Diving

Scuba diving is well on the way to becoming one of the fastest growing recreational sports enjoyed by both the young and old. Divers travel thousands of miles to experience the amazing wonders of the underwater realm and where better than to the bio-diversity hotspot of Southern Asia – Sabah, Malaysian Borneo.

With its sandy beaches, tropical islands, blue waters, coral reefs and atolls, Sabah has several dive sites rated to be amongst the top ten in the world and many more yet to be truly explored.

In fact a diver may find rare or endangered sea creatures such as green and hawksbill turtles, napolean wrasse, giant clams, as well as countless species of sharks and schools of thousands of barracuda and jacks. Sabah is not only known for its reef’s larger inhabitants but also as a ‘Muck diving’ paradise with such rarities as the mimic octopus, flamboyant cuttlefish, mandarin fish, harlequin ghost pipefish plus many types of weird and wonderful frogfish and nudibranchs.

These underwater delights are not restricted to the certified diver; snorkelers and hopeful divers may enroll in one of the many PADI affiliated dive courses run at any of Sabah’s dive operators and resorts. Whatever your underwater wish, Sabah’s seas and coral reefs can easily fulfill and surpass your wildest dream.


The World’s Richest Marine Diversity

Sitting in the heart of the ‘Coral Triangle’ in south-east Asia, home to the world’s greatest marine biodiversity, Sabah is a magnet for divers and snorkelers from all over the world. With its picturesque marine parks and tropical islands, pristine coral reefs teeming with life, clear warm water and sandy beaches, this hotspot truly is a diver’s dream come true.

Many prominent marine biologists and scientists have explored Sabah’s waters over the years, including the legendary Jacques Cousteau who said of Sipadan “Now we have found an untouched piece of art…a jewel”. Sipadan island is now protected, and voted one of the top dive sites in the world – where divers can see schools of bumphead parrotfish, countless species of sharks, have close encounters with friendly turtles, and swim through immense, swirling schools of barracuda and trevally. Sabah offers its visitors a range of diverse marine habitats to explore, including fantastic ‘muck diving’ sites with such rarities as mimic octopus, flamboyant cuttlefish, mandarinfish, ghost pipefish, frogfish, seahorses, colourful nudibranchs and many more. Whether you’re a diver or snorkeller, or wanting to take the plunge and enroll in a dive course run by the many resorts and dive operators, the rich seas of Sabah offer something for everyone in this adventurous and exotic location.

Sabah Map
Sabah Map

Tunku Abdul Rahman Park

Comprises 5 islands: Gaya,Sapi,Manukan,Mamutik,Sulug. Just 15 minutes by boat from Kota Kinabalu city center, via Jesselton Point Jetty. Ideal for day trips, snorkeling, dive training and novice divers. Experience sandy ‘muck’ diving to colorful coral reefs. Special sightings? Whale Sharks between January to April. Great for water sport activities and jungle trekking too.

Accommodation: 

Bunga Raya Island Resort
www.bungarayaresort.com

Gayana Eco Resort
www.gayana-eco-resort.com

Gaya Island Resort (YTL)
http://www.gayaislandresort.com

Manukan Island Resort
https://suterasanctuarylodges.com.my/manukan-island/

Tunku Abdul Rahman Park
Tunku Abdul Rahman Park

Mantanani Island

80km away from Kota Kinabalu, just off Kota Belud. Embrace white sandy beaches and crystal blue waters. Book a day trip or stay overnight. Great location for both novice and experienced divers. Take an adventure dive to see 3 large Japanese WWII shipwrecks in Usukan Bay.

Accommodation: 
Sutera Mantanani
www.suteraatmantanani.com

JSK Mantanani Island Resort
www.jskmantananiresorts.my

Mantanani Island
Mantanani Island

Pulau Tiga

For Pulau Tiga, head 50 km south-west of Kota Kinabalu, off Kuala Penyu. Also nearby is Snake Island known for its many banded sea snakes. Pulau Tiga was the filming location for the 1st season of the reality series Survivor, hence also dubbed Survivor Island. Don’t just dive; dip in the Mud Volcano which is rich in minerals (great for skin they say!). Within proximity, enjoy nature sightings: wild orchids, birds, macaques and monitor lizards.

