Sipadan, Malaysia

Sipadan, Malaysia

Situated off the east coast of Sabah, Sipadan Island is hailed as one of Malaysia’s jewels. The island is the perfect diving spot due to its pristine landscape, diverse marine life, and crystal clear waters. Divers will encounter living corals, intricate underwater caves, and breathtaking schools of barracuda swimming in tornado-like formations. These, and other attractions, help explain why Sipadan is frequently ranked among the best dive spots in the world.

Geography of Sipadan, Malaysia

The southern part of Semporna in southeastern Borneo is home to Sipadan Island. Situated in the Celebes Sea, Malaysia’s sole oceanic island offers great scuba diving destinations. It’s also rich in marine life, as it lies within the Indo-Pacific basin. Sipadan has three surrounding islands: Pulau Mabul, Kapalai, and Mataking.

Northern Sipadan

The northern tip of the island is home to Sipadan Jetty, which is right next to a steep 600-meter drop that ends on the seafloor. This portion of Sipadan boasts an array of remarkable marine life and coral systems.

Sipadan Jetty

The Jetty’s 600-meter wall is filled with both hard and soft corals, and is home to barracudas, mackerels, and batfishes. You can also see white tip reef sharks and leopard sharks—if you’re lucky enough to spot some.

Turtle Cavern

Turtle Cavern (or Turtle Tomb) is considered to be the scariest diving destination in Sipadan. This is because the caves within this dive spot have seen numerous turtle deaths, resulting in skeletons all over the area. But you can still spot live turtles outside these caves.

Southeast Sipadan

Roughly 15 minutes away by boat from Sipadan Jetty, south-point is home to lush dive walls, swirling schools of barracuda, and other remarkable marine life.

Barracuda Point

If you’re an experienced diver, you’ll love exploring Barracuda Point. This dive site is a well-known attraction among tourists and divers. It offers an unpredictable current, which is why it’s an excellent spot for advanced divers. Barracuda Point also houses large schools of barracuda, hence its name. Other intriguing species of fish that can be found in this destination include black-tip reef sharks, bump-head parrotfish, eagle rays, and triggerfish.

South Point

Located on the island’s southeastern part, you can travel to South Point via a 15-minute boat ride. You’ll find hammerheads, thresher sharks, and other rare sharks when you’re about 40 feet deep from the site’s drop. You can even spot white-tip reef sharks, bannerfish, moray eels, and corals within deeper waters. Just don’t forget to look out for powerful currents while you’re diving off South Point.

Coral Gardens

Situated near Barracuda Point, the Coral Gardens are full of different corals and sea creatures. Swim through this diving spot and you’ll see soft and hard corals, as well as coral denizens. White-tip sharks, unicornfish, schools of triggerfishes, and other fish species roam around the Coral Gardens, too. It even has rare inhabitants such as spider crabs, mantis prawns, and blue ribbon eels.

Hanging Gardens

The Hanging Gardens feature a vibrant reef wall with soft corals, sea fans, and barrel sponges. Other corals live here as well, including black-colored ones and Tubastrea corals. This diving spot has an 18-meter depth, but you should stay near the wall as the waters deliver powerful currents. You may also need to follow the current flow if your divemaster tells you to do so.

East Sipadan

If you have time, consider traveling to the eastern side of Sipadan. It’s just 10 minutes by boat from the main jetty. Divers who make the journey will be rewarded with lush Gorgonian sea fans and other marine attractions.


This diving site in Sipadan’s eastern portion has more corals than sea creatures, making it one of the most vibrant spots on the island. The waters here are 15-20 meters deep, so you won’t have a hard time exploring it. Some attractive sights within the Mid-Reef include sea fans, Moorish idols, sea anemones, and even green turtles.

