The Holy Grail of Diving
Think of what Fenway Park is to baseball, that is what Sipadan is to scuba diving. The diving there is incredible, on almost every single dive you swim through a school of five hundred barracuda, a thousand jackfish and at least fifteen white-tip and reef sharks. Oh, and you might “bump” into a school of super awkward bumphead parrotfish. We went during the off-season (rainy) and the visibility was still a good 40-75 feet, depending on the amount of sunshine. We had one day of rain out of four but that didn’t really effect anything underwater.
There is an ongoing argument that Barracuda Point in Sipadan is the best dive site in the world. After diving there, it is hard to argue that statement. This is what the average dive looks like.
Schooling Cheveon Barracudas, hundreds of them.
Soft corals, of all colors and sizes.
A sea turtle and golden spadefish.
There was healthy table hard coral on most of the dive sites.
Reef scene, with hundreds of colorful bi-color anthias. You can also see a pink-tail triggerfish.
Another Golden Spadefish.
Unicornfish, couldn’t figure out what type.
Schooling Moorish Idols.
If You Go
Getting There: It is a pretty remote place, the easiest way to get there is by flying into Tawau and then getting picked by your diveshop/hotel/resort. Air Asia has 5 daily flights to Tawau from Kuala Lumpur (KL) and a few from Kota Kinabalu. Additionally, Malaysian Airlines has multiple daily flights to Tawau from KL, albeit almost twice as expensive as Air Asia. We paid around 100 USD to fly one-way on Air Asia and I imagine that fluctuates by 10-20 USD in each direction. From Tawau Airport it is an hour drive to Semporna, the closest mainland city to Sipadan. From the harbor at Semporna it is another hour boat ride to Mabul and Sipadan. And then, you are there, too easy!
Lodging: There aren’t too many options in regards to lodging, and unfortunately they are all relatively expensive. No one can stay on the island of Sipadan (there was a terrorist kidnapping in 2000) so the only lodging options are in Semporna, Mabul and Kapalai. Yes, on Sipadan there are army soldiers with guns protecting you from any Philippino bad guys, although there hasn’t been any incidents since the aforementioned kidnappings by Abu Sayyaf terrorists. Semporna isn’t the nicest of towns and it is an hours boat ride to Sipadan, but you will find a few budget hostels and will spend the least amount of money. There are also some budget accommodations on Mabul Island along with two very high end resorts. We stayed at Seaventures, which was super unique as it is a converted oil and fishing rig, apparently shipped over from Panama. Almost all of the hotels do dive/lodging/food packages. Seaventures is mid-range and cost us around 1200 USD each for 6 day/5 night.
Diving: The diving in Sipadan is well worth the money, however, you have to know what you’re getting yourself into. Only 120 people can dive Sipadan per day, each hotel/resort is allocated a certain amount of permits, i.e. Seaventures had 11 per day. In low season this is fine, they guaranteed us two days at Sipadan but we ended up getting to dive there four days in a row. There are other dive sites but they are not quality, especially when you are paying such a premium. We heard stories that during high-season people are only guaranteed one day of diving at Sipadan for a five day stay.