Sipadan is one of the world’s best diving hot spot and I totally agree with that.
No matter if you are a shark lover or prefer the macro stuff you will find whatever your heart desires. Here is a total guide to diving in Sipadan and a review of the dive-operator I dove with: Billabong divers.
Choose a dive shop
Sipadan is a tiny island, around 1 hour off the coast. To get there you have to check in with one of the many dive shops in the small town called Semporna. From there the dive operator will take you to your accommodation in Mabul, another Island very close to Sipadan. You will not be able to stay directly in Sipadan. I highly recommend planning your trip a couple of weeks beforehand. Especially during the busy season, which is from May to August. I went in July and started planning around 2 months before arrival. To protect the marine and land ecosystem every diver needs a permit before allowed scuba diving in Sipadan. Choose a dive shop which will organize all of this for you. After a lot of research, I ended up going with Billabong-divers and was very happy with my decision. Accommodation, transport, food, and 6 dives were all included in my package. I went for 3 days and 2 nights, which is the minimum amount of time you can stay. In total, I paid 300 Euro which is very cheap for diving in Sipadan. For all low budget travelers, Billabong-divers is the perfect place to go. Just keep in mind that you might have to pay more if you don’t have your own diving equipment.
Arriving on Mabul
I took a plane from Kuala Lumpur to the airport Tawau. The taxi from the airport to Semporna took around half an hour. Semporna is a tiny village packed with hostels and dive-shops. I stayed there overnight and checked in with Billabong-divers, early in the morning. After filling out a form and placing the payment we went straight on their boat. Everything went really quick, with no time wasted sitting around and having to wait. After a 40-minute boat ride, I finally arrived on the Island Mabul.
The accommodation was a wooden hut build on stilts rising out of the water. So are most accommodations on the Island.
Behind that is the actual Mabul island where you can find a few small shops to buy some snacks and soft drinks. It is recommended to not carry belongings while exploring the island since there are many pickpockets around. I had my own room and bathroom. It was small but more than enough for 2 nights. The best feature of this place was the beautiful outdoor dining area, where all meals were served. The meals and diving have fixed timetables. I was informed about everything first thing when I arrived. The only downside was no wifi. Which was acceptable since it is out in the open ocean.
Once you are there you have three dive places to choose from. Sipadan, Mabul, and Kapalai. You will be limited to 3 dives in Sipadan but can dive in Mabul and Kapalai as much as you desire. Mabul and Kapalai go under the category of muck diving and is the best place for Macro lovers. Sipadan consists mostly of dives sites with huge drop-offs, filled with sharks and turtles.
I did 3 dives in Sipadan, 2 in Mabul and 1 in Kapalai.
Diving in Mabul and Sipadan
The first day I dove in Mabul and Kapalai. The dive is from a small boat and it takes only 5 minutes to get to the dive sites. My divemaster was local but spoke decent English. The briefings were very short with very little information. He also didn’t pay much attention to me under water. Which was fine with me, but If you are a newbie to diving and need more assistance make sure to inform your divemaster before going for the dive. Not knowing that this was going to bed a Muck dive I was very disappointed with the visibility first. But there are plenty of small, beautiful creatures to spot all around. I saw like 10 Nudibranchs I had never seen before. They have built many of artificial reefs which are made to look like houses. It is like diving through a village with all the best macro life as your neighbors. Apart from the Nudibranchs, I saw Boxfish, Crocodile flathead, Triggerfish, my first Frogfish, Turtles, Trumpetfish, different kinds of Pipefish and much more. I had so much fun hovering around the house reefs and just try to find tiny Nudibranchs. After diving in Mabul and Kapalai I have declared Muck diving, from now on, to be my favourite kind of diving
The next day I had my 3 dives in Sipadan and couldn’t wait to find out if all the good things I have heard and read are true. There are many dive sites you can choose from in Sipadan. I chose “Coral Garden”, “Turtle Patch” and the famous “Barracuda Point”. The boat ride took around 20 minutes. Once we were there we geared up and went straight into the water. I found myself over a huge drop off so deep I could by far not see the bottom. The dive is along the reef on one shoulder and the open ocean on the other. I was surrounded by black and whitetips reef-sharks swimming around me. Since they were quite curious and came really close it was perfect to record and take pictures. Apart from sharks, there were huge groupers and tons of green and hawksbill turtles. On the reef itself, I found huge moray eels, Lobsters and every now and then more macro life. But not too much. Sipadan is all about the big stuff and huge schools of fish like jackfish or barracuda. Unfortunately, I didn’t see the famous barracuda tornado at “barracuda point” due to bad visibility. I also didn’t find it to be much of a drift dive. In my opinion, it was only weak to medium current but that also depends on the month you dive there. I was a bit unlucky with the visibility (around 15metres) on good days it’s supposed to be 30 meters but still, it was amazing and so far the best diving I have done in my life. I was lucky to see a lot of marine life which I had never seen before.
Between dives, I had included lunch on the actual Island of Sipadan. Which was nice since it is not possible to stay overnight there anymore. The dreamy, white sandy beaches of Sipadan are perfect for postcard-like pictures. I made a round around the whole Island and visited the local turtle hatching station.
I found all 3 dive sites in Sipadan very similar which is why I haven’t split the review into 3 dives. It is always along a huge drop-off and the dive ended shallow over the beautiful top of the reef filled with amazing, healthy coral. I personally enjoyed being shallow a lot more and just stay on top instead of diving next to the reef hovering over the drop-off.
Overall it was an unforgettable experience not only the diving but also the exotic accommodation and being so close to the locals. I can highly recommend Billabong-divers and Sipadan should be on top of every divers bucket list.
If you want to have a look at how amazing the dive sites are, check out my Youtube Video here: