Pulau Sipadan in Malaysia is a scuba divers dream destination. Located in the Celebes Sea off the east coast of Sabah, Sipadan Island lies in the centre of the Indo-Pacific basin and boasts of incredible wealth of marine life. It is the only oceanic island in Malaysia, rising 600m (2,000 feet) from the seabed. The island is spread over 12 hectares (30 acres) and is covered by pristine rainforest. It was formed over thousands of years by living corals growing on top of an extinct volcano. Efforts are underway to make Pulau Sipadan recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Sipadan is the place to romance the blue waters and is a popular diving destination in the world. With its crystal clear shallow waters, abundant coral reefs and marine life, Sipadan Island offers an unparalleled diving experience. Because of its clear water and dazzling coral, Sipadan is a favorite hangout for underwater photographers.
The geographic location of Sipadan accounts for its rich marine habitat. The island gets nutrient-rich currents that provide nutrition for a large marine food chain. It is gathering spot for hawksbill turtles. Divers can also see leaf scorpion fish, fire gobies, pipefish and garden eels. There are close to 3000 species of fish breathing underwater and you will encounter large numbers of barracudas, jacks, turtles, hammerhead sharks, gray reef sharks and leopard shark.
Diving sites in Sipadan
Sipadan boasts of world class diving sites, each of them with some thing unique to offer. Amongst the diving points, Barracuda Point, Hanging Gardens, South Point and Turtle Cavern beckon divers and offer the most thrilling experience.
Barracuda Point: This stunning dive site has schools of barracuda and big-eye trevally whirling in circles. You will be surrounded by these marine beauties as you dive in and you will also see black marble stingrays, surgeonfish, large tunas, manta rays and pyramid butterfly fish nestling around. Early morning is the best time to dive in here as this is the time when Barracudas spring into action. Currents can be quite strong here, so one needs to be cautious and avoid going deep into the water.
Depth: 40+ meters (131+ feet)
Visibility: 30 meters (100 feet)
Location: North East of Sipadan Island.
South Point: It has the best of coral formations and abundant hammerhead sharks and manta ray. This deep wall dive nearly drops away at a vertical angle.
Depth: 20-40 meters
Visibility: 30 meters (100 feet)
Location: The Southernmost point of Sipadan
Hanging Gardens: As the name indicates, this site is a visual treat with rich variety of soft and hard corals, (some are shaped like cauliflower plants) Dendronephyta in delicate pastel colors covering the slope. You can encounter variety of fish such as butterfly fish, angelfish, squirrelfish and boxfish. This site is excellent for underwater photography.
Depth: 10 – 40 meters
Visibility: 5 – 25 meters
Turtle Cavern: This site is very popular for turtle remains and a cavern with a labyrinth of tunnels measuring 21 meters in depth. The unfortunate turtles enter the cave but tend to lose their way out and eventually die. Hence one can find many shells and bones of the turtles lying all around. This site needs to be approached with caution as the visibility is low here. But if you are experienced diver and looking for some adventure this is the place to be.
Depth: 14-23 meters
Location: East of the Jetty.
Sipadan Island tour
Since year 2005 all resorts on Sipadan have been closed in order to protect the environment. Hence visitors should make arrangements to stay in the nearby islands of Mabul (25 minutes by boat) and Kapalai (15 minutes by boat) or on the mainland Semporna.
According to the new permit system, only a maximum of 120 divers can take to waters per day and apparently there is a huge demand for the permit. So it is better to book before you step on the island via agents or resorts. It costs RM40 per person/day. Sipadan Island is open for divers and visitors from 6am to 4pm daily and normally the permit is a part of dive packages offered by the tour operators. So do check for the permit before paying for the package. Officially the national language is Bahasa Malaysia here while English and Chinese is widely spoken.
As all the resorts are closed down, there is nothing to shop, eat or drink. Do carry food along when you visit the island.
There is virtually no monsoon on the island and hence Sipadan is open for scuba diving all year round. But April to November is the good time to go as Sipadan enjoys pleasant weather during those months.
Travel to Sipadan
Reaching the island may seem little tedious but the amazing beauty of the island is worth the effort. Board a flight to Tawau from either Kuala Lumpur (3 hours) or Kota Kinabalu (50 minutes), and then head to the port town of Semporna (1-2 hours) by minivan or taxi. From here take a fast boat (1 hour) to reach to your dream destination.
Once on the island, take a stroll along the sandy beaches and soak yourself in natural surroundings. For scuba diving, take a boat from the beach to reach to the dive site.
Snorkeling in Sipadan
If scuba diving is not your cup of tea, opt for fun filled snorkeling. With its clear and safe waters, amazing coral reefs and overflowing marine life, Sipadan Island promises the best of snorkeling experience to the visitors.
Normally resorts offer snorkeling trips as part of their vacation package and rent out snorkeling equipment like masks, snorkel and life jackets.
Trip to Sipadan Island
- An underwater digital camera to capture the beauty of the blue waters and the extensive marine life present under water.
- A dive torch and dive gear. These can be taken on hire at diving centers.
- Your diving certificate and log book.
- Light clothing, shorts, T-shirts and swimsuits.
- Documents related to travel, diving and medical insurance.
- If you are required to take any medicines, do carry them along as Tawau and Semporna are small towns.