WHERE ARE WE GOING?

Today we are diving in Sipadan and Pulau Mabul (Mabul Island) in Malaysia!

school of fish diving in sipadan island
Photo by Manson Tan

WHY ARE WE DIVING IN SIPADAN AND MABUL?

Sipadan is an oceanic island rising 600 meters from the seabed. This means it was created by living corals that formed on top of an extinct volcano over thousands of years. This also means there is an amazing marine ecosystem which is why it is consistently rated as one of the top diving spots in the world!

Mabul or Semporna is considered a cheaper place to get your scuba diving certification. The main point though is, of course, the well known Sipadan Island with its amazingly vast biodiversity. Since 2004, the area is now a marine protected area which means you cannot find accommodation or stay on Sipadan. Thus, the closest island that you can stay in is Mabul.

Sipadan’s main attraction for diving are the 3 Storms. The Jack Storm, Barracuda Storm, and the Humphead Parrotfish Storm. These are the ones that you have a higher chance to see. Not to mention the white tips and grey reef sharks and lots of turtles. The visitors with more luck might see Hammerhead sharks and whale sharks. On the surface you might also get the chance to see Tropical orcas, sunfish, dolphins, and whales are spotted before.

scuba diving in sipadan island
Photo by Manson Tan

HOW DO WE GET THERE?

To get to Mabul Island, which is a great base for Sipadan, fly to city of Tawau, Sabah, Malaysia. Then take a dive center transfer/bus/taxi/Grab to Semporna town which takes around 1 hour. You will then need a boat transfer from Semporna to Mabul – this will be around 45 minutes. Most transfers will be included in your diving package with your dive center.

You will require a permit for snorkeling and diving in Sipadan, so bear this in mind when organizing your trip! As there are only 176 permits given on a day, you should plan a few days in the area.

WHICH DIVE SITES ARE MUST-SEE?

Sipadan main dive sites are Barracuda Point, South Point, Drop off, Hanging Gardens and more. All of these are wall dives due to the geographic location of Sipadan, where all of the dive sites have a shallow part; the reef part which ranges to around 7m deep then a steep drop of a wall. Max depths are limited by dive companies, which are generally 30m. The north side of Sipadan goes down to 900m and the south side goes down to an incredible 2,500m.

Barracuda Point – World famous top-five and been voted as No. 1 for the past few years. Good chances of seeing the Barracuda storm and Humphead Parrotfish storm here. Lots of white tips, and some grey reefs and turtles. You can get oceanic current here as with other Sipadan dive sites, which can be quite intimidating sometimes.  There is a huge variety of life, including corals which is what Sipadan is famous for. Turtle Rock was also featured in the Blue Planet II series which is located at this dive site at the channel part as well.

frogfish mabul island
Photo by Manson Tan

South Point – You get the chance to see the Jack storm here, they are at the shallows. You will get to a channel bit as well. Other things that you can see or have a chance to see are the same with every dive site here. 

Drop off – Used to be the ‘best shore dive in the world’ as there used to be a jetty that you can walk there with your gear and jump down and it is straight away 900m deep. However, the jetty is not there anymore so it is now a boat dive. The famous turtle tomb is located here, however, you can’t go in if you are not a cavern diver.

Hanging Gardens – This dive site is one of the dive sites that we will try ‘blue diving.’ This means going out in the blue for a gamble of meeting the hammerheads! Bear in mind you can do that on any dive site in Sipadan, however, this dive site is the easiest to navigate back.

TELL ME MORE

Sipadan – All boat diving. Takes around 45mins boat trip from Mabul to Sipadan.

Mabul – A mixture of boat and shore. Shore diving will mostly be diving your dive shop’s house reef; literally on the doorstep! Other sites will be boat diving. 

jetty in mabul island
Photo by Manson Tan

DO I NEED ADDITIONAL EQUIPMENT?

Water temp ranges, coldest can get to 27° Celcius. So this will depend on how well you can handle the cold. A dry suit is definitely not needed. Rashies, 3mm wetsuit or 5mm wetsuit will do.

No reef hook and gloves allowed by our dive shop. Torch, I always bring one to enhance my dive 😉

You can get rental gear on most of the dive shops here. It’s mostly included apart from a dive computer.

WHAT LEVEL CERTIFICATION SHOULD I BE?

Diving in Mabul Open Water will be good enough. In Sipadan, we prefer Advanced Open Water, but we will still bring Open Water divers there. I would suggest at least AOW.

WHAT ARE THE CONDITIONS?

turtle at sipadan island
Photo by Manson Tan

Mabul – Water temperature ranges from 27 degrees Celcius to above. Visibility really depends on the weather. However, Mabul and a nearby island are famous for its muck and macro diving. This means the visibility is not the most important factor.

Sipadan – Water temp ranges the same as Mabul. Currents can be strong due to oceanic current or could be none. Visibility ranges from 10m to 30m.

You can dive here all year long. Peak seasons are normally depending on holiday seasons, such as the Chinese holidays. Diving in Sipadan and Mabul will be popular around Christmas and New Year’s so be prepared for crowds.

HOW MUCH WILL I SPEND?

Most dive shops in Mabul and Semporna will offer a package to dive Sipadan too. This will be a 3-4 day package with 1 day Sipadan dive. This is due to the limited number of permits available. Other days you will be diving in Mabul or Kapalai or nearby islands.

If you are based in Mabul the packages will range from RM3000 to RM4000+ depending on your accommodation. These include dive equipment, accommodation and all meals in the resort, as Mabul is a small island, with not many restaurants out there.

Some dive shops offer discount if you have your own gear.

WHAT TYPE OF ACCOMMODATION IS AVAILABLE?

There is a wide variety of accommodation when planning on diving in Sipadan and Mabul. Dorms, hostel, fan or AC rooms, bungalows to terraces, water top fancy chalets. In Mabul, you will normally organize the accommodation with the dive center as it is an all-in package.

WHERE DID YOU STAY?

I’m working here. So staff accommodation. Basic and liveable.

Pygmy Seahorse. Photo by Manson Tan

DESCRIBE YOUR PERSONAL EXPERIENCE

Mabul and nearby islands are famous for muck diving and macro diving. So depending on your preferences. You will have a chance to see a lot of things, like flamboyant cuttlefish, blue ring octopus, ghost pipefish for example. There is a great range of marine life here.

Sipadan – You will get to see a lot. Your dive center will guide you to increase your chances to see the big stuff here as you will be spending time to do macro stuff in Mabul already.

WHAT DO WE DO ON SURFACE INTERVALS?

Mabul – No nightlife. Small Island. You can walk the whole island in 45 mins. You will be able to see the sea gypsies, the Bajau people living here. You can snorkel here as well.

Semporna – Small town. There are places to drink but really really simple bars. Don’t expect a full night-out. Island hopping is available from here as well. There’s a place not far from Semporna for hiking as well. Lately, there has been an increase in seafood restaurants to pull in Chinese tourists. Big chains, Starbucks, KFC, McDonald’s are here.

Manson is a dive instructor working in Mabul, Malaysia. He loves any kind of diving, even when there's 'nothing' to see (because really, there's 'always' something to see!). He uses a Sony RX100 camera.

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