Sipadan Coral reef

Sipadan – The diving paradise in Borneo

Jackfish en Sipadan

After visiting the Perhentian Islands, we went to the island of Borneo, Malaysia. The goal: to dive in the famous island of Sipadan and its surroundings.

Getting to Mabul

From Kuala Lumpur, we fly to Tawau, east of Borneo. We took a transfer from the airport to Semporna, about 80 km for the night. Scuba Junkies, with whom I had booked online to stay on the island of Mabul, has an office in Semporna so we checked in there and were told the speedboat departure time for the next day.

Sipadan, Mabul and Kapalai

Nitrógeno en Sangre - Chromodoris willani -

Chromodoris Willani

Sipadan is a nature reserve considered by many to be one of the 5 best places in the world to dive. It has the peculiarity of being a volcanic island, rising 600 meters above the seabed, which allows a great biodiversity of reef and open sea species. In order to take care of the reserve, all the resorts were moved to Mabul and Kapalai and only 120 people can dive each day, which translates into 120 permits distributed to all the operators in the area (which are several) and that it is necessary to wait a couple of days to go.

In general, the packages offered by the resorts and operators contemplate that one can go to Sipadan only once within a period of 4 days. Such was my case that I contracted a 4-day diving package in December for February. My recommendation is to book well in advance!


From Semporna a Mabul

Very early we took the speedboat that would take us to Mabul. Upon arriving on the island, the first impression was somewhat violent. Many people coming and going on the dock, preparing their equipment to get on the boats and go diving. I got to get my backpack off the boat, they gave me my rental equipment, I quickly assembled my camera and within 15 minutes I was in another boat leaving to do the first of the 3 dives of the day. They did not give me many explanations except that they would be taking care of our luggage until I returned.

First day: Mabul

Morena de ojo blanco

White eyed moray eel

The first day I had to dive around the island of Mabul, in Eel Garden, Stingray City and Lobster Wall. We saw an octopus, several green turtles, white-eyed moray eels, among other things. The guide I got was not very experienced so it was somewhat disappointing.

Giant Frog Fish

Giant frog fish

Second day: Kapalai, Sipadan barrier reef and Mabul

On the second day we went first to Little Okinawa in Kapalai, Second wall on the outer reef barrier to Sipadan and to the Ribbon Valley in Mabul. My guide this time was Dave McCann, possibly one of the best guides I have had in these years of diving. He and Cat Cassidy, his girlfriend, are two marine biologists who carry out turtle preservation programs. Both have a passion for the sea and, if one shows interest, they go out of their way to tell you and show you everything they can. Thanks to Dave I was able to see two ¨ornate ghost pipefish¨, two ¨clown frogfish¨, four (FOUR !!!) ¨giant frogfish¨, several boxfish, nudibranchs to throw to the ceiling and lots of different shrimp. A smile from ear to ear.

Amanecer en Mabul, saliendo hacia Sipadan

Sunrise in Mabul, going to Sipadan

Third day: Sipadan

Tornado de Jackfish

Jackfish tornado in Sipadan

On the third day, I had to go to Sipadan with another excellent guide, Cat Cassidy. There were 4 super intense dives in South Point, Barracuda Point, Drop Off and Hanging Garden. The place is simply amazing. Already on the first dive we came across at least half a dozen green and hawksville turtles and a similar number of whitetip sharks and ¨grey reef¨. At the barracuda point, we did not come across the famous barracuda tornado but we did come across the ¨jackfish¨ tornado.

Bump head parrotfish en Sipadan

Bump head parrotfish in Sipadan

Snorkel sobre el cardúmen de barracudas

Snorkel over the barracuda fish school

Tortuga en Sipadan

Turtle in Sipadan

Once on the surface, Cat took us to where the school of barracudas was and we were able to snorkel on them. In the interim a group of 20 giant bump head parrotfish appeared with their characteristic bump on the head. On the last dive, we took aim at the deep blue and drifted away from the island hoping that some hammerhead shark would appear. We were not lucky, but it was still incredible to see how the walls of the island plummet into the depths. An unforgettable day.

Corales en Sipadan

Coral reefs in Sipadan

Fourth day: Siamil

Nudibranquio Anna

Chromodoris annae nudibranch

On the fourth day we went to Siamil Island and dived in Monkey pocket, Meditation Wall and First beach. The dives were not spectacular like the previous day but they were good. More than anything, we saw little things. The last dive was ¨muck dive¨ (diving in sand or sediment) looking for bugs. It was very bizarre to make surface stops on the island’s beach next to a post of three Malaysian soldiers with machine guns under a palm tree. After the three dives, we returned to Mabul, where we made the (dizzying, I would not do it again) boat transfer at the pier to immediately leave for Semporna.

Coleman shrimp

Coleman shrimp

Bubble Coral Shrimp

Bubble Coral Shrimp

Some facts about Scuba Junkie, Mabul island and Semporna:

Sea Adventures

Children from the fishing village on Mabul beach. In the background, Sea Adventures, an old oil platform transformed today into a diving center

  • The food is fine and buffet type. They do not serve fish or shellfish because they do not have suppliers in the area that respect sustainable fishing practices.
Muelle de Scuba Junkies en Mabul

Scuba Junkies Pier in Mabul

Although the environment is beautiful, you cannot enter the sea walking from the beach through the corals. To jump into the sea you have to go to the tip of the pier, from where the boats depart.

Right next to the resort is a precarious fishing village almost on the water. It can be visited without problems.

Villa de pescadores sobre el agua en Mabul

Mabul fishing village on the water

Contrary to what I thought, many beginner people even go to Open Water courses. (If you start in this place, what do you have for later ???)

If you don’t specifically go diving, there’s not much to do in Mabul.

Semporna is a town of passage and nothing else. I was struck by how neglected this place is, particularly the dirtiness of the port, being a few kilometers from one of the most beautiful and unique underwater spots in the world

Puerto de Semporna

Puerto de Semporna

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