About Sipadan

About Sipadan

Sipadan is undoubtedly the destination that gained Malaysian scuba diving its world-class reputation. It has the world’s best beach diving, with a deep drop-off only a few swimming strokes away from the beach, and ranked as one of the five top diving destinations in the world.

  • Sipadan

    Situated 35km (45 minutes by speedboat) south of Semporna, off the southeast coast of Sabah, Pulau Sipadan lies just north of the equator in the Celebes (Sulawesi) Sea. It is 10km south of the continental shelf and is the peak of a volcanic base that rises steeply from depths of 600m. Only 12 hectares in area and never more than a few metres above sea-level, the island is covered in rainforest and ringed with a narrow, sandy beach.

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    Pulau Sipadan‘s coral, fish and turtle life are prolific: more than 200 species of fish and over 70 genera of corals have been recorded, matching Australia’s Great Barrier Reef in terms of species diversity.

    Sipadan‘s shallow water regions are generously covered with corals in excellent condition, with broad expanses of staghorn and table corals, encrusting corals, bubble corals, boulder and brain corals, plate and lettuce corals, and solitary mushroom corals. Among the stony corals are large leathery Sarcophyton and Sinularia corals, colourful Dendronephthya soft tree corals and constantly pulsating Xenia corals.

    The drop-off walls are similarly luxuriant but what are considered to be their highlight are the gardens of colourful Tubastrea and Dendrophyllia species under overhangs, together with sponges, gorgonian sea fans and Dendronephthya Soft Tree Corals.

    Besides the corals, Sipadan diving has just about everything the Indo-Pacific has to offer. Shoals of fusiliers, batfish, sweetlips, jacks, goatfish and huge shoals of bumphead parrotfish are staple scenes for scuba divers. Timid whitetip reef sharks are likewise common while the other species such as hammerhead and grey reef sharks alongside manta rays and eagle rays provide worthwhile novelty on the not so rare occasion they turn up in the area.

    Turtles are the run away winner amongst Pulau Sipadan marine life. Massive green turtles and the endangered hawksbill turtles are literally everywhere. It is pretty common sight for divers to see 20-30 turtles in a single scuba diving trip.

    Sipadan is an all year round scuba diving destination. The best conditions for Sipadan diving is between April and October, particularly July and August. The rainy season comes between January and March resulting to reduced visibility.

    *In view of the increasing ecological damage to the reefs and its aqua-life, the Malaysian government decided in 2005 to prohibit accommodation in Sipadan Island itself. All resorts in the island were closed and rebuilt on the nearby islands such as Kapalai and Mabul. Per day, the government issues 120 permits to dive in Sipadan and these are the number of permits available to be distributed amongst the dive operators. With the limited numbers of permit to dive in Sipadan, advance booking with recognised dive operators is highly recommended to ensure that diving in Sipadan is guaranteed during the stay.

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  • History

    Ever since diving celebrity Jacques Cousteau raved about Sipadan’s diversity of marine life – “I have seen other places like Sipadan, 45 years ago, but now no more. Now we have found an untouched piece of art.” – this place has been indisputably the most famous scuba diving destination in Malaysia.

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    Although the popularity of the place has brought in waves of new visitors/divers significantly pushing the economic growth of the place, the marine environment has also been damaged at the same time to accommodate the rapid expansion of dive operators and accommodation owners. This has made the Malaysian government imposed the rule to move all accommodation from Sipadan and all dive trips at Sipadan will have to made by live-aboard boats or small boats from resorts located in nearby islands. On top of that, the government has also limited the number of divers to 120 per day at Sipadan.

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  • Getting to Sipadan & Around

    There are various ways to get to Pulau Sipadan. There is no direct flight to the place nor the islands near it. The common point of entry through flight is Tawau Airport. Currently, the flights that link directly to Tawau Airport are from Kota Kinabalu and Kuala Lumpur.

    After reaching Tawau Airport, visitors have to take the minibus (also known as “bemo” by the locals) from the market place to Semporna. The duration of the trip from Tawau Airport to Semporna is about 1 hour 30 minutes.

