found within the cave.
Fortunately, there are plenty of live turtles still swimming about. So much so, that many lucky divers actually lose count of the number of green turtles they see during the dive.
At the moment, there are only a handful of Sipadan diving resorts with full-time technical divers available to bring divers to the Turtle Cavern. Check with Sipadan dive resorts for further information.
Dive Level: Advanced
Best For: Cave scuba diving, turtles
4. South Point
Just a short 15-minute boat ride away from the Sipadan Jetty you will find the South Point dive site, which is located just slightly southeast of the island.
This site consists of a wall, a ledge at about 20m deep, and then a sudden drop. The drop is an ideal place for you to search for rare sharks such as the beautiful hammerheads and thresher sharks, normally swimming around 40m deep.
Many reef sharks are often found in the shallower waters here along with bannerfish, moray eels, and a variety of bright-colored hard corals. Strong currents are regular on this dive site, so divers beware!
Dive Level: Intermediate
Best For: Shark dives
5. Mid Reef
Last, but not least on our list of the best dive sites Sipadan island is perhaps one of the most colorful of the diving sites. Located on the eastern coast, Mid Reef Boasts a wide array of colorful coral gardens rather than pelagic creatures.
It’s only a short 10-minute journey by boat from the jetty and offers depths of 15-20m. Colorful sea fans, Moorish idols, and anemone species of fish dominate the waters in this area. Be sure to keep your eye out for gliding green turtles as well.
Besides the many coral species, you will find large schools of fish. It is one of the richest marine habitats in the region, attracting species with its strong currents.
Dive Level: Intermediate
Best For: Beginners and intermediate, variety in marine life
Sipadan Diving Conditions
The Sipidan dive visibility ranges from 10 to 30 meters and up to 50 meters during the high season. Although this obviously decreases on rainy stormy days.
Like many scuba sites on the surrounding islands. A lot of the dive spots by Sipadan islands consist of drift or current diving. This is due to the currents around Barracuda Point being some of the strongest.
Here dive operators will usually keep you at around 20 meters – 25 meters during wall dives. However, there are deeper dives available for the more technical divers (this depends on the availability of dive operators and divemasters).
Sipadan Island Entry Permit Requirement
If you are planning on diving Sipadan, Sabah Parks, a government agency requires a permit issued. It’s important to know that there are a limited number of 120 permits available each day. This move by the Malaysian Government is to help minimize the stress on the reefs and marine life around nearby islands.
Usually, the permit application will be made on your behalf by the dive resort you choose to stay at. Although we recommend that you check out the resort’s information on turn-around times. Along with the recommended length of stay for diving at Sipadan Island before your visit.
It’s good to know that if a resort has unallocated permits for a given day, they will be returned to Sabah Parks. Allowing for them to be redistributed to other resorts and dive schools that require additional permits. Therefore, if the resort where you are staying has run out of permit allocations for the day, it’s a good idea to ask another dive school. Bear in mind that if they do have any available additional costs may apply.
You will not need a permit to visit the other islands in the area, too.
NOTE: With effect from 10th February 2013, it was announced by the Malaysian Government that the following rules apply when on Sipadan Islands diving;
Due to different instances of novice divers descending too quickly and/or too deeply and also with relation to the strong currents which are often experienced when diving in some dive sites, only entry-level divers and Advanced Open Water Divers with at least a minimum of 20 log dives will be allowed to dive in Sipadan.
When is the Best Time to Dive the Sipadan Islands?
The island is accessible during all months of the year. Diving is the biggest attraction with Sipadan dives offering good visibility throughout the year. Although we do recommend a visit during the dry season which occurs between March and October.
This dive trip is also good if you prefer warm water as temperatures throughout the year range between 26°C to 34°C (78°F to 93°F). May and August are the best months to encounter the green and hawksbill turtles that lay their eggs on the beaches.
Where is the Best Place to Stay in Sipadan Islands?
Nowadays, to be able to go diving at Sipadan you are advised to stay on neighboring islands. Stay in Mabul, Kapalai or in Semporna, where the boat ride is only an hour long.
Although macro life does exist here, many dive visitors to the islands come to see the larger critters. The dive sites around Kapalai and Mabul are better known for macro marine life and thus perfect for macro photographers.
People Also Ask (FAQs)
Interested in going scuba diving at Sipadan Island? There is plenty of choice in diving schools or a luxury dive resort near the small island. Here are a few more Sipadan facts to help you plan your dive trip.
How much does it cost to dive in Sipadan?
To dive Sipadan, take into account a cost of approximately MYR3,000 including your dive permit, stay at a dive resort for 4 nights, and the cost of the dive operator. Trying backpacker budget accommodation options can help to reduce the cost.
Who owns Sipadan Island?
Although Sipadan Island is now part of Malaysia, this has been a long disputed area. Both Malaysia and the neighboring country of Indonesia have wanted to lay claim to the island.
Can you stay on Sipadan Island?
Today, Sipadan island no longer has any accommodation – a decision made to preserve the island’s nature. Scuba divers often make day trips from Mabul, Semporna, or Kapalai to observe its unique marine life.
Sipadan Island, as the only Malaysian island that is in the middle of the sea, has a lot to offer to scuba divers. Its protected status has allowed marine life to flourish making scuba diving here even more rewarding.