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sipadan jetty view

Sipadan - Mabul - Kapalai

Sipadan diving rating
Best months for diving Sipadan

Diving Sipadan

Sipadan is a very small island about 1,5 hours by boat, south of Semporna. It's right in the middle of the Celebes Sea, between 2 large volcanic plates.

To the north side of Sipadan, the ocean drops to 600 meters deep, while on the south side it drops to a mind-blowing 2000+ meters deep!


These incredible depths mean, small but also, very big fish have a chance of showing up, and actually regularly do, hence why Sipadan is so famous.

Sipadan is currently ranked as the number 1 diving spot by CNN in Asia. Its unique location, beautiful clear waters, and sometimes challenging currents can bring some (literally) big surprises!


There are 2 dives with pretty much, guaranteed sightings of barracudas by the 1000s and at South Point, you will see schools of jackfish schooling by the 100s as well.


Barracuda point and South point are incredible dive sites, and the other 12 dive sites will not be visited as frequently, however, do not let yourself be discouraged by this. The other 12 dive sites are wall dives, all very similar to another with 1 exception: Drop-off/ Turtle cave.

Clownfish in coral

Mabul - Kapalai


Like I said before, Mabul is probably your best choice for accommodation. There are quite a few resorts on the island, most of them offering all-inclusive packages for diving Sipadan, 3 meals per day, and accommodation. The small villages on the island sell basic goods like coffee, candy, drinks, etc.


Diving around Mabul is also quite good. With plenty of macro life for you to enjoy, some wrecks to explore, and artificial reefs to admire!


This is not actually an island, but more a sandbank, where they built a resort on top off. The resort is quite expensive, and permits are acquired, however, not too many. If you decide to stay here, you will probably be diving around Kapalai quite a lot, which should not be your main reason for coming to this remote part of the world.


Diving is excellent though! Macro life is the keyword here and you will find an abundance of rare nudibranchs, octopuses, shrimps, and crabs. Flamboyant cuttlefishes, my personal favorite can also be found here, regularly.

Additional Information

At the time of writing

scuba diving in Sipadan can only be done by obtaining a permit. These permits are valid for 1 day and 1 person and are registered by name.


You need to book your trip in advance. For the dive centers and/ or resorts to organize these permits!


You will usually leave early in the morning 5:45 or 6:45, to travel to Sipadan Island by boat in about 30 minutes.


Once on Sipadan Island, you will register at the park office, where they will check your passport & dive certificate. Fail to bring these (every single day you visit the island) and risk being asked to leave!


We did 3 dives per day, starting as early as 7.30 AM, between dives, there will be snacks, coffee, tea, and lunch served.


Expect to do your last dive of the day between 1.30 and 2.30 PM before heading back to your resort.

The Future of scuba diving in Sipadan as of October 1st, 2022.

As of October 1st, 2022, Sipadan park has decided the following:

- Permits increased per day from 176 to 500

- Prices of permits increased by a factor of 1.5

- Only 2 dives are allowed per diver, per day.

- Advanced divers and above are required to go diving.


These decisions are obviously made from a money-making standpoint. Increasing the number of divers on the island by 3 and increasing the prices, while simultaneously reducing the number of dives allowed.

Turtle close up
Upshot reef

How to get there?

To get to Sipadan Island you will want to enter Borneo/ Sabah from either Kota Kinabalu or Tawau. You can fly to Tawau from Kuala Lumpur and Kota Kinabalu has an international airport servicing flights from most places in Asia.


If you decide to start your Borneo adventure in Kota Kinabalu, you must fly to Tawau since it's easy and cheap.


From Tawau, you can get a taxi or bus to Semporna. A taxi will cost you between 90 and 120 ringgits (20-25$) for a 90 minutes drive. Buses are cheaper but much more uncomfortable. Roads between Tawau and Semporna are well maintained, so relatively comfortable.


Once in Semporna, you might have to stay the night, because boats to different resorts might have a very early departure time.


I do not recommend staying in Semporna! This town hasn't got a lot to offer, is very poor and very, very polluted.


There are many resorts on the island of Mabul, Kapalai, and even islands further away like Mataking will service Sipadan. However, Mabul is by far(!) your best choice!

Scorpionfish looking at fish
Apo Island Scuba Diving - Best Coral Reefs & Turtles in Asia?!

Apo Island Scuba Diving - Best Coral Reefs & Turtles in Asia?!

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Tropical bottle tail squid
Sipadan Area

The sipadan diving scene, contains a few places as you aren't able to stay on the island itself.

- Mabul (main place to stay, with many resorts).


- Kapalai (1 big resort, but expensive).

- Mataking (Expensive, and far away).

- Semporna ( Far away, and very polluted)

For excellent diving see below and check out Scuba-junkies on Mabul.

Map to Mabul island


Sipadan dive sites

My Favourite Dive Sites in the Sipadan Area!

Shark from top
"Barracuda Point"

Barracuda point is known as one of the best dive sites in the world, and for good reason. The dive starts at 8 meters, dropping down to a wall and going down to 40+ meters. Within the first 100 meters, you are very likely to spot the school of barracudas. Varying from 50 to 1000s in a school. Approach slowly, or you might scare them into the blue!

Depth: 8 - 600 meters

Current: low - medium

"South Point"

South point is a very famous dive site on Sipadan. This is the place to spot hammerhead sharks. Sometimes 1, sometimes 30! You will most likely do a "blue dive" swimming away from the reef and trying to lure them to more shallow waters.

After that, you can swim back to the reef, and enjoy reef sharks, turtles, and a big school of jackfish swimming around!

Depth: 8 - 2000 meters

Current: low - medium

Between jackfish
Turtle close up
"Drop-off/ Turtle Cave"

Drop-off is a beautiful part of the Sipadan wall, and the landscape alone makes this one of my favourites! There is also a cave, at 22 meters deep you can explore, if only a little bit. More experienced divers might go deeper. There is also a large giant grouper guarding the cave!


Depth: 18 - 400 meters.

Current: low - medium

Kapalai & Mabul

Mabul & Kapalai are the 2 main islands to stay, when visiting Sipadan. Diving is done all around the islands, and while Mabul has many resorts and homestays, Kapalai is one big resort, built on a sandbank.

Kapalai Dive sites
Dive sites mabul
"Kapalai North"

Kapalai North has an amazing artificial reef, where you can easily spend a hour exploring the tiny creatures, living there. From super rare crabs and shrimps, to cuttlefish, octopus, you name it. Your camera will be out of battery after this dive for sure!

Maximum depth: 40 meters.

Current: low

Flamboyant Cuttlefish
spotted coral crab
"Kapalai South"

Kapalai South is more of a sloping reef and small wall dive. There are several dive sites surrounding Kapalai, but usually, visibility is descent and creatures, while more macro than in Sipadan, very varied and colorful!

Maximum depth: 40 meters.

Current: low

"Night Diving House Reef Mabul"

Night diving the house reefs is something you should definitely do in Mabul! The different resorts all have some simple house reefs, especially great for diving during night diving. Go explore the sandy bottoms, and find all the rare creatures, that only come out at night!

Maximum depth: 15 meters.

Current: low

Clownfish with eggs

Below some photos and impressions

If you want to share your impressions and/or photos you're more than welcome to share them!

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