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Swim with turtles at Sipidan Island

  • Sipadan Island, Sabah, Malaysia

  • Bucket List Experience

Last updated: 21 March, 2024

If there is one place on Earth you are guaranteed turtle sightings, it is Sipadan Island off Malaysian Borneo, a coral-fringed wonder described by Jacques Cousteau as an ‘untouched piece of art’.

Hawksbill and green turtles come here in their thousands to feed on the soft coral, which is accessible just a few metres from the beach. Whether diving or snorkelling you will encounter dozens of these gracious creatures gliding through the coral gardens.

The island is uninhabited and the area is a marine reserve – diver numbers are strictly limited – if you’re lucky enough to go, you’re inf or a treat. Sipadan is one of the most biodiverse spots in the world, with a huge variety of marine life; shoaling hammerheads are a popular draw (December or January), as are the beautiful ‘Hanging Gardens’.

Don’t miss

One of Sipadan’s most renowned dive sites is Turtle Cavern, a submarine cave system littered with turtle skeletons and known locally as ‘the place turtles go to die’.

While you're there

The waters around Mabul, close to Sipadan, offer some of the best ‘muck’ or macro-diving sites in the world – expect sea horses, pipe fish and a bounty of cephalopods.


Price from: £450
Minimum age: 16
Age suitable: 18+
When: All year around
Duration: 1 day

Getting there & doing it

Sipadan is a protected marine park accessible from the coastal town of Semporna – which is a domestic flight away from the regional hub Kota Kinabalu – or from neighbouring resorts on Mabul Island or the Kapalai sandbank.

Dive operators in these places can arrange permits and dive trips, though book well in advance because places are strictly limited. You’ll buy a package that includes a couple of nights (or more) accommodation.

When to do it

Dives operate all year round, but for incredible visibility, go in July and August. Stormy weather from December to March can create high seas and strong currents, though diving is still possible during these months.

Who to go with: tour operators


Our writer’s recommended tour operators to book with

Pulau Sipadan Resort & Tours

  • Sipadan Island, Sabah, Malaysia

Pulau Sipadan Resort & Tours

Owners of the Sipadan-Kapalai Dive Resort, that sits on stilts atop a sandbar in a stunning location just minutes from Sipadan.

Scuba Junkie

  • Semporna, Sabah, Malaysia

Scuba Junkie

Scuba Junkie offer accommodation at Mabul Beach Resort, day trips to Sipidan, diving around Mabul and a second dive centre in Semporna with a backpacker lodge.