By Elaine Ling
SIPADAN Island (Pulau Sipadan) is the only oceanic island located on the east coast of Malaysian Borneo. When you see this island from a distance, itself the top of a dead volcanic cone, you catch a glance of a small tropical rainforest and white sandy beaches. Due to its amazing diversity and rich marine habitats, Sipadan was listed as one of the top 10 diving spots in the world and in Rodale’s Scuba Diving Magazine Gold List as the “Top Dive Destination in the World”.
Approximately 3,000 species of fish and hundreds of coral species have been found on this majestic island such as scorpion fish, devil rays, lion fish, mandarin fish, manta rays, batfish, eagle rays, yellow-back fusiliers, red-tooth triggerfish, parrotfish and other miraculous fish species. Fish lovers will be fascinated by the distinctive varieties of sea creatures and get lost in the paradise of Sipadan.
A diving adventure on Sipadan is full of endless surprise and excitement. You can easily behold green turtles and hawksbill turtles – as many as 20 turtles on each dive. If you are lucky enough, you might see the turtles appear on the seashore to lay eggs.
Another must see is ‘Turtle Tomb’, an underwater cave that consists of several wide tunnels and a small passageway near Barracuda Point. Its floor is around 8m wide and littered with turtle skeletons, hence the name, making it a mysterious and adventurous place. It is believed the turtles died when they got lost in the maze of cave tunnels.
As Sipadan is a protected site only 120 divers are allowed to dive every day, so you need to register as early as you can. There are a total of 13 dive spots around the island. Barracuda Point is the most popular and listed amongst the top five dive spots in the world. If you have a specific marine creature such as a turtle or shark that you would like to see, you should let your agent know and he/she will give your suggestions of ideal spots to find them.
Other popular diving sites are Coral Garden, White Tip Reef, South Point, Drop Off, Hanging Gardens, West Ridge, North Point, and Lobster Lair. All the dive sites are unique in their own way and the price can vary. Also, remember to give yourself some leisure time to stroll along the fine sandy beaches on Sipadan before you leave.
Since 2005 no resort construction has been allowed on the island in order to preserve its flora and fauna – all under the protection Sabah Wildlife Department. It is therefore not possible to stay the night on the island. All visitors stay at resorts on nearby islands such as Kapalai, Mabul and Mataking. If the resorts are fully booked, you can also look for options in the port town of Semporna. To go or to dive on Sipadan you need to get a boat there.
Here are the boat times:
From Kapalai Island (10 mins boat ride)
From Mabul Island (10 mins boat ride)
From Mataking Island (1hr 20 mins boat ride)
From Semporna (1 hour boat ride)
Although you can dive on Sipadan all year round, the ideal period is between April and December when the sea is clear and blue. Avoid diving on rainy or cloudy days to enjoy the best visibility. The rainy season in Malaysia is between January and March when unpredictable weather tends to decrease visibility. The water temperature ranges between 79~87ºF degrees (26-30ºC) all year long. Sipadan is at its most crowded during Christmas, New Year and Chinese New Year.
Sipadan is one of the top world’s top diving spots and also the most famous scuba destination in Malaysia. The distinctive species of marine creatures and natural beauty you can appreciate both on land and under the sea makes it unique, making it a destination you should visit at least once in your lifetime.
If you enjoyed this article and would like to find out more about travelling to Malaysia, please visit the Tourism Malaysia website
About the author…
Elaine Ling (Malaysia)
Elaine is a Malaysian student who studies and travels with passion. She first traveled abroad when she was a three-month-old baby, and hasn’t stopped since. She loves to write about her travel experiences. When she’s not traveling Elaine lives and studies and South Korea. You can follow her travel adventures at her blog: elainesapphire.blogspot.com/.