Considering that Sabah Parks only issues 176 Sipadan permits per day (August 2019), the main challenge when visiting is to get the Guaranteed Sipadan permits in advance.
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Why Diving in Sipadan?
Sipadan is the only Oceanic island in Malaysia, as it's a prehistoric volcano rising 600m from the ocean floor. This means that the island is surrounded by deep waters and wall reefs which are home to some seriously big Ocean Pelagics like white, black and grey tipped Sharks, Trevallies, and Chevron and Yellow fin Barracudas. You may also see Bumphead Parrotfish, Potato head Groupers and Green and hawksbill Turtles to name a few.
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How to Get to Sipadan?
The closest airport to Sipadan is Tawau Airport (IATA: TWU). Air Malaysia and Air Asia offer direct flights from either Kota Kinabalu (IATA: BKI) or from Kuala Lumpur (IATA: KUL). Once in Tawau, take a taxi or minibus to Semporna town, (60-90 mins drive), from here, your dive resort or dive center will pick you up by boat and drop you off at either your hotel or a dive site, depending upon your itinerary.
When is the Best Time to Dive Sipadan?
For diving visibility, it's best to visit during the dry season between Mid-February and Mid-November. Diving can be done all year round from 6am to 4pm daily (Night-diving is not permitted). The high peak touristic seasons are Chinese New Year, July, August and the 1st week of October.
Where Should I Stay in Sipadan?
After the Sabah Government stepped up their conservation efforts in 2005, all dive resorts on Sipadan Island were relocated mostly to the nearby Islands of Mabul, Mataking and Kapalai. You can also stay on a liveaboard dive boat and in Semporna town.
To help you decide on the perfect accommodation for your diving adventure, we've gathered a comprehensive list based on a few criteria:
- Sipadan Permit Availability & Turnaround Times – Which resorts are more likely to receive permits, and length of stay required for a chance to dive at Sipadan
- Other Locations to Dive at – What other dive sites and islands do resorts organise tours to besides Sipadan Island
- Nitrox and Tec-Diving – Which dive center offers Nitrox for experienced divers
- Dive Resort Prices – Choose the right place to suit your budget
- Single Travellers Prices
- Group Booking Discounts
- Snorkellers and Non-Divers Sipadan permits
- Honeymooners and Weddings
Will Sipadan be closed for in December 2020?
Sipadan Island will be closed for divers snorkelers and all tourism activities from the 1st of December 2020 until the to 31st of December 2020 so that the marine environment can have a full month to recover during that period. It will open again for operations on the 1st of January 2021. During this recuperation period, diving and snorkeling activities will not be carried out at Sipadan Island.
What is the Sipadan Permit Availability?
To minimise damage to the fragile eco systems, The Sabah Parks Government distribute a daily quota of 176 permits to some of the dive resorts and dive centers in the area, with each haveing a different quota based on the size of the resort.
Note: Permits are not required to dive around other nearby islands such as Mabul, Kapalai, etc.
To get a Sipadan permit, your dive resort ot dive center will submit applications on your behalf as they cannot be issued directly to individuals.
The "Big 5" resorts that get the largest share of daily permits are as follows:
- Sipadan Mabul Resort
- Mabul Water Bungalows
- Sipadan-Kapalai Dive Resort
- Borneo Divers Mabul Resort
- Sipadan Water Village
As one of the world's top 5 diving destination, demand for daily permits is high, thus you'll usually find much more divers here than there are available permits.
How long to Stay to get a Guaranteed Sipadan Permit?
|Dive Resort||Min Stay Required||Sipadan Trip Starts||Sipadan Trip Ends|
|Sipadan Mabul Resort||6 Days/5 Nights||8am||3pm|
|Mabul Water Bungalows||6 Days/5 Nights||8am||3pm|
|Borneo Divers Mabul Resort||4 Days/3 Nights||5.30am/6am||3.3pm-4pm|
|Mataking Dive Resort||5 Days/4 Nights||7.30am||3pm|
|Sipadan-Kapalai Dive Resort||6 Days/5 Nights||5.30am||1-3pm|
|Seaventures Dive Rig||3 Days/2 Nights||6am||11am/12pm|
|Sipadan Water Village||4 Days/3 Nights||6am||1pm|
- Diving is permitted on Sipadan every day except Sundays
- Advanced permit booking is highly advised at The Sipadan-Kapalai Resort, also you may be put through a buoyancy skills test if you've logged less than 15 dives
- Additional Permits can be bought at most Resorts and Dive Operators subject to availability - Note: This does not apply to guests staying in semi-detached chalets, if staying in one, your chances of diving on Sipadan depends on available permits not assigned to anyone else.
There are also several budget guesthouses and backpacker lodges to choose from, but we do not have any visitors feedback or booking data, so you'll need to do your own research on these.
How to get a Permit if I booked a short Sipadan trip?
If you stay only 2 or 3 nights, the chances of diving on Sipadan are greater in low season, and you would need to secure a guaranteed permit in the high season to dive at Sipadan.
