Why go diving in Sipadan
Sipadan is considered to be one of the top diving destinations in the world. You can see sharks, big schools of barracuda and big schools of jacks all on the same dive, schools of bumphead parrot fish, lots of turtles and wide variety of reef fish. The concentration of life is stunning. Every dive site around Sipadan is excellent, and Barracuda point is the most excellent of them all.
We went to Sipadan in August of 2013 and again in August 2014. The first time around the weather was excellent but we were beginner photographers ending up with many blurry and green pictures. On the second trip we were better equipped but the weather was stormy and visibility bad through the entire 6 day stay. We still had excellent dives saw sharks including a leopard shark, barracuda, bumperheads and an eagle ray.
What to see
There are no resorts on Sipadan island itself and there is a permit system limiting the number of diving boats and divers in Sipadan allocated through dive operators.
The best land-based option is to stay on Mabul island which is less than one hour boat ride from Sipadan and an hour boat drive from Semporna. We stayed and dove with Borneo Divers on Mabul on both occasions. They have a very well organized professional dive operation, great guides, good food and security. Borneo divers do 4 dives a day on their Sipadan trip, which is not the case for most other operators. Permit system means that you cannot dive Sipadan every day of your diving trip. Generally they advise that 1 day at Sipadan is guaranteed if you take a five day package. They do have cancellations and substitutions and you may be able to get more Sipadan days. On our trips we were able to do 3 Sipadan days on 6 diving days trips.
Diving around Mabul island of course pales in comparison to Sipadan but is actually not bad at all, and excellent for macro. There are walls and slopes, a lot of small reef fish, various critters and creatures – we saw frog fish, cuttlefish, flamboyant cuttlefish, various nudibranchs, mantis shrimp, huge eels and plenty of other things.
We were combining trips to Sipadan with top side adventures and used overland transfer when coming from Danum forest or Kinabatangan river and then flying out from Tawau to Kota Kinabalu. Useful transport info is here.