Guide to Visiting Sipadan Island [Infographic]

One of the challenges you make when planning a visit to Sipadan Island is to choose which accommodation to stay at. Not all accommodation has allocated permits to bring visitors to Sipadan.

If you only want to visit the other nearby islands, then these permits are not required.
We think you’ll love this infographic we put together from our data and verified it with the listed accommodation to help you decide where to stay.

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Here’s our take on the Sipadan Island visitor’s guide infographic:

1. About Diving at Sipadan

Sipadan Island is the only oceanic island in Malaysia. Because of this, you will likely see oceanic pelagic fish here compared to the other nearby islands where you will see more reef pelagic fish.

The usual suspects you will encounter here include the Chevron and yellow fin barracudas, Trevallies, Green and hawksbill turtles, Bumphead parrotfish, White tip, black tip, grey tip sharks, Potato head groupers and more.

Where to Stay

Before 2004, most of the dive resorts were located on this island. But since then, in order to protect the sea life and corals in the area, the Malaysian government has asked all dive resorts to move out of this island. Today, most of the dive resorts are located on Mabul Island, Kapalai Island and Mataking Island.

Getting Here

The gateway to Sipadan Island is through Semporna town and the nearest airport to Semporna town is Tawau Airport (IATA: TWU). A travel time from Tawau Airport to Semporna is about 90 minutes and from Semporna to your resort is around 45 minutes by boat.

There are direct flights via Malaysia Airlines and AirAsia to Tawau Airport from Kota Kinabalu International Airport (IATA: BKI) and Kuala Lumpur International Airport (IATA: KUL).

Tip: Choose your flight to arrive early at Tawau Airport so that you can catch the first boat transfer to your resort. On departure, choose the afternoon flight so that you have time to off-gas between your last dive and your departure flight.

Sipadan: Choose early flight into Tawau so you can catch the first boat transfer to your resort.Click To Tweet
Sipadan: On departure, choose the afternoon flight so that you have time to off-gas between your last dive and your flight.Click To Tweet

Best Times to Visit

The best time is during the dry season which is from March to October. High period is in July, August and first week of October.

Which Resort Should I Consider?

We’ve compiled the information for you to save you time in choosing the right resort for your dive holiday based on a number of criteria:

Permit Availability, Turnaround Time

Diving at Sipadan Island requires a permit. Each day, there is a quota of 120 permits issued by Sabah Parks, the government authority charged with protecting our unique heritage. Diving at other nearby islands will not require these permits.

These 120 permits are allocated to 12 resorts operating in the area based on the size of the resort. The permits are not allocated to individuals directly. Application of these permits is through the resort that you are staying at and the resort will assist with this.

The “big 4” resorts that have the biggest allocations are listed below. They account for 46.7% of the permit allocation.

  • Sipadan Mabul Resort and Mabul Water Bungalows
  • Sipadan-Kapalai Dive Resort
  • Borneo Divers Mabul Resort
  • Sipadan Water Village

As you would have guessed, there will usually be more divers wanting to go to Sipadan than there are available permits each day. The turnaround times listed below are based on the resort claim backed by our booking data and visitor feedback.

Borneo Divers Mabul Resort – 5 days 4 nights; dive once. Additional permits can be purchased subject to availability.

MV Celebes Explorer – dive every day at Sipadan Island except Sunday.

Mabul Water Bungalows – 6 days 5 nights; dive once. Additional permits can be purchased subject to availability.

The Reef Dive Resort – 4 days 3 nights; dive at least once, but pre-booking is required.

Seaventures Dive Rig – 4 days 3 nights; dive at least once.

Sipadan-Kapalai Dive Resort – 4 days 3 nights; dive at least once. Advance booking of permits highly recommended. If you have less than 15 logged dives, you may be subjected to buoyancy skill test.

Sipadan Mabul Resort – 6 days 5 nights; dive once. Additional permits can be purchased subject to availability.

