Diving Kapalai IslandCelebes Sea, near Semporna, Malaysia
The abundance of small strange looking creatures at Kapalai Island, make it one of the premier macro dive sites in the world. Originally popular for its proximity to Sipadan, Kapalai Island is now appreciated in its own right. Kapalai offers plenty of unique creatures including blue ring octopus, stone fish, and ghost pipefish. However, if you must see sharks and turtles on your trip Sipadan is just 15 kilometers on an easy 20 minute boat ride. Easily accessible, Kapalai is 30 kilomters south of Semporna town, a trip that can be easily completed in 45 minutes.
Diving Around Kapalai Island
The dive sites surrounding Kapalai Island are all extremely close – reachable within a few minutes by boat or, for some, by jumping off the island’s pier. Divers have plenty to choose from with over 20 dive sites surrounding the island, however some sites are certainly more popular than others. Beautiful coral reefs, swirling schools of fish, strange hidden creatures, and wrecked boats all await you under the sea.
House Reef/ The Jetty: You don’t have to travel far from the island for excitement. Right off the island’s jetty are five small wrecks bursting with marine life. These small fishing boats lie at the bottom of the reef’s slope at about 18 meters depth. Closely clustered together the boats are only 10 meters or so apart from each other. Schools of grouper and snapper swim overhead as camouflaged stonefish hide among the boats’ corners. Be sure to look among the wrecks’ nooks for orangutan crabs, nudibranchs, and shrimps.
Mandarin Valley: Perhaps the most famous of Kapalai’s dive sites, Mandarin Valley is a macro paradise. Take it slow and look along the reef for harlequin ghost pipefish, frog fish, and leaf fish. Lucky divers may catch a glimpse of the incredibly rare and beautifully colored mandarin fish. These small creatures tend to hide under the spines of sea urchins during the day but at night you can see the mandarin fish perform their mating dance. This dive site has a maximum depth of 20 meters.
Sweetlips Table: A few minutes to the northwest of the island, this dive site is known for its schools of sweetlips fish. The Oriental Sweetlips is recognized by its distinctive yellow face, black and white striped body, and polka-dotted tail. Although it tends to feed at night, this unique looking fish can certainly be seen during the day. Also be sure to look among the coral for nudibranchs, morays, and shrimps.
Frontier Reef: Also north of the island this beautifully colored reef is home to plenty of unique creatures. You will certainly feel like you are conquering new frontiers as you find frog fish, leaf fish, nudibranchs, and shrimps that are seldom seen elsewhere in the world.
Mantis Ground: Another haven for macro diving, this site is filled with nudibranchs, anemone crabs, shrimps, and leaf fish. Yet the creature this site is known for is the rare and somewhat ferocious looking mantis shrimp. Named for its similar appearance to the terrestrial praying mantis this colorful creature can grow up to 30 centimeters in length. Also known as ‘thumb-splitters’ this creature’s strong claws are capable of crushing prey or an unwary diver’s fingers. The mantis shrimp has also been known to break the glass of aquariums. The Mantis Ground dive site reaches 19 meters in depth.
Mid Reef: The current at this dive site can be quite strong so hang on to the ball line as you descend. This dive site reaches a depth of 25 meters and is best for experienced divers given the strong current. A visit is definitely worthwhile though as this dive site is known for its pygmy seahorses hidden among the branches of the coral reef.
Flambo Reef: Be sure to look for the brilliant colored flamboyant cuttlefish as you dive around Kapalai Island. This incredible creature comes in hues of purple, pink, and yellow and is able to rapidly change its color to confuse predators or prey. Also be sure to look for blue ringed octopus, lionfish, and crocodile fish as you swim around this dive site.
Best Time to Visit
Kapalai diving is open all year round however visibility is best during the dry season which starts in March and ends in October.
Resorts Near Kapalai Island
After a full day of diving you can relax in style at Mabul Water Bungalows, a new floating dive resort just off the island of Mabul. Resting entirely on wooden stilts over the ocean, every room at this resort offers panoramic views of the clear blue sea. Despite being located in the middle of the ocean far from civilization, this resort offers plenty of amenities including internet, air conditioning, and SCUBA certification courses. However, be sure to book early as Mabul Water Bungalows only has 12 rooms available with double or twin beds in addition to its single suite.
From $1,361 USD for 5 days 4 nights.
Roaming around Sipadan-Kapalai Dive Resort is a delightful adventure. Rising on stilts out of the water, miles of wooden walkways connect the 59 chalets that make up this resort. Don’t let the traditional village design fool you though; Sipadan-Kapalai Dive Resort is a modern enterprise offering Internet access, satellite phone, and plenty of fresh water from the mainland. Guests staying here, the only resort on Kapalai Island, are just minutes away from the wonders of Kapalai’s reef. A macro diving paradise, Kapalai is also conveniently close to the pelagic marvels of the world famous Sipadan Island.
From $1,159 USD for 5 days 4 nights.
The Sipadan-Mabul Resort strives to make their guests comfortable so that they have as much fun out of the water as they do in it. In between dives you can relax on the beach or join in the resort’s organized activities.
From $671 USD for 5 days 4 nights.
Step out of the ordinary and into a once-in-a-lifetime experience aboard the Seaventures Dive Rig, an actual true-to-life oil platform that has been converted into a modern, comfortably appointed getaway for serious divers who want to make the most of their coral triangle diving holiday. Located just 10 meters above the surface and right over top of its own spectacular house reef, the Seaventures dive resort is situated off the Coast of Mabul Island, and in close vicinity to Sipadan and Kapalai, so diving adventures are convenient and plentiful.
From $982 USD for 5 days 4 nights.
Just a quick 15-minute speedboat ride from Sipadan Island, you can't get more ocean front than this!
Built entirely on sturdy ironwood stilts and nestled in the shallow, aquamarine waters off Mabul Island, Sipadan Water Village Resort is a rustic arrangement of 45 beautifully appointed individual guest cottages connected by flowered walkways to the resort's lavish dining and guest facilities and a world class dive center.
From $1,450 USD for 5 days 4 nights.
Borneo Divers Mabul Resort is a great pick for divers, non-divers and families thanks to the wide range of activities offered top-side and underwater. Located on the breezy island of Mabul, the resort offers some 30 units of semi-detached rooms with private verandahs. Wake up to the surroundings of the azure Celebes Sea and powdery stretch of beach at your doorstep.
From $887 USD for 5 days 4 nights.