Snorkeling in Sipadan Island

Snorkeling in Sipadan
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Being described as an “Untouched Piece of Art” by Jacques Cousteau, Sipadan Island is always high on the chart of best dive sites and frequented by scuba divers from all over the world. To promote Sipadan, travel agents like to use underwater photographs of divers, as if the only way to see the beauty of Sipadan is to wear over 30 pounds of diving gears and sink to the sea bottom.

So, is swimming and snorkeling in Sipadan just a waste of time? Read on, you will see that Sipadan is also best for snorkeling.

Sipadan Island (Pulau Sipadan)
Sipadan is the only oceanic island of Malaysia and its reef is built on a volcanic seamount which rises steeply from a surrounding seabed more than 500 Meters in depth. In brief, Sipadan is a mushroom-like island in the deep ocean. This 13.5-Hectare island, which takes only 20 minutes to walk one round, looks like an ordinary tropical island, but there is a lot of going on under its water.

sea of Sipadan Island
Pic: the deep blue seawater is the 500 Meters drop. Sound scary, but a lot of corals bloom on its steep wall and become “hanging garden”, which is famous for Wall Diving.

snorkeling in Sipadan Island

In my last visit to Sipadan, I snorkeled in 3 sites, which are only 3 to 6 Meters deep and not far from the island.

If you prefer to watch video, the following is the 2.5-min video of my snorkeling tour in Sipadan:

Site #1: Mid Reef

The visibility of Mid Reef is good in the morning. The water is about 3 Meters deep, so I can get a close and clear view of flourishing hard corals.

big fan coral
Pic: big fan coral, which is bigger than me.

underwater world of Sipadan
Pic: 500-Meter drop at the left

Fishes like to congregate near the edge of island. I saw thousands of reef fishes in different colors and sizes in coral reefs, like butterflies among the flowers. A popular TV host from National Geographic Channel once said he was dazzled by the fishes here LOL.

giant clam
I also spotted a live giant clam about 3 feet in wide. Due to overfishing, it is extremely rare to see such a big one in the wild.

school of Barracuda
A school of Barracuda just appeared in front of me, as seen in tourism brochure. This magnificent view was totally unexpected because I thought I only can see this in deep water.

Site #2: Turtle Tomb

I was so happy with what I saw. Quickly I proceeded to the next site, the Turtle Tomb.

corals of Sipadan
The sunlight was getting bright so the visibility is superb. My underwater camera could record everything clearly.

swimming sea turtle
It was not too long for me to find a sea turtle swimming gracefully, then came the second, third and fourth one. Sea turtles are just everywhere. Surprisingly, they didn’t bother about my presence so I could see their natural behaviour up close.

sea turtle of Sipadan
Some turtles were resting at the bottom. Like the one above was just a few feet below me. To avoid disturbing it, I stayed still and let current pushed me away. It looked fairly relax and didn’t try to hide or flee.

bumphead parrotfish of Sipadan
Then I noticed something big and dark moving under me. It was a group of Bumphead Parrotfish foraging around corals.

Bumphead Parrotfish under our feet
Can you believe it? Nearly hundred of Bumphead Parrotfish were so close that our fins almost touched them.

school of Bumphead Parrotfish
I only saw Bumphead Parrotfish in seafood dinner before, without knowing that it is such a fascinating creature.

Site #3: Barracuda Point

I had my lunch after two snorkeling trips. After a short rest, I couldn’t wait to get back to the water again.

snorkeling in Pulau Sipadan
Sipadan is located in Coral Triangle, which is also known as Amazon of the Sea and important habitat to over 3,000 coral fish species and 76% of world’s coral species.

thousands of Jackfish
When I thought the best part was over, I saw a big swarm of “something” coming to my way.

school
My goodness, it is a school of Jackfish, probably ten of thousands of them. This is crazy!

fishes of Sipadan

swimming among the fishes
A guest swam to them and soon engulfed by wall of Jackfish. Before this, I thought such view was something only happened in my dream. I strongly recommend you to watch the video.

Jackfish
The fishes didn’t look stress though we were really close, a result of long years of full protection by this marine park.

In conclusion, the snorkeling experience in Sipadan is almost as good as diving. However, to see richer variety of corals and bigger sharks, you still have to dive deeper. Every diver says they regret to dive in Sipadan. Why? Because they have seen the best (Sipadan), other dive sites can’t impress them anymore. So I advise you to keep Sipadan as the last. 🙂

origin of Sipadan
In case you wonder how Sipadan got its name. The name is from the word Siparan, which refers to a dead body of a person named Si Paran, whom had been found restlessly on the beach of Sipadan.

Visit Sipadan Island

To visit Sipadan Island (Pulau Sipadan in Malaysia language), you need an entry permit from Sabah Parks, the management of Sipadan Island Park. To reduce the impact to the environment, Sabah Parks imposes a daily quota of 120 people to Sipadan. The tour is always fully booked, so you need to apply at least 3 months in advance. The easiest way is to get a licensed dive operator to arrange the diving trip for you, they also can book the accommodation and provide the airport transfer.

jetty of Sipadan Island
Pic: the reception counter at the jetty. Everyone must register here before entering the island. You will be denied entry if you don’t have a permit.

boardwalk to Sipadan
Pic: the boardwalk to Sipadan Island. Do you notice the big tall tree? It is a huge strangler fig tree (see photo below).
big tree on Sipadan Island

toilet of Sipadan
Pic: The island has adequate amenities such as public toilet for tourists.

resting area of Sipadan Island
Pic: there is a few shelter and benches for you to rest and have meal.