This does not apply to the semi-detached chalets. For semi-detached chalets, your chances of visiting Sipadan will depend on available permits not assigned to anyone else.

Sipadan Water Village – 6 days 5 nights; dive at least once.

For the resorts in the small budget or backpacker category, we do not have any booking data and visitor feedback. You will have to do your own research.

What If I Stayed a Shorter Duration?

For shorter stay, your visit to Sipadan Island is not guaranteed. Permit availability will depend on available permits that have not been allocated to others that are staying longer. Your chances are higher during the low period and almost nil during the high period.

It is hard to predict when the high and low periods are as it varies year to year. Even for low period, there could be a week where the resort is full and if you happen to be there in the week and not staying the minimum turnaround time, you may lose out. But generally, the few days around New Year, July, August, first week of October and Christmas period are considered to be in the high period.

Are the Other Islands Worth Diving?

Diving in the area isn’t just all about Sipadan Island. There is a lot to offer for muck diving and lots of macro life to discover in the other islands such as Mabul and Kapalai. Many divers return and don’t mind opting out of Sipadan so they can spend all their time looking for macro life which is just as rewarding.

Enter Turtle Tomb Cavern

There are only 3 resorts that have Technical Diving expertise on staff that can bring you into the Turtle Tomb cavern, subject to permit availability. They are:

  • Mabul Water Bungalows
  • Sipadan Mabul Resort
  • Seaventures Dive Rig

Other Locations

Here is a list of locations that these resorts go to.

Borneo Divers Mabul Resort – Mabul and Kapalai Islands.

MV Celebes Explorer – On Sundays, around Semporna such as Timbun Mata, Tun Sakaran Marine Park. Other days, sometimes Mabul Island if everyone needs a break from Sipadan Island.

Mabul Water Bungalows – Mabul and Kapalai Islands.

The Reef Dive Resort – Mataking, Pandanan, Bohayan, Kalapuan, Timba Timba and Pom Pom Islands.

Seaventures Dive Rig – Mabul and Kapalai Islands.

Sipadan-Kapalai Dive Resort – Mabul and Kapalai Islands.

Sipadan Mabul Resort – Mabul and Kapalai Islands.

Sipadan Water Village – Mabul and Kapalai Islands.

Voodoo Gas (EANx Nitrox)

Most resorts offer Nitrox in order for you to extend your bottom time. Only one resort in the list does not offer EANx Nitrox.

Borneo Divers Mabul Resort – Yes

MV Celebes Explorer – Yes, but requires pre booking

Mabul Water Bungalows – Yes

The Reef Dive Resort – Yes

Seaventures Dive Rig – Yes

Sipadan-Kapalai Dive Resort – No

Sipadan Mabul Resort – Yes

Sipadan Water Village – Yes

Price Category

We break down the room price category into the following: exclusive, upper midrange, midrange, and small budget.

Mabul Water Bungalows (only 15 bungalows and 5 suites, located over water; 4 room categories): Exclusive

Sipadan-Kapalai Dive Resort (located over water, sand bank visible during low tides; 1 room category): Upper midrange

Sipadan Water Village (located over water; 4 room categories): Midrange – Upper midrange

The Reef Dive Resort (4 room categories): Midrange – Upper midrange

Borneo Divers Mabul Resort (1 room category): Midrange

MV Celebes Explorer (only live aboard operating in Sipadan Island; 2 room categories): Midrange

Seaventures Dive Rig (4 room categories): Midrange – Upper midrange

Sipadan-Mabul Resort (3 room categories): Midrange – Upper midrange

The following resorts fit into the small budget and backpackers category:

  • Billabong Scuba
  • Roach Reef Resort
  • Scuba Junkie
  • Sipadan Inn
  • Uncle Chang’s Sipadan Mabul Dive Lodge

Single Travellers

For single travellers, some resorts will impose compulsory single supplement charges while others are optional. Single supplement charges vary between 30% and 50% of the package price.

