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Diving in Sipadan Island Park – Sabah, Malaysia

When we did research on Borneo I had no idea how popular Sipadan Island was. Lonely Planet informed me that it was THE place to dive on the orangutan’s home turf. Naturally, we made sure to make a little pit stop at Sipadan Island Park.

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Sweet farmers tan near the start of our trip!

There’s a lot of say about the administrative side of getting to dive. For instance, you need to reserve your Sipadan dives at least few weeks in advance as there is a daily enforced limit. This can be tough to plan in advance if you’re on a long trip so we planned it near the start of ours. Expecting a relaxed diver’s haven, the nearby lodging island of Mabul was far from it, and while the diving was nice the après dive was seriously lacking but I will save that for another post. Let’s focus just on the world class dive site and learn about the beauty of Malaysia’s Sipadan Island Park.

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Sipadan was actually a place of territorial dispute between Indonesia and Malaysia until about 10 years ago when Malaysia was granted the land. Malaysia decided to turn the island into a heavily regulated park recently. Only a few years ago you could have stayed on the tiny island of Sipadan itself, but now you need to stay at Mabul, 1 hour away by boat. You can still see an old tilted shack that used to be something on the beach, but you can’t explore the island beyond about 15 meters of the entrance.


Nudibranchs are some of the macro life Jon likes to photograph. The colours are awesome.

We got a chance to do three dives at Sipadan and we dove at Barracuda Point, South Point and West Ridge. There were a lot of reef sharks chilling on the floor, not paying much attention to us. The amount of turtles around Sipadan is incredible, there are so many that you will actually get bored of seeing them. Sipadan is special because it lies off the coastal shelf in 500m waters. It has steep walls and therefore the dives mostly circled these walls with the occasional cold water upwelling.

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Monsieur Bubble Shrimp wasn’t impressed with us interrupting his bubble bath.


One shark sighting I’m quite happy about is a zebra shark. Our dive master wasn’t too keen in exploring and seemed in a hurry to keep moving forward so he was booting ahead. We stayed back behind the dive master and another diver and we saw a zebra shark gracefully circling around us, showing off its pretty patterns. It came up behind the dive master and the other diver and went to their right side just as they turned to look left. It was about 1 meter away from them at one point and they didn’t even see it! Jonathan and I didn’t have anything to make noise with so they didn’t even see the zebra shark until it came around again later. The moral is, don’t kick in a rush. You’ll just use more air and you don’t have anywhere else to be.

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'5 Responses to “Diving in Sipadan Island Park – Sabah, Malaysia”'
  1. Colleen Middleton says:

    Great pictures. Love the nudibranchs and zebra shark! Jealousy status: through the roof!

  2. Thank you so much for your awesome post on Malaysia. My husband and I will head there in a few short weeks, and can’t wait to check out Borneo. I am so encouraged by your blog post on climbing mt Kinabalu in one day! We are hopeful we can also do it, and am astonished by the fees the tour companies try to charge you to hike it/ stay in the lodge overnight. Thanks for the great info, pictures, and positive posts!!! Love it. Keep writing 🙂

  3. […] Derawan is a beautiful and quaint island that houses a tiny village, a handful of dive shops, and even fewer motorbikes. It is an incredible place that will not stay as it is much longer. There are plans to build an airport on one of the nearby islands which will in turn bring in more domestic and foreign tourists. As the word begins spreading, more and more tourists will flock to Derawan which will slowly turn it into Mabul, a dirty island that is just used as a drop off point for diving in Sipadan. […]

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