When we plan a trip, we think about all the beautiful places we want to visit. Cities to wonder around, jungles where you can make amazing hikes and white sandy beaches to relax. But, once you take a dive in an ocean, you will realize there is a whole other world. One under the water. Beautiful coral and a big arsenal of animals. There is no other activity which makes you more relaxed as diving. Borneo has multiple diving areas. Sipadan is the number one! People travel the whole world, just to dive here. It is truly a dream come true to dive at Sipadan.
Pulau Sipadan is an island, which is formed over thousands of years by living coral on a volcanic pillar. The island is the center of one of the richest marine habitats in the world. There are over 3000 different species fish and hundreds different types of coral. The pillar is around 600 meters long, which causes a big drop next to the island. Magical to see.
Diving at Sipadan, Borneo
Sipadan is not only the number one dive spot of Borneo, also of the world. There are 12 dive spots around the island. It depends on your instructor and the weather where you will dive. They mostly choose; Hanging gardens, Lobster, Coral gardens or Barracuda Point. With these dives, you swim next to the pillar and in between gigantic schools of fish. Also, you will have the best view of all the beautiful coral.
Sipadan has one of the largest concentrations of turtles, so you will definitely encounter them. Besides turtles, there are many sharks. Mainly reef tip sharks. But also, the special hammerhead shark, leopard shark and whale sharks. Within the first minute you will spot the smaller sharks. Next to the coral are huge schools of fish. If you go to Sipadan early morning (06.00 am) from Mabul, there is a big chance you will see lots of wild dolphins.
Permits to dive at Sipadan
Because the island was getting more and more popular, the number of divers a day became too high. Which made it unpleasant to dive, and bad for the environment. In 2005 the government introduced dive permits. Each day, 100 people are allowed to dive at Sipadan. These permits are divided along the different dive schools in the area. This means, you have to plan your dives far ahead. Most dive schools offer packages. It is usually not possible to simply dive at Sipadan. Scuba Junkie obligates you to stay for three days at Mabul and dive around the island first before you have the right to a permit at Sipadan.
Diving courses at Borneo
The diving situation around Sipadan is not always ideal. Strong currents are regularly. Although it is allowed to dive with your Open water certificate (with 20 dives in your logbook) this is not advisable. If you don’t have your Advanced open water yet, no worries. You can easily obtain your certificate at one of the islands around Sipadan. Diving around the other islands might be less spectacular, but the perfect place for fun dives.
Night diving at Sipadan
If you are at Mabul, plan a night dive. There is a tropical temperature year-round, so there are lots of algae in the water. Ask your instructor to dim the lights. Enjoy floating around in the dark ocean, where the algae light up when you move around. It truly feels like you are in space. Night dives are not allowed at Sipadan, here you can only dive from 06.00 am till 03.00 pm.
Prices for diving at Sipadan
The prices go up if you want to dive at Sipadan. It depends if you book a package or a single dive, what the price is. If you go for a single dive, you pay around 250 RM per dive. This is including your diving gear. Some dive schools give you a discount if you come in the low season. If you want to dive around Borneo, contact one of the dive schools in the area. Examples of schools are; Billabong Scuba, Scuba Junkie, Mabul resort and Kapalai Dive Resort.
Accommodation around Sipadan
Nowadays, it is not possible to stay at Sipadan island. You have to stay on one of the surrounding islands, Mabul or Kapalai or in the fishing village Semporna. I would recommend the islands. Semporna is very dirty and there is not much to do. If you want to stay on one of the islands, book in advance. Even in the low seasons, accommodations will be full. It is not cheap to stay on the islands compared to the mainland. Only Mabul has a few cheaper backpackers’ hostels. Usually, if you book with a dive school, you get some discount on their own accommodations. It is worth to ask your dive school if they can offer you accommodation for a fair price.
How do you get to Sipadan?
You have to start your journey in Semporna, from here you will get transport to one of the islands. It depends on where you stay beforehand, what the easiest way to travel is. There are daily minibuses going from the nearby cities. If you are a little bit further away, you can opt for a luxurious big bus. There are also daily flights from Kuala Lumpur and Kota Kinabalu to Tawau. From Tawau you can take a mini bus to Semporna. If you booked at a resort, they usually offer you transport. Always ask you accommodation if they can arrange a pickup from the airport.
What’s your favourite dive spot on Borneo? Let people know if you have any additional tips!