If you choose not to pay single supplement at a resort that offers optional single supplement, you may have to share room with another person.

Borneo Divers Mabul Resort – Optional. Additional land and boat transfer fees may apply if you are the only person travelling in the vehicle or boat.

MV Celebes Explorer – Optional.

Mabul Water Bungalows – Optional with the exception of the Borneo Villa, Bougainvilla and Royale Suites. It is compulsory for these two suites.

The Reef Dive Resort – Compulsory. Additional land and boat transfer fees may apply if you are the only person travelling in the vehicle or boat.

Seaventures Dive Rig – Optional. Additional land and boat transfer fees may apply if you are the only person travelling in the vehicle or boat. However there is one scheduled transfer where you will not have to pay for additional land and boat transfer.

Sipadan-Kapalai Dive Resort – Compulsory.

Sipadan Mabul Resort – Optional.

Sipadan Water Village – Compulsory.

Group Booking Discounts

If you have a group arriving and departing together, you will be eligible for a group discount.

Borneo Divers Mabul Resort – for a group of 11 persons, the 11th person will only have to pay for conservation and jetty fee, but stay for free.

MV Celebes Explorer – Special Rate for group of 6 or more persons.

Mabul Water Bungalows – for a group of 11 persons, the 11th person will only have to pay for conservation fee, but stay for free.

The Reef Dive Resort – for a group of 11 persons, the 11th person will stay for free. Because The Reef Dive Resort is located far away from Sipadan Island, boat transfer fees may apply. However, if your group plans to stay at least 5 days 4 nights, then your group may be entitled to a free boat transfer for a day trip to Sipadan, Mabul or Kapalai Island.

Seaventures Dive Rig – for a group of 10 persons, the 10th person will only have to pay for conservation fee, but stay for free.

Sipadan-Kapalai Dive Resort – for a group of 10 persons, the 10th person will only have to pay for jetty fee, but stay for free.

Sipadan Mabul Resort – for a group of 11 persons, the 11th person will only have to pay for conservation fee, but stay for free.

Sipadan Water Village – for a group of 11 persons, the 11th person will only have to pay for conservation and jetty fee, but stay for free.

Conservation fee for jetty is collected at Semporna jetty at MYR10.00 per person.

Snorkellers

All the resorts featured here welcome snorkellers, but some will bring you out on the dive boat for snorkelling while others will only let you snorkel around the resort.

Sipadan-Kapalai Dive Resort – around the resort only.

Sipadan Water Village – only once out on the dive boat. The rest will be around the resort only.

Borneo Divers Mabul Resort – will also bring snorkellers to Sipadan Island, but priority will be given to divers when applying for permits. Early pre-booking recommended.

Sipadan-Mabul Resort – will also bring snorkellers to Sipadan Island, but priority will be given to divers when applying for permits. Early pre-booking recommended.

Mabul Water Bungalows – will also bring snorkellers to Sipadan Island, but priority will be given to divers when applying for permits. Early pre-booking recommended.

Honeymooners

For Honeymooners, here are the resorts we feel have a romantic ambience and scenic views. Some also have honeymoon packages specifically for honeymooners.

  • Mabul Water Bungalows
  • Sipadan-Mabul Resort
  • Sipadan-Kapalai Dive Resort
  • The Reef Dive Resort

Wi-Fi

Although Wi-Fi is generally available in the area, it can be patchy and unreliable in some areas.

Borneo Divers Mabul Resort – Available at restaurant area.

MV Celebes Explorer – Available at the middle deck area.

Mabul Water Bungalows – Available at restaurant area and all rooms.

The Reef Dive Resort – Available at restaurant, reception area and rooms.

Seaventures Dive Rig – Available at restaurant area.

Sipadan-Kapalai Dive Resort – Available at restaurant area.

Sipadan Mabul Resort – Available at restaurant and all rooms.