Because daily permits are limited and mostly allocated to divers staying for longer periods, so if you plan on staying for less time, diving on Sipadan is not always guaranteed.
The annual high and low seasons can be unpredictable, as it could be suddenly busy for a week during low season, where if you're not staying the minimum length of turnaround time, you could miss out. The high seasons are usually around Xmas & New Year, July & August, and the first week of October.
What other nearby Islands Should I dive at?
On Non-Sipadan diving days, there are nearby islands full of great dive sites for all types of divers from beginner to advanced. You can do some amazing muck diving, see granite, coral or artificial reefs all teaming with macro critters, and explore conservation projects, underwater caverns, coral gardens and deep walls surrounded by over 3000 species of fish including big pelagics.
One special site is called Turtle Tomb Cavern, an underwater cavern suitable for Tech Divers accompanied by an experienced guide, where you'll see countless green turtles. A spooky legend says this is where turtles come to die”, and you will indeed see plenty of turtle carcasses on the sandy bottom, but it's got loads of fantastic rock formations, and schools of fish like Fusiliers and Trevallies.
Sipadan-Mabul Resort, Mabul Water Bungalows and Seaventures Dive Rig are the only 3 resorts with experienced Technical Dive Guides that can take you into the cavern, subject to permit availability.
The following list of resorts shows the other locations that they organise trips to:
- Sipadan Water Village – Mabul Island & Kapalai Island
- Sipadan Mabul Resort – Mabul & Kapalai Islands
- Sipadan-Kapalai Dive Resort – Mabul & Kapalai Islands
- Borneo Divers Mabul Resort – Mabul & Kapalai Islands
- Mabul Water Bungalows – Mabul & Kapalai Islands
- Seaventures Dive Rig – Mabul & Kapalai Islands
- Mataking – Pandanan, Mataking, Timba Timba, Bohey Dulang, Bohayan & Pom Pom Islands
- MV Celebes Explorer – On Sundays they go around Semporna to the Tun Sakaran Marine Park. In the week, if divers need a break from seeing Turtles, Trevallies or Barracudas, they dive around Mabul Island.
Nitrox and Tec-Diving
To extend your bottom time and reduce decompression (Off-gas) time, All the dive resorts in the above list except for Sipadan-Kapalai Dive Resort offer the use of Nitrox. Seaventures has Tec-Diving facilities.
What is the Resorts Price Range?
To help you choose the perfect place to suit your budget, our list of accommodation is broken down into 4 categories: Luxury, Upper Mid-Range, Mid-Range & Budget/Backpacker/Longhouse.
|Resort||Number of Rooms||Price Range|
|Mabul Water Bungalows||19 over-water Bungalows & 9 Luxury Villas||$$$$|
|Sipadan-Kapalai Dive Resort||79 over-water Chalets||$$$|
|Sipadan Water Village||40 over-water Chalets||$$$-$$$$|
|Sipadan Mabul Resort||41 Chalets||$$ - $$$|
|Mataking Dive Resort||63 Chalets Rooms & Villas||$$$ - $$$$|
|Seaventures Dive Rig||29 Cabins, Dorms & VIP Rooms||$$ - $$$|
|Borneo Divers Mabul Resort||30 Chalets||$$|
|MV Celebes Explorer Liveaboard||8 Cabins||$$|
|Uncle Chang's Sipadan Mabul Lodge||$|
Is there a Single Traveller Supplement Charge?
If travelling alone, some resorts have compulsory single supplement charges while others are optional. The charges vary between 30% to 50% of the total package price.
Note: If you choose not to pay the supplement where optional, you might have to share a room with a fellow guest.
|Resort||Single Fee Supplement|
|Mabul Water Bungalows||Optional (The Bougainvillea, Royale Villa & the Borneo Villa Suites are compulsory)|
|Sipadan-Kapalai Dive Resort||Compulsory|
|Sipadan Water Village||Compulsory|
|Sipadan Mabul Resort||Optional|
|Mataking Dive Resort||Compulsory (Additional single charges may apply on land & boat transfers)|
|Seaventures Dive Rig||Optional (One scheduled free transfer. Single charges apply on other land & boat transfers)|
|Borneo Divers Mabul Resort||Optional (Additional single charges may apply on land & boat transfers)|
How to get a Group Booking Discounts?
If you're travelling as a large group of up to 10 or more, why not save money and book yourselves a great deal. Here's our list of resorts offering group discounts.
|Resort||Group Discount||Additional Info|
|Sipadan Mabul Resort||10 divers + 1 FOC||11th diver stays free, only pays the Jetty/Conservation fee|
|Mabul Water Bungalows||10 divers + 1 FOC||11th diver stays free, only pays the Jetty/Conservation fee|
|Sipadan-Kapalai Resort||9 divers + 1 FOC||10th diver stays free, only pays the Jetty/Conservation fee|
|Sipadan Water Village||10 divers + 1 FOC||11th diver stays free, only pays the Jetty/Conservation fee|
|Mataking Dive Resort||10 divers + 1 FOC||11th diver stays free. only pays the Jetty/Conservation fee & Boat transfer|
|Seaventures Dive Rig||9 divers + 1 FOC||10th diver stays free, only pays the Jetty/Conservation fee|
|Borneo Divers Mabul Resort||10 divers + 1 FOC||11th diver stays free, only pays the Jetty/Conservation fee|
How much is the Semporna Jetty and Environmental Fee?
