Any scuba diver who has searched for top dive destinations around the world will have come across Sipadan Island. Located off the east coast of Sabah, which itself is part of Borneo, Sipadan is the only oceanic island in Malaysia. While diving Sipadan, you will often see lots of pelagic sea life such as barracuda, trevallies, reef sharks, bumphed parrotfish, turtles and so much more.
The area is also home to over 3,000 species, of which hundreds are corals. Check out the video below for a taste of what to expect.
Whether you’re a diver or a snorkeller, your first challenge when planning a visit to Sipadan is deciding where to stay. There is no longer any accommodation on the island itself, but resorts on nearby islands offer a range of dive and snorkel trips.
Alice – the co-founder of Asia Diving Vacation – has spent plenty of time diving Sipadan, and has the following tips.
PERMITS FOR DIVING SIPADAN
If you wish to dive Sipadan Island, it’s now a requirement that you have a permit from the Board of Trustees of the Sabah Parks (the government authority charged with managing and safeguarding the many parks around Sabah).
In the past, Sipadan permits weren’t required, but as the number of visitors continues to grow, it is becoming increasingly important to take measures to protect the fragile ecosystem. The permit system controls the number of visitors to Sipadan Island each day.
While there are plenty of places to stay in the area, only 12 accommodation providers are responsible for allocating a total of 120 permits. Those without permits can still bring visitors to Sipadan, but will have to wait in line for any unallocated permits for that day to be assigned to them.
Dive resorts usually require that you stay a minimum number of nights (usually three to five) to have the chance to visit Sipadan Island.
DIVING SIPADAN ONLY
If you have no interest in diving anywhere other than Sipadan Island, you will need to join the MV Celebes Explorer liveaboard. This will enable you to dive Sipadan every day except Sundays.
VISITING OTHER ISLANDS
If you only want to visit Sipadan’s neighbouring islands, you won’t need a permit. Places such as Mabul, Kapalai, Mataking and Pom-Pom are known for their macro life. Some of these islands also have beautiful powdery sand beaches and azure waters. The Reef Dive Resort is your best bet for diving away from Sipadan.
SOLO TRAVELLER-FRIENDLY RESORTS
While all resorts welcome solo travellers, some will add a single supplement charge. This usually ranges from 30 to 50 per cent of the room package price.
Alternatively, you can choose a resort where the single supplement charge is optional. In these cases, if you choose not to pay it, you may have to share your room with a stranger of the same gender.
Six of Sipadan’s resorts are willing to take snorkellers to Sipadan Island. If you stay elsewhere, you will still be able to snorkel in the water around your resort – and this is very rewarding too – but you will not be permitted to visit Sipadan Island itself.
NEED MORE INFORMATION?
Alice has put together a really helpful Guide to Visiting Sipadan Island infographic, with further information on how to get there, permit turnaround times, top dive sites, the best months for diving Sipadan and pricing.