You may watch the 90-sec walking tour video to see the surrounding of Sipadan:

FYI, there is a Turtle Hatchery on Sipadan.

More Photos

www.flickr.com

Do you know any other nice spots for snorkeling, besides Sipadan? Please share with us.

Photos taken in Semporna, Sabah, Malaysia Borneo

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By Murphy Ng
  • I’ve always wanted to come to Sipadan since forever but I was advised to get a diving licence first before going there. After reading this, I might consider going there to do a little bit of snorkeling. But you were right, I need to save it for the last. LOL

  • Well, you can have your first dive there, but from there on, you will have to go Sipadan every time 😀 Any plan to get a diving license soon?

  • yupp. I’ve been planning to get it since last year but never got around to it yet. Now that I’m in KL it’s even difficult to do. But I heard I can actually get it here so I have my fingers crossed for a dive in Sipadan soon. 😀

  • Gmc

    I m planning a trip to Semporna next year and after reading your blog, I definitely hv to include snorkeling at Sipadan in my itinerary. Do u hv any recommendation of an operator that provide snorkeling day trip to Sipadan from Semporna? I m planning to stay 3d2n at semporna. Thanks in advance!

  • Hi Gmc, sorry about the late reply. Personally I recommend Borneo Divers (http://www.borneodivers.net/). They are a 5-Star PADI Dive Operator, and they have a resort on Mabul Island (near to Sipadan). Great services too.

  • Ivy

    I never knew Sipadan Island offers so much more than I thought! Your blog, they way you share your experience changed my assumptions. The turtle is so adorable by the way.
    I’m planning a couple vacation to Sipadan Island. Thank you for the information! Now I’m excited to snorkel around these beautiful creatures.

  • Yea Ivy, until today, I still rank Sipadan as the best snorkeling spot in Sabah. I’ll sure you will have an unforgettable experience there. 🙂

  • Jasmine Alyssa

    Hello there Murphy. This is truly a very interesting blog you have here. I came across your blog as I was googling “snorkeling”. I am happy to read your blog post as I am planning a trip to Sabah with my group of friends. Sipadan Island is definitely going to be in our to visit l;ist when we arrive in Sabah. I am truly amazed by the amount of fish and sea creatures that you have taken pictures of in your blog entry. Hopefully, my friends and I are able to be in the presence of such beautiful sea creatures. The only Island that I have visited before in Sabah was Manukan Island. The water was clear and we went on a banana boat ride. That was the first and last banana boat ride for me. It was equally exciting and terrifying for me. The first fall from the boat into the sea was scary for me. I was so scared that there are sharks swimming with us. But, the man told us that there were no such thing as sharks are actually deeper into the sea. Anyways, I would like to say that you have an interesting blog entry on Sipadan Island and I would like to visit there soon. Thank you! (:

  • Thank you Jasmine for your feedback. I’m happy that my blog helps. There are many publicity about diving in Sipadan but very few talk about the snorkelling experience there. Very likely you would see a few juvenile reef sharks when you snorkel in Sipadan, but no worry as they are not interested in human meat. Divers would see bigger reef sharks in deeper water, but that’s a thrilling experience rather than a scary one. If you visit Manukan Island again, you may try snorkelling at left side of the island (direction of when you face the island), which is a bit far away from where tourists congregate. The corals are in great condition. In my last visit, I saw hundreds of fishes in different species and colors, foraging in group among corals! Have a nice trip in Sabah. 🙂

  • Nina

    Hi Murphy
    I am planning a trip to Borneo, and I am definitely going to Sipadan. I think i will stay at Scuba Junkies Mabul Beach Resort. Do you have any experience with them?
    I am trying to figure out what the difference is between snorkeling at Sipadan or at Sipadan Barrier Reef. It is way more expensive to buy packages that goes to Sipadan and not just Sipadan Barrier Reef. But is it worth the extra money? Or is Sipadan Barrier Reef just as great?
    Kind regards,
    Nina

  • Hi Nina, I never snorkel at Sipadan Barrier Reef and stay with their resort, so I’m unable to comment much. Based on what I google, Sipadan Barrier Reef is great for seeing macro marine lives and some sighting of turtles and sharks. You are less likely to see huge school of fishes and great number of bigger sea creatures like Sipadan.

  • Nina

    Hi Murphy
    Thank you for getting back to me!
    Where do you stay and who do you book the trip with when you go to Sipadan?

  • I stayed with Borneo Divers and booked the diving trip with them.

  • Salli Awad

    Wow the description of the snorkel trip was just amazing 🙂
    I’m also planning a trip to Sipadan but to me it seems that no one really offers snorkellig tours. I have contacted borneodivers.net but are they still running? On their website I don’t see any recent information and I’m in doubt.
    Do you know if they still exist?

    Are there other operators that you would recommend in case borneodivers are booked or can’t arrange the trip for me? 🙂

    bR Solly

  • Hi Salli, yes, Borneo Divers is still in operation. You also can contact other agents such as Uncle Change Backpacker Lodge and the rest listed in: http://www.mysabah.com/wordpress/accommodation-list-of-pulau-mabul-island/

  • Salli

    thank you 🙂

  • John Macken

    Hello Murphy, I am a freediver looking to freedive sipidan and mabul. If i go on a snorkelling tour here, will they make me wear a life vest like some parts of the world or am i free to breath-hold dive? Any info you have would be great, Thanks, John

  • sipadan is famous for it’s scuba diving activity, but after reading this post i found out that snorkeling at Sipadan is not bad too. I might try snorkeling there someday.