Resort:
Borneo Eagle Resort
www.echoresorts.com/borneoeagle

Pulau Tiga
Pulau Tiga

Layang-Layang Island

Malaysia’s only atoll, 300 km north-west off Kota Kinabalu. Accessible by charter flight by MASwings or Layang Layang Aerospace. Diving season is between March to August. Amazing coral reefs and walls. Catch sight of Hammerhead Sharks, Manta & Devil Rays, Whale Sharks, Reef Sharks and turtles. Great spot for bird watching too.

Accommodation: 
Avillion Layang Layang Island Resort
www.avilionlayanglayang.com

Layang-Layang Island Resort
Layang-Layang Island

Lankayan Island

1.5 hours by speedboat from Sandakan. Diverse patch reefs offers easy and relaxed diving. Famous sightings of Leopard Sharks and Dendritic Jawfish. Situated close to the Turtle Islands National Park where nesting and hatching turtles can be seen. Lankayan is part of the Sugud Islands Marine Conservation Area.

Accommodation: 
Lankayan Island Dive Resort
www.lankayan-island.com

Pulau Lankayan
Pulau Lankayan

Tun Sakaran Marine Park

A cluster of 8 islands spread over 100 km of healthy coral reefs. They are Sabangkat, Tetagan, Maiga, Sibuan, Mantabuan, Gaya and the scenic Bohey Dulang –a recommended trail for a jungle trekking trip to the hilltop for an amazing photo-op. The islands are about 30 minutes away from Semporna by speedboat. Two of their central islands and lagoon are part of an extinct volcano.

Accommodation:
If you’re not staying at one of the island resorts, there are many hotels and backpackers at mainland Semporna. Book your dive trip to these islands from the local dive operators.

Tun Sakaran Marine Park
Tun Sakaran Marine Park

Mabul Island

World-class dive location. 1 hour by speedboat from Semporna. This island is a diver’s village as it has many accommodation options to choose from. Ideal for all divers, (snorkelers too!) and a great location for photographers to capture scenic island images. Spot an astonishing array of small animals. Mabul has the biggest artificial fish sanctuary in Asia and is close to Sipadan Island.

Accommodation: 
Borneo Divers Resort
www.borneodivers.net

Mabul Water Bungalows
www.mabulwaterbungalows.com

Scuba Junkie Mabul Beach Resort
www.scuba-junkie.com

Seaventures Dive Resort
www.seaventuresdive.com

Sipadan Dive Center
www.sdclodges.com

Sipadan-Mabul Resort
www.sipadan-mabul.com.my

Sipadan Water Village Resort
www.swvresort.com

Mabul Island
Mabul Island

Kapalai

Luxurious ‘water village’ 1 hour by speedboat from Semporna. Large artificial structures and shipwrecks on the house reef. Popular for ‘muck’ diving. Also close to Sipadan. Kapalai has
resident turtles! It’s a great destination for divers, wedding photography and honeymooners.

Accommodation: 
Sipadan-Kapalai Dive Resort
www.sipadan-kapalai.com

Kapalai

Pom Pom Island

Idyllic uninhabited island, 40 minutes away by speedboat from Semporna. Highlights? Resident population of Green Turtles, nesting and hatching turtles. Optional trip to Bohey Dulang for jungle trekking. Day trips for leisure travelers is also an option. Did we mention they have a long stretch of beach and sea life visible even from the jetty?

Accommodation: 
Pom Pom Island Resort
www.pompomisland.com

POM POM ISLAND
Pom Pom Island

Mataking Island

Choose from chalets to villas, Mataking shouts luxury. Just 45 minutes by speedboat from Semporna. Explore their magnificent ‘house reef’ and shipwreck. A great combo of macro and pelagic marine life. Walk the “Moses Walk” sandbar connecting Mataking Besar to Mataking Kecil. The backdrop of these two islands make it a perfect location for destination wedding photography. And while you are there, don’t forget to send some snail mail from their underwater Pos Malaysia post box.