    From Semporna, there will be speedboats bringing visitors to island resorts (Pulau Kapalai, Pulau Mabul or a dive rig – Seaventures) nearby Pulau Sipadan. The duration of the trip from Semporna to the respective resorts varies from 45 minutes to 1 hour. Do note that boat transfers stop after 5pm due to the condition of the sea thus for visitors arriving later than 5pm will have to stay one night in Tawau or Semporna before moving into Sipadan the next day.

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    The following table lists down the flights arrival at Tawau. For the air transfers’ rates between Tawau and the country of origin, you may visit http://www.wego.com/ and check out the list of flights available and their respective rates.

    Tawau arrival flights
    AirAsia, AK5595, 10:40 to 13:00 from Johor Bahru
    Malaysia Airline, MH1038, 8:50 to 17:40 from Johor Bahru (via Kuala Lumpur)
    AirAsia, AK5740, 15:40 to 18:30 from Kuala Lumpur
    AirAsia, AK5748, 12:25 to 15:15 from Kuala Lumpur
    Malaysia Airline, MH2664, 14:50 to 17:40 from Kuala Lumpur
    AirAsia, AK6268, 09:00 to 09:50 from Kota Kinabalu
    AirAsia, AK6262, 13:50 to 14:40 from Kota Kinabalu
    AirAsia, AK6266, 18:40 to 19:30 from Kota Kinabalu
    AirAsia, AK6264, 20:30 to 21:20 from Kota Kinabalu
    *NOTE: You will have to wait at Tawau Airport for the transfer if your flight arrives to Tawau less than 1 hour before the next flight. Boat departures from Semporna to Resort are at 0930 and 1400. Diving on arrival day is only possible if you arrive to the resort on 0930 boat schedule. Please be ready at Seafest hotel’s lobby at least 30 minutes before the scheduled boat departure if you transfer to Semporna overland from Kota Kinabalu, Sandakan or Lahad Datu.
    Tawau departure flights
    AirAsia, AK5597, 13:45 to 16:20 to Johor Bahru
    AirAsia, AK5745, 10:15 to 13:00 to Kuala Lumpur
    AirAsia, AK5749, 15:40 to 18:30 to Kuala Lumpur
    AirAsia, AK5741, 18:55 to 21:40 to Kuala Lumpur
    Malaysia Airline, MH 18:25 to 21:10 to Kuala Lumpur
    AirAsia, AK6268, 10:15 to 11:05 to Kota Kinabalu
    AirAsia, AK6262, 15:05 to 15:55 to Kota Kinabalu
    AirAsia, AK6266, 19:55 to 20:40 to Kota Kinabalu
    AirAsia, AK6264, 21:45 to 22:35 to Kota Kinabalu

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    Inclusive in all diver and non-diver package with any of the Sipadan Resorts.

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    Inclusive in all diver and non-diver package with any of the Sipadan Resorts.

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    For guests arriving at Tawau after 1400, they will have to stay for one night at Tawau or Semporna before transferring into Mabul Island early next morning. There are several accommodations to choose from in Tawau and Semporna. The most commonly used accommodations are Heritage Hotel, Promenade Hotel and Marco Polo Hotel at Tawau and Seafest Hotel at Semporna.

    For divers departing from Sipadan, 24 hours surface interval is strongly recommended. The surface interval period can be spend either in Tawau or Semporna to keep the accommodation cost low and reduce the traveling time to the airport during the departure day.

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  • Useful Information

  • Climate

    Pulau Sipadan and its nearby islands enjoy an equatorial climate. The temperature generally varies from 28 to 34 degrees Celsius during the day and drops to 22 degrees Celsius during the cooling evenings. Sipadan is unaffected by the monsoon seasons, however, heavy rains are expected around December and January periods.
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    Day light hours are usually long, often 11 to 12 hours. UV index is relative high in this region; it is recommendation to take all precautions, wearing sunglasses and hat, using sunscreen, covering body with long-sleeved shirts if possible.
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  • Currency

    The currency used locally is Malaysian Ringgit (MYR).

    There are coins of MYR 5, 10, 20 and 50 cents and bills MYR 1, 2 (rare), 5, 10, 50 and 100.

