In a nutshell
Sipidan Island is on the list of every diver that has been hooked by the insatiable fever. Remote, teeming with sharks, turtles, barracudas and a host of other marine wildlife, the island is the picture of every promise they made to themselves when they first started diving - it is the best it gets.
Why go to Sipidan Island
Mustering up the motivation to make the trip to the most beautiful of islands and the most rich dive sites shouldn’t take you more than 0.003 seconds – maybe longer if you need to investigate your finances. Either way, not a long time.
The island is famous for the virtually untouched preserved marine life. Black-tip reef sharks, turtles, schools of barracudas and so many more fish and creatures that we don't know how to pronounce. The island is without a doubt the most alluring dive site this side of the world.
Activities? Diving, sun tanning, underwater photography, and more diving. If you don't take a trip upon a liveaboard, your only option in getting to Sipidan Island is a series of day trips. Do research into the dive shops of the area and create the best package for yourself.
Life on a liveaboard! The MV Celebes Explorer is a well-known liveaboard boat. Going with them means that you can spend every day of the week diving at all the best spots that you may not otherwise get the chance to get to. Except Sundays, of course. Maintenance on the boats can be poor. The facilities, kitchen and lounge are all pretty basic. The rooms are basic but comfortable, some of them even have air-conditioning. There is a fantastic sundeck up top with a shaded area too. You and sixteen others doing nothing all day but venturing into the beyond - pretty fantastic way to spend a few days. Tours are three to seven nights long, ranging from MYR 3800 to MYR 7500.
When to go to Sipidan Island
The best time of year to go is only really impacted by the dry and wet seasons. Insofar as you would rather not have rainy weather during your stay, try and plan your stay during the months of March and October.
Where to stay on Sipidan Island
Mabul Island is around 25 minutes away from the dive sites of Sipidan Island. The island is predominantly rural and basic with beauty everywhere. It is a wonderful concoction of local 'sea-gypsies' and dive shops. If you are staying several days to dive the sites of Sipidan, a stay of Mabul Island is a gem that supplements the physical intensity of your days with relaxing afternoons, a coconut and book in hand, the soft rays of the afternoon sun on your face.
You won't be able to find accommodation without a reservation, so be sure to plan your trip in advance.
A bright and beautiful place to consider is Uncle Changs. The lodge has bungalows built over the Celebes Sea, a steady stream of people bringing a great vibe, and the most fantastic sunsets visible from their deck. Dorms begin at MYR 75, and fan rooms for MYR 90. However, to really get the most, you need to pay for the sea view rooms, which go for just MYR 20 more, a reasonable MYR 110.
Staying on Kapalai is not incredibly different from Mabul Island that is, except for the unbelievably beautiful Sipadan Kapalai Dive Resort. This place is incredibly beautiful. Those old postcards in your draw of idyllic places probably include a shot of this one.
With no land in sight, you're very own mile long sandbank, the most astounding rooms, and an artificial reef to dive on non-Sipidan days, this place is something else. The resort offers packages that have a minimum of four nights. Those go for MYR 3400. A stay up to ten days will cost as much MYR 9000.
Where to eat on Sipidan Island
Should you spend your days on a liveaboard, all food is catered for you. Breakfast, lunch and dinner buffets will satisfy your hunger pangs as well as your desire for variety. Chinese, Asian and Western cuisine, seafood, salads, and even the occasional BBQ. All in all, the food is pretty great on these tours. The beautiful deck and views from such are not too shabby either.
Many of the diving packages that are booked include everything diving related, accommodation, transport, and food. However, you won't be missing out on local dishes or delicacies. The cooks of the lodges are predominantly local and know there way around the kitchen. You can even buy fresh fish from locals hopping off small boats and give them to your lodge you cook for you.
At swankier resorts, you won't have any issue coming across international dining options in amongst the local and Asian offerings.
How to get around the islands
Getting around these parts is almost certainly related to your next dive. As such, your mode of transport will invariably be on a boat. The transportation to and from dive sites around Sipidan Island are included in the cost of your dive package.
Mabul Island is tiny, has no roads and requires no transport. Your down time above the surface is free to be spent sunbathing, napping, eating and reading. Maybe a walk a two. The life upon Kapalai is little different with very little need to get around at all.
Of course, the liveaboard boats present an unparalleled exposure to the deep blue and the dive sites of Sipidan Island. The boat tours are essentially all inclusive package for the avid diver. The boat will ensure that you are at all the best dive sites, at the best times, seeing the best things.
How to get to and from Sipidan Island
Getting to Sipidan Island is not exceedingly expensive, nor is it overly long. However, there are several stops involved which require you have your ducks in a row.
Coming from Kuala Lumpur, a flight for around MYR 200 straight to the east coast town of Tawau will take a big chunk out of your trip. From here, a short minivan (maximum two hours) will take you to Semporna. From here, depending on where you are staying, you will take your last short boat journey to one of the surrounding islands, or you will stay put right there in Semporna.
Is Sipidan Island a safe place to visit?
The safety in Semporna, Sipidan, Mabul and Kapalai is absolutely no issue at all. The small amount and singularly focused nature of travellers means that the locals have not become jaded from the onslaught of horrible hordes of party-seeking tourists. That being said, it is always wise to keep a keen eye on your belongings while out and about.