Accommodation: 
Mataking Reef Dive Resort
www.mataking.com

MATAKING ISLAND
Mataking Island

Sipadan Island

Voted one of the top dive sites in the world, just 20 minutes from Mabul or Kapalai or 1 hour from Semporna. Malaysia’s only true oceanic island, rising 600m from the ocean floor. Stunning underwater visibility. Among Sipadan’s highlights? Sightings of a large number of reef sharks, turtle tomb and a huge school of barracuda and trevally. Did you know that Sipadan’s popularity started off being a Bird Sanctuary?
MV Celebes Explorer is the only liveaboard operating in the Sipadan area and can accommodate 16 divers per trip. Contact Adventure Journey World Travel for more information or log on to www.borneo.org.

More accommodation is also available in Semporna, ranging from a 4-star hotel to backpackers.

While you are in Semporna, take a hike up Skull Hill (Bukit Tengkorak), a volcanic rock-shelter site. The Bukit Tengkorak Archaeological Site was the largest pottery factory in Southeast Asia during the Neolithic period.

In the late afternoon, take the evening cruise for Proboscis monkey sightings or fruit bats. Contact BGB Country Tours and Travel (www.borneotourstravel.com) to book this sightseeing
package.

Tawau is 115km away from Semporna. A town boasting great seafood (Sabindo Seafood Center) to unique local eats such as Soto, Bakso and Nasi Kuning. Tawau is an ideal place to purchase dried seafood. Other local attractions: Teck Guan Cocoa Museum, Tawau Hills Park, Bukit Gemok, Pasar Gantung market and the Shan Shui golf course.

SIPADAN ISLAND
Sipadan Island

Conservation

The marine environment is an enormously valuable resource for mankind, and marine conservation is one of the most important issues for the Sabah Government who recognise greatly the need to protect its spectacular marine biodiversity. Over the years, Sabah has protected vast areas of its seascapes, designated as special marine parks under the management of Sabah Parks, where an array of marine species can thrive in safety.

Collaboration between governmental and non-governmental organisations, eco-friendly local resorts, and University Malaysia Sabah (UMS), has lead to a range of conservation efforts which
have been successfully implemented.

  • Protecting turtle nesting sites & turtle hatcheries
  • Coral planting
  • Creating artificial reefs
  • Beach & reef clean ups
  • Shark & ray sanctuaries
  • Training divers to check the health of reefs
  • Spreading awareness & understanding of marine environment to local people and tourists through education

MAB251113C0002-1
The yacht Raja Laut on a calm sea at sunset with the sun setting on the horizon, Mabul Island, Sabah, Malaysia.

Dive Operators

Borneo Divers & Sea Sports (Sabah) Sdn Bhd
www.borneodivers.info

Borneo Dream Travel and Tours Sdn Bhd
www.borneodream.com

Diverse Borneo Sdn Bhd
www.diverse-borneo.com

Downbelow Marine Wildlife Adventures
https://www.downbelowadventures.com/

Excel Dive Tours (Borneo) Sdn Bhd
www.excelborneotours.com

Explore Asia Tours Sdn Bhd
www.sipadan-mabul.com.my

Layang-Layang Island Resort Sdn Bhd
www.layanglayang.com

Navi Borneo Divers
www.divingkotakinabalu.com

Pulau Sipadan Resort Tours Sdn Bhd
www.sipadan-resort.com

Pulau Tiga Resort
www.pulautiga.com.my

Scuba Junkie
www.scuba-junkie.com

Scuba Paradise
www.scubaparadiseborneo.com.my

Seaventures Tours Travel Sdn Bhd
www.seaventuresdive.com

Sipadan Pom Pom Resort & Tours Sdn Bhd
www.pompomisland.com

Sipadan Water Village Resort Sdn Bhd
www.swvresort.com

The Reef Dive Resort & Tours Sdn Bhd
www.mataking.com

Uncle Chang Sipadan-Mabul Dive Lodge
www.ucsipadan.com

Last reviewed: June 20, 2023

Diving Sites