Sipadan Water Village – Available at restaurant, desk counter and reception area.

3. Our Thoughts

Borneo Divers Mabul Resort

  • + Nice muck diving house reef.
  • + Will bring snorkelers to Sipadan Island. (Subject to minimum of 5 days/ 4 nights stay)
  • + Suitable for families with young children.
  • + Swimming pool.
  • + Gazebo Massage.

MV Celebes Explorer

  • + If all you want to do is dive at Sipadan Island and don’t mind living in small quarters.

Mabul Water Bungalows

  • + Impressive house reef.
  • + With only 15 chalets and 5 suites, this resort offers a lot of privacy.
  • + Great food. Chef Wong has many years of experience serving in International 5 star hotel.
  • + One of only 3 resorts taking divers to explore the Turtle Tomb cavern.
  • + Will bring snorkelers to Sipadan Island. (Subject to permit availability)
  • + Suitable for families with young children.
  • + Spa.
  • + Located over water but has easy access to Mabul Island and sister resort Sipadan-Mabul Resort where you can use the swimming pool and Jacuzzi.
  • + Popular with honeymooners especially the Borneo Villa Suite with outdoor Jacuzzi.

The Reef Dive Resort

  • + Suitable for non-divers and young children.
  • + Spa and children’s playground.
  • + Popular with honeymooners.
  • – Resort located far away from Sipadan. Boat ride will take about 80 minutes to get there from the resort.

Seaventures Dive Rig

  • + Bedroom, lounge, eating area, dive centre and bar is conveniently nearby each other.
  • + Best honest food from a talented local chef.
  • + Offers technical diving courses and one of only 3 resorts taking divers to explore the Turtle Tomb cavern.
  • + Will bring snorkelers to Sipadan Island. (Subject to permit availability)
  • – Not very suitable for families with young children.

Sipadan-Kapalai Dive Resort

  • + Large beautiful and breezy rooms.
  • + Impressive house reef.
  • + Suitable for families with young children.
  • + Popular with honeymooners.
  • – This resort recommends that you have at least 15 logged dives before they apply for your permits to Sipadan Island.

Sipadan Mabul Resort

  • + Best food in this price category.
  • + Nicest and large beach front with a lot of shaded areas from coconut tree fronds.
  • + One of only 3 resorts taking divers to explore the Turtle Tomb cavern.
  • + Will bring snorkelers to Sipadan Island. (Subject to permit availability)
  • + Suitable for families with young children. Experienced staff can help with taking care of young children while you go diving.
  • + Popular with honeymooners.

Three Useful Knots Every Diver Should Know, or Maybe Just One

Knots are very useful when you spend a lot of time out at sea diving. When you use a knot for the right purpose, it is easy to untie even after some strain has been applied to the line. However, you can’t just learn to tie a knot by watching, or doing it just once and expect to remember it the next time when you really need to tie one. I keep a 3 m length 3 mm rope around the house and practice whenever I have some free time.

Continue reading “Three Useful Knots Every Diver Should Know, or Maybe Just One”

5 Hidden Tropical Islands with Only One Resort You Must Experience

Many of us may find that we spend much of our time in social situations. We do so in order to work together with colleagues, and to spend our leisure time together with friends and family as well. This can be a great pleasure, but it can also sometimes leave us feeling fatigued and drained. In order to reconnect with ourselves, we need to get away from it all so that we can gain some perspective and push the reset button on our own lives.

With that in mind, here are 5 hidden tropical islands with only one resort you must experience. Each one really is the only resort based on the island, and as such is private, secluded, and quiet – the perfect place to give you the time and space you need. Some of the islands take some time to get to, but this only adds to the experience of seclusion when you arrive. It’s also well worth the effort when you get to spend your days scuba diving, snorkeling, lying in the sun, or simply reading a book next to the sparkling sea.

