Sipadan is a legend in diving circles and with good reason. It is located at the heart of the Indo-Pacific basin, one of the richest marine habitats in the world; where over 3,000 species of fish and hundreds of coral species have been identified. Apart from its supreme location, the island and the dive sites that surround it are filled with spectacular natural formations such as a 600m reef wall and a labyrinth of underwater limestone caves, where many turtles have met their doom.
The tiny island can be circled on foot in less than half an hour, but offers at least nine established dive sites with enchanting names like Hanging Garden, Turtle patch, White-tip Avenue, Coral Garden and Barracuda point.
Although diving is the main attraction of Sipadan, non-divers are welcome to join the diving boats to go snorkelling in Sipadan. Those that want to start exploring the depths can even complete a four day PADI diving course or a one day Discover Scuba Diving course, offered by all the dive centres on the island.
Underwater encounters It is not only the diversity but also the abundance of the marine life in Sipadan that has earned its status as one of the top diving locations in the world.
A rich variety of soft and hard corals create a vividly coloured backdrop, where equally vibrant schools of tropical fish hover and sway in the current. There are Dendronephyta corals in delicate pastels and feather stars of all shades and hues. Don’t miss diving at Coral Garden to see all of these in their full glory.
It is the thrill of Sipadan’s bigger marine life that brings divers back here time and again. Here you can swim amidst tornado-like schools of thousands of Barracuda and Big-eyed Trevally or watch as giant schools of Bumphead Parrotfish munch their way through the corals. Manta and eagle rays soar through the Celebes Sea and deeper down, Hammerhead sharks stalk their prey. Endangered green and hawksbill turtles are found in unusually large numbers in the area and some divers see up to twenty of these in one dive.
The macro life is equally mesmerising. Garden eels, leaf scorpion fish, mantis shrimps, fire gobies and various species of pipe fish are in abundance, if you can peel your eyes away from the big fish for a minute!
All visitors, divers and non-divers, need to have a permit to visit Sipadan, which can be purchased through your resort at RM 40 a day. A diving licence, logbook and INT adapter are required.
All of the resorts on Mabul and Kapalai include three boat dives a day in their packages, with a maximum of one trip per day to Sipadan. Unlimited house reef dives on Manul and Kapalai are also included. Boats typically leave around 8 or 9 am, stop at Sipadan for a tea break and return to Mabul or Kapalai for lunch. From Mataking and Pompong, trips to Sipadan have to be arranged in advanced and have an additional cost attached as these are further away.
There are some strong currents in Sipadan and though water temperatures average around 26-31°C, thermo clines exist. A wool-lined lycra suit and possibily a 3mm one-piece neoprene suit are recommended. Diving equipment as well as wetsuits are available for rental at all resorts.
Visibility averages around 15 to 30 metres, but is variable: while it can be up to 50 metres, it may sometimes drop to as low as 6 metres.