    Credit cards are widely accepted but be careful of possible scamming. Do not let the card out of your sight. Alternatively, visitors can also top up their cash using ATMs (Automated Teller Machines) that are located at the major bank branches, most shopping malls, airports, bus terminals, etc.

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    Foreign visitors are allowed to bring in MYR not exceeding MYR1,000 each, and any amount in foreign currency and cheques not exceeding USD10,000 in total. If the amount is exceeded, they must be declared in the IMM26 form during in-processing at the customs.

    If you are sure that you want to bring in/out cash exceeding the stated limits, prior written permission can be obtained from Exchange Control Department, www.customs.gov.my/index.php.

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  • Electricity

    The electricity is supplied at 220V, 50Hz. The power point used is of the British Standard BS 1363, which requires use of a three-wire grounded and fused plug for all connections to the power mains. The suitable plug will be one with three rectangular prongs that form a triangular pattern.

    Plugs from US, Western and Eastern Europe and North Asia will not be able to fit into a Malaysian power plug. Some hotels will be able to provide a plug adaptor or transformer. However, it is highly recommended to bring a universal traveller adaptor.

  • Time Zone

    The time zone for Sipadan, (East) Malaysia is GMT +8, which is same as Singapore and (West) Malaysia.

  • Telecommunications

    In Malaysia, there are three notable cellular phone operators: Maxis, Celcom, and DiGi

    Do check with your cellular operator back home if they have roaming capacity in Malaysia. 60 is the International Country code for Malaysia. Maxis and Celcom are on GSM900 frequency while DiGi is on GSM1800 frequency. Maxis and Celcom supports 3G connection too.

  • Immigration

    Citizens of the following countries are required to have a visa to visit Malaysia : People’s Republic of China, Cuba, Vietnam and North Korea. Nationals other than those stated will receive a visa upon arrival or are allowed to enter Malaysia without a visa for a visit not exceeding one month.

    However, it is recommended that visitors contact the nearest Malaysian embassy or Malaysian consulate before visiting as regulations are subject to changes. Visitors can also check http://www.imi.gov.my/ for updated information.

  • Language

    The official language in Malaysia is Bahasa Malayu. However, since Sipadan is a world-class tourist area, English is actively and commonly used as well.

  • Useful Contacts

    Dive Asia NOW!

    +65 6536 6532

    Emergency Service Numbers:

    999 – Ambulance, Civil Defence, Fire or Police

    Tawau General Hospital

    Tel: +60 89-763533

    Semporna District Hospital

    Tel: +60 89-781522

  • Sipadan Frequently Asked Questions

    When is the best diving season in Sipadan?

    Unlike other diving destinations in Malaysia, there are no typhoons or monsoon in Sipadan, you can dive in Sipadan all year round.

    Generally, diving in Sipadan is best from April to December, especially July and August. Visibility is the excellent around this period of time. However, during the peak season, it is recommended to book the resort and diving permit in advance.

    January to March may have some unsettled weather or heavy rain. This decreases in visibility however plenty of guests are still diving around this time.

    Turtles usually lay eggs on Sipadan’s beaches between May to August.

    What is the quota for diving at Sipadan Island?

    Since the conservation of Sipadan Island in 2005, only 120 people (divers and snorklers) are allowed to visit Sipadan Island every day.

    How can I get a guaranteed entry for diving at Sipadan Island?

    Sipadan Borneo Divers Mabul Resort is able to guarantee at least 1 day of diving at Sipadan Island if one stays at the resort for a minimum of 5D4N. This is because the 120 quota are distributed evenly among all the resorts and as Sipadan Borneo Divers Mabul Resort is relatively small, they are able to guarantee their customers entry into Sipadan Island.

    Other than Sipadan Island, where else can I dive at?

    Nearby Mabul Island, Kapalai Island have many popular dive sites that are attracting many divers and fast catching up on Sipadan Island in terms of popularity.

    Why do I need to transit overnight at Tawau or Semporna?

    As sea transfer is required to reach the resorts and the last scheduled transfer is usually early afternoon, if one is unable to make it for the sea transfer, a transit night is to be spent at Tawau or Semporna.