Marine Life

With over 3,000 species of fish and hundreds of species of coral, Sipadan’s marine diversity is definitely a sight to behold. Let’s take a look at some of the sea creatures and macro life that can be found on the island:
  • Green and hawksbill turtles - Many of these turtles roam around the island’s diving sites. You’ll find green turtles in seagrass meadows during high tide, while hawksbill turtles swim near the Turtle Tomb. These turtles regard Sipadan as their prime mating and nesting place.
  • Bumphead or humphead parrotfish - This species of parrotfish have large teeth and bulging foreheads. You can spot schools of bumphead parrotfish around the various Sipadan island diving spots.
  • Barracudas - These fishes turn into a spinning wall similar to a tornado when they come together. This formation is a must-see when you dive at Barracuda Point.
  • Sharks - A variety of shark species swim around certain dive sites in Sipadan. If you want to see white and black-tip reef sharks, it’s a good idea to dive at Sipadan Jetty, Barracuda Point, or South Point. Other dive spots will let you check out leopard, hammerhead, and whale sharks.
  • Garden eels - Since the island is located in the Indo-Pacific basin, you’ll surely spot these eels at various dive sites. Sea burrows are common homes for garden eels.
  • Mantis shrimps - These sea creatures have vibrant bodies with spots on their forearms. They usually reside in coral crevices and sea rocks.

Other Attractions

  • Bird-watching - Many exotic and tropical birds abound in Sipadan, making it popular among bird-watchers. Sunbirds, starlings, sea eagles, and kingfishers are just some of the fascinating bird species you’ll see on the island.
  • White-sand beaches - Apart from its diving sites, you can explore the island’s white-sand beaches as well. Bask in nature and relax with the ocean view in front of you. You can even stay on the shore and just look at Sipadan’s marine life and its crystal clear waters.
  • Sipadan Liveaboard - A unique island experience awaits you at Sipadan Liveaboard. Hop on the tour’s yacht and travel around the island while you enjoy a hotel-like stay aboard.
  • Bum-Bum & Sibuan Islands - Other islands near Sipadan offer great sights and secret charms. The people living in the Bum-Bum and Sibuan Islands have made the sea their home. A day with them will help you understand their culture and daily life, as well as deepen your love for the ocean.
  • Bohey Dulang - This island gives you a short yet tough hike with a scenic view. But it has a slippery terrain, so you should have the right footwear for this location.

How to Get There

If you’re making your way to Sipadan for your next diving adventure, here’s how you can get there:

By Air
Tourists who want to explore Sipadan and other dive spots in the Sabah region usually arrive at Kota Kinabalu first before heading out to these islands. Direct flights from several Asian countries and Australia land at Kota Kinabalu airport. You can fly out to Tawau from this area or from Kuala Lumpur through AirAsia or Malaysia Airlines.

By Sea
If you want to go straight to Sipadan, you can ride a speed boat from the Semporna harbor. A taxi, a shared van, or a bus will take you to the harbor. But do keep in mind that reaching the island by boat is an hour-long trip. However, divers with accommodations on Mabul or Kapalai can enjoy a 25 or 15-minute boat ride to Sipadan.

Best Time to Visit

Divers can visit the island at any time of the year, but the sea typically offers excellent conditions between April to December. Meanwhile, you’ll get up to 50 meters of diving visibility if your visit falls within the March to October period. The dry season also takes place during the March to October period, with a 26°C to 34°C temperature range.

Required Trainings & Certifications

Diving in Sipadan is highly recommended for experienced divers with Open Water or Advanced Open Water certifications. But if you don’t have any of these certifications yet, it’s best to take an online course from PADI, TDI, or another scuba organization before you go. You’ll also need a permit from local officials if you’re diving on the island, and they’ll only let you do so if you’ve previously gone on 50 dives.

Miscellaneous Information

Hotels, dive resorts, and other establishments near Sipadan accept payments in Malaysian ringgit. Maybank in Semporna offers a foreign money exchange service for tourists with foreign currencies and cheques. They also have an ATM where you can withdraw up to MYR 4,500 from Visa, Mastercard, and other ATM card providers.

Natives mainly speak Bahasa Malaysia. The island has English, Filipino, and Chinese speakers as well.

Time Zone
Sipadan and other islands around Sabah follow the GMT +8 time zone. Some Asian countries also observe this time zone, including the Philippines, Singapore, and Hong Kong.

Driving Side
If you’re planning to drive around Semporna after your diving trip in Sipadan, note that driving is done on the left-hand side of the road. Cities and residential areas have a 50 km/h speed limit, while the country sets highway and expressway limits at 80 or 110 km/h. An international driving license will come in handy when you hit the road.

Calling Code
Dialing 00 before an international number will let you call anyone from the island. You can also make an overseas call to Malaysia through the country code +60.

ISO 3166 code
MY-12 is Sabah’s corresponding ISO 3166-2 code.

Internet TLD
.my is Malaysia’s Internet top-level domain (TLD).