Everyone visiting an island off Semporna Jetty will have to pay a small Conservation fee/Jetty fee of MYR10 per adult for international visitors and MYR3 for Malaysian.
Can Snorkellers visit Sipadan?
Snorkellers are more than welcome at the resorts featured on the list below, however some may only allow you to explore around the resort itself, while some will bring you out on their dive boat to other sites if you pre-book early.
|Resort||Where to Snorkel? Sipadan? Mabul? Kapalai?|
|Mataking||Guaranteed snorkeling trip to Sipadan. Need to book in advance. Also offers boat snorkeling to other islands.|
|Sipadan Mabul Resort||May take you to Sipadan. Depends on the availability of permits once you are at the resort. Priority is given to divers. Boat snorkeling to other islands such as Kapalai and Mabul.|
|Mabul Water Bungalows||The resort may take you to Sipadan island, but priority is given to scuba divers with permits. Early pre-booking advised. Depends on permit availability known once at the resort. Offers free boat snorkeling to other islands such as Mabul and Kapalai.|
|Seaventures||Priority is given to Divers. May bring snorkelers to Sipadan if have availability of permit.|
|Sipadan Water Village||Can purchase the Sipadan snorkeling permit if have availability. Guests can follow only one snorkeling trip on a dive boat to other islands (Mabul, Kapalai) during their stay, and the rest of the time snorkel around their resort at the excellent house reef.|
|Borneo Divers Mabul Resort||Guaranteed sipadan snorkeling for stays of 5D/4N. Price of permit is 146MYR. If stay is less than 4 night, can also purchase the permit for 246MYR to Sipadan if have availability of permit.|
|Kapalai Resort||The resort does not bring snorkelers to Sipadan. Snorkeling is only around the resort housereef. Boat snorkeling possible at extra fee.|
Which Sipadan Resort offers Honeymoon Packages?
A honeymoon is a once-in-a-lifetime holiday, so if you're looking for idyllic white sand beaches, scenic views and deluxe comfort in a lush romantic setting, then these resorts below have just what you want! Most offer honeymoon packages tailored to suit your needs.
- Sipadan Mabul Resort
- Mabul Water Bungalows
- Sipadan-Kapalai Dive Resort
- Mataking - The Reef Dive Resort
- Sipadan Water Village
What are the Best Resorts around Sipadan?
Why at Sipadan Mabul Resort?
- Traditional Borneo-style resort with beach-front chalets
- Loved by families, kids, children, divers, snorkelers & non-divers alike
- Amenities include a swimmingpool, spa, jacuzzi, watersports, and beach activities
- Top-class dive center with many dive permits to Sipadan and a complete choice of PADI diving courses
- This restaurant serves one of the best food in Mabul island
Why stay at Mabul Water Bungalows?
- Luxury resort with romantic seaview Villas, Chalets and over-the-water Bungalows
- Award Winning Honeymoon Resort
- Excellent restaurants with delicious food prepared by Chef Wong
- spa, jaccuzis & plenty of amenities
- Perfect for honeymooners, families, divers & non-divers
- One of the 3 resorts that can take divers into Turtle Tomb Cavern
- Easy access by boat to Mabul Island or their sister Sipadan-Mabul Resort where you can enjoy the swimming pool
Why stay at Borneo Divers Mabul Resort?
- Deluxe Chalets with Pool, Spa & Amenities
- Families, Divers & Non-divers welcome
- Excellent Snorkelling at the housereef
- 5* PADI Dive center famous for being the pioneers at Sipadan and for Muck Diving around Mabul
Why stay at Seaventures Dive Rig?
- Unique resort on a converted oil rig
- Choice of rooms & plenty of amenities with sundeck, lounge, conference room, bar & restaurant
- Local chef serving delicious food
- Tech Dive courses, cavern dive courses and Instructor courses available
- Will take you to Turtle Tomb Cavern
- Not suitable for families with young children
Why stay at Mataking - The Reef Dive Resort?
- Due to its remote location, boat transfers to here will take about 80 minutes
- Huge selection of villas rooms & chalets
- Popular with honeymooners
- Perfect for both divers & non-divers, families & kids
- Loads of amenities including a spa and kids playground
- Many activities for non-divers
- Offers diving and snorkeling trips to several nearby islands
Why stay at Sipadan-Kapalai Resort?
- Stunning over-water village with all seaview over the Celebes Sea
- Popular with honeymooners
- Facilities include Sundeck, open-air terrace, games room & restaurant
- Excellent dive center with choice of dive courses & water sports like snorkelling and kayaking
- Will take divers to Turtle Tomb
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