If you are a scuba diver then I probably don’t need to tell you why Sipadan is special. For those new to the sport, or interested in taking up diving, then you should know that Sipadan, off the east coast of Bornean Malaysia offers some of the best scuba diving in the world.
In an effort to protect the environment of the marine area around Sipadan island, the government has imposed strict rules and regulations for divers. You can no longer stay on Sipadan Island, and instead need to stay on one of the nearby islands or on the mainland.
You need to have a permit to dive in the protected area of Sipadan, and only 120 are issued each day. Because permits are scarce, most operators will only issue one permit to people who stay with them for at least four nights.
We didn’t have a lot of time. And we didn’t want to spend more than necessary. But four nights is a long time to stay in one spot. Especially for Jacob and I, who would be confined to the beach or hotel all day long. The truth is, if you are a non driver and staying at one of the dive or island resorts you will have a hard time getting value for your money. The island resorts around Sipadan are some of the most expensive in Borneo, and that is because of the world class diving nearby. If you are not a diver, it’s just an unnecessary additional expense.
How long should I stay near Sipadan?
If you actually want to dive Sipadan island, then you will need to stay in the area for at least 4 days and 3 nights to give yourself the best chance at receiving one of the coveted Sipadan dive permits. Costs quickly add up, and any package that includes a Sipadan dive is noticeably more expensive than those that do not.
But if you have come specifically for the world class diving, then you will want to ensure you have enough time.
Where to stay when diving Sipadan?
There are loads of places you can stay. Island resorts are probably the most popular, but are also the most expensive. For those who are really devoted to diving at Sipadan can even stay on a live aboard boat. If you choose this option we recommend making sure you do your research and read the reviews, as some live aboards are in much better condition than others. The benefits of this option is that you will greatly reduce your travel time between dive sites.
The most budget option by far, is to stay in the mainland town of Semporna. There is not much to this small town. No beaches, no attractions… not much of anything. But there is a dive center who also run their own ultra budget hostel. For about $8 you can get a night at the Dive Junkie hostel, and best of all, you wont need to go far to get to the boat each morning.
What To Bring
Do your research as every dive operation is different, but generally, most dive operators provide all the equipment you will need with your fee. The only things not usually included are the dive computers. Everything else, wetsuit, snorkel, mask… everything…. is included in the package rate.
There are more than twenty great dive sites in the area around Semporna and Sipadan, and it’s only the diving around Sipadan island that requires a permit. So if you want to save some money, you can stay for just 2 or 3 days and dive in near by areas instead.
Two of the most popular dive sites with tours are Sibuan and Mabul. At Sibuan you have great chances of seeing a wide variety of sea life, such as sea horses, scorpion fish and frogfish. Mabul is known for it’s macro diving. Here you can find weird creatures such as the blue ringed octopus or the dwarf stonefish. But it’s not just small things that are routinely found around Mabul, you can even see giant grouper here or even whale sharks if you are lucky.
What were Dan’s dives like? He put together these two short videos of each of the main dives in the Sipadan region. He didn’t have the best visibility due to the weather, but the videos should give you a taste of what you can find under the waves at Sipadan.