Continue reading “5 Hidden Tropical Islands with Only One Resort You Must Experience”

How to Chase a Manta

Manta Ray
Manta Ray

The first time I encountered a Manta face to face many years ago, I couldn’t stop grinning all day. There is something magical about these big creatures, the calm ways they move underwater, fully aware of their surroundings. They could glide over you just inches above your head and still manage to avoid touching you.

Here’s a clip of me chasing a Manta for over 3 minutes, and I’m going to show you how.

Continue reading “How to Chase a Manta”

Robert Lo’s Mabul Water Bungalows House Reef – Artificially Awesome!

If house reefs are considered the playground of marine life, then the house reef at the Mabul Water Bungalows is the Disneyland of all things aquatic.

Continue reading “Robert Lo’s Mabul Water Bungalows House Reef – Artificially Awesome!”

50% Off for Group of 8 at MV Celebes Explorer between 27 March 2016 and 31 March 2017

Deal alert for groups! Plan a dive holiday at Sipadan Island with MV Celebes Explorer Liveaboard between 27th March and 31st March 2017 for a group of 8 divers and get 50% off the published price.

You’ll get to dive Sipadan Island every day except Sunday.

Continue reading “50% Off for Group of 8 at MV Celebes Explorer between 27 March 2016 and 31 March 2017”

Choose the Best Resort for You at Sipadan in 2015/2016

Comparing and choosing which resort to stay for your next dive trip to Sipadan is time consuming. We put up an infographic back in 2012 to help you choose. Since then, many changes have happened. So we’ve updated our infographic for 2015/2016.

We hope you will also find this useful when choosing your resort for 2015/2016. In this infographic, we’ve also included the only liveaboard in the area. Here is the criteria to help you choose based on the questions we are asked often:
Continue reading “Choose the Best Resort for You at Sipadan in 2015/2016”

Early Bird Promotion for March 2016 at Layang Layang Island Resort

Deal alert! Plan a 5 nights dive holiday at Layang Layang Island in March 2016 for only RM4,600 MYR (about $1,045 USD in today’s exchange rate).

Confirm your booking and make full payment by 31st October 2015 to take advantage of this early bird promotion.

* This offer excludes airfare between Kota Kinabalu and Layang Layang Island. The return airfare is RM1,272 MYR inclusive of 6% Government Service Tax (GST).

Hammerhead

March is the start of the dry season and March to May is the best time to see Hammerhead Sharks.

As a world renowned dive destination, Layang Layang is perhaps the best known atoll among the Borneo Banks – a group of atolls amid the Spratly Islands. Called the “Jewel of the Borneo Banks” Layang Layang is also home to several manmade structures. These include a large windmill, the only one of its kind in Malaysia, which helps provide extra electricity to the naval base on the island. The Malaysia Navy has held a base on the island since 1983 and the Royal Malaysian Navy help maintain security within the area.

This resort is located on Layang Layang Island.

Save RM400 MYR (about $90 USD) per Diver for a 6 Days 5 Nights Stay

When you stay 6 days 5 nights at Layang Layang Island Resort, you save 8% off the Layang Layang Island Resort published price!

This early bird promotion ends on 31st October 2015.

Continue reading “Early Bird Promotion for March 2016 at Layang Layang Island Resort”

What To Do On Your Dry Days in Sabah

You’ve made your dive holiday plans and you’re all excited about it. But have you also made plans for what to do on your dry days, that is, those long days when you are not in the water before you fly back home?

Maliau Waterfall in the lost world of Borneo
Maliau Waterfall in the lost world of Borneo © Murphy Ng @ MySabah

If you happen to come to Sabah, here’s a very useful site called My Sabah written by my old friend Murphy that explores many attractions, things to do, and my personal favourite, what to eat around Sabah. I’ve known Murphy for almost 18 years and I enjoy reading about his travel adventures. Please check it out and say “hello!”.

Oh, my favourite food on a Sunday morning would be the Tamparuli Mee.